Most people listen to normal music like pop, hip-hop, rock and country. And while I’m just as big a fan of “Old Town Road” as the next person, I mostly listen to the soothing sounds of final boss music from Kirby games.
Video game music is what I’m talking about here. It’s an art form that mostly goes unnoticed due to players keeping busy with the actual gameplay of games or getting caught up in their narratives. There’s nothing wrong with; both of those are huge components of video games. But often times, video game scores are pushed to the background of the medium.
I listen to video game music on a regular basis, and it really is one of the few genres I listen to on my own. So, here are some soundtracks that I wholeheartedly recommend that people give a try, and also a few of my favorite songs from the albums.
‘Super Mario Odyssey’
Much like the game itself, the soundtrack to “Super Mario Odyssey” inspires joy, adventure and fun. Each area in the game has its own unique tunes that are memorable even after completing the game.
The initial area, Bonneton, has a Danny Elfman-inspired theme and would not feel out of place in a Tim Burton movie. From there, things only get better. We’re introduced to a dinosaur world with a tune that keeps grand sense of feat. Then later, a large desert area with a Mesoamerican twist featuring similarly stylized music. There are also some outer space levels with songs harkening back to the “Super Mario Galaxy” games, which I adore.
The crowning jewel in “Super Mario Odyssey” has to be anything relating to the New Donk City area of the game. Big city sites to see accompanied with jazzy band performances make the area feel so grand. So much of the soundtrack to Odyssey sounds fresh, young and vibrant. To boot, many of the main areas have eight bit versions of them as well, satisfying the chiptune enthusiast in many of us.
Top Picks: “Jump Up, Super Star! NDC Festival Edition,” “Steam Gardens,” “Bubblaine Underwater”
In terms of indie developers, Supergiant Games always packs a punch in the soundtrack category. This is due to composer Darren Korb’s fantastic work with the handling of most of the music. Supergiant’s first game, “Bastion,” had a great soundtrack developed entirely by Korb. The album evoked a rough fantasy setting which paired well with the game, given that was its setting.
Transistor, however, could not be more different. Most of the soundtrack provides an electronic beat that eludes to a futuristic setting. In between though, there are patches of serene solitude that evoke an untapped, old world setting. Then there are some feel-good tunes mixed in for good measure.
The huge draw for me though, were the vocals provided by Ashley Lynn Barrett. In one of the trailers for the indie title, the song “We All Become” plays interlaced with the fantastic visuals of the game racing by. With the song alone, I knew it was a game I had to check out. “Transistor” remains one of the most memorable games for me, and I know it's soundtrack has had a large part in this.
Top Picks: “We All Become,” “Stained Glass,” “The Spine”
‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’
The soundtrack to Nintendo’s 2017 hit title is about as varied as the world within the game. There are the inclusions of classic Zelda tunes such as the “Great Fairy’s Fountain” and “Zora’s Domain” songs, which sound fantastic in their new iterations, but the game also gives way for new tracks to grace our ears.
Trying to describe the soundtrack in just a few, condensed words would be a disservice to it. So, here goes the disservice. The music always plays into what the player is doing perfectly. Just out exploring the world? There are some light, airy tunes if you’re just out in the open. Oh, you’re by an unseen Guardian that’s gonna murder you? Here’s some frantic piano music that will stop your heart. Individual character motifs fit perfectly with their settings and personalities as well. I could gush about this soundtrack forever, but then you’d never listen to it.
The entirety of the game involves players discovering. Whether that be discovering the world, discovering new tricks to defeating enemies or discovering new foods to cook, this Zelda entry is all about mapping the uncharted. The soundtrack to this gem could not represent that more with how many distinctive tracks players can encounter with it.
Top Picks: “Cave,” “A King’s Request,” “Master Kohga Battle”
Though Yacht Club Games only game thus far that they’ve developed, almost every aspect of Shovel Knight stands out, including it’s amazing, chiptune-inspired soundtrack. Also worth mentioning, this is another indie title with mostly one guy, Jake Kaufman, composing its music.
