The Best Video Game Soundtracks of All Time, Ranked
You'll never see it comiiiing...
A video game is only as good as the sum of its parts, which, of course, includes its soundtrack. A game can be fun to play and gorgeous to look at, but if the soundtrack sucks, then the player will only feel a sense of dissonance from the entire experience. I’ve certainly felt that way: Yet another copy-paste [insert game genre here] with a mediocre, subpar soundtrack.
Therefore, when considering what qualifies for a “Best of All Time” list, I’ve taken into account the range a soundtrack has and how it fits into the game at large. For instance, a game can have a perfectly gorgeous soundtrack—Journey and The Last of Us come to mind—but because their tonal themes tend to be monotonous and generally overly-same-y, I’ve chosen to omit them. Yes, the composers probably put them together like that on purpose, and credit where credit’s due, but I find that the best soundtracks vary based on circumstance, which helps them become more memorable in the long run.
All of that said—here are our picks for the best video game soundtracks, ranked.
13. Disco Elysium
Oh … this hurts my heart. Not because it occupies the end of this list (the fact that it made it onto this list is proof enough that this is a good soundtrack worth listening to), but because of all the bull that’s been going on with ZA/UM and property theft. I hope the original creators win their lawsuit.
In any case, this soundtrack is perfectly atmospheric, and it sticks in your head long after originally beating the game. It’s only at the butt-end of this list because a lot of these songs are ripped from a pre-existing band’s discography (Sea Power), and though they did contribute to the soundtrack, it’d feel a little unfair to give it a higher spot as a result.
12. Stardew Valley
Eric Barone made this entire game by himself, INCLUDING the soundtrack. Unbelievable. Not only that, but the soundtrack is incredibly creative and fun, and even though it’s large enough that most players won’t remember every single song, Barone succeeds in creating a soundtrack that not only fits the vibe of the game—it makes it.
From the slow autumnal reprieves, to the honky-tonk saloon jam, Stardew Valley‘s soundtrack is truly a thing to admire and a testament to Barone’s talent. I’m excited to see what he comes up with for his next game, Haunted Chocolatier!
11. Red Dead Redemption
While Red Dead Redemption‘s soundtrack tends to have the same tonal structure overall, it succeeds in fitting each and every atmosphere it finds itself in. The opening track, for instance, is constantly at odds with itself, from the melancholic piano notes reminding you that the world is changing, to Marston and the feds introducing the harder guitar notes. That alone tells you all you need to know: John Marston is going to tear the house down if need be.
And it’s not just spine-chilling in its execution, it’s also unmistakable amongst any other game. Yes, Red Dead 2 also had a great soundtrack, but it lacked these specific musical motifs that set it apart and made it unique. I haven’t even mentioned Jose Gonzalez’s “Far Away.” Talk about a spine-chiller.
Originally, I only had one Darren Korb score on this list, for the next entry. But that was before I played Hades.
Yes, yes, all ye in the comments were right. It’s a banger. Do I think it’s better than Transistor? No, not really, if only because it’s less tied to the narrative—if only by a slight margin. And there’s also the fact that the metal-y gimmick combined with the Mediterranean motifs, while cool, is just personally annoying to me, a half-Greek person who’s been forced to listen to too many nerds who have a hard-on for both metal and Greek mythology. It’s not that deep guys, we’re hairy and like to nap. Please leave me alone.
Darren Korb is one of the most talented composers in the gaming world, and every soundtrack he creates for Supergiant’s games is a masterpiece. But I think Transistor most beautifully combines atmosphere with story beats, largely because the protagonist, Red, is a singer and each song complements her own voice incredibly well.
Of all the soundtracks done by Korb, Transistor is the only one I can listen to from start to finish. It’s got the range, darling.
8. Life Is Strange
Every Life Is Strange game has good music. That’s kind of what they’re known for. But there’s something about the first game that just hits a lot harder than the others. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the first game’s narrative is the tightest, creating this air of innocence and mystery that’s a lot easier to compose a theme to.
Yes, the guest artists were wonderfully chosen, but Jonathan Morali’s original compositions really tied the entire thing together. “Max and Chloe” is an unmistakable and unforgettable ballad, the campus themes make you feel like a kid again, and even the timey-wimey soundtracks really ground you in the moment.
Where Skyrim rises above its peers (e.g., Morrowind and Oblivion) is in how fitting each track is. The exploration themes feel majestic and are absolutely gorgeous, matching their environment perfectly, the city themes give off a sense of domesticity and gentleness, the battle themes are aptly grim, and the dungeon themes are just the right amount of suspenseful and intriguing.
