One of the most important hallmarks of a fantastic video game is its soundtrack. These tunes can range from pop music jams to orchestral, symphony-style compositions. The greatest games of all time have often brought in award-winning composers and songwriters to score their worlds and develop the emotion in their stories.
Though the list could go on much longer, we’re putting together the top 31 best video game soundtracks of all time right here—in no particular order—so you can get jamming immediately.
1. Final Fantasy series
The entire Final Fantasy series is in a class of its own when it comes to fantastic video game soundtracks. Until Final Fantasy X (FFX), the great Nobuo Uematsu was the only composer in the series. With each installment, he was able to expand the music, implement new styles, and utilize new software. As a result, his creative genius flourished, and fans were hooked.
From FFX on, Uematsu collaborated with other amazing composers to continue the tradition of fine music in the games. However, for the popular MMORPG, Final Fantasy XIV, he came back as the sole composer for the original score.
2. Persona 5
Every Persona game has great music, but Persona 5 went above and beyond. With 110 tracks and just about every musical genre you could ask for, this game is the ultimate in fun listening. From jazz to rock to pop to opera, this soundtrack bangs out powerful music every time. It manages to be cool and haunting at the same time, all while keeping the Persona mystique alive. Shoji Meguro is the main composer, along with several other greats.
Nominated for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 2013 Grammy Awards, this is a no-brainer for any list of top video game soundtracks. Composed by Austin Wintory, who also worked on the game Flow, the score aims to tell the story of the hero’s journey to the mountain.
A cello represents the player, who becomes immersed in other harmonic instrumentations as they travel. When they meet another player, for example, harps and violas join the melody. By the time the player has reached the end goal, the cello has joined a full orchestra that falls away, leaving the player alone again for a fresh start. The overall effect creates a beautiful sense of hope through shared journeys. This soundtrack is nothing short of magical.
4. Kingdom Hearts series
Yoko Shimomura’s compositions in Kingdom Hearts are a major part of the reason this series continues to capture fans’ hearts. In addition, we get the ever-popular singer-songwriter Hikaru Utada for the main theme, and the game is chock full of familiar Disney refrains. The result is a collection of some of the best music from games, films, and pop radio. When fans go to any performance of popular video game music, they’re always hoping to hear Simple And Clean or Hikari.
5. Mass Effect series
Jack Wall and Sam Hulick were the main composers of the original Mass Effect soundtrack. With a mix of 80s synth sounds and orchestral arrangements, this high-energy score is pure perfection. The composers were inspired by literary epics such as Dune and Blade Runner, the film adaptation of Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Fans familiar with those franchises will recognize thematic elements in the soundtrack of Mass Effect, which fits in easily with the space opera genre. It still brings its own musical flavor, though, setting it apart as a score that is not to be missed.
6. Grand Theft Auto series
There is no question that Rockstar knows how to develop immersive games. One of the many ways they put together worlds that people keep returning to is through music. From theme tracks to a robust series of pre-recorded radio channels so you can rock out while you’re speeding away from the police, the musical universe of Grand Theft Auto is rich.
7. FIFA series
The FIFA video game series makes excellent use of pop music from around the world, giving a shoutout to the international enjoyment of soccer. This is one of the best places to discover new artists and songs that might not be playing on your local radio.
Famously made into a meme about a billion times, the game Skyrim has a mournful and heroic soundtrack. It perfectly illustrates the enduring theme of the Dragonborn in this medieval fantasy video game. We’d expect nothing less than genius from The Elder Scrolls creators, but this theme by the acclaimed composer Jeremy Soule shot an arrow straight to fans’ knees… no, hearts.
9. Super Mario Bros.
Even non-gamers know this theme song. It’s instantly recognizable anywhere in the world, which means it’s more than earned its spot on this list. We can thank sound designer Koji Kondo for the music, which he originally composed in 1985. It’s been adapted many times since then and has evolved over the years. Still, the original sound is sweet nostalgia.
10. Shadow of the Colossus
Composed by Kow Otani, this score does an amazing job of telling the story in a world where the character never speaks. Haunting, mournful, and unforgettable, he has compared this soundtrack to a prayer or even a requiem. That may seem like a contrast to the game’s monster-hunting mechanics, but it sets the perfect tone for Wander’s lonely story.
11. Horizon Series
Dutch composer Joris Maarten de Man has won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Video Game Score twice. The first was for Killzone 2, and the second was for Horizon Zero Dawn. For the Horizon games, the team experimented with different instruments and their sounds to create the tribal theme that runs throughout the story. For example, they used bows across a piano wire and made synth pads that collaborated with Thai flutes.
Known as Earthbound outside of Japan, this game series is strange, heartwarming, and plain fun. With compositions by Keiichi Suzuki, Hirozaku Tanaka, and Shogo Sakai, the music of Mother has gained a cult fan following around the world.
13. Metal Gear series
The Metal Gear world is vast, and its soundtracks span nearly a thousand hours of music over 17 different albums. It’s safe to say this is a pillar of video game music. Genres span from rock to Latin to classical to jazz, and fans have been here for it for more than 30 years.
14. The Legend of Zelda series
This is another series that gets frequent play at any video game concert—or fans will want to know why not. It makes sense; like with Super Mario Bros., people have grown up with the tales of Link and Zelda, and the enchanting music is now a part of our history.
15. Halo series
The sound of Halo manages to be exciting, scary, and fun all at once. With composers like Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, it’s no surprise that this musical theme has become such an empowering sound for fans of the series.
