I’ve been listening to a lot of my favourite videogame soundtracks lately, and it got me to thinking about why the music from games can be so great in ways that other mediums can’t accomplish. The music in a game is a very important part of the whole experience. It can give a certain desired feel or encourage different emotions at certain times. Also, when listening back to these tracks they can bring back memories of great moments you had when playing, even years later.
So here I’ve decided to go through my top 5 soundtracks. It was a struggle to get it down to this many, but in the end my criteria for including them on this list meant that I wanted games that I loved to play the most as well as having amazing music. Also, there needed to be more than just a memorable main theme. Game series’ such as The Elder Scrolls or Battlefield have legendary main themes, but the rest of their music is ,while perfect for their games, mostly forgettable. So some of my honorable mentions include various titles such as FTl: Faster Than Light, Frozen Synapse, and Killing Floor. While I both love these games and their soundtracks, they were simply overshadowed by those on this list and would probably feature in a top 10. There are also a couple of games such as Payday: The Heist and Payday 2, as well as Hotline Miami that I really enjoy the soundtracks for, but I simply haven’t played much if at all, and I mostly like their music more than the actual game.
Anyway without further ado, here is my top 5 in no particular order!
Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings
Even though I said this list would be in no particular order, I’d still probably have to say this is a contender for my top spot. This isn’t because the music in this is anything incredibly amazing, but because each and every track is ingrained in my head and I don’t think they’ll ever leave.
Age of Kings was released in 1999 by Ensemble studios as a sequel to the original Age of Empires of 1997. The music was mostly composed and produced by Stephen Rippy who took over from his brother David Rippy since the first game. The music was all made using synthesizer and sampler.
As I said, this soundtrack isn’t anything particularly epic, and it honestly doesn’t have to be. It is perfectly suited to the game it is made for, that being a medieval RTS. It isn’t anything distracting, allowing you to keep focused on the game. At the same time the tracks are all unique and distinct as to keep some variation in the background, while still having a unifying feel to them that is steady and makes you think of the middle ages. To this day I still find the music so familiar and calming that I sometimes listen to it in the background when I need to focus on something.
Tracks to pick out
Shamburger @0:00 – This one is what always plays at the start of a new game, so for this reason it is the one that gets stuck in my head the most. It still brings back memories and feelings of the uncertainty and wonder of a new map to explore. 😀
T Station @11:57 – One of the most catchy tracks that finds its way into my head at random moments.
But honestly… all of them!
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Another RTS from around the same time as AOEII (you can tell what I played a lot of back then huh?). Red Alert 2 was released in 2000 by Westwood Pacific. The soundtrack was composed by Frank Klepacki who started making music for Westwood in 1991 at the age of 17 and has since become something of a legend in the videogame music world.
Unlike Age of Empires, this soundtrack isn’t exactly what you would call calming. This game features a great mix of heavy metal and electronic tracks with industrial and military sounds added in. While much of the music is fitting as a background to focus on the gameplay, there are a few tracks which ramp up the adrenaline and can make your battles feel truly epic. For a game about an alternate history of a ridiculously escalated cold war with tons of over-the-top elements, brilliantly cheesy real life cutscenes, and explosions everywhere, I’d say such a soundtrack is perfectly fitting. It felt so unique at the time as it turned a genre of game from something that was usually seen as slow serious to something action packed and exhilarating.
Tracks to pick out
Hell March 2 @0:00 – This is the one that steals the show when it comes to Red Alert music. There’s a slightly different version for all 3 in the series but I think Red Alert 2 has the best.
Grinder @11:54 – Another epic metal track that gives the right impression for the game and is used as the title theme to great effect.
Blow it Up @43:32 – More awesomeness of a metal/electronic mix with some cool samples. “Gentlemen, it’s a nuclear device…”
This is one that seems to get overlooked in a lot of other places that talk about the best game OSTs. But for me this is one of the best. Bully was released in 2008 by Rockstar Vancouver with the soundtrack composed by Shawn Lee.
This game has an incredible soundtrack that is a mix of great classic rock styles, with some tracks taking a more punk style, and others featuring some very funky basslines and guitar riffs. each track here is so full of character and really adds to the moments of mischief or the chase sequences, and fits the setting of the game so so well. A particular favourite are the ‘Vendetta’ tracks which play when each one of the cliques have it in for you, such as the nerds, the jocks, the greasers, all of which have their own fitting music.
Tracks to pick out
Main Theme @0:00 – A really cool main theme that plays during the opening sequence of the game that sets things off right. A similar track to the the bells in this one plays when you’re riding your bike ingame.
Walking theme found here – A background theme that for some reason wasn’t in the standalone soundtrack release despite being one of the best. This is what comes to mind when I think of this game.
