Within the last few decades, video games have become more and more of an art form rather than a hobby. This is proven through the artistic design of games, the story elements, and one of the essential parts: the soundtrack. Without music, video games become less vibrant in their overall tone. The soundtrack can emphasize a dramatic moment, or warn a player of incoming danger. Many of the memorable experiences gamers have with their favorite titles have a lot to do with the music and how it intertwines with the themes of the game.
Although the list we’ve compiled is only 12, we understand that there are infinite soundtracks out there that deserve recognition that might not make the list. The ones chosen are based on the thematic impact it has on the players and the general feel of the game.
The 12 Best Video Game Soundtracks
12. Spyro the Dragon (1998) – Stewart Copeland
This title doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves, yet it sits as one of the most memorable soundtracks in gaming history. With the recent release of Spyro Reignited Trilogy, players can find an option to either play the new soundtrack made specifically for the remake or use the original. When using the original, we found that the themes of each world and realm were familiar and recognizable even 20 years later. We might not have recognized the brilliance of the music when we were younger, but it says a lot for the songs to stick with us that long.
11. Metal Gear Solid (1998) – Kazuki Muraoka and Rika Muranaka
Throughout decades, Metal Gear Solid has had a substantial impact on gamers of all ages. One of the factors to this is the soundtrack, specifically the main theme, which could be one of the most recognizable themes in gaming history. Each song intertwines with the game’s tone and theme of the game and works so harmoniously with the story elements.
10. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016) – Michael McCann
With a mix of electronic and varying instruments, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided‘s soundtrack captured the feel of the futuristic world that the game was set within. It had the vibes of Blade Runner, but also created its theme that stands out amongst other sci-fi-action titles. The song “Tf29” and the “Opening Credits” are fantastic examples of innovative storytelling through music composition.
9. Transistor (2014) – Darren Korb
Not only is Transistor one of the most innovative and effective indie games of the last few years, but the soundtrack is also something to write home about. The game’s mechanics and rhythm rely heavily on the track list throughout the gameplay and works hand-in-hand so synonymously. To note, it’s comprised of acoustic, electronic, and vocal elements that are mixed to perfection.
8. Destiny 2 (2017) – Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, C Paul Johnson, Rotem Moav, Pieter Schlosser
Both of the Destiny games have a beautiful track list, but the sequel gets the credit due to its explosive and epic themes during combat, as well as the emotionally weighted tracks that utilize strings for some of the more dramatic scenes in the story campaign. A few tracks that come to mind are “The Farm,” “Lost Light,” and “Journey.” Even though the game is a multiplayer experience, many of the dramatic sequences and songs give it a more solo campaign feel in certain parts of the narrative.
7. God of War (2018) – Bear McCreary
It’s only natural that the Game of the Year gets a place on the list of best soundtracks. What this track list does for the game is enhance the epic moments that are the bread and butter of the God of War franchise, but also emphasize the emotional and dramatic moments that truly make this game not only the best in the series but one of the best games of all time. The relationship of Kratos and his son take an emotional ride with ups and downs throughout and the soundtrack truly adds to it.
6. Red Dead Redemption (2010) – Woody Jackson and Bill Elm
Taking inspiration from classic western movie soundtracks, Red Dead‘s track list is comprised of both old-style and modern sounds. Using the vintage horns, harmonica, and strings mixed with deep bass and percussion, the soundtrack helps add to the artistry that is Red Dead Redemption. Also to note that the tracks are a mix of epic shootout music as well as emotional. Songs to check out are “Redemption in Dub”, “Dead End Alley”, “Luz y Sombra,” and “Already Dead”.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017) – Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata, and Hajime Wakai
Much like other long-running franchises, many fans have their favorite games within that series. And, much like their favorite games, fans also have their favorite soundtracks. Choosing a specific game within The Legend of Zelda was a difficult choice, but choosing Breath of the Wild had to happen. It is both ambient and epic at the same time, which encompasses the feel, the tone, and the themes of the game. The track list is both a modern retelling of previous Zelda songs, but doesn’t abandon what made the soundtracks so good in previous entries.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011) – Jeremy Soule
One of the most epic soundtracks in gaming history, Skyrim not only gives you the large set pieces and epic battles but layers it with explosive themes for combat and serene melodies for peaceful exploration of the world. Although the other Elder Scrolls games are of note with their track lists as well, this one emphasizes percussion and a chorus that makes the dragon encounters that much more memorable. Epic tracks include “One They Fear” and “Watch the Skies,” while the peaceful tracks include “The Streets of Whiterun” and “From Past to Present.”
3. Halo 3 (2007) – Michael Salvatori
Using electronic sounds along with piano, chorus, percussion, and strings made Halo 3‘s soundtrack one unforgettable ride. It was harmonious with what was happening in the game’s story and delivered the epic sci-fi sound that Halo fans craved. We’re also not forgetting to mention that the main menu’s theme song is one that will be remembered by gamers for years to come.
2. The Last of Us (2013) – Gustavo Santaolalla
Most known for his work in cinema, Gustavo Santaolalla came to the video game scene with The Last of Us and created one of the most emotionally groundbreaking soundtracks in video game history. Because the game is more of a cinematic experience than a gaming experience, the composer’s contribution to the artistry was second to none. The themes represent the emotional roller coaster of The Last of Us, giving us a sense of the devastation that the characters experience.
1. Final Fantasy XV (2016) – Yoko Shimomura
Within the Final Fantasy franchise, there are many great soundtracks including Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and X, so it was difficult to come to a decision on which one should make the list. The reason that Final Fantasy XV gets the credit this time is because of the composer, Yoko Shimomura, whose work across various game franchises is praised by many. There were many developmental issues for XV, which led to some fragmented and broken story elements, but Yoko’s composition pulled some weight where the story needed it most and carried it on to the next story beat or plot point. Moments that could’ve fallen short were lifted by her unforgettable compositions that were both adventurous and dramatic. Tracks to note: “Crystalline Chill,” “Sunset Waltz, “Stand Your Ground,” and “Luna”.