Top Current Generation Game Soundtracks

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It’s fairly safe to say that Tetris simply would not be Tetris without its iconic theme.  Many early arcade games took simple beeps and blips and arranged them into the catchy, timeless tunes that are so easily recognizable today.  Many modern gamers still revel in the now-classic sounds of arcade titles.  But this phenomenon is not limited to the classics.  More modern titles have picked up the torch laid down by their pioneering forefathers and developed their own unique musical identities.  Which begs the question:  Why is music so important in video games?

Music has long been used to enhance the experience of watching plays or movies by helping to establish an emotional connection to the audience.  Music in video games functions much the same way, adding an intangible emotional undercurrent to the game that greatly enhances the characters and events within the story.  Music can also be added to different environments in a game to help convey the atmosphere of that particular setting.  The music significantly magnifies the impact of the environment on the player by adding to the aura established by the graphics and sound effects that make up that area.  Overall, a game’s music can be an invaluable asset.

In honor of the often underappreciated soundtracks of modern video games, and the amazingly talented composers who create them, A-G has arranged a listing of the best (of the best) game soundtracks from the current console generation:

Composed by:  Various Composers

Though Super Smash Bros Brawl features many unaltered tracks from the various games that originally gave life to its characters and stages, the bulk of the soundtrack is derived from new arrangements of classic Nintendo musical pieces.  Several famous Japanese video game composers were asked to contribute to the project, including Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Xenoblade, Mario Party), Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts), Yuzo Koshiro (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin), and Koji Kondo (see below).  The original theme for Brawl, created by Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, is easily one of the most creative, beautiful, and engaging game tracks ever written.

Composed by:  Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori

As with the two previous games in the series, the soundtrack for Halo 3 was composed by long-time Bungie employee Martin O’Donnell and his partner Michael Salvatori.  The music featured in the game is a blend of arrangements from previous Halo tracks and newly composed pieces specifically for Halo 3.  The music greatly amplifies the solemn tone of humanity’s ultimate fight for survival, helping to immerse the player in the role of Spartan-117 as he or she plays through the super soldier’s most dire battle.  Adventure, heroism, pride, tragedy, desperation, and somberness are all clearly conveyed through the music of this game.

Composed by:  Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori

ODST has, as A-G editor Bradley Russell put it, “probably the most underrated soundtrack out there.”  Like the game itself, ODST’s soundtrack takes on a completely different identity from what the previous Halo games had exhibited.  New characters, new themes, and a new story led the game into a classic experience far removed from the heroic, galactic grandeur of the original Halo trilogy.  I could describe the impact this change had on the soundtrack, but instead I’ll let Mr. O’Donnell himself explain it:  “I did brand new music for ODST because it was such a different mood.  It was not at all the big space opera.  It was the one day, one night story.  Film noire.  Rainy, wet, wonderful atmosphere.  For me it meant this should all be new music.”

Composed by:  Greg Edmonson

No game soundtrack has ever blown me away like that of Uncharted 3.  The Uncharted series features breathtaking music that really pushes the boundaries of video game scores.  The tracks generally convey the adventurous spirit of the games, with some being influenced by the various cultures seen on Nathan Drake’s journeys.  Naughty Dog took great care in crafting the story and characters to be as deep and passionate as possible to create an action-adventure series on par with the best movies of the genre.  It makes sense that the games’ music would carry just as much magnitude as their film counterparts.

Composed by:  Mahito Yokota and Koji Kondo

The Legend of Zelda series is renowned for its classical melodies and tunes and Skyward Sword is no different.  It recaptures many of those memorable moments while simultaneously introducing new themes which will eventually be ingrained into your sub conscious. In fact, Skyward Sword takes the series to new heights with its fully orchestrated score. New additions like the Song of the Hero and the title’s main theme, offer an unparalleled experience compared to other entries in the series.

Composed by:  Jeremy Soule

The moment Skyrim’s title screen appears, you know you’re in for one epic journey. The intro music begins with a slow steep incline of anticipation, which leads up to an intense orchestrated symphony of shouts from a barbarian choir. Who knew dragon’s language could get someone so hyped up? The song then retracts and enters into a peaceful and mysterious melody. The entire package is a perfect blend of action, exploration and adventure. It’s a perfect musical summary of the adventures yet to come.

Composed by:  Mahito Yakota, Koji Kondo, and Ryo Nagamatsu

There are not many games where the music overshadows a game and sucks you into its world, lest it be one as acclaimed as Mario but here we have some of the most perfect examples of video game music. Incessantly catchy, jaw-droppingly epic, and superb characterisation springs this game far beyond merely great and into the upper echelons of video game history. A true gem of a soundtrack.

Composed by:  Hideyuki Fukasawa

Not many might consider fighting game music among the all-time greats for soundtracks. As Addicted-Gamers’ biggest fighting game connoisseur and owner of many fighting game soundtracks, I’m here to tell you, you’re missing out. Street Fighter is timeless as a fighter with music that is just as timeless. Most every Street Fighter fan knows Ryu’s or Ken’s theme songs. Just as Street Fighter IV revived an entire genre, it revived the themes many fans grew up with in arcades and on consoles throughout the years and updated them for a new generation rather than completely changing them. The results are the most memorable remixes of these themes ever.

Composed by:  Steve Jablonsky

Of all of the memorable shooters this generation, I challenge anyone to find themes as memorable as Gears of War. I would be willing to bet the only ones that come up will be on this list. Gears of War has reinforced the high standard for shooter epic soundtracks. Its themes range from ominous and somber to hopeful and inspirational. In games where you are fighting a hopeless battle for humanity against a relentless and unforgiving enemy, the best way to help tell the story is through a fantastic soundtrack composed by industry and film veteran, Steve Jablonsky. Gears’ soundtrack helps meld the music with the chainsaw revs, lots of explosions, lots of shooting, and grunting. Whether it’s the feeling of hopelessness, or rejoiceful happiness, Gears of War’s soundtrack is unforgettable.

Composed by:  Bill Elm and Woody Johnson; Jose Gonzalez

Red Dead Redemption is one of the greatest games ever. You better bet that it has an all-time great soundtrack to go with it. RDR is a game that explores the world moving on from the Wild West. Its official theme exemplifies that melancholy “death of the cowboy.” As good as the musical score throughout the game is, nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the moment you enter the second half of the game and are treated to the song “Far Away” by Jose Gonzalez. It was the highlight of the game and for many, including Spike, the highlight of the year for gaming music.

Special thanks to A-G editors Joe Puopolo, Mike M, and Bradley Russell for their contributions.  

About Eileen Murphy

Writer. Reader. Thinker. Gamer. Addicted gamer, you might say.