Our Top 40 Video Game Music Tracks of All-Time
We’re counting down our Top 40 favorite video game tracks of all-time! After all of the in-fighting, bloodshed, name-calling, and maternally-themed threats subsided, we were left with a Casey Casum-approved list of our Top 40 favorite songs piercing through the smoky aftermath.
So how did we come up with this list? We each narrowed-down and constructed our own individual Top 10 lists (with the exception of Brent, who just had to bend the rules and include 12 songs. It’s okay buddy, we still love ya’!). We combined these lists into a Top 40, after which, each of us assigned a number rank from 1-40 for all of the songs, with “1” being the top ranking song on our respective list. Each song would then have their rankings totaled, and the lower the score the better. There were some hurt feelings and broken friendships, but in the end, we persevered and came out with a peculiar and varied list of favorites.
Below you will find the results of our at-first-thought-to-be-impossible-endeavor. Take a read and enjoy!
And after you find out what we thought, we want to hear from you! Tell us how wrong we were, what we missed, and what your thoughts are on our list! Fill up the comments section, we’d love to hear your feedback!
#40: Main Theme - Angry Birds Rio 2
#39: Painkiller - Max Payne 3
#38: Science is Fun - Portal 2
#37: Main Theme - The Curse of Monkey Island
#36: We Were Set Up - GTA V
#35: A Storm in the Desert - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Ben: Criminally low on this list, “A Storm in the Desert” came in at number 2 on my overall list. I love the way the full orchestra enters this song at the beginning. Alternating between serious and more playful tones, this magnificent song has some stunning changes and transitions while never losing the gravity of the piece.
#34: Mondo Grosso - "Shinin' (Extended Version)" - Lumines
#33: Blood Dragon Theme - Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
#32: Toberu Mono (Main Theme Instrumental) - The Last Story
Ben: This song was number one on my list. Why is it down here at 32? Apparently my Short Pause brethren don’t like beautiful songs. They’re monsters. Oh, and this song has possibly the most gorgeous violin melody I’ve ever heard. Like I said, they’re monsters.
#31: Hill Film Blues (Mysterious Mine Mix) - PixelJunk Shooter 2
#30: Fincity - Ibb & Obb
#29: The Road to Shambhala - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
#28: Hung Hua Brothel - Deus Ex: Human Revolution
#27: Title Theme - Solstice
Eric: As a kid, I was in awe of how big and epic the opening song for Solstice was. The game is an isometric puzzle-platformer, but featured an arcade-like demo loop if you let the game sit on the title screen. So I would, just to hear the whole song. When you think of the technology the NES uses for sound, the whole game had only four channels to use for all of it - music and sound effects. For this song to sound like there’s as much going on in it as there is, the composer, Tim Follin, had to work some crazy magic.
Also, here’s an incredible cover of the song that also blows my mind.
#26: Title Theme - Mega Man 2
Ben: Next to the original theme from Super Mario Bros., this is the 8-bit song I remember the most. Able to hum it on a whim, it’s a prime example of why Mega Man’s hyper-techno chiptune style is so beloved.
#25: Orginal Theme - Super Mario Bros.
Brent: Yeah, it's at #25, so just deal with it.
#24: Clarity - Ibb & Obb
Taz: When Dominique and I were looking for a game to play together, we stumbled upon this one. I was pleasantly surprised by its puzzles and its music. What a great, local co-op game!
Eric: ibb & obb probably IS a lot of fun to play cooperatively; I played 75% through all by myself, though. Part of what kept pushing me to go on was the awesome soundtrack by Kettle - it's like a playful cross between Pat Metheny and Aphex Twin.
Wait! No! Keep reading! I can (almost) promise I won't make such obtuse comparisons/references again.
#23: Doepfer - Waking Mars
Taz: IGN called this PC game "Okay". I think the music is great.
Brent: What the f*** game is this again?
#22: The Shootist - Red Dead Redemption
Taz: Can we replace this "song" with the Rio 2 song? (Again, see #40.) This is more like an arrangement of random sound effects.
Eric: Rockstar always has a knack for putting the right music in their games, and Red Dead is no different. Bill Elm and Woody Jackson did a tremendous job nailing the style and atmosphere of the Wild West for Red Dead Redemption, and “The Shootist” really hits on all the musical themes the game has. The whole soundtrack is great though, and one could easily lift the music from this game and place it in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western with Clint Eastwood and it’d still work.
And no, Taz. No we can't.