Darren Korb composed the music for this beautiful game that captured players’ attention back in 2011. It’s still fondly remembered today as being one of the best video game soundtracks ever to be released, which is impressive for this little game. It goes to show that smaller games and indie titles deserve a close look. They often feature some of the most creative art—to see and hear—in the industry.
17. The Last of Us
Somehow, this score manages to be both terrifying and relaxing. We don’t know how composer Gustavo Santaolalla did it, but we’re glad he did. This soundtrack has been referred to as “overflowing with desolate hope,” which nails the feeling of both the music and the story of the game. The use of guitar and folksy instruments perfectly matches the homegrown feel of the game’s characters. That’s the sign of a brilliant composer: they know how to match the music to the scenario.
Ico is a quiet game. That stillness and silence serve to amplify the emotional power of each piece of the score when they appear for the player. Composed by Michiru Oshima, this album came out in 2002, and fans have not stopped talking about it since. This was the precursor to Shadow Of The Colossus, which also went on to thrill players with its amazing soundtrack.
19. Silent Hill series
Silent Hill has been terrifying players for a long time now, and the music is no small part of that success. An album titled Silent Hill Original Soundtracks came out in Japan in 1999, containing tracks composed by the great Akira Yamaoka and Rika Muranaka. This was just the beginning of a long life for this undead video game series and the music that has given players shivers for decades.
Kristofer Maddigan composed the score for this insane game, and he rose to the occasion with flying colors. A game this chaotic and beautiful needed the perfect blend of high-energy songs and jaw-dropping instrumentation, so Maddigan went with a full jazz ensemble. The result is pure energy and fun. If you’re playing, it makes you want to hurry up to get that level completed. If you’re just listening, it makes you want to dance.
21. Donkey Kong Country series
British composer David Wise is known for mixing melodies with environmental sounds to create unique musical tracks. His work on Donkey Kong Country is widely accepted as some of his best work, and that’s saying something. These compositions are straight-up beautiful, evoking the joy of nature and bringing a sunny playfulness to every listening session. It’s well worth your time.
22. Chrono Trigger
The story of Chrono Trigger’s soundtrack is filled with interesting anecdotes about several of Japan’s greatest composers collaborating, filling in during times of high stress, and working hard to complete what ended up being one of the best musical scores in all video game history. Yasunori Mitsuda, Noriko Matsueda, and none other than Nobuo Uematsu have credits on this album.
23. Katamari Damacy series
“Quirky” is a word you’ll see often when you read reviews of Katamari Damacy’s music. The oddball world and silly mechanics found their perfect match with compositions by the people who worked on these soundtracks. Their goal was to make fun music, and they succeeded, without question. Now, if you can just get yourself to stop singing “Nah-Nah” all day, that’ll be a real trick.
It’s hard to believe Toby Fox is a self-taught musician when you hear his beautiful compositions in Undertale. He apparently pulled inspiration from many of the early NES games, including Earthbound or Mother, and it’s easy to see how this influence guided his work. Still, nothing about Undertale is derivative. This is a brilliant soundtrack worthy of all the praise it receives.
25. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
For a beloved story like The Witcher, the music had to be just right. Mikolai Stroinski is one of the main composers of this massive project that brought Slavic musical themes to video games for one of the most epic, emotionally immersive soundtracks out there. The authenticity is palpable in this score, and it supports the world perfectly.
26. Civilization 4
The Civilization series never messes around with its soundtracks, but Civilization 4 really accomplished something magical. The beautiful menu theme song in Swahili, “Baba Yetu,” won a Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists. Well deserved.
27. Hollow Knight
Building from gentle piano to full orchestral momentum, the soundtrack to Hollow Knight is not to be missed. Christopher Larkin composed and performed most of it, taking players on an underground sound journey of epic proportions. For a game that looked like it would be a simple indie release, this score proved everyone’s expectations wrong right off the bat.
28. NieR: Automata
Named Best Soundtrack by nearly everyone in 2010, NieR: Automata delivers a score that players won’t forget any time soon. The vocals and instrumentation grab us right in the feels every time we play this album, and we know we aren’t alone. Reviewers have called it “melancholy,” “dark,” and “one of the best game soundtracks ever.” That about sums it up.
If you thought we were going to forget Minecraft, you can relax now. The world has Daniel Rosenfeld (C418) to thank for much of this catchy music that many kids grew up loving. Don’t let the simplicity of the score fool you. Just like the game, this music has a lot more depth than you might notice on your first listen.
This soundtrack was a triumph. We’re making a note here: huge success. It’s hard to overstate our satisfaction with this game’s score. Look, what we’re trying to say is that the cake may have been a lie, but the music was the real treat in this one.
31. Sound Shapes
Let’s close out this list with an experimental collaboration with amazing musicians like Beck and Deadmau5. Sound Shapes took the player through platformer-style levels where the objective was to play with different sounds and unravel the elements of awesome music. It’s hard not to include this game on a list of top video game soundtracks because the tracks are so catchy and are so central to the player’s experience.
As we said at the start, we could go on forever listing games with awesome soundtracks. That’s part of the beauty of video games. They bring in some of the greatest artists of all time to create worlds we love to think about long after we hit those end credits. When there’s a great score, we know we can always switch it on later to be transported back to the emotions we felt when we were battling that dragon or saving that princess. Music has the kind of magic that’s right at home in video games.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.