On last week’s episode of The Bitcast I was challenged to put my video game money where my film score loving mouth is. So this week I decided to give you all a special edition of Film Score Friday: a top five rundown of my favorite video game scores of all time.
The music in video games has often been considered an after thought that had little to no bearing on the games themselves. Only a handful of franchises had transcendent music, and everything else was just deemed filler.
Now that video games are growing to near cinematic heights of popularity and quality, the music in these games has also seen a renaissance. High profile film composers are taking on video game projects, marquee games are releasing sound track albums and the film score community is finally accepting video games as source of quality music.
I have always been a fan of video game music, so my taste in quality video game scores spans multiple eras. It is hard to judge an 8-bit score against it’s full orchestral cousins of today, but great music comes through no matter it’s packaging. The following list represents what I consider the very best in video game scores, not just single tracks. So while there are a few games with iconic themes, these game score provide a more complete listening experience.
I am on record as saying the main theme of Mega Man 3 is one of the best 8-bit tunes of all time, but Mega Man 2 finds it’s way onto my list for having the most consistent level of awesome tune-age across the whole game. The main intro theme to this game might not be as good as it’s sequel, but it still stands tall as one of the better 8-bit intros ever composed.
The game really separates it self with classic level themes such as Flash Man and Air Man and it is all topped off with the best track of the bunch, Dr. Wily’s stage one. Mega Man has always been a leader in excellent video game music, and as a whole the second game represents the best total collection of classic themes.
Super Mario 64
It is only appropriate that I put a Mario game on this list, and of all the games staring Nintendo’s plumber extraordinaire this has by far the best music. This game was revolutionary in many ways, and it’s complex and engrossing score ranks as one of it’s biggest accomplishments. Personally my favorite track is Dire, Dire Docks which is the theme to the water levels, but you can’t go wrong with any of the Bowser themes or the main over world tune either. The game also featured a truly awesome end credits theme that plays as well as any credits tune in any medium, the perfect blend of fun and relief after a long adventure.
This game had a better James Bond score than several of the Bond films that preceded it, complete with a wonderful opening song. Co-Composed by Hollywood film composer Harry Gregson-Williams, this score really helped sell a cinematic experience playing the game. The music just put you directly in the world of espionage and adventure as you traverse the jungle in this period tale. The game also featured a brilliant re-mix of the main Metal Gear Solid theme.
Donkey Kong Country
This game’s music is on a different level, it excels beyond everything that came before it. Much like Mario 64 my favorite track on this soundtrack was the underwater theme, but this game’s soundtrack has so much more. It has several themes that are so engrossing that I would stop playing the game just so I can listen. Other than Aquatic Ambiance, the mine cart levels and the temple ruins levels had music that was instantly stuck in my little child brain when I played this game the first time. What this score does so well is how it juggles the tones, the music starts of jolly enough, but as you progress the sounds get increasingly more complex and intriguing. A fantastic collection of themes.
The greatest game of all time also holds the crown of the greatest video game score of all time. There are just so many perfect audio tracks that work beautifully both in game and on CD. This game has several all time classic themes, but what makes it such a brilliant score is that it is so deep. There are at least 10 tracks on this soundtrack that would be the best song on almost any video game soundtrack you put it on.
There is real emotion in this music and it helps transport you into one of the most engrossing video game worlds ever conceived. When the music plays in game it envelops you like a warm blanket, it speaks to you and it comforts you in the games darkest moments. I would lie if I said I still don’t get a little sad when I listen to Aeris’ theme, and that is a testament to the musics power.
Honorable Mention: Parappa Da Rappa
It is not really a score, but this game’s music is phenomenal. I almost put it on the list, but decided to go with more traditional game music choices. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t shine a little light on this classic game’s fun and catchy songs.
So there you have it, the best of video game music as seen by me. For more great video game music discussion be sure to check out next week’s Bitcast.