If I’m in the mood for chiptune, this is one of the few albums I could just play all the way through or put on shuffle and be satisfied with almost every song that pops up. The songs are varied enough that the soundtrack never feels stale, but not so different from each other that songs feel out of place. There is a level of cohesiveness that the album achieves that I have not seen in many others.
Themes throughout “Shovel Knight” are quick, memorable and crisp, mimicking it's tough but fair level design. Every level has its own unique track, but blends into the next quite well, never bogging down players with an awkward change of pace. The soundtrack to “Shovel Knight” is something I’m sure almost everyone will “dig.”
Top Picks: “Strike the Earth!,” “High Above the Land,” “Watch Me Dance!”
One of the Wii consoles’ hidden gems, “Xenoblade Chronicles” came to America after fans started the Operation Rainfall initiative to bring this and two other JRPGs stateside. The aging Wii console was not anticipated to have the three titles come out in America at all, but the campaign for the games worked and Nintendo eventually brought all three here.
I had no idea what I was getting into with this game. I got it at GameStop because 15-year-old me was easily influenced by adults who wore collared shirts. But I’ll always be happy about picking this title up for the memories and playlists it has provided. The tracks range from grand and exhilarating to tranquil and melancholy. The only hindrance to the soundtrack is that I vastly prefer the third and fourth CDs in the album. It contains most of the overworld music and battle themes, both of which are unmissable. I actually gave a listen to the first CD when I initially bought the album many years ago and haven’t touched it since. Whoops.
The music from “Xenoblade Chronicles,” for me anyways, is tied heavily to it’s world, more so than any other game. From its vast, open fields riddled with dangerous monsters and neck-craning mountain tops to its smaller, intimate sequences, the music was always a constant companion that still transports me to a different world.
Top Picks: “Gaur Plain,” “Mechanical Rhythm,” “Satorl Marsh (Night)”
Many might recognize this handsome joker on the cover of the album from the recently released DLC for “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” Well they actually gave him his own game and the music is pretty darn good!
Jokes aside, I am a big fan of the soundtracks of the Persona series, though specifically of “Persona 3,” “Persona 4” and their official remixes. However, I had to go with “Persona 5” as the definitive works of Shoji Meguro, the composer for the Persona games. The latest Persona titles’ music, much like its visuals, just bleeds with style. Inconsequential aspects such as menus in the game are designed meticulously to look as sleek and full of character as possible. The music is no different, feeling as suave and chic as the characters you meet and the world that’s displayed.
The overall jazzy tone that surrounds the soundtrack helps cement it as something to easily vibe to as well. Though JRPGs might seem like a genre of games that are unapproachable at times, the music that is presented in “Persona 5” welcomes everyone to share in its style and come along for the refined ride.
Top Picks: “Beneath the Mask -rain-,” “Last Surprise,” “Tokyo Daylight”
‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’
In some of my articles, I usually find loopholes to fit my greedy interests. So, when I wanted to recommend video game soundtracks but was limited to just a select few, I decided to go with a compilation, of sorts. Forgive me later, or not.
There are over 850 songs in “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” After letting that sink in, continue reading. I could’ve chosen iconic Mario songs to gush over, melodious Zelda tunes to cry about or selfishly talk about more Persona music. But this is one of those soundtracks where not all the bases can be covered. It’s main theme, “Lifelight,” is a fantastic representation of how far the series has come. Though its melody is repeated in many instance throughout menus and such, it never gets tiring. Pick your favorite franchise from the smorgasbord and just roll with it.
“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is more than just a compilation of songs though. As I’m sure it’s been said, Smash Bros. games are a celebration of gaming itself. It’s a union of different franchises under one roof that somehow works so well. Another reason why I chose Smash to recommend to people is in case this article sucks and I don’t write another like it.
Top Picks: “Lifelight,” “Let’s Hit the Climax!,” “Gang-Plank Galleon”