The 10 finest soundtracks in videogaming

With Bear McCreary providing the music to SOCOM: Special Forces, Glen takes a timely look back at 10 other unforgettable videogame soundtracks…

Videogame music is often not as highly regarded as, say, scores for films, which is a great shame, since games are frequently more epic in scale than films, and require similar emotions to be drawn from their audiences.

I don’t think that it’s a bold statement to say that composing for videogames can often pose a greater challenge than composing for film. With a number of high-profile film composers contributing soundtracks to videogames over the years, and since Bear McCreary’s written the score for SOCOM: Special Forces (due out on the 21st April), I thought now would be an ideal time to look at some of my favourite videogame soundtracks of recent years.

Mass Effect 2 – Jack Wall

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I love the soundtrack for the first Mass Effect, but for me, Jack Wall’s effort for the sequel edges it. It seems to be a much more focused affair, and more cinematic in style. It plays out like a great score for a sci-fi movie, the likes of which Jerry Goldsmith would have composed.

Wall has composed many great videogame scores over the years, and has established himself as one of the finest composers working in the medium. He won’t be returning to provide the soundtrack for the third instalment of the series, however; instead, that honour will go to Clint Mansell, who also seems like an ideal fit.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World – Anamanaguchi

The XBLA and PSN videogame tie-in for Edgar Wright’s big-screen take on Scott Pilgrim was a glorious throwback to the 8-bit, side-scrolling beat-em-ups of the 80s and early 90s. For its soundtrack, Wright recruited chiptune masters Anamanaguchi to work their magic, and provide a soundtrack that evoked a sense of some of the great games of that era.

While I love the game it accompanies, the main draw for me is the music, which is unbelievably catchy, with a strong sense of fun and adventure that hits all the right notes, and captures the spirit of the series wonderfully. This is a must-buy for fans of old-school videogame music. It’s one of the greatest videogame soundtracks I’ve heard for some time, and has encouraged me to check out more of Anamanaguchi’s material.

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Super Mario Galaxy – Mahito Yokota & Koji Kondo

If, like me, you grew up on the MIDI-based soundtracks for previous instalments of the Mario franchise, your heart may have sunk when you heard the news that Super Mario Galaxy would move away from the approach we all knew and loved, and feature a full orchestral score instead.

Mahito Yokota was assisted by the great Koji Kondo, and created a soundtrack that is arguably one of the finest videogame soundtracks of recent times. Kondo has an amazing talent of creating infectiously catchy and emotive pieces that are like characters in their own right, and hearing them played in the manner they are here is stunning. A must own.

Modern Warfare 2 – Hans Zimmer

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Hans Zimmer has composed scores for some of the biggest cinematic blockbusters of recent years, so was the ideal choice to compose the soundtrack for the biggest blockbuster game in recent times. I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the CoD series, and don’t devote hours of my life to the online mode (mainly because I’m crap), but I do give the single player modes a play through, and find them entertaining.

Being something of a score geek, the fact that Zimmer was the composer here was a major draw. This is classic Zimmer, and features nods to a number of his classic scores while managing to retain its own identity, providing an intense musical backdrop that raises the quality of the game.

Okami – Hiroshi Yamaguchi, Akira Kaida & Rei Kondoh

Okami was one of the final titles released on the PS2, and was also available on the Wii (one of the finest titles on either platform), and was greeted with critical adulation. Its soundtrack is a work of art that rivals the game it accompanies, and features some of the most beautiful music ever to accompany a videogame. This really is a brilliant effort by all involved.

Heavily influenced by classical Japanese music, the score is as epic as the game itself, and was the recipient of the BAFTA for best score at the 2008 Video Games Awards. A five CD soundtrack is available, but will set you back the best part of £100.

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Dark Void – Bear McCreary

Bear McCreary is something of a master when it comes to sci-fi, having composed great scores for the likes of Battlestar Galactica, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Eureka to name but a few, so being a fan of his work, I was excited to hear that he would compose the soundtrack for Dark Void.

While I think the game is flawed yet quite enjoyable, McCreary’s score is something special indeed. It’s as though he’s approached it as if he were scoring a film or TV series, and uses a variety of styles to create an exciting gaming experience that has an emotional core.

It’s a fine balancing act that really pays off, with a leitmotif used in a number of key moments that adds an air of familiarity among moments of pulse-pounding tension.

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time – Koji Kondo

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Great music has always accompanied the Zelda franchise, but Ocarina Of Time is the finest of them all. The sheer amount of music that accompanies the game is impressive in itself, but what’s even more impressive is the variety of styles that composer Koji Kondo incorporates, and the range of emotions he elicits from seemingly simple compositions.

This is an incredibly sophisticated and layered score that more than justifies its rather high retail price – particularly if you’re looking to obtain the Japanese import copy, which is one of the best soundtracks available. There are 82 tracks in the collection, and it’s jam-packed full of highlights, most notably Zelda’s Theme and The Title Theme. 

Quake – Nine Inch Nails

Now a sought-after Academy Award winning composer, Trent Reznor composed the soundtrack for id Software’s classic first-person shooter Quake back in 1996.

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Sadly, the music has yet to receive an official stand-alone release, but it really is a quite remarkable and experimental collection of music that adds an air of disorientation, dread and tension to an already unsettling game.

There are moments of true beauty amongst the industrial percussion and aggressive guitars, and it would provide a glimpse in to the direction the band would take in the years following the game’s release.

Metal Gear Solid – Various

A collaboration between a number of composers lead to the creation of an excellent soundtrack for Metal Gear Solid, which features one of the most recognisable title themes in recent history. The soundtrack plays a huge part in why the game is so memorable, and held in such high regard; the pieces that accompany each stage of the game are perfectly judged, and evoke just the right moods.

In recent years, many have cited the score for Guns Of The Patriots as being a better soundtrack than this, with it featuring the talents of Harry Gregson-Williams, but for me, Williams’ contributions were somewhat disappointing, and what worked well with the Snake’s most recent outing worked considerably better in 1998’s Metal Gear Solid. 

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Final Fantasy VII – Nobuo Uematsu

Nobuo Uematsu’s score for Final Fantasy VII is a masterpiece, and represents a culmination of the elements that made his previous works for the series so memorable into the finest soundtrack for the series. Simple themes are allowed to play out and build towards emotional payoffs that, as a player, often left me speechless.

It’s amazing that, when this is listened to in isolation from the game, how effective it is at taking you back to the exact moments the music accompanied. It’s a score that’s as epic and as sophisticated as the game itself. 

The above represent some of my own favourite videogame soundtracks, and is by no means a definitive, or extensive list, so there are no doubt countless omissions. Feel free to provide your suggestions in the comments section below.

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