Final Fantasy VII
The Final Fantasy series is one of the most beloved gaming franchises around and it’s not hard to see why. The games (for the most part) are synonymous with quality and the rich worlds and characters they hold stay with us long after the credits have rolled. Given how many great games the series has seen, it shows how great VII is when most consider that to be the best game in the series. Despite technical limitations, Final Fantasy VII was hailed by critics as one of the best games ever made and highlights include its excellent story, great combat system, and of course its music.
The music for VII was arranged, composed, and produced by Nobuo Uematsu who had worked on the previous six installments. He originally wanted to take full advantage of the game’s CD release with high quality sound. Upon doing so he found this caused lengthy loading times and so instead used the PlayStation’s internal sound sequencer to create the game’s music. Uematsue began working on songs that reflected the mood of the game and ended up creating One-Winged Angel, a song which went on to become his most popular contribution to the series’ music.
Arguably one of the finest games developed by Rare, Banjo-Kazooie followed a Bear named Banjo and his friend, a bird named Kazooie, as they go on a colorful adventure to defeat the evil witch Gruntilda. The game is a perfect example of how fun platforming games can be and the game was a huge success upon release.
To go along with Banjo-Kazooie’s great humor and fantastical levels, the composer, Grant Kirkhope, designed the score so that each song would fade from one style into the next without pause, effectively putting the soundtrack on one continuous loop as players explore each level. In 1998, IGN awarded the game with the Best Music award for that year.
Metal Gear Solid
The Metal Gear series is well known for its excellent choice in music. The franchise is so synonymous with its great soundtrack that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots allowed Snake to plug in his iPod and listen to classic tunes from previous installments. Pretty much any Metal Gear Solid game could be on this list but it’s arguably the original game that really embraced music. As the first game in the series to be on disc, Metal Gear Solid featured some truly beautiful tracks that helped make the release such a game changer.
Metal Gear Solid’s music was composed by publisher Konami’s in-house musicians and the composer and lyricist Rika Muranaka wrote the classic song The Best is Yet to Come which was performed by the Irish singer Aoife Ní Fhearraigh. For many gamers, Metal Gear Solid was one of the first titles to show just how perfectly games and music could work together. The Metal Gear Solid series has since gone to feature many other classic original songs including Calling to the Night from Portable Ops, Snake Eater Theme from Snake Eater, Old Snake from Guns of the Patriots, and Sins of the Father from The Phantom Pain.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was a huge turning point in gaming and is still regarded as one of the greatest games ever made. The game takes you on an epic quest to save Hyrule from the evil Ganondorf. The game is remembered not just for its great gameplay and engaging story, but many people can’t help but think of the game’s great music when reminded of this classic.
The music for Ocarina of Time was written by Koji Kondo who had experience from previously working on the Zelda series’ score. He designed the soundtrack so that not only characters, but also places had their own distinct songs, meaning that many players can’t help but hear a certain tune in their head when they think of specific areas of the game. Music also plays an important aspect of the game as Link can use his Ocarina to achieve certain objectives. Players must press buttons in a specific order to correctly play these tunes. Kondo later stated that creating memorable tunes on such a limited scale was a “major challenge” but he felt it ended up working very well.
Skies of Arcadia
Set in the fantasy lands/skies of Arcadia, players take the role of a young air pilot who embarks on an epic adventure to stop the Valuan Empire from getting hold of ancient weapons which contain the power to destroy the world. The game includes similar features to older Final Fantasy games such as turn based combat and developing characters by earning XP. The game also encourages players to explore the skies with their airship in order to find new areas and quests.
The game’s music was composed by Yutaka Minobe and Tatsuyuki Maeda. Maeda had previously worked on the music for the game Sonic 3 & Knuckles and had plenty of experience with composing for video games. The game’s music is a crucial part in the overall package and allows players to feel like they’re on a grand adventure as they sail through the open skies.
