I am a pretty big fan of music; I mean who isn’t? Over the years however, my music tastes have changed; whereas I was once happy to listen to random pop songs on local radio, I slowly became swayed by a peculiar mix of rock, indie and BBC Radio 2, before starting to appreciate gaming music in full. I think that the musical element of some games often get unfairly ignored in favour of graphics and gameplay, and that is why I stress in my reviews whether the audio in a game is any good or not. I have had the great fortune over the years to listen to some superb tracks of music from a wide range of games, and in this list I intend to reveal my favourite game soundtracks, why I love them and a few recommendations for tracks to listen to.
This is easily the hardest Top 10 that I have produced because of the difficulty of deciding what games should make the cut. In order to make the process a bit simpler, I decided that only one game in any given franchise would be allowed a place in the Top Ten, and with one exception which will become obvious, all soundtracks had to be original compositions or arrangements for that game. After several hours of listening to tracks, I have finally completed my list.
FIFA 08 – When thinking of soundtracks from the sporting genre, nothing comes close to FIFA 08 for me. The soundtrack is full of upbeat and catchy songs from a wide variety of musical genres, and it still remains the strongest overall FIFA soundtrack in my opinion.
Mass Effect – Jack Wall did a fantastic job of creating an ambient soundtrack to go along with Bioware’s excellent space opera. Aside from a few standout tracks however, I could not recommend the entire soundtrack like the games in the following list
Final Fantasy 6 – I have already given the music of Final Fantasy some exposure in a separate Top Ten list, and although Final Fantasy 6 is undoubtedly a masterpiece, there is already a Final Fantasy title on my list that I prefer, so unfortunately it misses out.
Project Gotham Racing 3 – Being able to listen to the chorus of Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ while blasting around a track at 200mph always puts a smile on my face
Mother 3 – This entire soundtrack has a very quirky and unique feel, but aside from a few excellent tracks outlined in my review of the game, the soundtrack as a whole has too many repeated themes and songs borrowed from Earthbound to be considered a true classic
10) Kingdom Hearts 2
Yoko Shimomura is one of my favourite video game composers; she has a very impressive resume of games that she has worked on including Super Mario RPG and the subsequent handheld Mario RPG, and Street Fighter 2. Yep, this is the woman we should thank for creating Guile’s Theme. For me however the highlight of her career was Kingdom Hearts 2, released in 2006. The first game has a pretty damn good soundtrack as well, but this game managed to do two things better; capture the charm of Disney in the Disney worlds, and sound similar to Final Fantasy elsewhere. The result was a soundtrack full of relaxing and varied music for the home worlds, and some cracking battle tunes. I look forward to what she can do with Kingdom Hearts 3.
9) Halo 3
From the moment you heard the choral chanting of the main theme at the start of the original Halo, you knew the music was going to be good. Halo 3 marks the pinnacle of Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s music for the franchise, moving away from the guitar heavy Halo 2 soundtrack. This time round there is much more use of the piano, and a 60 piece orchestra was used to create some very memorable pieces of music to go along with Master Chief’s final adventure. Couple this to the voice of Jeff Steitzer announcing the multiplayer, and you have a fantastic game to listen to.
8 ) Pokemon Red & Blue
Has the Game Boy every sounded better or more iconic? The original Pokemon game set a new standard for handhelds, with a soundtrack that has formed the basis of the music in the series ever since. Using the rather primitive bleeps and bloops of the handheld, Junichi Masuda created an atmosphere that perfectly set out the anticipation of the adventure ahead and the excitement of the battles, as well as the sound effects and cries of each Pokemon in the game.
