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The Best Video Game Soundtracks of All Time

As is the case with pretty much every form of digital entertainment these days, soundtracks and sound design play a pivotal role in the experience of playing digital games. So integral is music and sound to gaming that some eras of the industry have spawned their own musical style — who could forget the unique sound of 8-bit chiptunes, for example? Meanwhile, as video games themselves have become ever more advanced and immersive, scores, soundtracks and auditory enhancements have all played a major part in shaping gameplay and engagement.

Why Soundtracks Matter in Digital Games 

It’s easy to overlook sound design in digital games as simple background music, but soundtracks and original scores have a purpose that extends far beyond mere decoration. What we listen to when we play a game can convey and invoke the very same emotional responses as a movie or TV series soundtrack, providing narrative cues and establishing the overall tone of the game in the process. Well-crafted soundscapes immediately transport players into gaming environments, while sound effects contribute to the overall realism and interactive elements of gameplay, whether that’s the approaching footsteps of an enemy combatant or the impending arrival of an end of level boss. 

One genre where impactful sound design is particularly crucial is the horror segment. Atmospheric soundtracks and chilling sound effects heighten tension and instil a sense of dread, intensifying the impact of being immersed in chilling worlds. They may well be the grand dames of gaming by this stage in the industry’s evolution, but titles like Silent Hill and Resident Evil remain a masterclass in fear-evoking sound design. 

Another area where sound design is paramount is in the remote casino gaming sector. In brick and mortar gaming venues, the jingles and melodies that accompany wins and bonus rounds on slot machines all contribute to the thrill of real money gaming. Authentically replicating the experience of playing slots games in the digital realm also means working impactful sound design into game development, which is why you’ll find libraries of popular variants in the genre with all design bases covered at sites like PokerStars Casino. The same is true for card and table casino games too, as sound choices can simulate the ambiance of a bustling casino floor. 

The Gaming Soundtrack GOATS 

Photo Credit: Smriti Rai

Gaming has been mainstream for over five decades now so, naturally, there have been plenty of both hits and misses when it comes to effective audio design. We may not be experts on the video games front, but in our humble music-minded opinion, here are a number of standouts with the greatest sound design and soundtracks of all time. 

Super Mario Bros (1985) 

Koji Kondo’s iconic soundtrack for the Nintendo 64 staple is instantly recognisable, to the point where its even become synonymous with gaming itself. Its catchy melodies and upbeat tempo perfectly complement the game’s bright visuals and adventurous gameplay.

Final Fantasy VII (1997)

The Final Fantasy series is a universal favourite in the global gaming community, in no small part thanks to its epic soundtrack. Composed by Nobo Uematsu, this is a score that’s renowned for its emotional depth and cinematic scope. 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)

Koji Kondo strikes again with another corker of a Nintendo game soundtrack, this time with his score for the Zelda title, Ocarina of Time. Still hailed today as one of the greatest scores of the 20th century, its sweeping orchestral arrangements instantly immerse gamers into the epic world of Hyrule. 

Metal Gear Solid (1998)

The atmospheric, synth-laden score of the original entry into the Metal Gear Solid franchise, co-composed by Hideo Kojima and TAPPY, sets the stage for the game’s stealthy espionage and high-stakes action.

Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

Each entry in the Halo franchise has its own epic soundtrack, but the pick of the bunch simply has to be the score for Halo: Combat Evolved. Composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, this particular creation quickly revolutionised music for gaming, bringing it bang up to date with cinematic soundtracks of the era. 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

Jeremy Soule’s grand score for Elder Scrolls V encapsulates the majesty and adventure of the game’s vast, open world. It’s impossible not to get swept away in the Nordic-inspired realm of Tamriel when listening. 

Journey (2012)

A game that’s swept the board when it comes to award shows, Journey also impresses for its haunting, minimalist soundtrack, created by Austin Wintory.