Readers discuss their choices for the greatest individual video game tunes, from the magic of Zelda to the grit of Max Payne 3.
This week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Kyrt, who asked how much your enjoyment is due to the music’s inherent quality and how much because of how it’s used in the game. And do you like it enough to have bought the soundtrack or listened to it outside of the game?
We had many different suggestions, from every era of video game, with almost everyone knowing exactly what the track was called and having listened to it often on YouTube and elsewhere.
Going back to the days of the C64 and classics like The Last Ninja soundtrack and the Sanxion loading music, I’ve always loved and been hugely inspired by video game music. There are some key tracks that I invariably end up whistling to myself on a regular basis that I think are particularly noteworthy.
From Astro Bot: Rescue Mission’s ‘What was that?’ This track is so awesome: super catchy, a little old school in the style and instrumentation, and jolly – even though it accompanies, what I think is supposed to be, a spookier level, albeit peppered with the cute charm of Astro Bot.
From Ōkami ‘Shinshu plains’ hits at one of the best parts of the game, and it’s repeating, anthemic undercurrent is so brilliantly memorable, always reminding me of the great times spent with those characters in that outstanding world.
Finally, from Katamari Damacy there’s ‘Sasasan Katamari’. Again, stupidly, addictively whistleable, managing to encapsulate the off- kilter energy of the game and underline its childlike sense of fun.
My favourite track from a video game has to be TEARS from HEALTH which features in the airport mission in Max Payne 3. This mission also acts as the game’s finale and is one of my favourite levels of all time, mostly due to the track choice. When I think about it, the level isn’t doing anything particularly innovative for the genre, or even anything much different gameplay wise to what came before in the game, but the combination of slowly struggling your way up through the airport terminal as bullets fly everywhere in normal and slow motion, mixed with the backing of TEARS, it was a really memorable moment of gaming for me.
The track contrasted really well with a battered and bruised Max, both mentally and physically fighting his way to the end, to try and achieve something good for once. It felt incredibly cinematic at a time in games when they were only really starting to get that more cinematic flair. The rest of the soundtrack by HEALTH was also very good but this was the definite highlight for me.
Now playing: Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom (Switch)
Ever since first hearing it in Super Mario Bros. on the NES back in mid-1992, the Starman (invincibility) music has been a favourite of mine.
Every time I play a new Mario game, I always look out for it and look forward to hearing it.
The original 8-bit tune is my favourite (and was my phone ringtone for many years) but the Super Mario Kart version comes a close second, followed by the Super Mario World version.
The hyper heavy beat/dance version on Super Mario Run is also amaze-balls.
Have a listen to the different versions yourself and see which one is your favourite:
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Great idea for a Hot Topic, which brings together two of my favourite hobbies: music and games! Thanks to Kyrt for suggesting it!
The one that stands out for me is Aerith’s Theme from Final Fantasy 7. Yes, it plays during that scene, but also in a couple of other places. And a slightly different version, Flowers Blooming in the Church, plays, erm… in the church.
Its impact is certainly heightened by where it occurs in the game, but it’s such a beautiful piece of music, with such an incredible crescendo (especially when played by a full orchestra) that it would be one of my favourite songs no matter where I heard it. I play and record a lot of music on my guitar and this is my list to attempt shortly. Hopefully Nobuo Uematsu will approve!
Looking forward to reading about other readers’ favourites, and maybe finding out about something new to listen to and add to a playlist or two.
Also, a big shout out to those of you lucky enough to be enjoying Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom today (I imagine there may be one or two of you!).
So many great music tracks over the years, from the days of beeping Spectrums to the SNES and Mega Drive, with their own unique takes on synthesis or sampling. However, if I put my mind to it I’d have to say my favourite is a piece of ‘real’ music, i.e a song with instruments and singing. Namely the song Shadow World by Shoji Meguro from the game Persona 4 Golden.
it’s just a joyous, incredibly catchy earworm from a game with a great many fantastic tracks. This one stands out forever.
The use of Devil Trigger in Devil May Cry 5 was fantastic, especially with the smart use of stems to get you hyped as you go for the S rank. Gone Guru in Dead Rising has kind of taken on a life of its own for me, despite being a Nu Metal song I can’t help but feel fear every time I hear it, because of when it’s used in the game. Expecting a truck full of convicts to drive into me I’ve even gotten into a few bands because of them being in games, particularly Local H who I enjoyed hearing on the radio in Saints Row (the original) and got to see live a few years back.