Vendetta Preps @24:31 – One of the coolest vendetta tracks, and the one I remember most, I think I used to pick fights with the preps a lot, them being the least likable of the groups! Seriously have a listen to all the vendetta tracks though.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
As one of my favourite games of all time, it should be no surprise that this is here really. I do however think that the soundtracks to all MGS games are truly excellent. Snake Eater just has a few extras that bring it above the rest, and the fact that this is in my opinion has the best storyline in the series does help.
Metal Gear Solid 3 was released in 2004 by Konami as a prequel to all other Metal Gear games. The soundtrack is quite extensive and covers a range of styles and themes, and really reminds you of an epic film score. It features music from various artists and composers such as Harry Gregson-Williams, Norihiko Hibino, Cynthia Harrell, TAPPY, and Starsailor.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always had brilliant music, with a lot of really epic sequences and emotional moments that have perfectly fitting musical accompaniment, there’s no way it could be anything less. Even when coming right down to the small moments such as when in alert mode and then transitioning to evasion phase where you hide from the enemy, there is perfect music that feels really tense. On top of all of this MGS3 has some additional things, mainly being ‘Snake Eater’, the first track which plays during the opening after the prologue gameplay which is deliberately like a James Bond title sequence, with this awesome song which wouldn’t be out of place in one of those films. On top of this there are little things such as music you can play over the codec radio which is usually used to contact people of your team for intel (or just to chat about what animal you just ate or new movies that have released as of 1964).
Tracks to pick out
Snake Eater @0:00 – As I mentioned, this is the James Bond Style opener, and it’s pretty great
Main Theme @2:57 – This is a pretty long one, but for the first part it is a lot like the other main themes of the MGS series, but I like it best because it is a more epic orchestral version. Then in a part starting at 8:05 it does the same theme but with a slower, sadder version which is similar to what plays during some rather emotional parts at the end of the game….brings back the feels 😥
Fortress Sneaking @49:41 – A good example of the tense sneaky music these games have while playing
Surfing Guitar @57:12 – One of the fun bonus tracks you can listen to on the codec. Refills your stamina meter for some reason!
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
And finally we get onto what I believe is the most brilliant fantasy RPG soundtrack out there. This is one of those soundtracks that I come back to more than most because it is just so superbly well done that it’s hard to describe.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the third and final installment in the series developed by CD Projekt RED, released on 19 May 2015. The score was composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, and Polish folk bank ‘Percival’, who named themselves after a character in the original Witcher books. What really makes this soundtrack truly special is their approach to the style of the music. They went for a very unique sound which uses a lot of traditional and medieval instruments, as well as traditional Slavic style singing and chanting which can sound really amazing and send chills up your spine. Just take a look here at some behind the scenes footage of different instruments…
The hurdy gurdy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gGLs5NSrbc
The kemenche: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tytbzCe6hmc
The saz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sUjeYI13k8
Like with every aspect of this game, everything was taken into consideration and given a huge amount of love and care to make it the best it could be, something that is unfortunately too rare in big videogames these days. Because of this The Witcher 3 has one of the most fascinating, unique, and truly high quality soundtracks out there.
Tracks to pick out
The Trail @0:00 – This is used as the main theme in the opening cinematic of the game, and it’s really great for setting the scene and mood. Take a listen and you’ll hear some of the best examples of the interesting instruments and vocals used throughout the soundtrack!
Geralt of Rivia @2:51 – The theme of the protagonist, this shows the motif used in many of the tracks to represent Geralt in some way, a really good one!
Spikeroog @16:41 – One of the backround tracks that plays when you’re exploring one of the Isles in the region called Skellige.
The Fields of Ard Skellig @1:11:32 – As above but for the mainland of Skellige. This is one of my favourite on here by far.
Silver for Monsters… and …Steel for Humans @22:03 and 43:24 – The music that usually plays when you’re in combat with either monsters or humans respectively. They both give the right feeling for an intense fight with a slightly different feel for each which somehow seem appropriate.
I may be listing a few too many here but it’s impossible to skip some of these. You should probably just listen to the whole thing, or better yet, play the game!
If you’ve gotten this far then take a listen to some of the music to the awesome expansions to the Witcher 3…
The first track for the Hearts of Stone soundtrack is brilliant because it has the opposing motifs of the main antagonist of that expansion and the one for Geralt. The main theme of that antagonist you first hear in an interesting way; it’s sung by a bunch of kids that you see in game, which is extra creepy, take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyBSZulsIlw
And here with the Blood and Wine expansion there are a lot of great new tracks. I especially like the ones at 14:39 and 40:48 which are very light and happy sounding, they play in the background when you’re out exploring the gorgeous new land of Toussaint.