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Top 5 Video Game Soundtracks Of All Time

28 Jun 2024

Video game music is so much more than background noise. It is a storyteller in itself, enhancing narratives, conjuring emotions and immersing players in otherworldly adventures. From the humble beginnings of 8-bit chiptunes to the complex and immersive orchestral scores of today, video game soundtracks have played a pivotal role in shaping the emotional and atmospheric depth of games.

Here are five of our favourites.

What Makes A Great Soundtrack?

Before we dive in, it’s worth clarifying that this list is by no means exhaustive, nor comprehensive. Music is a subjective art, after all, and it would feel somewhat hypocritical to say that any one composition is ‘better’ than another.

In order to compile our favourites, we considered the following criteria:

Cultural Impact

Soundtracks that have left an indelible mark on both the gaming industry and popular culture. So much so that many compositions have resonated with audiences beyond the gaming world, influencing other media and becoming iconic in their own right.

Musical Quality

Now, the ‘quality’ of any music is entirely subjective, so we’re sticking to composition, arrangement, and performance. This includes the use of innovative techniques, memorable melodies and the ways in which the score enhances the overall experience of the game.

Diversity in Genres

With so much incredible music out there, we wanted to include a variety styles to showcase the richness and versatility of video game music. The following list ranges from orchestral scores to electronic music and everything in between.

Legacy and Influence 

Many soundtracks have become legendary in their own right. Therefore, our selection considers the long-term impact of the soundtrack on the gaming industry and music community. This includes its influence on future video game scores and its continued popularity and recognition among gamers and music enthusiasts

In no particular order, here are five of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time:

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) – Koji Kondo

Released in 1998, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time; the game’s soundtrack certainly plays a significant role in its enduring legacy. Composed by Koji Kondo, the music of Ocarina of Time is loved for its memorable melodies and, most notably, the introduction of the ocarina as a key gameplay element.

Throughout the game, players learn and recite various songs on this instrument, each with its own magical effects, directly tying the music to the game’s mechanics. Themes like “Zelda’s Lullaby,” “Epona’s Song,” and “Gerudo Valley” have become iconic within the gaming community

Nier: Automata (2017) – Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi, Kuniyuki Takahashi

Fast forward nearly two decades, and Nier: Automata captured gamers’ hearts with its profound narrative, stunning visual development, and exceptional soundtrack. Composed by Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi, and Kuniyuki Takahashi, the music of Nier: Automata features a mix of orchestral, choral, and electronic elements that transition seamlessly with gameplay, adapting to the player’s actions and the game’s environment. This, coupled with the game’s emotional depth and atmospheric quality, lends itself to a truly immersive soundscape.

Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) – Woody Jackson

Set in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, Red Dead Redemption 2 transports gamers to a fictional world of outlaws, cowboys, bandits and gunslingers. The game’s breathtaking cinematics and immersive landscapes are elevated to the point of wonder by Woody Jackson’s evocative soundtrack, vividly bringing to life the rugged, untamed essence of the American frontier. Each and every composition adds to the game’s overall narrative feel, underscoring pivotal moments with emotion that pulls players deeper into the story. The music doesn’t just accompany the game; it elevates the entire experience, sucking players into the brutishly-beautiful world of Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) – Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, Percival

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was showered in critical acclaim for its richly detailed world and enchanting narrative, supported by an outstanding soundtrack. Composed by Marcin Przybyłowicz, Mikolai Stroinski and the Polish folk band Percival, the music of The Witcher 3 blends orchestral elements with traditional Slavic folk music, giving it a distinct and authentic regional flavour. Instruments like the hurdy-gurdy, lute, and dulcimer can be heard throughout the game.

As seasons change and day turns to night, hauntingly serene tracks such as The Fields of Ard Skellig reflect the beauty, danger and adventure that lays ahead. 

Journey (2012) – Austin Wintory

Mysterious and captivating, Journey allows players to explore an expansive desert world, full of secrets and sand. Released in 2012, the adventure game is celebrated not only for its innovative gameplay and stunning visuals, but also for its evocative soundtrack, composed by Austin Wintory.

A largely minimalist score with orchestral instrumentations, Journey’s soundtrack is as soothing as it is emotive, guiding players as they drift over dunes and explore buried ruins.

Each of the above examples serves as a testament to the profound impact that music can have on an individual’s gaming experience. These compositions do more than break the silence; they exist to elevate and immerse, transporting players to faraway lands and adding a new dimension to entertainment. 

From Austin Wintory to Koji Kondo, these composers played a pivotal role in the cementing of each game or franchise in popular consciousness. At ACM, we’re proud to nurture the next generation of talent as they define the future of music and games. Visit our course pages and unlock the door to endless creative opportunities.