Shadow of the Colossus
Released in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, Shadow of the Colossus was created by Team Ico, the developer that brought us the equally brilliant Ico. Shadow of the Colossus pushed the PS2 to its limit and left gamers at the time in awe, as they were tasked with bringing down 16 colossi by clambering up the mighty giants and stabbing their weak spots. While it features a vast open world, the game is devoid of other characters to interact with and players are left to embark on long journeys alone with only their loyal steed Agro for company.
It would’ve been easy for this to feel monotonous and unfinished, but the point of your travels is to reflect on what you’ve done so far and how you’re going to tackle the next foe. The game uses a lack of music to bring this home by having the only sounds being that of the protagonist and the nature around he and his steed. Upon encountering a colossus, bombastic music begins to play as the player enters the fray. The music was composed by Kow Otani and was collected in an album called Roar of the Earth which was highly praised upon release.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
First released back for the Xbox 360 and the PC, Oblivion’s incredible open world arguably hailed the beginning of the new generation of consoles that was the Xbox 360 and PS3. The game boasted a beautiful open-world to explore and allowed players to fulfill their fantasies of being a hero, vanquishing evil and completing quests. Players can choose to be a knight in shining armor or a rogue who keeps to the shadows and steals anything not nailed down. Truly, Oblivion is a game that allows players to feel free in how they play.
As highly praised as its gameplay and graphics were, it was easily the music that stole the show. Reminiscent of scores featured in fantasy films like The Lord of the Rings, Oblivion’s music was composed by the BAFTA winning Jeremy Soule who had worked on the previous entry, Morrowind, as well as other big games like Baldur’s Gate and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. While working on the game’s music, Soule was involved in a car crash which saw his vehicle roll several times towards oncoming traffic. Luckily he walked away with minor injuries, but Soule later stated he thought he was going to die. He went on to say that this inspired him to compose the music “to comment on the human condition and the beauty of life,” rather than specific characters or events.
Red Dead Redemption
Rockstar relied on real songs to be the perfect soundtrack to Vice City, but the studio showed that it is still more than capable of utilizing a great original score when it came to Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was critically acclaimed upon release for its great Western gunplay, realistic horse riding physics, gripping story, and engaging characters. The game perfectly captured the feel of classic John Wayne and Clint Eastwood old West films. Sure, the gorgeous sunsets and lonesome prairies certainly played a large part in capturing the spirit of the West, but it was easily the music that helped nail what Rockstar set out to do.
Composed by musicians Bill Elm and Woody Jackson Redemption’s soundtrack was the first time Rockstar had created an original score for a game. The music drew inspiration from old West movies including Ennio Morricone’s work on the Dollars trilogy. As well as purely instrumental tracks, a few songs with lyrics were recorded such as Far Away by Jose Gonzalez, Dead Man’s Gun by Ashtar Command, and Compass by Jamie Lidell. Several of these tracks were used to great affect in-game, particularly the iconic moment when you ride in to Mexico as Far Away plays.
Created by the same folks that develop the Persona games, Catherine is a puzzle platformer which follows a young man named Vincent as he finds himself beset upon by supernatural entities after being tempted away from his long-time girlfriend Katherine by a new woman named Catherine. The game is split into two halves, one which focuses on his daytime hours, where he socializes with friends, and the other which sees him fall into nightmares from which he must escape.
The game’s music was created by Shoji Meguro who had previously worked on the music in the Persona series. Themes that Meguro was told to focus on were those of “classic”, “adult oriented” and “erotic”. Meguro and his team opted to go for different genres of music depending on the type of gameplay they would play over. Action scenes employed classical music while slower paced sections featured smooth jazz music.
Released on the PlayStation 3 back in 2012, Journey was the game that proved indie games didn’t always have to limit their graphical scope. As its name suggests, players journey across a variety of landscapes. As a mysterious robed figure they draw ever closer to the mountain on the horizon. Journey was praised not only for its interesting gameplay and unique take on online interaction, but also for its absolutely stunning graphics.
If the game’s graphics are a feast for the eyes then the music is absolutely a treat for the ears. Composed and orchestrated by Austin Wintory, Wintory worked closely with both the sound designer and the programming team to ensure the music would tie into what was happening on screen. Wintory worked on the music for over three years and decided to base the music solely on the theme of the player’s traveling. He also tried to ensure the music didn’t draw from any style or culture in particular as he wanted it “as universal and culture-less as possible.” The game’s soundtrack was released and reached the top 10 in the iTunes soundtrack charts in over 20 countries.
