The best video game soundtracks can define entire experiences. Without music, games just wouldn't be the same. From the primitive but expressive soundchips of retro consoles to the full instrumentation available to musicians today, video games have been producing original tunes that defy classification.
Music is a wonderful tool for setting a scene, for expressing emotion, and for telling a story. And, as you'll recognize from our ranking of the best gaming soundtracks, sometimes they just get you tapping your feet. We can't understate the importance of music on the way we see and appreciate the games that we love to play and, while it wasn't an easy list to put together, below you'll find what we believe to be the 25 best video game soundtracks of all-time.
25. Pokemon Gold / Silver
There's a good chance that if you've been a pokemon fan for a while, its soundtrack has meant a few distinctly different things throughout your life: The anticipation of that Gameboy Jingle, the awe of hearing actual pokemon noises, the nostalgia of hearing old games and that dread of getting older. This works as a testament to both the game itself and you. Whether it comes from the scary tale behind Lavender town(originally from Blue/Red but still in Gold/Silver) or that nostalgic optimism imbued throughout every second of National Park, Pokemon has and will always offer a wonderful escape that gets further away with each second.
24. The Last of Us
Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla is well known for his film compositions and The Last of Us (and its sequel The Last of Us 2) take full advantage of this. Where songs like “The Path” offers a melancholic travel song, “Vanishing Grace” announces the very short brevity The Last of Us can possibly allow it. In this sense “The last of us” offers this dichotomy of the darkness of its melody and the brightness of its accompaniment in an interesting way that directly parallels the story itself. Together, broken chords and dissonant melodies appear strong and almost hopeful but alone, they appear to be what they are, broken.
23. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a powerful game that expresses and sings emotions and feelings that are hard to explain. It fits so meaningfully into the themes and stories of the game that to remove them should take away some of their power. Somehow it does not. Opening song “All the Earth” strikes you by the second note with a piercing howl of emotions only to be accompanied by the low rumble of a drone and strings as it teases the melody at its centre. It follows and folds around this melody with wonderful countermelodies and additional voices in “Finding the Pattern” only to be stripped away and built back up again. Much like the soundtrack, the game itself follows this idea of getting to the root of something only for it to fall away in your fingers. “I don’t know if anyone will ever hear this. It’s all over. I’m the only one left”.
22. Katamari Damacy
It might be a bit of a cliche but sometimes a prince just has to suck up the world, universe and everything greater to impress his father, the King of All Cosmos. Katamari Damacy somehow manages to tell this story through the hour or so of music it has. “Katamari Nah-Nah” starts with a wonderfully weird acapella that probably helps brace you for the game in front of you until “Katamari on the rocks” blows that out of the water with the more fleshed-out version of this same song, complete with electronic drums and synth. It’s not always this fast-paced with songs like “Walking on a Star” giving an oddly pretty break from the hectic world that is Katamari Damacy. Much like that of an actual star and the cosmos, the idealism of its existence is enough to ground all those who look at it. You exist and nothing expresses this greater than the human minds behind Katamari Damacy.
21. NieR: Automata
There is something often very subtle about the way lead composer Keiichi Okabe put together Nier Automata’s soundtrack. It is loaded with small yet incredibly pretty pieces that might be skipped on the first 3 or so playthroughs. Luckily Automata is meant to be played over and over again. From the gentle yet anthemic guitar and vocal accompaniment in “City Ruins” to the over the top “Grandma/ Destruction” Automatas willingness to change at the drop of a hat is something that works very well for its overall presentation. Despite this, it stays consistently beautiful through its use of vocal performances and melancholic piano. Rather fitting for such an emotionally charged game.
20. Megaman 2
It really is a testament to how great Megaman 2’s soundtrack that a mere 25 minutes of music has managed to stay so thoroughly catchy to this day. From something as small as its title theme, it hypes you up for the adventure ahead with a fast tempo and annoyingly catchy triplets. Then this is followed by the ominous evil at the centre of the select screen, preparing you for the 8 equally challenging bosses that await you. Luckily, after your 50th attempt at Wily’s fortress, the music stays just as catchy and memorable. A much needed accompaniment.
Just kill stuff. This is the central command Doom repeats over and over again. Whilst the original few games are totally iconic, Mick Gordon’s accompanying soundtrack to DOOM (2016) expresses this the most. Fitting somewhere between industrial djent, power and prog metal, opening track “Rip & Tear” fits this headbanging, demon-killing niche to the best ability. It pairs the chug of djent guitar ideas with industrial and drone and tops that off with killer riffs for the total cathartic package. It doesn’t leave behind its roots in a nice callback to the classic “At dooms gate” with its own much harsher cover. This encapsulates the experience of DOOM (2016) incredibly well. It’s not just a reboot but a total faithful reimaging and this works incredibly well in its favour
It’s hard to really surmise the extent that Minecraft’s popularity explosion has really had on the gaming landscape but now, 11 years after its release, C418’s music is still heard everywhere from video essays to Tik Toks. It seems clear why. Tunes like “Subwoofer Lullaby” and self-titled “Minecraft” are both bright yet rather lonely songs. Every instance of Minecraft promotes the multiplayer aspects it was built on and this, fundamentally, is why we remember it so fondly. It’s simple, fun and reminds us of friends online long gone off our profiles.
