Listen to a Selection of the Best Video Game Soundtracks
The Have You Heard? playlist series offers brief introductions to musical genres, concepts, tools, artists, and more that may be less familiar to wider audiences. In this edition, Duncan Watt helps curate a selection of video game soundtracks that have shaped the gaming world.
In just a handful of decades, video game soundtracks have evolved in dramatic ways, from one-note-at-a-time arcade soundtracks from the 1970s to the full-orchestra compositions possible today. In our article What Are the Best Video Game Soundtracks, faculty from the game and interactive media scoring (GAIMS) program chose two or three of their favorites, knowing, of course, that such a list barely scratches the surface.
To expand on those selections, Duncan Watt, assistant professor of screen scoring, provided several more selections from the video game music canon, adding his own commentary along the way, which you can read below. The following playlist combines the original selections with Watt's additions, providing a wider, if still not exhaustive, primer to video game music.
Tracks and Notes
1. "Dr. Wily Stage 1," Mega Man (1987)
Composed by Manami Matsumae
2. "Anxiety," Celeste (2018)
Composed by Lena Raine
3. "M. Bison's Theme," Street Fighter II (1991)
Composed by Yoko Shimomura
4. "Vengeful Spartan – Main Theme," God of War (2005)
Composed by Ron Fish, Gerard Marino, Winifred Phillips, Mike Reagan, Cris Velasco, Winnie Waldron
5. "Consequences," Get Even (2017)
Composed by Olivier Deriviere
6. "A Place to Call Home," Final Fantasy IX (2000)
Composed by Nobuo Uematsu
7. "Cave of Nagi," Ōkami (2006)
Composed by Akari Groves, Rei Kondo, Masami Ueda, Hiroshi Yamaguchi
8. "The Call," Journey (2012)
Composed by Austin Wintory
9. "Hazardous Environments," Half-Life 2 (2004)
Composed by Kelly Bailey
Duncan Watt: Half-Life 2 is a seminal example of combining environmental audio and environmental music. You can’t always tell what you're listening to, but it sounds awesome.
10. "No Escape," Hades (2018)
Composed by Darren Korb
Watt: This is one of the greatest examples of a tiny team with one composer playing all the instruments themselves and creating a world-class, fun game. Incredible, absolutely incredible.
11. "Zelda Main Theme," Legend of Zelda (1986)
Composed by Koji Kondo
Watt: No comment—if you don't know this one, you'd best get on it quickly. It changed everything. It was the first unbelievable game.
12. "Rip & Tear," DOOM (2016)
Composed by Mick Gordon
Watt: This is an amazing soundtrack and easily the most aggressive example of video game music I’ve ever heard in my entire life.
13. "Legends of Azeroth (Main Title)," World of Warcraft (2004 to present)
Composed by many artists; this track composed by Jason Hayes
Watt: The original World of Warcraft—which is still happening now—probably has 40 hours or more of music built up over so many years. They built up a vast library of music that plays every role from location based to leitmotif, time of day, event history, world changes, events in real life, like holiday music, where the game will go all holidays and all that. And as a kicker, more than one Berklee alum has made music for this game as well.
Bonus (unavailable on Spotify): Space Invaders (1978)
Composed by Tomohiro Nishikado
Watt: Get this: How can you write an entire video game score using only one note at a time?