What’s Your Favorite Video Game Soundtrack?

Illustration for article titled What’s Your Favorite Video Game Soundtrack?

Whenever I got a new Sega Genesis game, I used to plug in the earphones to the console’s headphone jack to play it. I felt an invisible bubble form around me as the game started and I listened to the music in stereo sound. It was like I’d jacked into my own private universe.


There’s a weird JRPG on the Genesis called Super Hydlide that I loved mainly for its outstanding soundtrack. Shining in the Darkness felt even more labyrinthine and onerous with the music flowing through my ears. I really enjoyed the music from Sonic the Hedgehog as I sped at sonic speed from stage to stage. The Phantasy Star games stood out for their breadth of tracks and the way the OST ran the gamut from exhilarating battle songs to plaintive reflections on an ominous fate. I’d often write stories or do my homework with the game music on, letting the songs loop until I wanted something else to listen to, in which case I’d move to another area. I appreciated games that included sound tests and would let you readily access any of the tracks.

That enjoyment of gaming music continued throughout my life. I still remember the first time someone gifted me a game soundtrack; it was while I was working at my first game company and a colleague got me the tracks for Mega Man 2 and 3. I was blown away and listened to them while I was working on entirely new games. I’d sometimes drive down to Japantown in the city where they had a music store (remember those?) with video game music CDs. I bought a bunch of them back then, even if they were really expensive. I discovered Final Fantasy Pray, a vocal collection I still cherish.

Another of my most treasured discs is a Castlevania soundtrack that drew from the entire series and came as a preorder bonus to anyone who ordered Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I listened to the music so many times, I had bloody tears of my own.

Neuroscience has explained how music becomes associated with memories and how listening to familiar tunes evokes past emotions and events. Playing game music makes me remember all sorts of things from my years of gaming. This past year, I’ve listened to a whole lot of the music from the Persona game, Nier:Automata, and Ghost Trick (if you haven’t already, please check out the interview I did with GT’s composer earlier today). Sometimes, the music just helps me to chill. Sometimes, it helps me get in the groove for some deadline I have to hit. Other times, it provides solace from something that’s been troubling me. When I put on my earphones and listen to a good music track, I become that kid again, lost in a parallel video game universe.

So Kotaku, what’s your favorite video game soundtrack?

Peter Tieryas is the author of Mecha Samurai Empire & Cyber Shogun Revolution (Penguin RH). He's written for Kotaku, IGN, & Verge. He was an artist at Sony Pictures & Technical Writer for LucasArts.



Chrono Cross.

This was during a sweet spot in the PS1 period. The soundtracks for RPGs on both the Genesis and the SNES had been ... kisses lips ... but the PS1 was the first time that the soundtracks felt like they could be in film or TV. Yes, some of them were still MIDI-sounding, but even those sounded good. The Lunar games included soundtracks that were easy on the ears. Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger were beginning to release domestic copies of its soundtracks.

Enter Chrono Cross. I think of it as the third in a trilogy of soundtracks, starting with Chrono Trigger, continuing through Xenogears, and ending here. For a game that dared to take place entirely within a single archipelago, the music is deep in the atmosphere, creating a tremendous range from the sleepy fishing village to the central colonial town, from each dragon theme to the strong notes of advanced civilizations. Some of the original Chrono DNA is in the victory theme, but the soundtrack really shines when it goes beyond, and into the rich stringed instruments. I’m obviously not someone with a music background, but it’s that game I think of, two decades on, when I think of masterful game soundtracks. It’s that game I compare other great soundtracks (like Persona 5's) to.