17. Street Fight 2 Turbo
Blasting out of the side of arcade machines then tiny home TV’s Street Fighter 2 Turbo made a lasting impression back in the ‘90s with its wide roster of characters and surprisingly tight combat controls. The music only helped solidify this with easily hummable yet widely varied tunes. From something as simple as its “Character Select” theme, you know you were in for a hell of a fight. You’d have to like it with how long your opponent took picking the right counter only for you to spam quarter-circle forward for the entire fight. Fight!
16. Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Consistency. Whilst Sonic has never been able to pull off consistency, Sonic 2 absolutely does. Every theme and song just feels so succinctly part of their level. “Casino Night Zone” captures its level to great effect and the likes of “Chemical Plant Zone” is so wildly catchy you won’t be able to hum anything else after you hear it. In a greater sense, both Sonic’s personality and music sum up their time in wonderfully nostalgic ways. This has always been one of Sonic’s biggest strengths and why he’s so fondly remembered to this day. It’s now “way past cool” but that’s why it’s so enjoyable.
15. Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is the second N64 exclusive to be included on this list and well deserved at that. Whether it be hearing the theme while pulling Mario’s face across the screen or letting him freeze to enjoy “Cool, Cool Mountain” Super Mario 64’s music sure is infectious. Like OOT before it, music exists as a crucial part of the experience of Mario. Every track has this deliberate design that complements the level greatly through things like the eerie noises in “Haunted House” or the chomping of the piano as it chases after you. Super Mario’s world is innately musical and Mario 64 shows that with great glee.
14. Halo 3
There is something truly great about Halo 3’s soundtrack. Sometimes, it's something as subtle as a flute and some strings, sometimes it's a full orchestra and choir. Going from the ominous foreboding of “Luck” to the earthy archaic sound of “Three Gates” annunciates what it is that Halo 3 offers the player. A magical galaxy defining epic. This is before mentioning its theme song, a perfect combination of all the above. Angelic voices sway back and forth as the string section warms up and wraps around the central melody. Then the drums hit. It shows a battle between the angelic and the archaic, the dark and the light. This is Halo.
13. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Ocarina Of Time managed to make a lasting impression from something as simple as its title theme. It simply moves from an F to a C with the gentle clip-clop of Epona’s hoofs operating as soft percussion and manages to captivate millions. The music only gets better from here. Going from the jingle that plays when you open chests to the composition at work in the temple of time, It has managed to stay relevant more than two decades after its release. This isn’t all without its share of annoyance. Hearing “Kepora Gebora’s theme” through button mashing or “Hey Listen” for the 1000th time is grating but it just makes Ocarina Of Time all the more lovable for it.
12. Dark Souls
One scroll through Motoi Sakuraba’s Wikipedia page shows the wide range of musical styles he’s had a hand in. From his little known electronic prog album Gikyokuonsou to his work in Eternal Sonata, it’s clear he’s a composer with a depth of knowledge in the field. Nothing quite exemplifies this more than the Dark Souls soundtrack. It’s loaded with your typical epic boss fight music like “Taurus Demon” and “Ornstein & Smough” but also offers these beautiful moments of clarity felt through “Gwyn, Lord of Cinder” and “Nameless Song.” These pieces are made with intelligence and oversight for the game’s themes that work so well they leave you feeling a little hollow.
11.Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Animal Crossing: New Horizons offered something very important: Joy. This is only pushed further as you indulge in the soundtrack. As “Welcome Horizons” greets you in the startup menu and you get to watch your villagers go about their life, it’s easy to get caught up in the monotony of every day as you relax and enjoy the soft trumpet. Each hour has its own interpretation with early hours fitting a soothing lazy town whilst evenings have a soft acoustic guitar and accordion for you to stroll around to. It might not be the most varied soundtrack but it certainly is the most inviting.
10. Final Fantasy 7
Although perhaps a pretty obvious choice in the series, Final Fantasy 7 has such a strong emotionally sincere soundtrack that’s hard not to love. Not only this but it just understands the intent of the game so well. Barrets fiery but jovial nature is captured through “Barret’s theme” whilst Aerith’s sad introspective emotions are shown through “Aerith’s Theme” in ways that are hard to express with words. As you explore onwards and see the overwhelming yet ultimately optimistic greater world around you Final Fantasy 7’s main theme doesn’t just accompany you, it engulfs you and refuses to let you go even 100 hours later.