#21: Crystals - Hotline Miami
#20: Passion - Kingdom Hearts 2
#19: Gravity Jump - Limbo
#18 Search - Velocity Ultra
#17: Via Purifico - Final Fantasy X
#16: Bowerstone - Fable
#15: Miami Disco - Hotline Miami
Brent: To be honest, we probably could’ve squeezed 4 or 5 more songs from the Hotline Miami soundtrack into this list; it’s THAT good! All of the tracks feature great beats that keep you focused during the white hot gameplay featured in Hotline Miami…and they also kept me from planting my Vita into the ground thanks to the game's unforgiving difficulty
#14: Moonlight Nocturne - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Ben: Personally, this was the first song that came to mind when we decided we were going to make this list. This was my favorite song on a soundtrack full of potential favorite songs. At just under 2 minutes, the brevity of this song belies the beautifully intricate symphony encapsulated within. Haunting organs and a full set of hypnotic strings, complete with an amazing, moving transition towards the end, combine to somehow embody the entirety of the Castlevania sound in one piece. It was an epic track worthy of Richter’s recent victory over Dracula, and it perfectly set the tone as you entered Dracula’s castle as Alucard for the first time. I found myself wanting to play the beginning of this game over and over again, not only to experience one of the best game openings of all-time, but to hear this gorgeous song one more time.
Taz: Every time I hear this song, I want to play the game again. And I think I've beaten it a dozen times already. Thx Ben!
#13: Liberi Fatali - Final Fantasy VIII
Ben: While there are a plethora of games with amazing intros, when speaking in terms of the best opening movies of all-time, there is only one clear choice: Final Fantasy VIII. At the time, the CG graphics on display here were the most amazing visuals I had ever seen on a console. I remember thinking, “Wow, I wonder if games will look like this someday?” (The Last Of Us says hi). The opening movie of Final Fantasy VIII set the stage for the sweeping tale to follow, and “Liberi Fatali” was one of the main reasons the movie was so effective. A kinetic and urgent orchestral score, this song ingrained FFVIII’s opening movie in my gamer head forever.
Taz: Nominated by Ben, this song took my number one vote. Needless to say, I love this song (and I love this game). Good call!
#12: Aurora - Shatter
#11: Kinetic Harvest - Shatter
Eric: First of all, Shatter is awesome. Go buy it and play it right now.
Secondly, nearly every song on this soundtrack is like this - a six minute and change dance groove that makes bustin' up blocks such a joy to do.
Are You Ready For The Top 10???
#10: Get It Together - LittleBigPlanet
Ben: I’ve never had a chance to play very much of LittleBigPlanet – an admittedly glaring omission on my gamer cred resume, and something I hope to remedy at some point in the near future – but I’ve always remembered this song. Found in one of the first trailers for the first entry in this revered series, this song was so infectious and catchy I couldn’t get it out of my head. I can remember staring at a TV near the front of a Circuit City (R.I.P.) store, hypnotized by this insanely happy song with these adorable sack people jumping around as it played. If you’ve yet to check it out, the entirety of the LittleBigPlanet soundtrack — across all franchise entries — is an amazing and recommended listen.
#9: 117 - Halo 4
Ben: One of the hallmarks of Microsoft’s blockbuster franchise, Halo, has always been its stirring score. Reminiscent of something you might hear bellowing out of a Hollywood studio, the Halo soundtrack has always imparted an extra layer of sophistication and gravitas to an already epic sci-fi yarn. While most would consider the iconic Halo theme, composed by former Bungie bard Martin O’Donnell, for inclusion on a “best of…” list, I chose the more recent “117” when it came down to brass tacks. It’s a suitably epic track to accompany the grandiose story on display here. I feel heroic when I listen to this song; it makes me want to strap on the Spartan armor myself and go blast some baddies. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling. While the Halo 4 soundtrack was composed and overseen by new series composer Neil Davidge, this track was actually composed by Kazuma Jinnouchi and the Hollywood Studio Symphony.
#8: Prime 5 - Echochrome
Taz: I often turned on my PlayStation just so I could listen to this soundtrack and do other things — like read or clean. Here's a pretty cool playlist I found on YouTube that works just as well.
#7: All Gone - The Last of Us
Brent: When you first boot up The Last of Us, this is the song you’ll hear at the main menu. While at first it may not move you when you hear it, the more you play the game — and the more you let the story consume you — the more this song will serve as a reminder that you need to prepare yourself for an emotionally charged experience.
#6: Wind Guide You - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Taz: Don't say anything bad about this song or Brent will make sure you take an arrow to the knee. That's my warning, dear adventurers.
