Six Games With Brilliant Soundtracks

Music is a crucial component to virtually every game. Here are six titles that do it right

By LG18, Posted 21 Jan 2021

Music in video games has evolved greatly since the early days, with most big titles utilizing the power of a full orchestra today.
It's not all about that realism, though; video game music has far more diversity in its execution and arrangement than that of a blockbuster film.
Here are six titles that show how important to the experience music can be!


Metal Gear Solid
Platform: PlayStation
Year: 1998
Publisher: Konami

Metal Gear Solid is an odd series, to say the least, but unequivocally brilliant nonetheless.
In many ways, it’s a great homage to the spy genre, and in others, something so quirky it couldn’t be further removed from it.
One thing’s for sure, however; the soundtrack from the original game did wonders for its atmosphere.
Nothing heightened the fright of being spotted than the sense of action elicited by those tight spiccato string stabs and thundering taiko drums.
Metal Gear Solid ushered in the idea of games being like films, and the music played a huge part in that. The game also knew when to take the mood down, too - a sentiment echoed in the timbral, orchestral soundscapes of the opening sequence as Snake arrives at the Shadow Moses facility.
It was one of the first time video game music got cinematic and is a huge reason the first game is still a joy to revisit today.


Snake hidden
 

Shenmue
Platform: Dreamcast
Year: 1998
Publisher: SEGA

A lot of people didn’t like Shenmue. A lot of people loved it. But what no one can dispute is its revolutionary birthing of the open-world genre.
Steeped in Japanese history, no one had ever seen a game like Shenmue before, and its epic tale was scored by one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever conceived.
Channeling the oriental bliss of the Erhu and the epic sound of the Kanagawa Philharmonic Orchestra, the OST framed Ryo’s journey to an impeccable standard.

Augmenting the main soundtrack were some amazing piano pieces throughout and excellent use of synthetic sounds, which gave the game a thoroughly unique feel.
The music of Shenmue is one of the most memorable, and therefore nostalgic parts of the game. Even if going back and playing it today doesn’t elicit the same wonder it did in 1998, the artistry that went into every part of it is blatant to see.


Ryo leaving Tokyo
 

DOOM
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch
Year: 2016
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Unlike the Shenmue OST, ‘beautiful’ certainly isn’t an adjective one would use to describe the music of any Doom game - let alone this one.
The original DOOM mimicked that of 80s and 90s thrash metal - bands like Metalica, Megadeth, and Pantera. Mick Gordon took those elements and applied them to a whole new level for the reboot.
Through the use of a beastly 8-string guitar and some crazy soviet synthesizers, DOOM 2016’s music hit as hard as the game did. An exquisite overture to the most violent of daemonic disembowelments, nothing sounds quite as unapologetically aggressive as this progressive metal soundtrack. 

It reaches both the lowest of bass notes and most ear shredding of sharp riffs, with Gorden managing to hone a sublime blend of organic and synthetic instruments. Suggesting it was a match made in heaven doesn’t sound particularly fitting, but you get the idea.
 

DOOM guy vs Revenant
 

Jet Set Radio
Platform: Dreamcast
Year: 2000
Publisher: SEGA

There aren’t many games that evoke quite as much 90s nostalgia as Jet Set Radio - a game quintessential of the Dreamcast’s uniqueness as a platform.
For this game; master of the sampler Hideki Naganuma brought one of the funkiest set of tracks ever to pump through the speakers of a CRT television.

Rather than use licensed music to fuel the rampage as many games of its type did, each track in Jet Set Radio’s list of ten was thoroughly unique and evocative of the high octane gameplay.
You couldn’t put Naganuma’s music for the game into a specific genre, with hip-hop, electro, jazz, and drum and bass all coming together to make what was a special amalgamation. 

It’s unlikely we’ll see another Jet Set Radio game, but it’s always going to be a blast to revisit the original - to have its incredible colors, addictive gameplay, and pumping tunes take you back to 1990s Tokyo (and 1990s Sega, for that matter). 


Flying kite trick
 

Sonic Mania
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch

Year: 2017
Publisher: SEGA

The Sonic the Hedgehog series has been one lost to changing times, and it’s surprising no one thought sooner to return the blue blur to his 2D heyday.
This is exactly what Christian Whitehead’s team did in 2017, creating one of the best Sonic games ever made.
Like every other game on this list, the music was paramount to the feel of the game, with the team taking ‘chip-tune’, low bit rate music to a whole new level with the soundtrack.

Whether it was taking tracks from the original games and cramming as much musical diversity into them as possible, or through the brilliant barrage of synthetic ecstasy that was the new tracks; Sonic Mania contains some of the best music of its type.
Akin to the game’s diverse levels, no one track was the same. The musicians played around with time signature, tempo, improvisation, and the Jazz genre to bring a medley of great music, despite having such a narrow pallet to work from.
Depth of expression is a huge hurdle for chiptune music, and this is possibly the best example of what mastering it sounds like.

 

Knuckles stage
 

Donkey Kong Country
Platform: Super Nintendo
Year: 1994
Publisher: Nintendo

Speaking of difficulties due to the limitations of low bit rate music; there’s no musician which worked quite so hard with the limitations of the Super Nintendo’s sound chip as David Wise.
Through painstakingly mapping waveforms into unique arrangements, he managed to make 16-bit music sound like real instruments.
Building on what was possible with hardware like the Korg Wavestation - a synthesizer enabling the stringing together of multiple different waveforms - Wise was able to create evolving pads and soundscapes by arranging waves at different frequencies using a music tracker.
From the atmospheric, evolving soundscapes of the underwater levels, to the catchy and detailed instrumentation of the jungle stages; he captured the magic of the game perfectly in his music.
There was no other musician working with the 16-bit consoles that achieved what he did, which can also be said for the whole team at Rare and the invitation they achieved with that game.


DK Barrel

Of course, these six games only represent a fraction of the talent behind video game composition. What are your favorite video game soundtracks? Let us know below. 

 

Linden Garcia
Editor NoobFeed

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