The whole journey part of thatgamecompany’s crowning achievement is felt in many spheres. From its story to its visuals to even its music, there are many distinct paths you must go on. “Nascence” the opening track is sombre and foreboding with subtle moments of brightness. This is cast aside with eye-watering lush strings only to fall away as you start your experience. The entire soundtrack fits this motif of sole instruments alone only to be accompanied by the swelling of hundreds of others, mimicking the excellent multiplayer design at its core. It somehow propagates a paradox where you feel alone but never far away from company. Like both your character and the music, there is always an accompaniment to your journey.
Composer Darren Korb has managed to inject a little of himself into every SuperGiant game. From the more acoustic trip-hop Bastion to the eclectic mix that is Pyre, he has shown his ability to fit into many styles. Transistor is perhaps where this is at its most successful. Self-described as “Old-world Electronic Post-rock” its strange mixture of “This will destroy you” style post-rock and heavy electronic sampling result in a soundtrack unlike any other, a perfect accompaniment to one of the best indie titles of the last decade.
7. Bioshock Infinite
It’s hard to understate how truly important the soundtrack of Bioshock Infinite is to the overall experience. As Booker, you sit down anticipating something terrible as the angry trill of violin fills your senses. You brace only to be interrupted by the twinkling of the piano. “Hallelujah.” Every moment, every sound feels so fundamentally thought out from “will the circle be unbroken” reiterating the narrative to the big reveal of “CAGE.” Music is as fundamental to the base experience as the story.
6. Kingdom Hearts
There’s a good chance if you’re between the ages of 20 to 35, you have, at one point in your life, listened to Yoko Shimomura’s “Dearly Beloved” accompanied by the soft glow of your TV being left on. It, like the entirety of the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack, is a formative experience that probably makes you deeply sad to reminisce. Much like the game itself, there is a magic to Shimomura's work that evokes and emblazons nostalgia like no other game out there. Luckily, Kingdom Hearts gives you 100 hours or so at a time to enjoy it.
5. Deadly Premonition
Deadly Premonition’s soundtrack, like the game itself, is weird, jarring and sometimes entirely wrong. Despite all these flaws, it’s incredibly charming and makes the overall gameplay experience much better - always the sign of a good soundtrack. Going from the lazy Sunday afternoon jazz of “Life is Beautiful” to the almost medieval-inspired “The Woods and the Goddess” really captures the captivating nature at the heart of Deadly Premonition. Have a listen and become enthralled.
4. Fallout New Vegas
Every Fallout game has its own charm in regards to their soundtrack. The very first games ambience, the 4th titles movie-style main theme and finally, New Vegas’s country/blues. This late-night cross country radio solidifies the loneliness the courier feels. This is only made better through its comparisons to cowboys and lone wanderers, so to speak, through tracks like “Big Iron” and the sinister double meaning of “Ain’t that a kick in the head.” Fallout is well known for this gritty black humour contrasting overtly happy swing and old country songs with murdering bandits and blasting super mutants. It doesn’t mind how you perform this but it's much cooler with a big iron on your hip.
3. Persona 5
Style. In one word, this is exactly what Persona 5 and its soundtrack manage to nail. Any Persona game or Shoji Meguro soundtrack, for that matter, could place in this list but we’ve gone for Persona 5. From its killer opening tune “Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There” to its more introspective “beneath the mask” Persona 5 just has this suave self-contained brilliance. Not only is this the case but the games day and night cycle leaves room for different styles and genres and Shoji takes full advantage of this. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to make your life just a little cooler, look no further.
Undertale helped solidify one-man powerhouse, Toby Fox, as a world-class game writer and composer all in one go. This focus on one central creator helped to give Undertale a concrete vision and understanding. The music of Undertale isn’t just a catchy addition, it is Undertale. The nostalgic brightness of “Fallen Down” could fit in with any of Nintendo’s classic soundtracks and hold its own as a simplistic yet heartbreaking “Bop”. This simplicity is entirely thrown out of the window with the iconic “Megalovania” a song that starts out simple only to be imbued with prog and synth-rock sensibilities as it ramps up with a crunchy bass riff and heavy drums. This disparity between songs is something Undertale nails. They feel wildly different yet consistent with the overall feel of the game. Exactly what a good soundtrack should do.
1. Silent Hill 2
Any Akira Yamaoka soundtrack could take this spot but we’ve settled on Silent Hill 2 for its iconic role in gaming history. With influences from classic rock, alt and ambient industrial trip-hop, Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack offers so much depth, both in regards to its music and its themes. The tense existentialism of “Theme of Laura” hits you in the head as a few open chords evolve into a symphony of J rock. The iconic creepiness of “Promise(reprise)” pairs with swelling synthetic violins to imbue it with an innate sense of sadness, something Silent Hill 2 is oh so aware of. This is what makes the soundtrack so fantastic. It isn’t created in a vacuum. It knows when to play it calm and it knows when to explode into a wall of sound helping solidify it as one of the scariest experiences even to this day. Just like the game itself, Silent Hill 2’s soundtrack deserves every bit of praise we can give it.
With contributions from
- Josh WestUK Managing Editor, GamesRadar+
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