Musical masterpieces: The best video game soundtracks you’ve never heard

By Levi . September 5, 2007 . 12:02pm

smusic.jpgAsk a gamer what makes a great game, and the first answer you'll most likely get will almost undoubtedly be either graphics or gameplay. But one very important and oft overlooked part of what makes a game great is the soundtrack. The music in a video game can touch us, make us scared, make us feel closer to a character, and make us feel like we're part of the game's world. A good score is just as important a part of game design as graphics, story, or gameplay. Sadly, some soundtracks end up overlooked by all but the most hardcore of fans. Sure, we all know and love stuff like Final Fantasy and Silent Hill's music, but what about some of the more overlooked arrangements that, for various reasons, go unnoticed? Well, that's what this article's about. Soundtracks that, be it due to bad game marketing, being from a relatively unknown game, or just not being heard by enough people, never got the recognition they truly deserve. So read on for five soundtracks that should not be missed by any aficionado of video game music.

 

The Revenge of Shinobi (aka The Super Shinobi)
Composer: Yuzo Koshiro

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Composed by the legendary composer of the Streets of Rage series' music, The Revenge of Shinobi's soundtrack is far and away the best in the series. Sounding, not surprisingly, quite similar to Koshiro's other works, it really gives you a feel for Joe Musashi's world. The first stage's music, aptly titled "The Shinobi", has a very "ninja" feel to it, combining the standard "video game" sound with a very "feudal Japan" beat. And the boss music, "Terrible Beat"…oh my. It's probably second only to Ninja Gaiden's boss theme on the list of the best boss themes ever. Very upbeat, it gives you a sense of urgency and imminent danger. Definitely a soundtrack not to be missed by fans of the Shinobi series, or fans of Yuzo Koshiro's other works.

 

Standout tracks:

Track 02: The Shinobi  
Track 03: Terrible Beat
Track 23: Flash Flash Flash (Arrange Version)

 

Guilty Gear Isuka
Composer: Daisuke Ishiwatari

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Often considered the "black sheep" of the Guilty Gear series, Guilty Gear Isuka is a four-player version of Arc System Works' popular 2D fighting franchise. A good idea in concept, it kinda failed in execution due to the turn button mechanic, which forced you to press a button to turn around. Regardless of any gameplay flaws it had, the fact that it has an amazing soundtrack can't be denied. While it retained the series' trademark hard rock sound, Guilty Gear Isuka's soundtrack also went in a bit of a different direction with some tracks. Tracks like "Home Sweet Grave", with it's techno backing beat and "Drumhead Pulsation", with it's tribal drums add some freshness to the tried and true Guilty Gear formula. But it's not all different, as tracks like "Sheep Will Sleep (if you become fatigued)" and "Riches in Me" are standard Guilty Gear fare, with loud, crushing guitars and devastating, brain-melting drums. And that's in no way a bad thing, mind you. 

 

Standout tracks:

Track 02: Sheep Will Sleep (if you become fatigued)
Track 05: Riches in Me
Track 08: The Irony of Chaste

 

Ikaruga
Composer: Hiroshi Iuchi

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Ahh yes, Ikaruga. Treasure's masterpiece shmup that went largely ignored by US gamers due to it's (very limited) American release, exclusively on the Gamecube. However, it has a huge cult following among diehard shmup fans. And for very good reason. Simply put, Ikaruga is an amazing game. But equally amazing as it's gameplay is it's soundtrack. If you had to sum up Ikaruga's soundtrack in only one word, that word would undoubtedly be "strong". From the opening notes of the first stage's music, "Ideal", Ikaruga's soundtrack grabs ahold of you and doesn't let go. Very orchestral in nature, Ikaruga's music is absolutely epic, and very befitting, as well. I couldn't think of more perfect music to accompany a game like Ikaruga. 

 

Standout tracks:

Track 02: Ideal
Track 04: Trial
Track 07: Reality

 

Chaos Legion
Composer: Hideyuki Fukasawa

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What can I say about Chaos Legion…Well, it's hard. REALLY hard. While it had tons of style, it was really an average game. But it's soundtrack is ANYTHING but average. Fusing modern techno and rock with choirs and synths, Chaos Legion's soundtrack is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Tracks like "Choir of Curse" really get your blood pumping and your brain thinking "alright, it's go time", while tracks like "Ravine of Silence" and "Now I See" are calmer, reflective pieces that still manage to capture the sense of urgency that is prevalent throughout the entire soundtrack. To put it bluntly, Chaos Legion's soundtrack is one of the most amazing pieces of music I've ever heard. 

