If I’m not listening to records, I’m playing games; or, if I’m indulging both of my biggest pleasures, both at the same time. Of course, doing this can make me miss out on one of the greatest parts of so many of my favourite videogames. The music. Movie soundtracks and scores have been at the heart of the culture for as long as cinemas have existed, but videogame music still feels like it doesn’t get the love it deserves. Here are just a few of my all time favourites that any music fan should listen to, whether or not you know your Zelda from your Fortnite.
Zanarkand – Final Fantasy X
Taken from my all time favourite game and probably my all time favourite piece of videogame music, ‘Zanarkand’ is a pretty obvious place to start. A simple Piano ballad it may be, but I personally hold so much emotion and attach so many memories to this theme that it hits me every time I hear it. The way the melody lilts its way up, but comes back inward again to be even more intimate, is so powerful here. Final Fantasy is the gold standard for videogame music, I’ve even talked about it here before, where Nobuo Uematsu crafted heartbreaking and exciting melodies for decades. It’s ome of the music I hold the closest to this day.
Love Theme – Metal Gear Solid 4
Talk about heartbreaking, this 7 minute opening theme sung entirely in Hebrew astounds me every time I hear it. Moving from a deep cello solo through emotive and harrowing vocals from Jackie Presti, into sweeping strings and then down to Spanish guitar; ‘Love Theme’ feels like a full journey for the listener. As a series Metal Gear Solid became synonymous with film quality scores, the cinematic way the stories play out only helping matters. There are countless action themes I could have chosen, but from living with these characters for so long, the emotion of this track really hits me hard.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past – Overworld Theme
The Legend of Zelda theme is an undeniable classic and while I could have chosen to include one of the more unexpected pieces of music from the long running series, I’m not sure you’d even have videogame music like we do now had Koji Kondo not written such a memorable piece of music. The version from ‘A Link to the Past’ is probably my favourite, I love the way they use the SNES sound chip to make those low brassy sounds, which gives it this depth and richness that was incredible for the time. It just sounds like adventure, exploring the world, meeting the townspeople, grabbing your sword and shield, dying against that same boss over and over again because your controller is definitely broken and it’s not because you are rubbish at the game.
Museum Bust – Uncharted 3
There’s loads of music I could have chosen from all three of Greg Edmunson’s Uncharted scores, ‘Desperate Times’ and ‘Cat and Mouse’ are some of my favoruites from Uncharted 2, while ‘Nate’s Theme’ remains a singalong staple in my house. It’s greatest moments are when the action; the movement of the characters; the story; the setting and the music align perfectly and there’s few moments as memorable and heart pounding as ‘Museum Bust’. It’s a dramatic theme that builds as the scene does with atmospheric brass and strings, but really kicks off once the flecks of Spanish guitar emerge. You can hear the energy of every motion in the music, it’s heart pounding music as it is, so imagine what it does to a player in the world themselves. The music to Uncharted will forever be an example I’ll hold up when someone asks why I would even notice videogame scores.
Threshold – Journey
Fun fact, Austin Wintory’s score for Journey is the only time in history that a videogame soundtrack has received a Grammy nomination. It was nominated alongside music from The Dark Knight Rises and The Artist back in 2013. It’s obvious to understand why, cello solos heard across the game’s score are breathtaking, especially when heard with the movement and flow of the player’s character. I picked out ‘Threshold’ as a singular piece of music as it captures this beautiful sense of wonder that Journey embodies. I could have picked just about anything from the score though.
When The Moon’s Reaching Out Stars – Persona 3
It would be easy to focus merely on music that appears at specific moments in games, much like in film your experience becomes tied to hearing that perfect story/mood moment alongside that theme. Videogames can take hundreds of hours to complete though, so often the music that has the biggest impact on a player are the the tunes that play over and over again. The Persona series achieves this by utilizing J-Pop songs mixed with Acid Jazz and Rock for each piece of background music. The result is a song like ‘When The Moon’s Reaching Out Stars’ that’s as painfully catchy as it is cheery and welcoming. I must have heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times, but whenever I do it sends me right back into the Japanese city of Iwatodai where I hold such fond memories.
Words by Sam Atkins