Video game music

I listen to a wide spectrum of music. From heavy metal to electronica, some pop and, occasionally, hip hop, my tastes are pretty varied. Despite all this, there has been very little, I have found, that suits working or walking better than video game music. Occasionally, a game’s music can be its only saving grace. All of the games I discuss here are games whose soundtracks have touched me in some way or other.

The Sea will Claim Everything

I’m starting with this one because it’s a fantastic indie title that many readers may not have heard of before (unless you read thisindiegameblog, in which case I wrote a long piece about it a couple of years ago). The game is very much like an adult storybook–with its political themes and its intricate story coupled with its whimsical, hand-drawn images–and the soundtrack goes along perfectly. This soundtrack was composed by Chris Christodoulou, who has done a wide variety of compositions–check out his Bandcamp page for more information. Despite being a fairly recent game, something about its soundtrack feels indescribably nostalgic.

Favourite track: Home, Underhome

Journey

This is a well-known indie title that took the world by storm nearly four years ago. I was obsessed with it for a very long time, and the soundtrack had no small part in that. Composed by Austin Wintory, who has since composed the soundtracks for Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and the Banner Saga, it is a masterpiece. “Apotheosis”, followed by “I Was Born for This”, are both tracks that have, admittedly, brought me to tears more often than not.

Favourite track: Apotheosis

Flower

Flower is defined as an interactive poem, and this is evidenced through the game’s beautiful graphics and setting. Flower is relaxing, for one thing, but it also inspires awe in the player. Vincent Diamante composed Flower‘s soundtrack to be perfectly coupled with each singular level and mood within the game. For instance, the first few tracks have a calm, playful tone to them. Then, a few levels later, the game grows a bit darker, as reflected in the track “Solitary Wasteland”. Finally, with “Purification of the City”, the game reaches a triumphant, hopeful conclusion that makes me cry every time I hear it. Just listening to the soundtrack again inspires intense emotions within me that I remember feeling the first time I played it.

Favourite track: Purification of the City

Baten Kaitos and Baten Kaitos Origins

These two lesser-known GameCube titles–Baten Kaitos being the first one released, and Baten Kaitos Origins being the prequel–have a stunning soundtrack by a well-known games composer named Sakuraba Motoi. Recently, Sakuraba has done well-known titles such as Bravely Default and Dark Souls, so the Baten Kaitos games are some of the least popular on his expansive roster. The games, considered to be somewhat cult classics among GameCube players, have incredible soundtracks that reflect each environment and mood perfectly. One of the common themes among both games is politics, and one thing that struck me was how songs on the soundtrack can actually sound political. It’s great background music, and great to write to.

Favourite tracks: Supreme Ruler of the Nine Heavens (BK), Boundary Between the Wind and Earth (BKO)

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon

This was a very unique, immersive game based in a post-apocalyptic Japan. This game was also developed by the same lovely folks who brought Baten Kaitos: Tri-Crescendo. The game is melancholy, lonely, and mysterious, and its beautiful soundtrack is a perfect companion. Many of the tunes are piano pieces that tug at the heartstrings and evoke that same feeling of loneliness found in the game. Fragile had interesting dynamics that weren’t always enjoyable, but it was a very emotional experience that’s worth playing. This is another lesser-known title.

Favourite track: A Dedication to… Everyone

ICO

This game soundtrack is as ethereal and mysterious as the game itself is. As a minimalist game, featuring no heads-up display and no backstory, ICO asks its players to decide for themselves what the surrounding setting really is. The music works in the same vein. Often only centred around one prominent instrument, each song is minimalist in its own way. Featuring ethereal ambient soundscapes, some classical guitar (one of my personal favourite sounds), and simple piano melodies, this soundtrack covers a lot of ground in keeping with the game’s minimalist approach.   One track, “Darkness”, plays when the enemies appear, and I still find myself a little anxious upon hearing it. The tracks on this chilling, haunting soundtrack are short, but very effective.

Favourite track: Castle in the Mist

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

This was my favourite game as a kid. This game was my first RPG, and is the introduction I needed to what would become one of my favourite game genres. The music, composed by a trio of video game music legends: Koji Kondo, Nobuo Uematsu and Yoko Shimomura, is a catchy, upbeat, fun soundtrack that matches the game’s colourful adventure.

Favourite tracks: Beware the Forest’s MushroomsFight Against an Armed Boss

Animal Crossing (the original Gamecube game)

I might have the nostalgia goggles on a bit with this one, but hear me out. I was in junior high when this game first came out, and I would often come home from school to play it. This game’s music was so fascinating to me because it changed every hour, and it even had a rainy day song that, years down the road, still gets stuck in my head on an overcast day. On Friday nights, I would load up my game and go to the train station to listen to K. K. Slider play a “live set”, which was a big highlight of the game for me–I argue that Slider’s live performances, despite being perhaps a little strange, are actually more melodic than the airchecks. All in all, this game’s soundtrack has over 200 tracks to it, and, collectively, makes for over seven hours of listening.

Favourite tracks: Two Days Ago, KK Love SongRainy Day

And last, but certainly not least, my current favourite:

Undertale

Oh my God, where do I start? First of all, this indie game, released in September 2015, has jumped up to the very top 5 of my list of favourite games ever–it may eventually end up in the number one slot, but that remains to be seen. The music was stuck in my head for several weeks after I played it through. It’s hard to believe that a soundtrack of this calibre was completed by one person, and an independent musician at that. Toby Fox is, really, at the beginning of his career, and that makes this work all the more impressive. This is actually one of the most intricate and involved soundtracks I’ve heard from a video game. Every major character has a leitmotif that will, inevitably, make it into another song later on in the game, along with some others, to create a new song. Undertale’s soundtrack is a whopping 101 tracks long, which is incredible, considering a playthrough is only about five hours long. I’ll be listening to this soundtrack for a long time to come.

Favourite track: All of them?! (Highlights are Spider Dance, Bonetrousle, and  Heartache, as well as some spoiler tracks I’m not going to reveal here! Go play the game!)

Honourable mentions:

Shadow of the Colossus

Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

I almost forgot to mention The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which was a gross oversight on my part! This is easily one of my favourite games of all time.

I’d rather listen to most of these soundtracks than the radio any day of the week. Game soundtracks are often beautiful, but also make ideal productivity music. I’ve used them for my own personal auditory mood board–within playlists–on multiple projects. Most gamers have favourite soundtracks or highlights. If you have any to share, yourself, I’d love to know some of your favourites.

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