This past Monday was National Video Games Day so I’m clinging on to that tenuous link to write another piece about gaming music that I love. I say this is a top 10, but it’s not really ranked. I also say it’s worth owning on vinyl, but some of the below definitely isn’t out on vinyl (yet). So even if the whole point of this article falls apart pretty quickly, let me have a few minutes living my best gamer life with this one.
10) Yakuza 0 – Hidenori Shoji & Others
I’m kicking things off with some 80s era Japanese Pop and Rock. The Yakuza series is baffling, bonkers and brilliant in equal measures and one of the most underrated aspects for me is the music. It’s chaotic and intense during battles, while more subdued and softer in the more emotive moments; it’s also the first soundtrack on this list I genuinely do own on vinyl already.
9) Ratchet + Clank – Rift Apart – Mark Mothersbaugh
A very recent purchase, one of the few genuinely ‘next gen’ titles to release for PS5 in its first year or two, Ratchet + Clank Rift Apart captures an almost Marvel-esque epicness in its music. Huge battles soundtracked by a dramatic orchestral score, all with an otherworldly edge. There’s a real sense of wonder in the way the score is split for levels played by Ratchet and new character Rivet, subtle changes showcasing their slightly different personalities.
8) Fall Guys – Jukio Kallio & Daniel Hagström
I’m pretty sure I picked this as a best of the month one time (no clue how I got away with that) but since Fall Guys launched in 2020 the soundtrack has been a staple in my house. The sense of dread that these peppy and energetic tracks give to me thinking about all of those times I have been THIS CLOSE to winning and fallen off at the very end is infuriating whenever I hear this music. And that’s the entire point, it’s like my heart beats faster when I hear these banging electronic tunes, a truly awesome use of music in an unexpected place.
7) Persona 5 – Shoji Meguro
I mentioned Persona 3 in the last article I did and there’s a reason that the RPG series has become so intrinsically linked with its music. In Persona 5, it’s the fusion of rock and free jazz that makes for some of the most memorable tunes, that you’ll hear over and over again. The track ‘Last Surprise’ plays in EVERY fight you do so it’s a good thing it absolutely slaps as a pop record. It’s a huge score, full of steadily building music truly designed for the background of cut-scenes that could last a very long time, but it makes for a surprisingly robust and enjoyable listen on vinyl. Persona 5 remains the most expensive record I’ve ever bought too!
6) Resident Evil 4 – Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama
It may seem like a weird choice to listen to as an ‘album’ but I’ve always been fascinated by horror videogame soundtracks and how they manage to do very little at times and yet capture such a unique sense of dread. In Resident Evil 4, surely the peak of the series, it’s the quietest moments that are surely the scariest. I’ve sat listening to Resident Evil soundtracks while working and been told I’m utterly mad for doing so, maybe I am, but I’d still buy this on vinyl.
5) Super Mario Galaxy – Mahito Yokota and Koji Kondo
Mario games have featured some of the most iconic videogame music ever written. The Mario Theme itself is one of the most instantly recognisable tunes in any media, but for me the music I remember the most fondly is from Super Mario Galaxy the peak of the entire series. This music is as epic in scale as the game itself, but still manages to feel rooted in addictive and catchy melodies underneath the detailed and complex orchestrations. I can’t help but feel so happy whenever I hear this music, it’s a joy.
4) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – Harry Gregson-Williams
How do you capture the same energy of a Hollywood blockbuster in a video game score? You ask a movie composer to write the music for your game. It may not be most people’s favourite soundtrack in the series – honestly every game could appear here – but this is definitely my favourite. I especially love the more industrial sound of some of the music here, for a game set on a Tanker and then an offshore plant, you get this sense of metallic architecture that a more straightforward soundtrack might miss. They have said that the MGS2 soundtrack will be coming to vinyl very soon, that’s probably true, whether I’ll be able to make it through ‘Can’t Say Goodbye to Yesterday’ without tearing up is another thing entirely.
3) Red Dead Redemption II – Woody Jackson
Red Dead, alongside other Rockstar created series like Grand Theft Auto is unique here as the soundtrack you hear while playing includes lots of actual songs. In fact the RDR II: Original Soundtrack is entirely made up of original songs by performers like D’Angelo, Willie Nelson and Rhiannon Giddens. The soundtrack that I own on vinyl is the score, which is somehow even more diverse than the song selection, full of interesting changes of dynamics and instrumentation but so beautiful throughout. You get real peak moments such as the epic ‘Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern’ and ‘Red Dead Redemption’, while ‘Country Pursuits’ is otherworldly, thanks to the impact of Arca on the track.
2) Final Fantasy IX – Nobuo Uematsu
You thought I’d write about video game music and not mention Final Fantasy? Of course I couldn’t resist. FFIX’s inclusion is partly because the music is so great but also because I’m currently sat waiting for the vinyl release of this soundtrack to finally arrive on my doorstep. The last entry in the series for the original PlayStation, the music for this game has stood the test of time in the decades that have followed. So playful and joyous at times and utterly heartbreaking at others, it’s a fantastical score that hits hard on every single piece of music. This is a soundtrack I already own on CD, a 4 disc box-set of music that just makes me feel like I’m home.
1) The Last Of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla
When I consider ‘must own’ soundtracks, then The Last of Us has to be mentioned, which is why it sits at the top here. I say it’s an essential vinyl record to own, but in fact the original Last of Us soundtrack is the one in the series I don’t own yet. Gustavo Santaolalla’s score has become so synonymous with the game and the style of music in these sorts of games that it plays such a huge role in my experience with The Last of Us. We hear rhythmic drumming for action sequences, but for a game so built around fighting off both the undead and the living most of the time, its a much more subtle way of scoring a game like this. The emotional and grounded guitar playing on so many of these pieces is so affecting and gives the player real moments of self reflection on such a vicious and brutal journey.
What video game soundtracks are your personal favourites? Please tell us over on Twitter at @PickyBastards and maybe the other editors will trust me to not turn this music site into a gaming site with another article.
Words by Sam Atkins