Top 10 Best Soundtracks in Video Games [Best Recommendations]

Ever since the 8-bit era with the Nintendo Entertainment System, soundtracks have played a significant part in forming the identity of video games. Thanks to the technology of those times, gaming paved way for a different style of music. Due to the sound chips of the NES only capable of making four kinds of sounds, programmers and composers did what they could to make the most of them by strongly emphasizing on the melodies. This paved way for the original themes to Super Mario, the Legend of Zelda, and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, which are still in use in their franchises to this day but with the appropriate upgrades. So what are some of the best soundtracks that open the door into their worlds as you experience them? Read our list to find out!

10. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

  • System: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Kojima Productions, Moby Dick Studios
  • Release Dates: September 1, 2015

While Hideo Kojima’s name is plastered all over the credits, one thing that you can’t credit him for is its largely licensed soundtrack. If one song perfectly captured MGSV prior to its release, it certainly has to be Nuclear by Mike Oldfield. Nuclear accurately symbolizes the game’s themes of Big Boss’ fall from grace, and how the events of the game pushes him and the Diamond Dogs to go places where they never can come back from. Another quality track is Quiet’s Theme, which is actually performed by Quiet’s model and voice actress, Stefanie Joosten. Though the character remains largely true to her namesake, the lyrics to her image song amazingly reflect her development in discovering that she truly has an innocent heart and is capable of love.

Considering that the game takes place in 1984, a majority of the remaining soundtrack pays homage to the decade by allowing players to collect cassettes that contain numerous hits from that time. Some songs you can jam to as you take out enemy soldiers are Take On Me by Aha, The Final Countdown by Europe, and You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive. MGSV also perfectly inserts David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World as its main theme song to emphasize on Big Boss’ choices and sacrifices. Other than that, many classic MGS hits such as Snake Eater’s theme song and Koi no Yoku Shiryoku do make comebacks for hardcore fans to enjoy. So if you love 80s songs with a few originals mixed here and there, than MGSV is for you as you try so sneak around without having to hear that exclamation sound effect when discovered by an enemy combatant.

9. Akumajou Dracula X: Gekka no Yasukyouku (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)

  • System: PS1, Saturn, Xbox 360
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release Dates: March 20, 1997 (Japan), October 2, 1997 (North America)

In a game where you face werewolves, skeletons, and vampires is a soundtrack that is a perfect homage to its horror and medieval European influences. While it uses a lot of atmospheric percussions, the game also makes use of some heavy guitar riffs to capture the intensity of the action. Symphony of the Night also knows when to use organ and electronic keyboard chords to keep you on guard as you explore the mysteries of Dracula’s castle, and when to use heavy metal to pump up your adrenaline as you whip some Satanic butt.

If any song can be used to overall define the game’s soundtrack, it would certainly be the song when you start playing the game as Alucard. It has an excellent beat, an epic use of electronic chords and instrumentals that excellently balance the action and mystique to this game.

8. Crazy Taxi

  • System: PlayStation and Windows
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
  • Release Dates: September 3, 1998

For this classic arcade cult hit, Crazy Taxi truly lives up to its name as you violate nearly every traffic rule you can think as you take passengers from KFC to the Levi store within a time limit. With its sunny modern San Francisco setting, West Coast style casual clothing of the selectable drivers, and with all the crazy driving you’re going to do, Crazy Taxi is a soundtrack that brings it full circle. The song that takes you into the world of Crazy Taxi is All I Want by Offspring. The heavy guitars, fast drum beats, and the bombastic voice of Dexter Holland all perfectly reflect the attitude of the game of just wanting to say screw the system, make some money and just have fun.

In addition to Offspring, Bad Religion also contributes a harder feel with Ten in 2010 with its aggressive overtones and take no prisoners mentality. While some of these songs are unarguably dated, you have to put it in context to its initial debut and understand what the trends were at the time. In addition to these songs, it has places you don’t have often see anymore like Tower Records. As you enjoy this unique time capsule of a game, you can feel like a kid from that time period and know what it was like to be a rebel in those days. While you can enjoy these songs in your car in real life, please remember to drive safely and obey all traffic rules.

7. Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio)

  • System: Dreamcast
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Smilebit
  • Release Dates: June 29, 2000 (Japan), October 30, 2000 (US)

Jet Grind Radio is one of the first and still very few games that allows you to be a different brand of rebel. As opposed to being a taxi driver that violates traffic rules in San Francisco or a thug that violates every law in Liberty City; in Jet Grind Radio, you are part of a group of rollerblading street artists who tag the buildings of Shibuya to claim your territory as you take on other street artist gangs and evade authorities. Complimenting the unorthodox nature of this game with its then groundbreaking cel-shading graphics is an up-beat soundtrack with heavy beats and fat bass.

Its mix of numerous genres and instrumentals with fast and heavy guitars, electric chords, and J-Pop are very much in sync with what was popular in the early-2000s in an international sense. As players take into consideration that listening to music on the radio was still big during the time of its release, much of its musical presentation is appropriate to that aspect upon its debut so you’re getting something organic for its time period. While the soundtrack isn’t as hard or loud as Crazy Taxi’s, it has its own unique way of presenting to players of wanting to enjoy a carefree youth.

As for its releases outside of Japan, the North American version includes a remix of Dragula by Rob Zombie, Recipe for the Perfect Afro in the European release, and Improvise by Jurassic 6 for both North American and PAL versions. So if you were a kid during that time, playing this game can certainly take you back thanks to its soundtrack. And last, graffiti is a major crime that can land you in jail (or the cane in Singapore) so if you wish to participate in street art, please find an appropriate venue that can allow you to enjoy that.

6. Bust A Move (Bust A Groove)

  • System: PSOne
  • Publisher: 989 Studios (US), Enix (Japan)
  • Developer: Metro
  • Release Dates: January 29, 1998 (Japan), October 31, 1998 (North America)

Released during the time of Parappa the Rapper, Busta Groove takes the music genre to a different level. While Parappa’s style is based on verbal commands, with Bust A Groove, you have to push the button combinations within four beats that are indicated by flashes on a panel. Each character has their own distinct upbeat theme song that accurately captures the character and their gimmick. With Hiro and his disco outfit, his theme song, The Natural Playboy, perfectly plays tribute to classic disco tunes like Stayin’ Alive from Saturday Night Fever, but brings a modern twist to it with its energetic singing.

We strongly recommended that you play both Japanese and English versions since some select songs are slightly different due to the language differences. Kitty-N’s theme song in Japanese is an excellent homage to Shoujo anime of the 90s, as the English version serves as a good theme song to the game itself. So if you want to enjoy dance songs of numerous varieties between the 70s and 90s, then most definitely play Bust A Groove.

5. Dance Dance Revolution

  • System: Multiplatform
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami
  • Release Dates: September 1998 (Japan)

If one game helped keep arcades afloat between the late 90s and early 2000s in some parts of the world, it most certainly had to be Dance Dance Revolution. Just like some games on this list, music is more or less the name of the game, and Dance Dance Revolution is the ultimate representation of that as you physically have to play. The Japanese releases use an excellent mix of licensed Euro tracks, J-Pop, K-Pop, and in-house created mixes. Naoki contributes most of the in-house tracks that will make you burst out with energy like Dynamite Rave, B4U, and Brilliant 2U. You can either just do the usual step challenges, or make up your own dance routines that go with the songs and steps. Go on YouTube and you can find some creative dance routines from the old Japanese, Korean, and California DDR scenes between 1998 and 2001.

For some fans, DDR was their gateway to German pop duo, E-Rotic, whose songs such as Do It All Night and Oh Nick Please Not So Quick are more or less lyrical pornography that are a joy to listen to. Other selectable songs include remixes to classic anime theme songs such as Cat’s Eye, Rurouni Kenshin, and Lupin III. So if you love to get your groove on to dance tracks that want to make you party like it’s 1999, the beloved classic DDR releases are your fix.

4. Rez

  • System: Dreamcast, PS2
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: UGA
  • Release Dates: November 22, 2001 (Japan)

If you’ve seen Tron Legacy, this game was doing what that movie did long before it premiered in theaters. While the beats are not as heavy as Daft Punk’s, you’re still getting heavy electronic instrumentals, which were popular in Europe and Japan in the late-90s and early-2000s. Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the lead designer to this game, got the idea for Rez after attending a rave in Germany and also wanted to do something akin to the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, which took inspiration from sounds.