Brent: If you’re going to make a game as epic as The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim, you better have a soundtrack that is just as epic. Thankfully, Jeremy Soule went above and beyond the call of duty here. The OST to Skyrim features many memorable songs, but "Wind Guide You" captures the essence and magic of Skyrim. Every time I hear this track, I think of the view from Snow Mountain. It’s a very relaxing song that also reminds you of the long grind that you put in ranking your character up.
#5: The Last of Us Theme - The Last of Us
Eric: Much like Rockstar, Naughty Dog usually has no problems nailing down the music for their titles. The gritty overtones that The Last Of Us oozes from every pore is set to a haunting score by composer Gustavo Santaolalla, whose body of work is already haunting enough to begin with, and broad with myriad Hollywood films under his belt. “The Last Of Us” features the main theme in its entirety as it’s heard in different capacities throughout the game and really sets the tone for what’s to come.
#4: Nascence - Journey
Ben: What more can be said about Journey’s soundtrack that hasn’t already been said. The only gaming soundtrack to ever be nominated for a grammy, Austin Wintory’s gaming soundtrack opus is simply a masterpiece. I would have put the entire soundtrack on this list if I could. At once haunting, mesmerizing, and incredibly beautiful, "Nascence" captures the essence of Journey in this signature track that I wish carried on longer than it did.
#3: Downstream - Braid
Brent: This was another one of those games that would test your wits to the brink of insanity, and like Hotline Miami, Braid featured a very enchanting and calming soundtrack. I had no idea this soundtrack was on iTunes, but when I found out it was available, I didn’t waste any time picking it up!
#2: Nate's Theme 2.0 - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Eric: Like I said for The Last Of Us, Naughty Dog tends to do music right. Each Uncharted title starts with a version of “Nate’s Theme” by Greg Edmonson and, as far as I’m concerned, Uncharted 2 has the best version. Regardless of which Uncharted game I’m playing, I cannot start the game until I’ve listened to the whole song. It’s a thing for me; it really gets me in the mood and it’s just part of the experience of playing Uncharted: great gameplay, great characters, and a great theme that tells me it’s time for adventure. (This was my #1, by the bye.)
#1: Miami - Hotline Miami
Eric: Number one with a bullet is Jasper Byrne's "Miami." Seriously, what a jam. Who wouldn't love this song?
Ben: A worthy entry at number one, I was exposed to this track by chance. After one of my binge downloading sessions on the PlayStation Store one evening, I remember perusing the XMB to see the fruits of my labor. Scrolling through the new contents of my game list, I came to an abrupt stop on Hotline Miami. "Miami" started to play — it's the song programmed to play on the title's XMB page — and I was hooked. I had heard so much about this game and its soundtrack due to its time on the PC, and this track confirmed it all — in fact, it was even better than anticipated! I sat there and listened to this this song play over and over. I'm not sure I ever did get around to playing any of my newly downloaded games that night.
Well, those are our Top 40! Did we introduce you to any new tunes or fail to mention your favorites? Let us know in the comments below and you might hear your words on our podcast.
Bonus: Interesting Facts About Our List!
- While "Miami" from Hotline Miami was number 1 on our overall list according to our scoring system, this song was not number 1 on any of our individual lists.
- We actually voted on 44 songs before narrowing the list to the top 40 overall. Brent was unable to cut two songs from his list so he submitted 12, Ben submitted two songs as honorable mentions with no intention that they be voted upon. When all was said and done, we had voted on all 44 songs, with four of them not making the cut.
- The four songs that failed to make the cut: "Theme Song" - Rag Doll Kung Fu, "Puffy the Opera Singer" - NiGHTS: Into Dreams, "3 Across 4" - PixelJunk Eden, and "Manhattan Assault" - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
- As a result of voting on 44 songs to construct our Top 40, Eric only has nine of his songs on the list, while Brent has 11. Ben and Taz each have ten on the list.
- The four number one songs on each of our individual lists were, "Nate's Theme 2.0" - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Eric), "Wind Guide You" - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Brent), "Liberi Fatali" - Final Fantasy VIII (Taz), and "Toberu Mono - Main Theme (Instrumental)" - The Last Story (Ben).
- There were three NES songs on our list, and they all landed right next to each other at 25, 26, and 27. The "Original Theme" to Super Mario Bros. placed highest amongst these at 25.
- There was tie for the highest disparity in rankings between "The Shootist" - Red Dead Redemption (Taz ranked this song at 41, while Eric ranked it at 2) and "A Storm in the Desert" - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Ben ranked this at 2, while Eric ranked it at 41 [How do you sleep with yourself at night, Eric?!])
- If we allowed duplicate entries when creating our individual lists, "Miami" - Hotline Miami would have been the only song to grace all of our lists.
- There are no songs from the 16-Bit generation on our list.