My Favorite Video Game Soundtracks

Think of this as a companion list to my Favorite Video Games list, and as my personal video game soundtrack “Hall of Fame.” I’m an unabashed fan of video game music, and while there are countless games with music I love, I want to showcase the video game soundtracks that have had the largest impact on me personally. This list is exclusive by design, and hopefully anyone who reads it comes away with a good understanding of the soundtracks that have affected and shaped me the most. I hope it’s a fun read to boot.

Before we get started, a few clarifications. First, this list is about full soundtracks, not individual songs. That’s a subtle, but very important distinction to keep in mind. Second, after some internal debate, I decided to allow games that use licensed/pre-existing music, as well multiple games in a franchise. I realized this list wouldn’t work if I put up artificial barriers; any soundtrack that had a big impact on me is allowed. Third, I list three "notable" songs for each soundtrack. This is not meant to be a statement on the "best" songs, but rather good songs I feel represent the overall body of work.

Finally, games are listed in chronological order of original US release date, not by preference.

List items

  • Castlevania set the tone right from the start, and never let up. There wasn't a weak link in this game's score; every single song had a vigor and intensity that fit the action perfectly. Despite coming to this series late, it's easy to identify these among gaming's most iconic and catchy melodies. Action games have rarely rocked this hard, and neither have I.

    Favorite songs: Vampire Killer, Wicked Child, Heart of Fire

  • A Link to the Past set me on an adventure of the highest order, and its music guided me every step of the way. Whether I was fighting across expansive fields, relaxing in town, stepping through the royal castle halls, or climbing a deadly mountain, this soundtrack had a wonderful fantasy theme to match every situation. It defined an unforgettable childhood adventure.

    Notable songs: Hyrule Castle, Kakariko Village, Dark World

  • I’ve never been a huge Mega Man fan, and haven’t actually spent that much time with the series. However, I played just enough of Mega Man X as a kid to have its soundtrack become permanently ingrained in my skull. Every single song was way too catchy and energetic, which made them easy to rock out to; something I still do regularly to this day.

    Notable songs: Opening Stage, Spark Mandrill Stage, Storm Eagle Stage

  • We always talk about Super Metroid’s incredible atmosphere, and I’ve long felt that’s primarily thanks to its intensely moody soundtrack. From the adventurous Brinstar to the eerie Maridia, all the way down to the ominous depths of Norfair, this soundtrack guided your senses and emotions through as varied and memorable a journey I’ve ever been on. Really incredible stuff.

    Notable songs: Brinstar - The Jungle Floor, Crateria - Main Theme, Norfair - Ridley’s Hideout

  • Final Fantasy VI contained some of gaming’s most iconic themes, plain and simple. Not only was this some of the most well-composed video game music I’ve heard, but every single theme fit its situation beautifully, especially the character themes. The breadth, variety, and quality of music on display here was astonishing; this may still be Nobuo Uematsu’s finest work to date.

    Notable songs: Terra, Devil’s Lab, Dancing Mad

  • The original Donkey Kong Country redefined the big ape not only with its gameplay, but also with its music. With its permeating jungle vibe, primal drumbeats, and natural undertones, this soundtrack felt quintessentially “Donkey Kong” through and through. I can’t imagine this series sounding any other way, and every song was of a high quality too.

    Notable songs: DK Island Swing, Aquatic Ambiance, Fear Factory

  • Highly entertaining and poignant music accompanied Crono and friends as they traveled from one time period to the next. The way the music matched each time period so well was a treat, and the character themes went a long way toward injecting a lot of personality into the game’s large cast. Chrono Trigger’s music had a breadth and depth to it that’s rarely matched.

    Notable songs: Chrono Trigger, Memories of Green, Frog’s Theme

  • It wasn’t the longest or most nuanced soundtrack ever composed, but Yoshi’s Island packed in more smiles per measure than almost anything out there. These cheerful, catchy tunes matched the whimsical tone of the game wonderfully, and I still find myself humming them to this day. It remains one of the brightest and happiest soundtracks I’ve heard; a positive in my book.

    Notable songs: Story Music Box, Flower Garden, Athletic

  • Personal preferences aside, I genuinely believe that Donkey Kong Country 2 remains one of the best video game soundtracks ever created. Each song was so fitting for the stage it appeared in, and each one was as equally catchy as it was thematic; not to mention the sheer variety and quantity of it all. There were simply too many incredible songs on this legendary soundtrack, and David Wise deserves all the praise he gets for this work.