Throughout the development, Mizuguchi would attend all kinds of music events around trendy Tokyo districts such as Shibuya for more inspiration. Considering the timing when this game came out in 2001, the soundtrack is very much reminiscent of then popular dance tracks such as Sandstorm by Darude, but still has a distinct timeless feel to it that perfectly sucks you into its digital world.

3. Zelda no Densetsu: Toki no Ocarina (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

  • System: Nintendo 64, GameCube, 3DS
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Dates: November 21, 1998 (Japan), November 23, 1998 (US)

In its 3D debut, Ocarina of Time not only has better graphics, gameplay, and story, it has a diverse soundtrack that knows how to set the mood for each stage. When you’re in Kakariko Village, you truly feel at home with its upbeat flute sounds that suits its forest setting. It lets you know you’re in a place of peace and you’re not facing any danger. Or when you’re in Gerudo Valley, it uses a fast pace guitar chord progression that feels like a flamenco dance. The song suits the nomadic nature of the Gerudo, who are based on gypsies, another real life race of nomads. Another track that appropriately stands out is the theme to the Temple of Time. Since it largely resembles a cathedral, it tends to play a song that feels like you’re listening to a Gregorian hymn. Overall, much of the soundtrack is in-tune with its fantasy setting and knows hows to establish the atmosphere and culture to each respective stage in a realistic sense.

2. Sonic Adventure

  • System: Dreamcast, GameCube
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sonic Team
  • Release Dates: December 23, 1998 (Japan), September 9, 1999 (North America)

Like with many Sega classics, Sonic always had a reputation for addicting soundtracks even prior to the release of its Dreamcast debut. However, Sonic Adventure takes that trait to the next level by serving all kinds of new songs that are still in-touch with the spirit of the series. Each playable character has their own unique theme song that is appropriate to each of them. I Wanna Fly High, Tails’ theme song, perfectly represents his personal admiration for Sonic and how he also wants to be independent. As for Sonic’s theme, It Doesn’t Matter by Blue Crush 40, its heavy guitar riffs and chorus appropriately suits Sonic’s character by singing about never giving up and doing what’s right.

Beyond its captivating character image songs, the general background music is still connected to Sonic’s upbeat and fast-paced origins and nature. The station area has an upbeat elevator tune-like track to help you enjoy the area in a relaxing manner, and you get the feeling that there is no danger. And after Sonic enters his first stage along a beach, the chimes and acoustics of the stage’s theme allows you to feel the nature and freedom of how open Sonic has become in its true 3D breakout. Then when you enter the forest stage, it has an appropriate feel of mystique with its tribal instrumentals. Even though the soundtrack is always in your face, it has everything you can think of, which is why the game is so much fun.

1. Super Mario Odyssey

  • System: Switch
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Release Dates: October 27, 2017

The Mario franchise probably paved the way for the standard of video game soundtracks since Super Mario Bros. As the games kept coming out, the soundtracks also evolved to bring players into its world. With Galaxy, it utilized orchestrated music to establish its atmosphere of grand scale and wonder. With Odyssey, it takes it to a whole new standard of bringing Mario into the real world with its theme song, Jump Up, Super Star. It’s a classic swing song that shows Mario’s age but by using a lyrical track, it also brings something new to show that Mario has evolved with technology.

Beyond its theme song, the rest of its soundtrack just has a very immersive feel with each stage. With some of the theme songs to the Sand Kingdom, it perfectly uses Middle Eastern acoustics and percussions to represent that atmosphere. Or when you take Mario to the Snow Kingdom, it uses bells and whistles to make it feel like Christmas. Other than the use of instrumentals, the game also appropriately uses 8-bit music to stay true to its roots when going 8-bit mode. So if you want everything, Odyssey can deliver that.

Final Thoughts

Last, we would like to make some very honorable mentions to GTA V, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, Nights, and Maximum Tune. Everybody can admit that when it comes to lists like these, they’re virtually impossible to put together where we can unanimously agree. With over 30 years of games and soundtracks, if possible, we could have made a top 100 games but thankfully, we have the comments section for you to share what you feel which games have the best soundtracks. If you feel that we missed anything, just share your favorite game soundtracks in the comments. If you don’t agree with our list, then that’s cool, so please leave a comment.

Metal-Gear-Solid-5-Original-Soundtrack-Wallpaper-496x500 Top 10 Best Soundtracks in Video Games [Best Recommendations]


Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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