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The Best Video Game Soundtracks of All Time

Every great game needs a solid soundtrack, but these go above and beyond.

Soundtracks can make or break video games—if you don’t believe me, put on this playlist and try to play The Last of Us. Video game music sets the mood, whether that mood is upbeat and in 16 bits or full of terror and misery in high definition.

Every great game needs a solid soundtrack, but there are a few games that are remembered for particularly fantastic music—so I set out to pick them best of ‘em for The Portalist.

A couple of ground rules: I tried to pick video games from a few different genres, and I only allowed one entrant per series. Also, we’re talking only about the music here—I tried not to take the quality of the games into account (except insofar as, you know, they had to be decent enough for me to have heard of them). Original soundtracks get most of the attention here, though I made exceptions for two superb compilation soundtracks. Alright, on to the list!

Disclaimer: This is obviously a subjective list, and the opinions in this article are only my own. If you disagree, feel free to yell at The Portalist on Twitter!

  Chrono Trigger  

  • Photo Credit: Square

Video game soundtracks come in a few types. There’s the peppy bleep-bloop sounds of a platformer, the bold adventure music of a big, bright game like Zelda, and the epic, emotive, and sometimes over-the-top music of a big ol’ nerdy RPG. The last type tends to dominate lists like this. I won’t let that happen, but I also won’t overreact and start pretending that Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack is not extremely dope. Listen to it! It’s on another level. Last of the Mohicans had worse music.  

Final Fantasy VII  

best video game soundtracks Final Fantasy VII
  • Final Fantasy VII box art.
  • Photo Credit: Square

I could probably fill this entire list with just Final Fantasy soundtracks, which is why, for diversity's sake, I'm only including one entrant per series. Final Fantasy VII was a high water mark for the series in a lot of ways, and its music was certainly one of them. Final Fantasy VII’s tone veers from deadly serious to highly goofy, and the soundtrack manages to cover that whole spectrum while feeling like a cohesive whole. I might be a little biased on this one, because on the list of reasons I didn’t have any girlfriends in middle school, Final Fantasy VII finishes second only to my personality.  

RELATED: 7 Classic Fantasy Games That Revolutionized the Genre 

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Grand Theft Auto: Vice City  

best video game soundtracks grand theft auto vice city
  • Still from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
  • Photo Credit: Rockstar Games

This is one of only two entries on this list that get in for compilation soundtracks rather than original music. Is that cheating? Well, maybe, but it seems fitting to break the rules with a Grand Theft Auto game. GTA’s radio stations have been a highlight of the series from the start, but Vice City is my pick for the best of all. That’s because Vice City’s radio stations play a key part in creating its super-stylized 1980s setting.  

 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  

  • Photo Credit: Nintendo

The theme music from the Zelda series has always been a personal favorite of mine, but Ocarina has a lot more to offer than just the title theme. As you’d expect from a game named after an instrument, Ocarina has the player jam out with various songs that help him or her progress through the game. The five different warp songs are beautiful, while various other songs are lighthearted, simple, and even funky.  

Mass Effect 2  

  • Photo Credit: Electronic Arts

The Mass Effect series has fantastic music. It’s moody and atmospheric when it needs to be, and exciting when it has to be. At times, it pays homage to 1980s sci-fi with some cool synth work. Within the series, Mass Effect 2 is the musical peak: The influences are still readily apparent, but the whole soundtrack is a bit tighter and more accessible than the first time around.  

RELATED: Mass Effect Choices: The Power of a Personalized Journey

 Sonic the Hedgehog 2  

  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2 soundtrack.
  • Photo Credit: SEGA

Today’s best chiptune artists draw heavily on spacey RPG and sci-fi styles, but their instrumentation remains rooted in the 16-bit era (if you don’t know what chiptune is, it's a musical genre that sounds exactly like you think it does). And as bleep-bloop 16-bit soundtracks go, Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s is a masterwork. Sonic’s title music is nearly as iconic as his rival Mario’s, and on top of that, each of Sonic’s “zones” (remember those?) has its own memorable music. If I ever get very wealthy, I will demand that the Bellagio play the theme from “Casino Night Zone” while I play baccarat. That’s the mark of a real high roller.  


best video game soundtracks Tetris
  • Screenshot of Tetris from 1984.
  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Before huge RPGs started to pay composers big bucks for Hollywood-style soundtracks, there was Tetris: a deceptively simple puzzle game with an endlessly looping Russian-style theme song. If the measure of a good video game soundtrack is that it suits the game (and I’d say it is), then Tetris is the ultimate video game soundtrack.  

RELATED: Maps for Minecraft Inspired by Sci-Fi and Fantasy Worlds 

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

best video game soundtracks tony hawk pro skater
  • Still from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
  • Photo Credit: Neversoft

I was originally going to ban all non-original soundtracks from this list because I figured that all of the sports games that use popular songs in their soundtracks would end up dominating the list. But then I realized that every football and baseball game ever made is just full of terrible dad-rock (not to be confused with good dad rock), and that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series was the only sports series to ever really make the most of compilation soundtracks. There are some silly songs on here, sure, but this is a fantastic soundtrack on the whole. Makes me want to get there and connect a bunch of flips with about 80 manuals. SKATEBOARDING IS NOT A CRIME, MOM.

RELATED: 7 Incredibly Entertaining Movies Based on Video Games

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Featured image of Mass Effect 2

Published on 03 Jan 2017

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