When I think about some of my all-time favourite games, I realise that part of the reason I love them so much is because they feature beautiful, diverse soundtracks. Music is integral to immersive and memorable gameplay experiences, not just as a tool to build ambience, but as a way of physically connecting with a game in a way that transcends language and visuals. It raises the hairs on our arms. It takes our breath away. It empowers us to feel like we can defeat armies, and tears us down in our vulnerability when someone is lost.
So here are my personal top five game soundtracks of all time, which interestingly resemble some of my most loved gaming experiences.
5 – flOw
Words cannot do justice to the hypnotic and mesmerising effect of this game’s soundtrack. Full of haunting choral voices and echoing orchestral sound, this score envelops you with the gentle beauty of a drifting, boundless world of possibility that perfectly captures the soothing, free-form motion of flOw.
Flow was one of the early arcade-style games released on the PlayStation 3 online store. This score will always resonate with me; I spent many beautiful hours playing this with loved ones, curled up in a dream-like state while the music washed over us.
Recommended tracks: Birth and Gratitude
4 – Halo (1, 2 and 3)
For me, Xbox’s flagship game series was more than just the ground-breaking multi-player and dynamic first-person shooting experience; the music is stunning. It moves expertly from isolated acapella voices to swelling orchestral pieces, before building into a stirring crescendo of powerful electric guitar, rolling drums and strings (you know the bit, the music that plays when Things Get Serious). This score manipulates an emotional rollercoaster ride that never fails to succeed in its purpose for you as the player: whether that’s stopping you in your tracks to appreciate the full gravity and wonder of a situation, or screaming at your heels while you race against the next oncoming disaster with your heart in your mouth.
Recommended track: Opening Suite (Halo), Unforgotten (Halo 2), One Final Effort (Halo 3)
3 – Super Mario Galaxy
In the same way that they just love to roll out the same games with a different title slapped on, Nintendo, bless their cotton socks, often insist on recycling soundtracks in keeping with their ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it!’ mantra. Super Mario Galaxy, however, features completely fresh and original music (no revamps of old Mario tunes!) The end result is a wondrously diverse score of utterly captivating themes and memorable melodies, delivered in grand orchestral set pieces that really embody the magnitude of Mario’s journey as he soars through the cosmos.
Recommended tracks: Egg Planet, Battle Rock, and Floater Land
2 – Shadow of the Colossus
Everything about this game is sheer beauty. On a quest to restore life to the one he loves, Wanda travels a vast and isolated landscape to seek out and destroy sixteen Colossi. Interestingly, the game is almost silent as you traverse the land on horseback, which is a key element of the entrancing narrative arc of this experience. Each quiet, contemplative journey is set in stark contrast against the exhilarating, breath-taking battles against each Colossus – the rousing and dramatic orchestral tracks create a sensational experience as you leap, climb and cling onto these huge monsters.
Recommended tracks: The Opened Way, Revived Power, In Awe of the Power
1 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
A conventional choice for number one, I know, but, in a way, music is the mechanic that drives this game forward. The simple notes you learn on your ocarina as a boy unlock secrets and lend you passage through lands and temples. Then, as a grown man, new melodies have the power to transport you through time and space. Music is what makes this game, and it doesn’t disappoint. The ocarina tunes are melodious and unforgettable, but even more impressive is how many of them are woven into a compelling, inspiring soundtrack that tells the story of this great adventure.
Recommended tracks: All of them! But here are some favs – Song of Time, Gerudo Valley, Windmill Hut (Song of Storms), Hyrule Field, Lost Woods (Saria’s Song)
So what do you think? Would your top five look completely different? Sound off in the comments below with your favourite experiences of game music if you think you know better. Which you don’t. Because I’m obviously right.