There are games that will outlast you, me and everyone we know. For some, it’s because of that one infamous mission. For others, it’s because of that one mechanic that changed the way we play games. For the game series on this list, it’s because of the music. Here are 10 video game series that are defined by their music, be it one of their songs or their entire score.
If you ask almost any gamer about DuckTales and what it’s known for, whether they’ve played it or not, chances are their answer will be the Moon level song. It’s catchy, screams space and captures the essence of the DuckTales game.
It’s no surprise that the Moon level song is as great as it sounds when you consider where the DuckTales property came from: Disney. Using just five sound channels on the NES, the Moon level sounds like a theme song ripped straight from a silver screen Disney feature and we’ll be humming it and reminiscing on the good ole licensed Disney game days for years to come.
Long before Doom made metal music in video games cool, the Castlevania series was serenading us with guitar riffs and brutal drum beats as we progressed our way through Dracula’s latest gauntlet. When the game wasn’t taking us through sound waves and castles of metal, our ears were gifted callbacks to beats and melodies more reminiscent of 80s music than anything else.
It’s impossible to nail down one single song that defines this series, especially when the catalogue is filled with well-known classics, but one song we know that is just as famous as the term metroidvania or any other kind of mechanic Castlevania instilled in video games is Bloody Tears.
A certified banger, Bloody Tears always has and always will — as the kids say — slap.
Departing from speaking strictly of a video game series, there are individual video games with music just as great as the entire series it’s a part of and no other game speaks more truly to that than Skyrim. Sure, the entire Elder Scrolls series is fantastic but the music of Skyrim is on an entirely different level.
When you hear the thuds of the deep chorus chugging along behind the quick slashes of strings before the entire Dovahkiin song comes to life with the horns, it’s impossible to deny that you don’t think of the first time you used Unrelenting Force, or the first time you walked into Whiterun.
Skyrim is a game that changed the course of conversation in video games and it’s a game that many have tried to replicate, but no matter how close they get to it, they’ll never have the music of Skyrim.
Donkey Kong Country
When you think of Donkey Kong Country, what song immediately begins playing in your head? Is it the one Cranky cranks up on his record player? Is it Aquatic Ambience? Is it the level selection screen? Need we say more?
With such a unique art style and style of gameplay, it’s remarkable that the music shines as brightly as it does. It’s perfectly Donkey Kong, perfectly jungle, ethereal and moving, and a game full of songs that you’d be hard pressed to find not featured on a list of all-time best video game songs.
There is no game this generation that surprised us more than Undertale. It’s a very small indie title made by one person and it features a style of gameplay, art style and sense of humor we haven’t really seen elsewhere. Beyond what the game actually is, which is incredible, the music of Undertale and it’s subsequent pseudo-sequel Deltarune, is some of the best we’ve ever heard.
The music is uniquely Undertale which means that much like the game, it has a lot of personality. Every character has a theme. Every area has its own ambiance-setting motif and every boss fight features a jam we’re still listening to years later. Our personal favorite? Megalovania. It’s groovy, funky and somewhat difficult to actually come across in the game as it requires you to fight Sans on a very genocidal route through the game’s story.
Nier: Automata stands alone this generation for a number of reasons. It’s combat is top-notch, its characters are heartfelt and its story is a refreshing take on a trope we’ve seen others fail at presenting far too many times. We remember our first time playing this game for a number of reasons, but the one that stands out amongst the rest is our first approach toward the darkened gates of the greatest amusement park in video games.
Calling upon eerily alien lyrics that sit somewhere between inviting and terrifying while using an xylophone to create one of the best melodies in video games, Amusement Park is a song that brings us right back to our first go through Nier: Automata every time. And this is just one of the game’s many themes — we didn’t even touch on City of Ruins, A Beautiful Song or Weight of the World.
Guitar Hero/Rock Band
Okay, so maybe this one is cheating but you absolutely cannot talk about video games and music without mentioning Guitar Hero and Rock Band. These are video game series that defined our early 2000s. Who doesn’t remember belting out Say It Ain’t So by Weezer in Rock Band while your best friend butchered the guitar solo? Or what about the first time you attempted Through the Fire and Flames in Guitar Hero 3?
Guitar Hero and Rock Band were the party games of party games and while these franchises attempted to revive that magic a few years back, it just wasn’t the same. Guitar Hero and Rock Band were more than video games, more than just party games — they were living, breathing soundtracks and they inform our Spotify and Apple Music playlists still today.
Life is Strange
Life is Strange is an extremely special series. It’s heart wrenching and heartbreaking. It’s honest and it’s real. It’s a game that’s unrealistic in many ways but has just enough attached to reality that we fully believe in it and one of the game’s attachments to reality is its soundtrack.