    Notable songs: Jib Jig, Hot-Head Bop, Stickerbrush Symphony

  • Super Mario RPG oozes nostalgia as much as any game for me, and its music is a big part of that. It had a colorful and jaunty selection of songs that were easy to hum along to, and they sounded quintessentially “Mario” despite most of them being original work. Listening to this soundtrack today still takes me back to happy times, and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

    Notable songs: Beware the Forest's Mushrooms, Rose Town, Let's Do the Fooka-Fooka!

  • When Mario went 3D, the music that accompanied him somehow acquired more dimensions as well. It was at times playful, bombastic, adventurous, mellow, dangerous, or even downright epic, adapting to whatever level presented itself. Mario 64 had the right mix of old and new Mario music, and all of it was of a quality worthy of the monumental game it accompanied.

    Notable songs: Super Mario 64 Main Theme, Dire, Dire Docks, Koopa’s Road

  • I don’t know that any video game soundtrack remains as reliably affecting for me as Final Fantasy VII’s. This was a game all about hard hitting, dramatic moments, and its soundtrack continues to pull me back into that emotional roller coaster. Bombastic action, contemplative introspection, and epic boss themes are but a small taste of the full gamut, which is simply part of my DNA at this point.

    Notable songs: Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII, Aerith's Theme, One-Winged Angel

  • Grant Kirkhope brings a special brand of jauntiness to his music, and that was perhaps at its peak in the Banjo-Kazooie soundtrack. It was an excitable and goofy game to begin with, but this soundtrack imbued it with some extra panache. Each stage’s track was also incredibly thematic, such as the way Click Clock Wood adapted to the seasons; a stroke of genius.

    Notable songs: Gruntilda’s Lair, Freezeesy Peak, Click Clock Wood

  • One of Pokemon’s strengths has always been how it embodies the timeless coming-of-age tale for a young kid. Encountering this when I was a kid myself was pretty profound, and the game’s soundtrack went the extra mile to capture that atmosphere. Waving goodbye to your mom and venturing forth into the great and wild world of Pokemon couldn’t sound any other way.

    Notable songs: Opening, Road to Viridian City - From Pallet, Battle (vs. Gym Leader)

  • Every Zelda game has great music, and Ocarina of Time introduced some of the most iconic and substantial themes in the entire series. It punctuated its cinematic moments with some harrowing and/or beautiful melodies, and each area was accompanied by an appropriately thematic piece. It was also a surprisingly large score, yet it still holds up masterfully today.

    Notable songs: Hyrule Field, Forest Temple, Gerudo Valley

  • Final Fantasy VIII may have produced the most undervalued soundtrack in the series. High-octane action themes, melancholy town and school themes, unnerving sorceress themes, epic battle themes, and touching love themes were only the tip of the iceberg. This soundtrack had the appropriate theme for countless situations, and each one was equally memorable.

    Notable songs: Liberi Fatali, Movin’, Fisherman’s Horizon

  • Jet Force Gemini had one of the few pure action soundtracks that’s stuck with me. Every single level was accompanied by a ridiculously bombastic and surprisingly fun action theme that rose above being mere background noise. These themes were a part of the action itself, and helped elevate this spunky action game to new, more memorable heights.

    Notable songs: Title, Mizar’s Palace, SS Anubis

  • There was a soothing quality to Chrono Cross’ soundtrack that was hard to resist. Chill guitar, flute, and violin medleys dominated this soundtrack, and they combined beautifully to pull me into this solemn world. That’s not to say Chrono Cross didn’t have some exciting action themes, but I think most will agree that this soundtrack’s more contemplative pieces were the highlight, and remain among gaming’s absolute best songs.

    Notable songs: Time’s Scar, On the Beach of Dreams, Radical Dreamers

  • At the risk of making this list a Nobuo Uematsu tribute, Final Fantasy IX once again brought everything to the table, all while creating its own identity within the series. It mixed old and new Final Fantasy music conventions to great effect, which led to a wonderfully varied set of songs that somehow managed to evoke its own unique brand of fresh nostalgia.

    Notable songs: Over that Hill, You’re Not Alone!, The Darkness of Eternity

  • Morrowind’s opening theme remains one of gaming’s most famous tracks, and the rest of the soundtrack filled out this lush fantasy world nicely. Its melancholy background music was the perfect accompaniment to the game’s rewarding exploration, and its horn and drum infused battle themes built tension nicely as you fought any number of the game’s menacing foes.

    Notable songs: Nerevar Rising (Main Theme), Peaceful Waters, Bright Spears, Dark Blood

  • Tallon IV was a stunning world to explore, and taking in its different vistas wouldn’t have been complete without the melodies that accompanied them. Metroid Prime’s soundtrack imbued so much life into a world that was already highly detailed, majestic, and lively. It remains one of the most varied and atmospheric soundtracks out there, and it lifted an already stellar game to new heights.

