Enjoying the best gaming soundtracks outside your play sessions isn’t always as special as you remember them. The critical build up to a game’s poignant orchestral crescendo can be lost outside the cutscene, and without the blood-pumping action of a frantic firefight sometimes those pounding beats aren’t quite as intense as you recall. And for other, more distinguished audiophiles, perhaps outside of their context, gaming soundtracks don’t offer the range of other artforms?
Well there we’ll take issue, because these soundtracks are enough to turn even the most ardent music buff’s ears. Making sure you’re listening with the right gear can replace some of that missing atmosphere, so pull on a pair of our Cloud Orbit S headphones and satisfy your inner audiophile with these incredible gaming soundtracks.
The Shin Megami Tensei: Persona is known for its style, so it really says something that Shoji Meguro can still outpace expectations and deliver standout soundtracks like the one he composed for Persona 5. The entire thing (110 tracks, available through iTunes) is stuffed with toe-tapping fusion rhythms, veering between smooth jazz and heavy metal but never tripping over itself.
Most will tell you the best track is the impeccable dungeon theme Life Will Change, but for our money it’s Beneath the Mask. Nothing relaxes you after a long hard day of changing hearts like those buttery vocals over a lazy late 70s organ. Honorable mention goes to the Tanaka’s Shady Commodities song, but without the vocals from past versions, it loses some of its mojo.
Though we’re still wrapping our heads around Yoko Taro’s epic tale of love and robots, the sounds of Earth’s distant future are already deep in our brains. Composer Keiichi Okabe’s mix of calm RPG town music, and industrial bass-heavy club bangers makes for an interesting session listening through our Cloud Orbit S headphones. One moment you’ll be peacefully drifting off before the next you’re proclaiming war on a metal god. Many of the soundtrack’s most beautiful songs feature an invented French-derived language, adding a softness to their slightly solemn chords.
BECOME AS. GODS. BECOME AS. GODS. (Birth of a Wish)
Indie games feature some of the rawest talent in the soundtrack department, partly because hiring a single composer can be expensive and licensing music is a legal (and financial) nightmare. Hotline Miami lended to its gritty story of a hitman carrying out various top-down assassination missions against hordes of bad dudes by featuring a cadre of up-and-coming electro and synthwave talents, with the sequel pitting them alongside brutally heavy hitters like Carpenter Brut. The 80s tinge of Hotline Miami’s art style matches the soundtrack’s tone perfectly, and listening to those synths can turn any gym session or commute into an energetic battle. Try not to get too carried away and don’t turn things bloody though, ok?
Purely for club potential, M | O | O | N’s Hydrogen is our pick.
Demonstrating the range of indie offerings, Darren Korb’s Bastion soundtrack brings an acoustic, trip-hop Western twinge to Supergiant’s dreamy RPG from 2011. It would be no stretch to suggest that Korb’s guitar-heavy ballads, with vocals from Zia (Ashley Barrett) and the narrator, Rucks (Logan Cunningham), were instrumental in making Bastion such a successful debut game for the indie studio.
Slinger’s Song, for mixing country-western with hip-hop long before Lil Nas X took his horse down that old town road.
A soulful game needs appropriately soulful music, and Austin Wintory’s Journey soundtrack will linger with you long after the credits roll. At times more beautiful than Thatgamecompany’s already breath-taking visual odyssey through deserts and deep-sea temples, the string-quartet combined with bells, gongs, and sparing woodwind can hit solemn and ecstatic notes sometimes within seconds of each other. A good companion for a lonely night on the road, just you and your Cloud Orbit S.
I Was Born For This pulls together all of the game’s leitmotifs into one final hurrah, with beautiful vocals.
Everybody's Gone To The Rapture
Jessica Curry’s soundtrack for Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture is the culmination of a journey that began with Dear Esther’s original development as a university Source engine project in 2009. The years show in the richness and depth of Rapture’s choral soundtrack, and the deep booming voices of the Shropshire valleys come through crisp and clean against what is a very English set of elegies about a very sad end.
Carry Me Back To Her Arms, for each of the game’s stories has its ending.
Disasterpeace, also known as Rich Vreeland and recognized in other games like Hyper Light Drifter and Hollywood blockbusters like It Follows, is at least 40% of Fez’s enduring appeal. Don’t quote us on that, or ask us to show the work on the math we used. The distorted synth and sliding tones in Fez’s soundtrack add to the air of mystery, slowly morphing from its happy overland tunes to darker places, subterranean even. The bit-crushing mix of analogue and digital sound is perfectly married to the on-screen battle between 2-D and 3-D platforming. A true masterpiece. But if you’re looking for even more, try the two remix albums Fez: Side F and Fez: Side Z for takes on these gems by other game composers and artists.
Sync contains so many layers that every listen will turn up a new favorite.
Everyone who watched that first surprise trailer for Tetris Effect was pretty much immediately enraptured by the game’s title track. Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a master of weaving synesthesia into his games, as anyone who’s played Rez, Lumines, or Child of Eden can attest. He and Noboru Mutoh work some incredible audio magic on this game, a collection of diverse songs and soundscapes that are augmented by the player’s direction inputs and line clears. A true joy to behold.
Yours Forever will be the track that most people reference from the game, but don’t sleep on the soulfully sung World of Colors.
The Katamari Damacy Games
This is kind of cheating since this is a full series of games, but still...if you’re not yelling out “KATAMARI DAMASHIIIIII~!” along with the main theme, you’re probably dead. This infectious, mishmashed soundtrack was the perfect complement to this equally quirky and bizarre series of games where your job was to clump random things up into a ball you’d launch into space to recreate the parts of the galaxy that the King of All Cosmos wrecked while on a bender.
Kenji Niinuma’s “salaryman rap” tracks “The Moon and the Prince” and “DiscoxPrince” are far and away the tracks that best exemplify the glorious weirdness of this series.
Everything about Einhänder is basically the stuff of video game legend. It is one of the greatest side-scrolling shooters of all-time, which was stunning because it was made by Square, a company far more well-regarded for their RPGs. Despite the game’s quality, it wasn’t a blockbuster hit, and that means that criminally few have enjoyed the full majesty of Kenichiro Fukui’s sublime soundtrack. A thumping 29-track techno tour de force laced with touches of rap, opera, and rock, it is a blast from the past that is not to be missed.
Shudder is the most popular track with internet denizens trying to see if they can decipher the distorted rapid-fire rap lyrics in the bridge. However, for our listening pleasure, we recommend Impatience, a driving, white-knuckle track from the game’s most intense level, a 2:30 race to destroy a rocket before it reaches outer space.