The amount of video games with soundtracks that slap is immense, and the list continues to grow. From atmospheric melodies to synthwave sounds and beyond, it can be quite whimsical how video games will often have you feeling affectionately towards genres of music or specific songs that you may have never given a second thought to otherwise.
There are a mass of brilliant soundtracks out there, but which ones would we argue are the best of the best? I very well could be here all day listing various contenders, but I’ve done my best to try and narrow it down to just 15, and I’ll no doubt be mad at myself in less than 24 hours when someone points out yet another brilliant soundtrack that didn’t make the cut.
Music is one of the most important factors of a game for me, which is why I found myself so disappointed when the soundtrack for Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands didn’t live up to how fun the Borderlands’ soundtracks were. However, music isn’t there merely for fun and entertainment value, but to aid with telling a game’s story too. So, as Tiny Tina opted for a fantastical soundtrack this time around, I could appreciate how it added to the game more so than Cage the Elephant or The Heavy might’ve done.
Best Video Game Soundtracks
Without further ado, here are 15 of the best video game soundtracks of all time, in no particular order; with some honourable mentions made to other deserving soundtracks that didn’t quite make the cut.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons
- Super Mario 64
- The Sims
- Silent Hill
- Let It Die
- Narita Boy
- Hotline Miami
- Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
- Chrono Cross
- Final Fantasy
- Other Honourable Mentions
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s better video game soundtracks out there than that of any Animal Crossing game. Yet, the soundtrack that changed hourly in Animal Crossing: New Horizons holds such a special place in my heart.
Maybe it’s the fact that I spent nearly 200 hours terraforming my island during the pandemic, or maybe it’s that so many content creators have since used the music of New Horizons to create their own cosy content.
Either way, the soundtrack for Animal Crossing: New Horizons has two main associations for me: calm, and cosy. That’s what Animal Crossing is about; the games are escapism at its finest. Even if Tom Nook is regularly reminding you of the impending doom of capitalism, New Horizons’ soundtrack reminds you that it’s going to all be okay.
Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 hit it on the head when trying to make fun tracks for every environment. It’s near impossible to neglect how the likes of level music like Cool, Cool Mountain makes you feel like you’re on top of the clouds as you actually traverse them, while Dire Dire Docks slowed things down a lot, probably so you didn’t panic at the site of the huge eels.
Every track - even that of ability-based music such as Metallic Mario - perfectly intertwines with whatever is happening on your screen or whichever area you’re running through. I simply can’t imagine a Super Mario 64 level without the soundtrack echoing in my head, too; the music truly made this game feel all the more immersive and magical as a child.
I’m not sorry for this. Not one bit. I spent most of my childhood playing The Sims games on PS2, and later, Nintendo DS. Almost every single one of those games has something that surprisingly goes hard.
I refer you to the SIM Hoe Down. That’s all.
It’s still rather wild to think that Undertale was created by just one person: Toby Fox. The characters, the charming dialogue, and every single piece of music was crafted by the solo developer.
All the while, the soundtrack for Undertale feels incredibly varied, and it becomes all the more surprising that each individual track came from one creator rather than a team of composers.
It’s a soundtrack that is incredibly hard to tire of, especially as you go from the games subtle and twinkly early tracks Once Upon A Time and Memory, to the alternatively upbeat tunes of ASGORE and MEGALOVANIA.
There’s around one hundred pieces of music in Undertale, none of them feel the same, and it’s surprising how many of them become deep-seated in your memory.
The sound of Silent Hill is that of Akira Yamaoka, and the original Silent Hill opening from 1999 is unforgettable. For much of the series, Yamaoka provided music that will forever make Silent Hill one of the most iconic horror games in history.
Silent Hill’s opening is a string-laden tune, and it’s the perfect introduction to a story that is so incredibly full of confusion and despair. Glimpses of what’s to come appear, acting as a warning message, and the eeriness of what is one of the more lively tunes in Silent Hill soon fill you with dread.
The entire soundtrack fills you with anticipation for the horror experience, and as you advance through Silent Hill, Yamaoka’s music is teaming with ambience, synthesisers and/or harsh industrial noises to propel your fear. Additionally, Yamaoka knows exactly when and how to make the sounds swell and burst into your eardrums, giving you goosebumps before you’ve even turned the next corner.
Yamaoka later left Konami for indie development, and there’s more on him next.
Let It Die
Let It Die is a game that has never been on my radar, and never would’ve been if VG247 guides editor, James Billcliffe, didn’t make me aware of it. The game is a free-to-play RPG developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, and for some reason, has music from over 100 Japanese bands.
James stresses that the multiple albums worth of music created for the game were done so with little to no reason, other than they had the budget, and well, for the fun of it, if I had to assume. Now, even though Let It Die isn’t something I plan on playing (because it is notoriously pay-to-win), I did end up in a YouTube hole exploring all the different musicians that contributed to the soundtrack.
Needless to say, I was impressed by the sheer amount of music on offer for this game, and how much of it was good. I suppose when you’re letting Akira Yamaoka direct the soundtrack, you can’t go wrong.
Yamaoka contacted hundreds of musicians that he was in admiration of, simply asking that they create a track titled ‘Let It Die’. That’s it. The end result is Let It Die’s 100+ track OST; it’s ambitious, and somewhat overwhelming, but it’s incredibly captivating to see each musician’s reimagination of the simple theme.
I am such a sucker for synthwave in all forms, so I have to make mention to Narita Boy’s soundtrack. Created by Studio Koba, Narita Boy is an indie platformer that takes inspiration from 80s themes, reimagines them through an innovative lens, and then lets this spill over into its soundtrack.
