A video game soundtrack, when done right, enables the player to form a close bond with the game.
If one is to dive deep into their childhood memories of playing video games on a brand-new console or a PC, they might not remember gameplay or visuals accurately but will definitely remember the sound.
Soundtrack and music play an integral part in the gaming experience but are often overlooked for the longest time. Soundtracks have evolved to become an integral part of the game design instead of being tacked-on sounds that only offer a way to represent the games' levels sonically.
Storied franchises like Legend of Zelda, Doom, and countless others have long understood the importance of a powerful soundtrack. Even today, listening to the soundtrack to Ocarina of Time without playing the game evokes crystallized memories of having played that game decades ago.
The soundtracks listed below are perfect examples of how well-crafted game music can add tremendous value to titles independent of the game itself.
5 best video game soundtracks every gamer should listen to
- Batman: Arkham Origins- Christopher Drake
- Ghost of Tsushima- Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi
- Assassin's Creed Valhalla- Jesper Kyd, Sarah Schachner, Einar Selvik
- Hotline Miami- Various Artists
- Legend of Zelda- Breath of the Wild
- Minecraft Soundtrack
- Ori and The Blind Forest
5) Red Dead Redemption 2 - Score: Woody Jackson; Soundtrack: Daniel Lanois.
Red Dead Redemption 2's original Score is perhaps one of the best collections of Western-inspired music in entertainment history. The score by Woody Jackson makes for a tranquil experience with one powerful track after the other.
The score is wrought with melancholy, anger, wonder, and just about every other emotion imaginable. The game is a wonderful piece of work on its own, but the soundtrack elevates it to another level entirely. It is near impossible to imagine the kind of effect the last chapter of the game has on the player without American Venom blasting in the background.
On the other hand, the soundtrack does not let up and hits the player with one emotional right-hook without any telegraphing. Daniel Lanois' "That's The Way It Is" couldn't come at a much better time and gives way for the emotional floodgates to be opened.
If the first game has Jose Gonzales' excellent "Far Away" as John rides into Mexico, then Red Dead Redemption 2 has D'Angelo's bone-chilling "Unshaken."
4) The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt - Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikołaj Stroiński, and Percival
One cannot simply think back on their time playing The Witcher 3 without hearing Percival's tracks in their mind. This has become a well-acknowledged fact on the internet. CD Projekt Red hit a home run with a perfectly curated sonic landscape for The Witcher 3.
Not only does the soundtrack work perfectly in the many combat encounters, it is just as impactful during the quieter moments in the story. Simply riding through The Witcher 3's open-world and listening to the game's music is a reverie on its own.
Tracks like "..Steel for Humans" have been etched into the players' minds and live there rent-free. The Witcher 3 is considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all-time, and for a good reason. The soundtrack is a critical factor in the game's infamy.
3) God of War - Bear McCreary
Perhaps no other soundtrack in the history of games had such an impact with minimalism. With just three notes from the title track "God of War," the player has already learned about Kratos's character and his new journey in the game.
Bear McCreary had a massive task ahead when he was charged with providing the soundtrack for God of War. A franchise as beloved comes with its own set of challenges. By this time, players have certain ideas and preconceptions about what God of War should sound like.
Instead of burdening oneself with the old franchise's ideas, McCreary's soundtrack reflected the franchise's new identity. There is something extremely primal and heartfelt about the game's soundtrack. It evokes a range of extremely rare emotions in gaming.
The game deals with complex fatherhood, loss, and grief issues while also being a tale of gods, gigantic serpents, and frosty axes. The soundtrack reflects this duality with massive orchestral arrangements juxtaposed with quiet and somber moments.
A player will definitely go back to the soundtrack of The God of War independent of the game.
2) Doom/Doom Eternal - Mick Gordon
Mick Gordon was not messing around when id Software handed him the reigns to the fabled Doom soundtrack. Game soundtracks don't get more iconic than the original Doom and its sequels in the 90s. If God of War was a franchise that was too hot to deal with, then Doom is simply nuclear.
In Gordon's own words, "Doom fans are not like Disney fans. If Doom fans don't like what you've done, they'll burn your house down."
With that kind of pressure, surpassing those expectations would be an impossible job. Gordon has made a habit of accomplishing the impossible, as he has done on two separate occasions.
The 2016 Doom soundtrack was perhaps the most aggressive, gut-punching music this side of the heaviest metal band one can think of. It was aggressive for aggression's sake and driving artfully. Doom's soundtrack appropriately sounds like a demon-killing romp through hell and back.
Few years later, Gordon topped his best work again with Doom Eternal's soundtrack, an even punchier soundtrack that just wouldn't let up.
1) The Last of Us/The Last of Us Part II - Gustavo Santaolalla and additional score by Mac Quayle
Academy Award-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla was brought on to score 2013's The Last of Us. It was his first video game project. This is a testament to Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann's reach that they were able to bring in such a massively acclaimed composer to score their magnum opus.
The soundtrack for The Last of Us doesn't scream in the face or punctuate an emotional moment in the game to increase the impact. Instead, it slowly creeps up on the player and takes hold.
The game's soundtrack feels skeletal in parts, with most scenes being set against silence or ambient noises. Yet, as the player goes through the several harrowing and emotionally-heavy moments of the game, the soundtrack becomes much more apparent in retrospect.
The music almost feels like a character unto itself and acts like a representation of Joel and Ellie's feelings while giving a sonic identity to their thoughts and conflicts.
The soundtrack to the first game is perhaps the most melancholic and introspective music one can get hands-on. In complete contrast, the score provided by Mac Quayle in the sequel is gnarly and radiates a pulsing sense of unrelenting hate, which is characteristic of the nature of the sequel.