Somewhere between a mix of your local coffee shop’s favorite playlist and every indie movie ever made, the Life is Strange soundtrack goes beyond just music and serves to tell more of the story being presented on screen.
Much of the soundtrack is made up of actual music created by bands, but a lot of it is wholly original score, like the Main Theme. We could sit at the main menu for hours without pressing start if it means listening to the song below just a little bit longer.
Bet you never saw this coming!
We’re sorry about that — it was just too easy. It’s not our fault Last Surprise is still stuck in our head years after hearing it for the first time. With five mainline entries and a number of spinoffs, many centering on the music of the series, the Persona series as a whole has earned a spot alongside these other games time and time again.
The soundtrack of the Persona series is more than just background music. It informs everything going on screen. In a battle? There’s a perfect song for that. Walking through Shibuya? Yup, there’s a song for that. Boarding a train? There’s a song for that too.
With hundreds and hundreds of songs to choose from, we recommend giving Last Surprise a listen if you’ve never played a Persona game. You’ll be downloading Persona 5 in no time.
The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda is a series filled with such a broad and unique discography of music that it’s hard to nail down which game does it best but fortunately, we don’t need to. That’s because no matter what Zelda game you’re playing, at some point in the game, you’re bound to hear the masterpiece that is Hyrule Field.
It’s a cadence that’s followed us onto the field of Hyrule time and time again and it’s a song that bleeds beyond just those of us who have played a Zelda game. Play Hyrule Field and ask your friend, your mom, your sister, your brother what it is. They might not guess Hyrule Field but they’ll almost always arrive at “Zelda” or “that green guy with the sword.”
Assassin’s Creed 2 did so much for the Assassin’s Creed series. After a solid outing with the first entry, Assassin’s Creed 2 took everything that worked well in the first and improved upon it while making everything that didn’t work excel in the sequel.
All of that came together presented in a box wrapped neatly with a bow on top thanks to one song that has followed 10 more and counting entries in the series: Ezio’s Family.
It’s melodic, soft and easily remixable to fit whatever time period the series is taking us to and for that reason, it’s always stuck. When you boot up an Assassin’s Creed game, you expect to hear Ezio’s Family play immediately when the game starts, be that at the title screen or soon after the game begins. It’s THE Assassin’s Creed song.
Ah, Pokemon. Where do we even begin? The battle theme? The main theme? Viridian Road? Red’s battle music? The Pokemon TV show theme song?
There might not be another game series on this list with music so widely recognized by the general public than Pokemon. As the series has gone on, the special magic of the music ingrained within us has slowly disappeared, but not in a bad way.
It’s just that the series is able to use sound channel after sound channel to create great music rather than the very limited number of channels available on the Game Boy and the hardware that followed it.
Nonetheless, it was that limited number of channels — maybe a bass line, a drum track and one or two channels for a melody — that created music that is still stuck in our head today.
There are hundreds of songs in Final Fantasy that we could use as a hill to die on for this piece but for the sake of your time, we’re going to stick to one song: the Final Fantasy Prelude. It’s been in every single Final Fantasy game in some form or another and it is a short and easy arpeggio that we could listen to on repeat for hours and hours.
The Prelude is simple. It’s not bombastic but it’s not subtle. It’s not happy but it’s not sad. It’s strangely a great representation of the Final Fantasy series as a whole.
There are ups (think the final notes of that classic Prelude arpeggio) and there are downs (think the starting notes of the song), but no matter what gets tossed at us by Square Enix, we welcome it with open arms every time.
Now, sometimes those open arms are betrayed by a Final Fantasy game we’ll quickly try to forget ever happened but hey, at least you get a new remix of the Prelude.
Do you remember the first time you booted up Halo: Combat Evolved and found yourself unable to start the game because of an eerie ghost-like chorus from space refused to let up?
Do you remember the first time you stormed the Metropolis Bridge to the sound of the classic Halo theme remixed with the addition of an electric guitar? We do.
Halo changed the way we play first person shooters and it has earned a place in the video game hall of fame because of that, but the music of Halo is steeped in a history that reaches deep into our early 2000s and it refuses to let go.
Still today, after all these years, we can’t walk into a room that echoes without humming the song we first heard at the title screen of Halo: Combat Evolved.
You knew this one was coming.
You’re 100% already belting Utada Hikaru’s bop wherever you are. Simple and Clean is a song that no matter where you are in life today, whether that’s still playing video games or well beyond them, you’ll find yourself singing when someone mentions it.
You might not know the words anymore but you certainly know the tune and you certainly remember the gorgeous cinematic that introduces us to the series and to this song.
As if Simple and Clean wasn’t enough, Kingdom Hearts would go on to not only give us three more incredible Hikaru songs, but a treasure trove of Square Enix renditions of Disney music.
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Are there any video games or series that we left off this list? Let us know in the comments below!