An original score by Salvinsky, each track takes you somewhere fresh yet experimental, much in line with the futuristic nature of the game. Frankly, there isn’t a single song from Salvinsky’s soundtrack that falters as you heroically work to restore the Creator’s memories in a haunting landscape. Take a look at Beat Em Up.
Yet another soundtrack fuelled by synth and electronic noises, Hotline Miami keeps the pace up with its music. A third-person shooter in a brightly-coloured 8-bit realm, the game is equal parts frustrating and fun.
As you repeatedly die to the same level over and over (or at least, I did, anyway), it’s often the music that seems to encourage you to keep on going. Multiple musicians worked on the soundtrack to Hotline Miami, crafting a noisy yet hypnotic soundtrack packed with entrancing electronics and often, a really good beat for beating people up.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
David Wise was the sole composer at Rare for nearly a decade, and has gained legendary status since for his work on the likes of Battletoads, Diddy Kong Racing, and let’s not forget Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest.
What makes the upbeat melodies and energetic electronic sounds on display all the more impressive is the lengths that David Wise went to in order to compose and produce such a soundtrack back in the nineties. Every piece of music has unparalleled detail when it comes to technical trickery, including more sombre tracks such as In a Snow-Bound Land, and the final product is a soundtrack that will receive praise evermore.
Cuphead, as explicitly seen through gameplay and heard through music, takes great inspiration from the early 1930s. The result is an incredibly jazzy and loud soundtrack, accompanying visuals reminiscent of old-school animations, like Disney’s early Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies shorts.
Cuphead’s soundtrack is composed by Kristofer Maddigan, and each piece of music was performed live by a 13-piece big band, accompanied by more musicians, and even a tap dancer. The soundtrack’s biggest inspirations came from Duke Ellington and Scott Joplin, highly reflected in a soundtrack that is a hybrid of jazz, ragtime, and experimentation.
If you’ve played Cuphead, you’ll know that it can feel chaotic at the best of times, and its soundtrack works brilliantly to amplify that with the upmost rhythm.
Another point to Konami. Castlevania is very different to that of Silent Hill, but still possesses a haunting score primarily written by Satoe Terashima and Kinuyo Yamashita.
I make mention to the whole series, as it wouldn’t be right of me - someone who is far from a Castlevania expert - to pick apart which game does it best. I’ll leave the discussion of which game has the best music to those with more of an affinity towards the series.
Either way, there’s no denying that Symphony of the Night’s Moonlight Nocturne by a later composer to join the team, Michiru Yanabe, is one wholly amazing music piece for filling players with anticipation as they begin the game.
You got me, I’m a sucker for twinkly sounds; but doesn’t everyone love them, at least a little bit? If you do, then Celeste is simply the one. First Steps was all it took for me to fall in love with the soundtrack to this pixelated platformer.
There is more than what meets the eye when it comes to Celeste, however. As you traverse a mountain and be a hero, everything is an analogy for something much deeper, and that’s working through your own struggles mentally. The soundtrack, composed by Lena Raine, works to emphasise the journey you and your character are going on.
Almost every song has feelings of both tenseness and curiosity to them, and while they function so effortlessly as a component of Celeste’s narrative, they have been a big hit outside of the game too - rightly so.
Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack was primarily composed by Yasunori Mitsuda. However, Final Fantasy composer, Nobuo Uematsu, contributed a few tracks too. At the time, Mitsuda wasn’t prepared to stay with Square Enix unless he could compose music.
So, when Hironobu Sakaguchi suggested Mitsuda score Chrono Trigger, it was the beginning of something beautiful. The composer worked tirelessly to create something fantastical and, quite literally, out of this world and most importantly, something that felt consistent.
It’s needless to say that Mitsuda succeeded with this, and the resulting soundtrack is a vast mixture of jazz, rock, and grunge, all while feeling incredibly harmonious one after the other.
Chrono Cross also soon followed, with yet another outstanding soundtrack by Mitsuda.
The original Doom games also have emblematic soundtracks that shouldn’t go unmentioned, but it is the soundtrack to DOOM (2016) by Mick Gordon that stands out the most.
Though quite different to the synths and twinkly tones mentioned in this list, DOOM has a roster of prog-metal tracks with industrial infusions and plenty of breakdowns, all of which accompany DOOM’s gameplay remarkably.
Specifically, reimaginations of the classics, such as Harbinger and At Doom’s Gate, still remaining faithful to the soundtracks of its predecessors while offering a harsher and unrelenting sound that helps to capture the bloodbath that is DOOM.
This would not be a list of the best video game soundtracks without making mention to Final Fantasy. I make mention to Final Fantasy on the whole simply because of how prolific the music is across the board. VG247 assistant editor, Alex Donaldson, has a lot more to say about me on the topic. Namely that, really, there’s only one video game series musically rich enough to support an orchestra concert at scale, and that is Final Fantasy.
In fact, Alex spoke in depth with Arnie Roth, conductor of Distant Worlds, a few years ago about how music is Final Fantasy’s legacy.
Other honourable mentions are owed to the following: Halo 3, Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Journey, Shin Megami Tensei 5, Hollow Knight, Ridge Racer, Deathloop, Hades, Hollow Knight, Portal 2, NieR:Automata, Everybody’s Gone to Rapture, Super Metroid, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Katamari Damacy, Jet Set Radio, Metal Gear Solid 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Minecraft
There you have it. What do you think are the best video game soundtracks of all time? Let us know.