7) Super Smash Brothers Brawl
In Brawl, loads of characters from the Nintendo universe are thrown together to fight it out. So Nintendo thought why not throw every bit of Nintendo music possible in there as well? The result is one of the largest soundtracks ever seen in a game, with over 250 songs. 36 composers were asked to come and produce music for the game, and the result is a wide variety of original untouched themes and new arrangements from a huge number of franchises; Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Metroid, Pikmin, Star Fox, Donkey Kong, Sonic and Metal Gear Solid to name just a few. There are also nice touches within the game to do with music; randomly during a match, a CD icon may turn up. Picking it up unlocks a new song to listen to. You can also adjust in game how often you want to hear a certain track on a certain stage. Absolute genius. And as a final note, the main theme for the game is composed by Nobuo Uematsu of Final Fantasy fame.
6) The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Perhaps surprisingly, the only entry for Koji Kondo, the genius behind the Mario theme, into this list. For all my dislike of Zelda, I cannot bring myself to hate the music; and that is because it is wonderful. Ocarina Of Time has some simply timeless pieces of music in it, using the full potential of the N64; a mixture of updated pieces of music from A Link To The Past, and plenty of new compositions. It also helps that music plays a large part in the gameplay, with Link using the famous Ocarina to move around Hyrule and summon his horse. The fact that the soundtrack is completely unchanged for the 3DS version should come as no surprise at all.
5) Grand Theft Auto:Vice City
The only game on this list to feature predominantly licensed music, but what a soundtrack it is. We can split Vice City into two parts; first off is the fantastic range of 80’s songs on offer, all handily split into different genres such as new wave, metal or Hispanic music by the various radio stations. Then there is the overall presentation of the radio; the adverts, the hilarious dialogue of the presenters: it fully captures the feeling of the 80’s in a way that no other game will ever match.
4) Red Dead Redemption
An original soundtrack for a Rockstar game is somewhat a rare commodity; the Grand Theft Auto games have always used licensed music. Strange then that Red Dead Redemption has such a magnificent original soundtrack. The inspiration from Spaghetti westerns and Ennio Morricone is obvious, and the ambient soundtrack is full of angry guitars, harmonicas and violin pieces. There are also two vocal tracks in the game, ‘Far Away’ and ‘Compass’ which have received much critical acclaim. Certainly this was my favourite soundtrack from 2010 by far, and Bill Elm and Woody Jackson deserve much credit for their work
3) Dragon Quest VIII
Koichi Sugiyama has been prolific in his composition of the Dragon Quest games. Every single track has been composed by him, and many have become staples in the series, such as the world map theme. What hit me when playing through DQ VIII was the epic scale of the orchestra used for the game; combined with the lush visuals it made traversing the game world an amazing experience. I also like how some of the tracks from the soundtrack, such as the Overture and Alchemy pot music, have been released in a retro format as well, showing the versatility of the music in the game.
2) Final Fantasy IX
Nobuo Uematsu has stated that Final Fantasy IX is his favourite soundtrack from the series, and I have to agree with him. Other games from the series may have had better individual tracks, but FF9 has the strongest overall soundtrack, moving away from the more steampunk orientated FF7 and futuristic FF8. It fits the more traditional gameplay that was used in this game, with more use of pianos, flutes and organs, to create a somewhat unique atmosphere in the Final Fantasy world. It also helps that some of the standalone tracks are amongst the best that the series has to offer.
1) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
When writing up this list, it was Jeremy Soule’s work on Oblivion that I thought of first, and in the end nothing else could replace it in my mind. Having composed Morrowind, he was asked to do the music for the sequel, and did not disappoint at all. The music is lush and beautifully played, and covers a wide range of ground: there is music for the towns and cities, music for crossing the enormous world, music for intense battling; it covers all the ground you could ever want and is wonderfully relaxing on the ears. A spectacular soundtrack that I can happily listen to at any point, and more than worthy of being called the greatest ever in my opinion.
Now I am sure this list will cause some contentious debate. Where are the Mario games? Where is Metroid? Shadow Of The Colossus? Metal Gear Solid? Before you lambaste me with negative comments please remember these are purely my own views, I am more than willing to take suggestions of other great soundtracks, and its debates such as these that I hope to strike up with features such as these. In any case, please take time to sample the music I have suggested, and I shall return in the future at some point with more Top Tens.