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  • Shelbi Baker

The Top 10 Most Influential Video Game Soundtracks

Top 10 Most Influential Video Game Soundtracks
Photo credit: Phazed,

When you think of video games throughout history, one thing that often comes to mind is the creativity behind the soundtracks. If you think about it right now, you're sure to be able to hum a video game tune from memory. They're just that iconic. Today, we're exploring the top 10 most influential video game soundtracks that shaped gaming history and still impact games being made today.

10. Sonic the Hedgehog - 1991 to present

Beginning at number ten is the entire Sonic the Hedgehog IP. This one was too hard to narrow down into simply one of the franchise's many games because they've all been crazy influential over the years. Sega has always produced some incredible chiptunes and broken ground with elaborate soundtracks like the one in Sonic CD. But what Sonic really brings to the table is the addition of custom-written multi-genre songs with lyrics featured in several games starting from Sonic Adventure and beyond. Sonic Adventure 2 included a myriad of rock and hip-hop tracks to accompany our heroes on their journey. Since then, it has become a trend for the series and inspired other developers to test the waters with lyrical songs in their own games.

9. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - 2011

Coming in at number nine is the most popular Elder Scrolls installment of all time, Skyrim. This one isn't on the list for its atmospheric background music. It isn't even here for the music played during battles or most of the gameplay. I've added this one to the list for its incredibly iconic opening theme and the diegetic music within the game. When you launch Skyrim, you're greeted with the song, "Dragonborn", which is probably the most powerful way to open a video game ever. It's adventurous, strong, chanted in a mythical language, and has an overall high fantasy vibe to it. Elder Scrolls players will know that this language is a huge part of the game's lore and lore is our focus for this entry. Aside from this epic opener, the game features bard songs played by minstrels in various parts of Tamriel. The bard songs will tell the ancient tales of the land as well as the current affairs that our hero is entwined with. How convenient. This type of diegetic songwriting leads to an undeniable level of immersion that has influenced this type of storytelling in other games, inspiring composers and developers to get creative.

8. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow - 1998

Our eighth spot goes to the original Pokemon trio, Red, Blue, and Yellow. Originally released on the Gameboy, these games showed that even on limited hardware, you can still leave a mark with good sound design. The entire soundtrack is only just under an hour long but paved the way for so much more to come. The battle music used in this game has been duplicated so many times in other works, typically in other monster-catching clones. However, there's no denying that this is the game that started it all, and on a handheld console of all things. Nintendo would continue to include Pokemon's iconic motifs not only in future handheld installments but also in the anime, movies, and more. This soundtrack is absolutely legendary.

7. Doom - 1993

Seventh on our list is the original Doom. Released all the way back on DOS in 1993, this game paved the way for metal music to not only be featured in games but also escalated the popularity of the genre as a whole in the public eye. The game was so popular that the iconic theme tune spread like wildfire, inspiring not only developers in future works but also musicians to write rock and metal songs of their own. In preceding Doom games, the music became an experience of its own. Listeners were playing the music on its own just as much as they were playing the games. The soundtrack was more than atmospheric for the games. It was atmospheric for everyday life.

6. Final Fantasy VII - 1997

Coming in at number six is a complete change of pace, Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation. This is a soundtrack that changed history, as it is known as the title that brought the orchestral genre to gaming as a whole. The game featured insanely complex orchestral compositions and unique motifs for characters and story events. Thanks to composer Nobuo Uematsu, the song "One-Winged Angel" lives in millions of minds rent-free. Paired with an iconic character like Sephiroth, it's truly unforgettable. All Final Fantasy installments going forward would follow suit, each having beautiful and unique orchestral soundtracks of their own. Final Fantasy's popularity would inspire countless other RPGs and story-driven games to implement orchestral music as a common practice today.

