Video game music is a powerful entity, and it’s the reason I’ve written about it so many times before. Today, though, I’m attempting a challenge made by a friend: narrowing down my Top 10 video game songs of all time! It hurts just to think about!!! I’ve put together a list of my Top 10 Favorite Video Game Soundtracks before (albeit unranked), but cutting down the hundreds of inspiring songs I’ve taken in over decades to just ten is…nightmarish!! It feels blasphemous to even consider it! But I’m going to do my best.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m limiting the conditions of this list to only consider the original versions of the songs: taking covers and remixes into account would muddy the field way too much. Given how many incredible songs there are to choose from, I’m making a few qualifiers for the list as well. The song in question has to be from a game I’ve played before, it has to offer something unique in its presentation, it needs to mean something to me, and it has to be one that I could listen to over and over without getting tired of hearing. While my general tastes might change depending on the day, these ten songs always remain at the top of my list. This is a RANKED list, by the way. I’m all in!
Honorable Mention: Mario Kart 64- “Rainbow Road”
While it might not have made my personal top 10, I had to give a shout-out to this awesome tune. It’s one of the most addicting songs I’ve ever heard in a game and it gets stuck in my head at least once a week. It doesn’t hold the same place with me that these other songs do, but it is a fantastic track nonetheless and deserves the recognition. Also, RIP to all the friendships lost to Blue Shells as this played in the background.
Beginning with a rising beat, “Brinstar Green” evolves into a basic yet mysterious background track the perfectly encapsulates the player’s first experience with a larger area of Planet Zebes. A choir-like synth fills the air with wonder at the numerous passages and hidden power-ups that await in this lush, thorny environment. It’s the perfect way to break yourself into a brand new mission with the galaxy’s best bounty hunter.
In a game about senseless violence against monstrous demons, you need a song that throws out any sense of complexity and goes right for the jugular. “Rip and Tear” is that song. It radiates power and makes the player feel invincible. With heavy riffs, blasting drum beats, and enough distortion to shatter every window in the Empire State Building, there is no finer anthem for mowing down hordes of hellspawn!
Click Clock Wood is the final level of Banjo-Kazooie and it throws out all the stops, featuring the same level across all four seasons and a track that changes to suit each one. The song is initially an addictive ditty of Spring but morphs into a brassy waltz of Summer, an airy Autumn jig, and concludes as a dreamy Winter lullaby. Each version is a masterpiece of its own, but they combine into pure perfection.
The zany nature of Undertale is perfectly surmised early on with this theme of the skeletal schemer, Papyrus. An uppity rhythm with a wacky melody, “Bonetrousle” still gets caught in my head on a regular basis even months after last playing the game. Every time I would hear it in the game I would begin bobbing my head and shaking my shoulders like an idiot, the song’s infectious nature taking hold. I could never not like this song.
A tune so happy is perfect for the island home of the Rito bird-people. Sunny and mountainous, Dragon Roost Island is a breezy paradise of freedom, perfectly captured by the uplifting melody of its music. This song is easily one of the catchiest on this list due to its cheery strings, dreamy pan flute lead, and foot-tapping rhythm. It’s hard not to catch a good mood when this song plays.
I knew this song was special the very first time I heard it. The beautiful piano intro perfectly suits the drizzling rain of the capital, and the haunting vocals perfectly suit a bustling city now abandoned to lifeless husks. One of the first things you are able to do after hearing this song begin is sit at a save bench with the stalwart adventurer Quirrel right next to a window overlooking the plaza. Blissful melancholy at its finest.
I would almost go so far as to call this song a hidden track. It can only be heard when specifically playing Sonic 3 when it is combined with the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge, and only then once the player has claimed all of the Chaos or Super Emeralds to become Super/Hyper Sonic. This epic, driving track backs a last-ditch effort to take back the Master Emerald from Dr. Robotnik, flying through space and crashing through meteors to stop him at all costs.
This powerful track backs our protagonist Madeleine’s efforts to come to terms with the darkest parts of herself. Fear. Anxiety. Depression. Anger. Madeleine is forced to jump to platforms occluded by clouds and make leaps of faith to overcome her weaknesses head on. This entire section of the game is an overt metaphor for taking charge of your own destiny, and “Confronting Myself” is the perfect accompaniment. It moved me to tears.
Glenn is a warrior afflicted with the form of a frog after being cursed by the dark wizard Magus, also losing his friend and mentor Cyrus in this same encounter. He is a knight that purveys altruism in the face of his difficult circumstances, and he selflessly follows Crono to help save the very fabric of time itself. His theme is appropriately noble and inspiring, becoming even more so after his passion is reignited by reclaiming the Hero’s Medal from a phony.
The frigid Phendrana region of Tallon IV is my idea of paradise, with gently-falling snow that has slowly swallowed up some of the ancient architecture of the region. It’s backing track only makes me love it more. A soft piano accompanies ambient whirs and crystalline chimes, leading into a flowing melody later in the arrangement that falls lower and lower like the surrounding snowflakes. This song is pure bliss for me, and there is no other track more deserving of the top spot than this.
That wraps up my own list, but what about you? Do you have a list of favorite video game songs, even if just a few? Let me know in the comments below, and feel free to leave a link! I love discovering new music! Thanks for reading, friends, and jam- er, game on!