    Notable songs: Menu Select, Tallon Overworld, Phendrana Drifts

  • The Wind Waker contained perhaps the best soundtrack in a series known for having fantastic soundtracks. That’s a claim I don’t make lightly, but this game’s whimsical take on classic melodies peppered its adventurous seafaring and colorful, childlike enthusiasm with ample amounts of reverence and heart. This one really hit home, and holds a special place in my heart.

    Notable songs: Ocean, Dragon Roost Island, Staff Credits

  • Freedom Fighters’ soundtrack totally blew me away. It came on loud and proud, boasting an epic, choral, Soviet-themed score that gave the game a wonderfully fitting Cold War vibe. That striking tone was implemented with a boldness and level of flair that I wasn’t used to hearing in video game soundtracks, and made it feel like the stakes had been raised for the entire medium.

    Notable songs: Title, March of the Empire, Leader of the Resistance

  • What a beautifully weird soundtrack. Beyond Good & Evil contained some incredibly lovely and peaceful songs, along with some that were equally intense or just plain weird. The amazing thing was that it all worked exceptionally well within the context of the game’s equally strange fiction, and the result was one of the most memorable video game soundtracks I’ve heard.

    Notable songs: Dancing With Domz, Hylian Suite, Mammago’s Garage

  • From the opening hums of Katamari Damacy, it was immediately clear that I was in for a weirdly charming ride. This game had a distinct and wacky style all its own, and that was just as much because of the music as anything else. An eccentric collection of tracks mixed a light, playful vibe with patented Japanese weirdness to great effect, and never failed to make me smile.

    Notable songs: Katamari on the Rocks, Lonely Rolling Star, Que Sera Sera

  • What a kick in the pants. This soundtrack somehow managed to match God of War’s increasingly absurd on-screen happenings blow for blow, and remains one of the most downright epic things I’ve ever heard. That it was of high quality, and also evoked an ancient Greek vibe through its orchestrated, often choral tracks only sweetened the deal that much more.

    Notable songs: The Vengeful Spartan, Zeus’ Wrath Divine, Minotaur Boss Battle

  • Advance War’s large, diverse cast of quirky characters was expertly serviced by Dual Strike’s equally diverse musical score. Every character, new and old, had their own catchy theme that represented their personality perfectly, and those power themes cranked the action up to 11. The whole thing was delightfully spunky in a way that video game soundtracks rarely are.

    Notable songs: Rachel’s Theme, Grimm’s Theme, Tag Power

  • Phoenix Wright’s bizarre, eccentric take on courtroom drama would have never been complete without its tone-setting soundtrack. The courtroom felt so much more like an arena thanks to the adrenaline pumping music that accompanied it, and investigations and interrogations got equal attention. This is one soundtrack that never failed to pull me further into the game.

    Notable songs: Courtroom Lobby, Pressing Pursuit - Cornered, Turnabout Sisters’ Theme

  • Shadow of the Colossus was a game of extremes, as it toggled back and forth between quiet, contemplative exploration and heart-pounding, epic boss fights. Its soundtrack mirrored that dynamic beautifully, and nailed both ends of the spectrum with aplomb. Those swings guided my emotions every step of the way, and gave us some varied and incredible music in the process.

    Notable songs: Prologue - To the Ancient Land, Revived Power - Battle with the Colossus, Swift Horse

  • Civilization is all about human history, and Civilization IV’s soundtrack was fittingly about about human musical history. It pulled together wonderfully diverse music from all eras, and listening to them as I plotted the course of my own civilization was magical and inspiring. The game’s original themes were every bit as good too, particularly the award-winning Baba Yetu.

    Notable songs: Baba Yetu, Ancient Era 2, Common Tones in Simple Time

  • Okami’s watercolor artwork was stunning, and its soundtrack elevated its majestic presentation even higher. Inspired by classic Japanese works, it brought an appropriately oriental vibe to a game that reveled in Japanese culture and style. It’s a type of music that’s not heard enough, which made this soundtrack’s many gorgeous, memorable songs even more special.

    Notable songs: Shinshu Plains, Ushiwaka’s Dance, The Sun Rises

  • God of War II’s soundtrack somehow managed to be even more consistently epic that the original. It upped the ante noticeably, yet managed to stop just short of being eye-rollingly ridiculous. It remixed great existing themes with more intensity, and introduced some inspired new tracks to the franchise. If you wanted to get your mythical rage on, this was the soundtrack for it.