I found that, by comparison, Morrowind tended to go straight for the “Wee, I’m an adventurer!” vibe, which wasn’t always fitting, and Oblivion was just way too campy (not every dungeon is THAT scary, but the soundtrack sure makes it feel that way). Skyrim was the equivalent of the baby bear’s porridge: juuuust right. It’s unfortunate that Jeremy Soule is an alleged sexual predator.
If you weren’t there when Toby Fox dropped Deltarune from outta nowhere, let me set the stage: nobody knew what to expect, so absolutely nobody was expecting the soundtrack to be that banger-ific. I mean, we all hoped it would be after Undertale‘s gorgeous soundtrack, but we weren’t expecting the hits to hit that hard.
And while some tunes were intentionally tropey and forgettable, most understood the assignment and slapped it out of orbit. From Spamton’s theme to the standard battle theme, Deltarune‘s soundtrack painted a perfectly clear picture of the world it inhabited and then some. Part of the fanbase’s hype for the remaining chapters stems from their desire to hear the rest of the music (no pressure, Toby).
5. Breath of the Wild
When considering how an environment reacts to the player’s action, most games tend to respond in very broad circumstances: if there’s a fight, cue the battle tracks; if there’s a transition to another world, cue the world’s theme. Breath of the Wild goes the extra step by having a soundtrack for every little thing a player does, accentuated by masterful piano themes. The result is an experience that feels incredibly personal and unforgettable in the best way possible.
You get on your horse and go? The soundtrack changes. You slow the horse? Changes. Dismount? Change again. You climb a mountain? Changearooni. It’s incredible and unlike anything out there, and that’s not even taking into account the specific zone themes. Just an amazing soundtrack overall.
4. Persona 5
My understanding is that every Persona game has a good soundtrack, but in my experience, none rose to the occasion quite like P5‘s. It’s the sort of versatile soundtrack that you could incorporate into your daily life for studying, workouts, or hell, even getting intimate with your partner (although I don’t know how I feel about the idea of getting it on to a game soundtrack …). My point being, it does everything, and it does so with flair, panache, and an unreplicable sense of style.
Honestly, my only point against this soundtrack is the fact that it tends to repeat fairly often, which says less about the music itself and more about the game’s structure. But I never truly get sick of the songs, even when I start to mock the singer under my breath out of game fatigue (“you’ll never see it comiiiiiing …”).
3. Shadow of the Colossus
Most of Shadow of the Colossus‘ actual gameplay is silent: you’re riding your horse across vast, open swaths of uninhabited territory to get to your next destination, and all that accompanies you is the sound of hoofbeats, the wind rushing past, and your own voice hyupping as you go. Therefore, it’s very telling that even with this in mind, the soundtrack is as memorable as it is.
It’s more than memorable, really—it’s one of the most moving, gorgeously crafted game soundtracks of our time. Everything about it matches what the game is meant to make you feel: triumphant, remorseful, in mourning, in danger. It’s nothing short of art, and could easily go head to head with orchestral scores of other mediums.
Of course, as stated before, being orchestrally moving isn’t always enough of a factor to rank above other game scores, and in Undertale‘s case, it ranks this high up because it does everything it’s supposed to. Like BOTW, it changes based on your decisions: a normal/pacifist run has all the trappings of a good time, while the “genocide” run changes in a markedly sinister way. The themes of each character are expertly crafted to match who they are. And truly, I don’t know how to describe the title track as anything other than a work of magic.
It’s just one of those soundtracks that could never be replicated. Even the annoying theme for Tem Village helps make the whole thing come together.
1. Silent Hill 2
I don’t know if I’ll ever actually play Silent Hill 2—I’m a weenie and horror games make my palms sweaty, mom’s spaghetti. But I’ll be damned if I haven’t listened to the soundtrack over and over again, regardless of what I’m doing in the moment.
I just don’t even have the words; it’s the perfect soundtrack to pair with such a game. It carries all the emotions the game emits with all the subtlety and earnestness one would hope for given the narrative’s overall themes. It’s truly a masterpiece of a soundtrack, and it makes me feel things no other game’s soundtrack has ever done before. It even makes me like James. You’re not supposed to like James, yet the soundtrack just kinda did that.
“James … you made me happy …”
(featured image: Square Enix)
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