5. Chrono Trigger - 1995

Before Final Fantasy VII could soar, another game had to run. Coming in fifth is the legendary JRPG, Chrono Trigger. Having been released on the SNES, this game explored the limits of chiptunes, creating complex compositions that forged the path to games having full orchestral scores once technology caught up with the idea. Having also been made by Square, it is the obvious predecessor to the 3D Final Fantasy era, as Uematsu himself worked on this game alongside composer Yasunori Mitsuda. The Chrono Trigger OST not only inspired the music for FFVII but is known for setting the tone for all future Square (Enix) works. This valiant, heroic sound became the standard for JRPGs as we know it and still holds up today. The soundtrack has been featured on a total of four albums released by Square Enix since its inception.

4. Undertale - 2015

In our number four slot is Undertale, and oh boy, has this one made an impact. This meta, story-driven RPG-like game is the most recent entry on this list, but there's a reason for that. Undertale's music is undeniably some of the most iconic of the current era. The game's creator Toby Fox took immense inspiration from the game, Earthbound (We'll get to that later.) to create the game's overall quirky and unique feel. Throughout the game, we hear the use of story and character motifs, battle themes, and even emotional tracks that make this already surprising little game even more of an icon. Undertale being so recent is unique, as much of the music from the game has been used in countless YouTube videos, fan games, and other media. Undertale's legacy has quite literally been built by the fans, and if a soundtrack has that kind of influence, it must be powerful.

3. Earthbound - 1994

Number three on this list is Earthbound. (I told you we'd get there.) I'm not going to lie. This is a weird game. It was weird in 1994 and it's weird now. But that's what gives this game its charm. Despite having a prequel and sequel released only in Japan, titled "Mother" and "Mother 3" respectively, Earthbound, the second installment in the franchise, is the only one of the trilogy that saw a US release. Regardless of the missing pieces, the music in Earthbound is undeniably iconic. It's whimsical and strange and ignores the common musical tropes of video games at the time. The Earthbound soundtrack creates some of the most uncanny feelings throughout the game's unexpected story. For those who heard it firsthand in the game, the sound left a serious mark. The ability to evoke such a range of emotion was left underappreciated for years except by diehard fans, but with the release of fan games and Toby Fox's Undertale, the wacky world of Earthbound's OST was once again realized.

2. Minecraft - 2011

Nearing the end now, our number two spot goes to the now ultra-popular crafting and survival game, Minecraft. As you might already know, Minecraft is the single most downloaded game in history. It quickly took off after its release in 2011 as a simple game with limitless creative freedom. Alongside this colossal success though, was an unexpectedly subdued soundtrack. With such an open world, diegetic music didn't really fit well. The game didn't have much surface-level lore. It had to be unveiled, coaxed out from each individual player's point of view. Instead, Minecraft's creator, Notch, alongside the game's composer C418, opted for something more serene and cozy. Minecraft's music is surprisingly tranquil for its pixelated aesthetic and adds atmosphere to the pure imagination of such a non-linear space. Minecraft's soundtrack lives in the minds of millions and has inspired countless projects. Even today as a now thirteen-year-old game, Minecraft's music feels fresh, clean, and bright. I don't see it becoming obsolete any time soon.

1. Super Mario Bros. - 1985

If you made it this far in the article, you probably already saw this one coming. The number one title of the most influential video game soundtrack goes to Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Everyone knows that iconic level 1-1 theme. You know it, your grandma knows it, your dog probably knows it. I would almost say it is THE most iconic video game song in history. However, that's still up for debate. As far as this list goes though, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Shigeru Miyamoto's NES classic was the baseline for so many of the soundtracks listed above. The original vibrant, happy, little tune became an earworm to the now millions of people who have played and shared this game since all the way back in 1985. Mario has easily become Nintendo's biggest franchise now, spawning over 200 games now under the IP's umbrella. If you've somehow dodged this game's OST, give the original NES game a try. It's clear to see why it's my pick for the most influential game soundtrack of all time.

Wow, what a long list. What did you think? Would these have been your picks for the top 10 most influential game soundtracks? Is there something we maybe forgot about? Feel free to share your thoughts with us on our socials below and thank you so much for giving us a read!

Written By Shelbi Baker

*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.


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