Video games can really hit us with epic battles, heart breaking romances, and extreme plot twists. But those beautiful written scenes wouldn’t have had the same powerful effect without the musical magic behind them.
As a musician who has the passion to compose music for visual art, I probably fangirl more over the score than the actual scenario. That’s a big amount of fangirling you guys! That being said, I thought I would shine some light on the top video game soundtracks that will forever resonate with me and many other gamers.[divider] The 7 Top Video Game Soundtracks [/divider]
1. Dragon Age: Inquisition(Original Game Soundtrack) – Trevor Morris (2014)
You could say I’m biased because I’m a huge Dragon Age fan. However, the music Trevor Morris has provided is the most emotionally stimulating score for a game I have heard in a long time.
His instrumentation for the multiple themes is breath taking. The use of the triumphant horns with dramatic percussion gives an epic use of musical story telling.
Trevor Morris also executes the idea of taking a main melodic theme and writing brilliant variations of it through out the whole soundtrack. Something psychologically happens when a theme is repeated beautifully. It’s like when actors in a movie say the title of the movie casually, and everyone watching just has that “OH! I see what you did there” moment.
The last DLC for Inquisition that was released this past September showed Trevor Morris truly giving everything the fans needed in the music. Trespasser has music that is closely tied to the Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack, but because it’s DLC and the soundtrack is not out for purchasing yet, I went with Inquisition. I highly recommend everyone to look up the Dragon Age: Inquisition soundtrack and feel inspired.
2. Fallout 4 (Original Game Soundtrack) – Inon Zur (2015)
With Fallout 4’s soon release, I listened to the album to hype myself up. Inon Zur has done amazing writing for the previous Fallout soundtracks.
The Main Title song for Fallout 4 is probably the best of all the main titles in the Fallout series. It brings the recognizable melodic theme, but shows a progression in production as well as dynamics.
Inon Zur has a habit of bringing dramatic and loud ideas from beginning to end. With Fallout 4’s soundtrack he shows how to have power behind a soft opening, like an intense whisper. The songs build, and create such dramatic tones that give the imagery of a post apocalyptic future with having electronic elements.
The album actually uses a lot of electronic production with a sense of live instruments, which gives an unsettling and yet extremely intriguing sound. This is probably one of my favorite uses of electronic production in a game score. Epic without sounding like 8-bit classic games, or cheesy techno.
3. The Last of Us (Original Game Soundtrack) – Gustavo Santaolalla (2013)
This album is simply genius. What I mean by that is, it gives you the representation of a zombie apocalyptic setting with instrumentation and minimalism, yet it makes up with emotional responses.
The main theme has just classical guitar, percussion, bass, with some electrically manipulated live instruments. The theme melody is repeated constantly through out the soundtrack. Gustavo pretty much used the same melodic theme and wrote variations not really to give a different musical idea, but to give a different visual and emotional idea.
Some songs will start out full, but the song will change to match the situation. I actually did a psychological break down of the song “All Gone (No Escape)” for a Psych of Music class, but it inspired me to do a break down of the whole album. If anyone is ever interested in why songs wreck your emotions, hit me up.
This is another game that had a DLC or Prequel with amazing music as well. The Last of Us: Left Behind soundtrack is heavenly, just like the game. It shows a lot of eerie childlike innocence which makes a lot of sense because of the context of the game. Overall Gustavo has written music that will forever resonate to fans all around.
4. Halo 5: Guardians – Kazuma Jinnouchi (2015)
Halo’s music is known for being extremely gorgeous and cinematic. Kazuma knocks it out of the park with Halo 5. If you put Kazuma, Trevor Morris, and Hans Zimmer all in a room together, I don’t think humankind could keep the face from melting from the excellence that would come out of that project.
Kazuma uses combination electronic synths with electronic beats that give the futuristic vibe, but then hits us with cinematic chorus voices and strings to give this epic amount of courage and strength.
It’s like hearing a really inspiration pre-battle speech that makes you feel like you can pick up 18-wheelers out of no where. Now put that emotion to instrumental music. To have that feeling to music that has no words, is an indicator that the composer has done some music magic.
The best compliment I have ever gotten was when someone told me one of my written songs sounded like it belonged in Halo. Kazuma, take me under your brilliant wings and teach me your ways!
5. Mass Effect 3 (Original Game Soundtrack) – Various Artists (2012)
The music in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 gives that cheesy techno effect in some of the songs where the composers are already producing the songs electronically, but because the context of the game is also sci-fi, futuristic space fantasy there is the balance of how much synth is too much synth.
However, as the game evolved into Mass Effect 3, the music evolved into a force to reckon with. The music is extremely dramatic, and the synth and electronic production is wonderful. Fighting off Reapers has never felt so intense.
I expect great things for the music in Mass Effect Andromeda.
6. Kingdom Hearts – Yoko Shimomura (2002)
This game was not only an introduction to what was the most incredibly creative story line and game play, it had creative and gorgeous music. If you’re a big fan of piano and orchestra music, you’ll absolutely love the music from Kingdom Hearts.
The main theme gives beautiful build up in dynamic where it starts as sweet as the game starts, lovely soft and major key music. Then it builds up with more instrumentation and even more complexity in harmony to represent the crazy adventure and journey the main characters have to go through.
The best part about this soundtrack is the mix of classic Disney music. The game travels to many different Disney movie worlds and it has the music to match the style. It has the most memorable song Simple and Clean, which was stuck in my head for months after the trailer for the game was released. It still gets stuck in my head. In fact, it’s stuck in my head right now.
7. World of Warcraft (Original Game Soundtrack)- Tracy Bush (2004)
This soundtrack was a starting block for me so it has sentimental value. Other than that, the soundtrack is beautifully written for a big gaming world such as WoW.
Tracy Bush did an incredible job giving each area your character travels through, a good sense of the environment and an accurate first impression. The dynamic and contrast in styles is consistent and shows great style and technique. The instrumentation and score in general is a good building block for what fantasy games soundtracks have developed into.
World of Warcraft was before it’s time in video game composition, with wonderful cinematic value. Another 10 years can pass, and this soundtrack will still sound current and innovative. Thank you Tracy Bush for starting out many gamers’ love for fantasy video game scores.
I could list so many more amazing top video game soundtracks, but these are the soundtracks I can listen whenever and they’ll never get old or lackluster. If you have some great video game soundtracks that you think are necessities, make my nerdy musician heart happy, and list some in the comments below and share!