    Notable songs: Main Title, Typhon Mountain, Phoenix Rising

  • Koji Kondo really outdid himself here. After decades of wonderful, inspiring music, he cranked out perhaps his best work in Super Mario Galaxy. A full orchestra imbued new life into Mario classics, and the original songs were perhaps even better. They perfectly captured the aesthetic of the game’s many varied galaxies, while also retaining that signature Mario charm and whimsy.

    Notable songs: Good Egg Galaxy, Space Junk Galaxy, Gusty Garden Galaxy

  • Sci-fi games have rarely sounded as sci-fi as Mass Effect did. This dirty, synthy score just felt like a space opera through and through, and punctuated the game’s many dramatic moments marvelously. Perhaps even better were the quieter, explorative moments that echoed the cold, endless void of space. This soundtrack simply nailed all the tropes of the genre.

    Notable songs: Mass Effect Theme, Uncharted Worlds, Vigil

  • Exploring the expansive underwater passages of Aquaria wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the soothing, majestic tones of its accompanying soundtrack. It masterfully captured all the wonders of the ocean, and remains one of the most relaxing soundtracks I’ve ever listened to. It pulled me into its beautiful world as much as any soundtrack has.

    Notable songs: The Traveller, The Fall of Mithalas, Lost to the Waves

  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s soundtrack may have been a collection of pre-existing songs, but what it did with those songs was something special. It took a ton of classics that spanned an impossibly large swath of gaming history, and gave them fantastic new orchestrated arrangements that re-purposed them for a hectic fighting game in a way that was exciting and inspiring.

    Notable songs: Ocarina of Time Medley, Bramble Blast, Tetris: Type A

  • If the mark of a good soundtrack is the ability to suck you in regardless of personal taste, then The World Ends With You passed all marks. I’m not a natural fan of pop music, but this lively soundtrack made it so easy to feel like you were a part of Shibuya and all its eccentricities. It went to such great lengths to define the game’s coherent aesthetic, and I still bob my head to it today.

    Notable songs: Twister, Calling, Three Minutes Clapping

  • The Persona series has succeeded by embedding traditional JRPG mechanics within the social happenings of modern Japanese high school, and Persona 3’s soundtrack oozed that setting and culture from every pore. From upbeat pop songs to epic boss themes, this soundtrack matched the series’ famous balancing act at every turn, and executed the idea marvelously.

    Notable songs: Burn My Dread, When the Moon’s Reaching Out Stars, The Battle for Everyone’s Souls

  • As a game, World of Goo could be extremely playful and thoughtful all at once, and its soundtrack captured that dynamic to a tee. Whether jauntily rearranging balls of goo or contemplating the oppressive reach of an evil corporation, the music had you covered. Adventurous, chilling, beautiful, or downright epic, this soundtrack went places, and sounded great every second.

    Notable songs: Brave Adventures, Best of Times, Red Carpet Extend-o-Matic

  • Mass Effect 2’s soundtrack continued the fantastic sci-fi sensibilities that defined the original, and then upped the ante by making things infinitely more personal. It had a great theme to represent the personality of each and every character, which created a soundtrack as varied as it was fitting. At times epic, somber, or just plain rude, this soundtrack nailed every single mark.

    Notable songs: The Illusive Man, Tali, Suicide Mission

  • Bastion hit the ground running with a fresh style of music that sparked the imagination as much as the game itself did. Described as "acoustic frontier trip hop", this dusty score had a sound all its own, and it had the variety and quality to back up that unique enthusiasm. Its countless stand-out tracks, instrumental and vocal alike, punctuated each of the game’s moments perfectly; this one blew me away from the word “go”, and never let up.

    Notable songs: Terminal March, Spike in a Rail, Setting Sail, Coming Home

  • If you want exhibit A for the emotional potential of video game soundtracks, look no further than To the Moon. The game itself was full of heart-wrenching moments, but it was the music that really magnified their impact. The beautiful piano and violin pieces were the highlights, and listening to them today still has a profound effect, pulling me right back in.

    Notable songs: Main Theme, For River, Everything’s Alright

  • For a game regularly described as art, Journey’s soundtrack provided the emotional core that guided the entire experience. Every gorgeous vista was matched by an equally gorgeous song, and the transitions from one scene to the next flowed beautifully. It’s hard to imagine a soundtrack being a more critical part of a game than this, and its quality was of the highest order.

    Notable songs: Nascence, Final Confluence, Apotheosis

  • Fez had a colorful and lively aesthetic that blurred the line between 2D and 3D, and its soundtrack matched that style perfectly. Its music was simultaneously retro and modern, and it also felt like it expressed the thoughts of its creator in audio form. It could be playful, pensive, or anxious all at once, and it was fascinating to hear great music that also felt extremely personal.