The Joy Formidable’s song Whirring was used to fantastically cathartic effect in Hi-Fi Rush. I’ve got a couple of their albums and hope to see them next time they’re touring. But most of those songs weren’t made with a video game in mind and instrumental music works better for games in my opinion, creating the perfect atmosphere without making the player focus on the music too much.
Bearing that in mind, my favourite video game song has to be from Wave Ocean in Sonic 06. There’s no denying the music was the best part of that game and this song just speaks for everything that game should have been, a high speed adventure from start to finish that never lets up.
Probably helps that the song’s seeped in nostalgia for me, as I was really into 06 when I was a child and loved just messing around in the first stage, so it brings back memories of rose-tinted carefree days. I actually did a cover of the song on guitar and bass a few years back for the 15th anniversary of the game.
For me, the greatest piece of in-game music has to be the menu music for International Superstar Soccer 64. I’ve no idea how to describe the style as it seems to have a bit of everything in there.
But sifting through all the menu options of selecting teams, swapping players in and out and setting your team up never seemed to get boring with this playing away.
This is a real toughie of a Hot Topic. I listen to a lot of game soundtracks and there are loads of tracks that I absolutely love – some classics from the Zelda series are the first that come to mind: Gerudo Valley, Balled of the Goddess (it’s Zelda’s Lullaby backwards, folks!), the Temple Theme from Zelda 2, and obviously the Overworld Theme… all superb.
Then there’s bangers like Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, Bloody Tears from Castlevania 2, Companaros from Grim Fandango, The Opened Way from Shadow of the Colossus, or the main themes from Deus Ex, Monkey Island, the mental one from Persona 3 FES… I could literally do this all day (and did in fact waste an evening listening to a load of these on YouTube!)
But I won’t, and despite all of those, I think I’m going to have to go with the main theme from Max Payne, specifically the version in Max Payne 2. It’s so rich and dark and melancholy; just the perfect summation of both the games and the character.
It works so well, it just makes it all the more baffling that for the opening of Max Payne 3 Rockstar decided to have Max yammer away in voiceover the whole time, when the visual storytelling combined with the music tells us everything we need to know beautifully (seriously, try watching the opening with the sound turned down and the theme from Max Payne 2 playing in the background. Sometimes less is more).
I wasn’t expecting an email about favourite game music to turn into a rant about the start of an 11-year-old game, but there we go. Could have been worse, I could have mentioned Guile’s Theme and got it stuck in everyone’s head for a week.
Sparky the Yak
I don’t know if I’d call it my favourite video game song, but I’ve had the theme song from Cannon Fodder – War Has Never Been So Much Fun – stuck in my head for about a week now.
I fired it up to test if a 3DO emulator was working and it’s become a real earworm. It’s very fitting for the game too.
Eternal Recurrence, Track 23 on the Secret Of Mana original soundtrack. Quite simply the best tune I’ve heard in any generation of video game soundtracks. When you go to the cave where you initially meet Undine, a mana Spirit, the music starts up and keeps building and building to a crescendo of celestial grandness, which sounded awesome on the SNES back then and still does even now.
The haunting and beautiful build-up is extraordinarily emotional and with what feels like the Tree of Mana’s living roots and power flowing through it. The tune has so many layers to it, and you have to listen to it a few times to get all the chords and the instrument sounds used to synthesise them, to create this amazing and thought-provoking piece of music.
The version for the remake of Secret Of Mana is exceptional and also the orchestral version of the tune made elsewhere. There has been a lot of amazing tunes from the Final Fantasy series and Japanese role-playing games throughout gaming history and far too many to choose from. But the above song just hit me in a way no other gaming tune had ever done.
Two other outstanding classics, of which I must mention, is the end credits song from Terranigma on the SNES and PlayStation 2’s Star Ocean: Till The End Of Time track on Volume 2 of the soundtrack, called Mission to the Empty Space. Both exciting and uplifting in their own magical ways.
Love these musical Hot Topics and a pleasure to write in about them, with music being one of my favourite hobbies of mine. Music even now, after so many tunes consumed over the years, never fails to keep surprising me in so many various ways. Long live the game soundtrack music.
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