There’s no better feeling than when video game soundtracks swell to that perfect crescendo during final boss battles, or skulking down a long, dark hallway when the score suddenly changes, and you know trouble’s nearby. Or as you’re wandering through an indie game open world with calming etherical tones, skating through Tony Hawk Pro Skater rocking out, just enjoying the visuals of the game.
These video games have some of the most phenomenal soundtracks out there. They get your heart pumping, set the game’s tone, and enrich gameplay with brilliant compositions.
- Undertale (2015)
- Bastion (2011)
- Nier (2010)
- Journey (2012)
- Persona 5 (2016)
- Celeste (2018)
- Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
- Red Dead Redemption (2010)
- Cuphead (2017)
- The Last of Us (2013)
- Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
- Child of Light (2014)
- Hollow Knight (2017)
- The Entire Animal Crossing Series (2001-Present)
- Final Fantasy Series (1987-Present)
For many years, composer Toby Fox worked on the Homestuck webcomic music. He then designed Undertale—and the musical influence is undeniable.
Undertale is a fantastic game in nearly every respect, but the music really sets it above the rest.
You follow the adventures of a young girl apparently trapped in the underworld, which is populated by a cast of strange creatures.
Supergiant Games has a knack for creating games with beautiful soundtracks, and Bastion is no exception.
While playing, you navigate your way through an exquisitely drawn fantasy environment. The soundtrack helps players identify with the chaotic protagonist. You’ll even feel the same things that The Kid does.
The composer of Nier, Keiichi Okabe, made such emotionally evocative music for this installment that the developer brought him back, years later, for the next game in the Drakengard franchise.
In Nier, you play as the eponymous protagonist. You fight evil creatures called Shades, while searching for the cure to a mysterious disease overtaking Nier’s people.
Austin Wintory faced a serious challenge when he created this soundtrack: the game has no dialogue or cutscenes.
Everything, from plot to character emotions, needed to be conveyed with the music. Impressively, Wintory delivered with a flourish.
As you surf over the endless sand dunes and follow your own journey, Wintory’s music dynamically responds.
Persona 5 (2016)
Shoji Meguro has composed the music for the Persona series since the third major entry into the franchise.
Persona 5 follows a protagonist who visits the minds of other people. Meanwhile, he works to build his interpersonal relationships with other characters.
By forming these strong bonds, he can then recruit them to join his mission: helping people whose minds have become twisted.
Although the premise of Celeste—a young woman trying to climb a mountain—might not sound like much, the music accompanying her struggles makes you care about every misstep. You’ll cheer her on as she finally reaches the peak.
Originally made by a two-person team in four days, Celeste is a phenomenal work of art. What’s more, the music is no slouch.
Shadow of the Colossus (2005)
Kow Otani does not disappoint in this sweeping fantasy epic.
While you ride across the vast grasslands on horseback, the protagonist faces sixteen massive golems: creatures of stone, called Colossi.
Every colossus requires a different technique to defeat—but, instead of getting frustrated with the puzzles, players will find the music swells and calms appropriately.
If you prefer video game soundtracks that don’t dictate the gameplay so much as guide you through it, Shadow of the Colossus is your next adventure.
The score keeps you focused throughout, and helps you celebrate your final, hard-won victory.
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
The idea of standing still, enjoying the scenery and soothing music, is a true rarity in games.
Red Dead Redemption and its sequel, however, masterfully capture that awe of the small things in nature.
Reminiscent of old Westerns, these video games’ soundtracks perfectly set the tone for gameplay, somehow matching and elevating their genre all at once.
This wacky game boasts graphics, animation styles, and music that completely immerse you in the 1930s.
Cuphead will make anyone who’s ever seen early Mickey Mouse cartoons—so, basically everyone—oddly nostalgic for a bygone era they’ve never experienced.
The Last of Us (2013)
This post-apocalyptic game follows Joel and Ellie, as they fight to survive in a world overrun with strange, plant-based zombies. What few humans remain seem destined to live out their days killing each other over the tiniest scraps.
The composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, manages to capture the despair and utter lack of hope so many games in this genre gloss over.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
During gameplay, Link must learn different magical songs on a special ocarina. Zelda fans’ musical expectations, therefore, were pretty high for this game.
Koji Kondo served up all the fantastic original tunes fans wanted, while infusing them with a different feel that sets this soundtrack apart from other video games in this era.
Child of Light (2014)
Child of Light is an interesting spin on the classic Cinderella tale. You play as a girl fighting to save her family from the evils of her stepmother.
The provocative combination of violins and piano in this soundtrack flawlessly blend a child’s whimsy and hopefulness with the situation’s gravity.
Hollow Knight (2017)
In this platformer, you navigate your hero through increasingly difficult environments and terrains.
The atmosphere of this game is only enhanced by its sporadic music, which kicks in whenever you’re struggling with a puzzle.
Both the art style and music of Hollow Knight are impeccably suited for its odd, cutesy-yet-noir tone.
The Entire Animal Crossing Series (2001-Present)
Kazumi Totaka really hit one out of the park with the Animal Crossing series.
No characters in this franchise use understandable language—instead, it’s all squeaks and electronica chirps. As a result, the viewer depends on the soundtrack more than usual, as gameplay noises are almost fused into it.
The Animal Crossing games’ scores possess an addictively chill vibe that kids and adults alike will adore.
Final Fantasy Series (1987-Present)
Everyone’s got their favorite Final Fantasy game, due in large part to each game’s incredible soundtrack.
Nobuo Uematsu is a master of the sweeping epic. Whether you are driving across a wasteland with other guys, playing a fantasy version of magical volleyball, or fighting monsters with swords twice the size of your body…it’s hard to go wrong with any of these scores.
Great video game soundtracks don’t just match the tone of gameplay. They enhance it tenfold or dictate its mood entirely.
Like all music compositions, the score of your favorite game should move you: to action, heartache, fear, happiness…or, even better, some combination of them all, during your journey.