    Notable songs: Adventure, Puzzle, Sync

  • FTL made space sound awesome in a way that fit, yet also felt distinct from traditional sci-fi fare; it captured the sense of space exploration in its own stylish way. Whether you were poking around derelict space stations, having a shoot-out with a strange alien species, or scrambling to put out a fire on deck, this wonderful score had a great, entertaining song for every situation.

    Notable songs: Space Cruise (Title), MilkyWay (Explore), Rockmen (Battle)

  • Persona 4 Golden took the series’ defining dynamic, and transformed it into something noticeably spunkier. Its soundtrack followed suit, which made it even easier to connect to the game’s lovable cast and their plights. There’s so much heart packed into every measure of this varied, energetic soundtrack, and it’s one that I haven’t been able to stop listening to ever since.

    Notable songs: Shadow World, Your Affection, Reach Out to the Truth

  • I have no business liking this soundtrack as much as I do, and yet I couldn’t stop listening to it for a long time after playing Electronic Super Joy. There was an irresistibly catchy undercurrent flowing through this entire soundtrack, which was just so gosh darn energetic that I couldn’t help but love it. Take that for what you will, but this soundtrack won me over nonetheless.

    Notable songs: Shakestopper, Revive, Vee

  • The city of Cloudback was oozing with artistic style, and that was just as true for its music as it was for its looks. Fantastic electronic tunes set the mood for this tech-infused city, which paved the way for some truly special vocal tracks that echoed Transistor’s emotional core. This soundtrack really went for it in a way few games do, and it’s impressive how well it pulled it off.

    Notable songs: Old Friends, We All Become, Paper Boats

  • Shovel Knight was a great throwback that also retained modern sensibilities, and much the same can be said for its soundtrack. Its many varied, energetic songs echoed the spirit and enthusiasm of the 8-bit era, but they also added enough nuance to make them fit for modern times. The result was a rockin’ soundtrack that gave us the best of the both worlds. Plus it was just rad.

    Notable songs: Main Theme, Strike the Earth! (Plains of Passage), In the Halls of the Usurper (Pridemoor Keep)

  • Axiom Verge was dripping with atmosphere, in no small part due to its incredible soundtrack. The game’s poignant exploration was fueled by a variety of tunes that really brought each area to life, and as the environments and your abilities got weirder, the music got weirder with it. This soundtrack defined the adventure as much as anything, and what an adventure it was.

    Notable songs: Trace Rising, Inexorable, The Dream

  • What an awesome, varied, and downright gnarly soundtrack. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime showcased a suite of songs that went places, from jaunty exploration themes to grungy, dirty boss themes. Its music was bursting at the seams with energy, seemingly barely able to contain itself at times, and that rambunctiousness created a unique soundtrack I couldn’t help but love.

    Notable songs: Launch Into Deep Space, Outer Limits, Orion

  • I’m no fan of heavy metal, but I’d have a hard time coming up with a soundtrack that amplified the tone and spirit of its game as well as Doom’s. I give major props to any soundtrack that can pull me in further, and this score had me bobbing my head with a wide grin plastered on my face every single moment. This soundtrack IS Doom, and I can’t imagine it being any better.

    Notable songs: Rip & Tear, Flesh & Metal, BFG Division

  • Nier: Automata was ambitious, thoughtful, and emotional. Its soundtrack was not only of exceptional quality in its composition, but it also captured each of those attributes beautifully. This was a case of a game's music all but selling its world by itself, and that it echoed the game's themes in its instrumentation and melodies was a rare artistic feat among video game soundtracks.

    Favorite songs: City Ruins, Amusement Park, Weight of the World

  • Persona 5's soundtrack kept the stylish, upbeat tone that defined the series so well, and somehow took it up a notch. The vocal tracks in particular were drastically better written and better voiced than ever, and proved very powerful in the context of the game's story. I couldn't get enough of these songs, even after spending over 100 hours hearing them in the game. That speaks volumes.

    Favorite songs: Life Will Change, Beneath the Mask, Last Surprise

  • Supergiant has yet to produce a bad soundtrack, and Pyre proved to be another winner. I loved how all of the game’s characters had their own theme that played when they appeared on screen. And given the sheer number of characters on hand, that made for a lot of varied, fantastic songs. Some of the lyrical songs hit me pretty hard too, punctuating the game's pivotal moments perfectly.

    Favorite songs: Thrash Pack, Never to Return, Will of the Scribes