Hotline Miami is a top down shooter that features simplistic graphics reminiscent of games from days gone by. Despite its relatively simple graphics, the game still managed to cause quite a stir, even among seasoned gamers, with its intense ultra violence. Set in Miami in 1989, players are tasked by a mysterious stranger to brutally murder gangs of Russian mafia.
Despite its simplistic graphics, Hotline Miami is oozing with atmosphere, thanks mainly to its incredible soundtrack. Everything in the game seems slightly amiss and the synth music that plays over all the violence really adds to that sense of being in a trance like state, not totally sure of what’s real. The soundtrack is made up of a variety of songs from numerous artists and the fact that a YouTube upload of the soundtrack has over 7 million hits is a testament to how well the music gets under your skin.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us was easily the biggest game of 2013 and went on to win over 200 Game of the Year awards. Developer Naughty Dog was already held in high regard for its work on the Uncharted series but The Last of Us showed that the studio was capable of telling a story that would emotionally wreck players, as well as make games about swashbuckling heroes like Nathan Drake. The game excels in just about every way, from its cutting edge graphics, its tight stealth/action gameplay, and its cast of characters, some of whom you’ll become very attached to.
As we’ve established, music in a game can be the glue that holds all the pieces together and boy does The Last of Us’ soundtrack nail that. Composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, who’s known for his minimalist approach to composing, aimed to make the music focus in on the story and characters and wanted it to feel emotional rather than scary. Santaolla used a variety of unorthodox techniques such as using a de-tuned guitar and recording in unlikely recording spaces such as his bathroom and kitchen. He wanted the music to “make your palms sweaty” and drew inspiration from the music used in the film No Country for Old Men. The soundtrack went on to be nominated for best original music at the 2014 BAFTA awards.
Developed by Supergiant Games, the same developer who brought us the equally great Bastion, Transistor is an isometric action RPG which puts players in the role of a young woman named Red as she and her talking sword (you read that right) battle through a futuristic sci-fi landscape. The game was very well received for its interesting setting, characters, and combat, but we’re here for its soundtrack.
The music was written and produced by Darren Korb, who had previously worked with Supergiant Games on Bastion. Singer Ashley Lynn Barrett provided vocals for tunes like The Spine and In Circles. Korb described the musical style as “old-world electronic post-rock”. To fit the sci-fi setting, Korb used a variety of electric instruments such as guitars, harps, electric piano, and synth pads. If you’re in the mood for some atmospheric sci-fi music, check out Transistor’s soundtrack.
Undertale is a small game that made a huge impression when it was released. At a glance the game appears to be a pretty nondescript indie title but it’s really so much more. The game has been incredibly well received by both gamers and critics and, if you haven’t already, you need to go and check it out.
Inspired by music from the Super NES era of gaming, Undertale’s soundtrack was composed entirely by the game’s creator, Toby Fox, who is a self-taught musician. Fox actually composed the music before working on the scene it would play over as he felt that would “decide how the scene should go”. The soundtrack was very well received by critics and it has become a favorite among those who enjoy listening to bit-based music.
The original Nier game may not have done quite as well as publisher Square Enix might have hoped, but it still gained a cult following of die-hard fans. This prompted Enix to greenlight a sequel developed by Platinum games, and boy did they deliver. The game received highly positive reviews upon release and in particular critics praised its adrenaline fueled action, interesting cast of characters, and of course its music.
Composer Keiichi Okabe, who worked on the original game, returned for Automata and worked on the soundtrack alongside Keigo Hoashi, Kuniyuki Takahashi, and Shotaro Seo. The music was heavily influenced by classcal music along with a sense of melancholy. Rather than using music that looped, tracks both hard and soft were created and designed to fade into one another. An official Nier music concert was held in Tokyo in 2016 and allowed fans to experience the game’s beautiful score live.