 

Standout tracks:

Track 07: Choir of Curse
Track 15: Feel no Fear
Track 23: Now I See

 

Baroque
Composer: Masaharu Iwata

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And finally we come to Baroque, which might be THE single most beautiful game soundtrack in existence, and certainly the most amazing piece of music I've ever heard in a video game, perhaps even the most amazing I've ever heard in any medium EVER. For those of you who don't know (and I suspect that's a great many of you), Baroque is a game that's very little-known outside of Japan. A first-person dungeon crawler in the vein of Wizardry, Shadow Tower, and King's Field, Baroque was released for the Sega Saturn in 1998 and Sony Playstation in 1999. The album's opener, "Great Heat 20320514", begins with a techno beat and then is quickly overtaken by crushing drums and an awesome synthesizer melody. The real amazing part of the album begins at track 9, titled "One Foot in the Grave", and continues until track 14, "Hold Baroque Inside". These six songs, when played back to back, comprise one of the greatest aural experiences any music fan could ever have. In particular, "Hold Baroque Inside" is especially wonderful. Haunting, stunning, and inspiring all at once, it remains the single greatest musical composition I have personally ever heard, and I ask, no, I BEG of everyone reading this article to find SOME way to experience this track for yourselves. Find this album. Be it through eBay, Play-Asia, Yahoo Japan Auctions, or whatever, it doesn't matter. If you have to track down an import PSX and a copy of Baroque, DO IT. It's more worth it than you'll ever know. 

 

Standout tracks:

Track 09: One Foot in the Grave
Track 10: Alice In
Track 11: One
Track 12: Neverending Cycle
Track 13: Multiplex
Track 14: Hold Baroque Inside

 

So there you have it. Five video game soundtracks that, while maybe not as well known as the works of say, Nobuo Uematsu, are still well worth your time and attention. So what are you waiting for? Get out there, track down these albums, and enjoy some of the best music to ever come out of video games!


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  • SomeDude

    No Einhander soundtrack? Boo.

  • Noun

    Nor the Mother2 and Snatcher soundtracks…

  • Levi

    I see I may have to do a second article. :P

  • Veilknight

    I agree that there might be some notable admissions from this list (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid instantly pop in the center of my mind), but what is here I can’t help but agree 100%. Nice work, and I look forward to your follow up article showcasing various video game soundtracks in the near future.

  • Lavis

    Nice list

    Try also Mother 3, it had an excellent soundtrack

  • Andy

    I have been searching for the Baroque soundtrack for years because the samples I’ve heard do sound absolutely amazing. There is simply no way to find it. Online stores don’t sell it and I’ve never seen it on ebay. Hell it’s not even available for download through not-so-legal means.

    If you could give us some better advice for finding it that would be great.

  • TacoBeaver

    Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles has the best soundtrack EVUR

  • badfish

    I think that game soundtracks are really connected also to how well you enjoyed the game. Personally I felt “connected” to the main theme of Legend of mana for ps1, and The “La la” song from Lunar silver star story.

    Some songs or soundtracks really get you into the game and feel the world.

  • Aoshi00

    Great write-up. Despite gameplay being the most important, actually I’m more of a visual/audio person too since I tend to “feel” things.

    I haven’t played the original Baroque, I wonder if the Baroque remake on the PS2 released a while back uses some of those awesome tracks? I’m listening to the Phoenix Wright Orchestra CD now, been playing the game for the past week, just have to whip the CD out.
    I need to dig out some more Chopin piano music too after just finishing Eternal Sonata.

  • Doug

    “The best video game soundtracks you’ve never heard”

    …And I guess we’ll continue to not hear them without sound samples posted here!

  • Levi

    @Aoshi00: No, unfortunately, the Baroque remake on the PS2 has a new soundtrack by a new composer. :(

    @Doug: Sorry, can’t do that. :(

  • AbleJames

    Actually, this is the best video game music I’ve ever heard.

    First go here:
    http://www.yarhalla.jpn.org/yarhalla/16d/index_e.html

    Second, go down to: “GoneSquare”

    Third, click Download All. (It’s offered by the artist, it isn’t a copyright violation.)

    It’s a shame that the game that goes with this soundtrack is imaginary…

  • http://danielprimed.com Daniel Primed

    This would have to be the third VG soundtrack article that I have read in the past week out of the handful of blogs I read.

    A nice list of songs there. Although some sort of sampling would actually make it all worthwhile.

    Personally I love the Final Fantasy Tactics OST. I have a real attachment to that type of music. Its just gorgeous.

  • http://one-ducks-opinion.blogspot.com/ PsychoDuck

    Make that four, Daniel. I wrote that last night :|

    Although, granted, mine isn’t about soundtracks, just the music in a game. Still, pretty darn close…

    The Duck Has Spoken.

  • Kevin

    does anybody remember The Hive for the PC? That had great music

  • Fernando

    Can’t believe Baten Kaitos is not in this list.

  • Levi

    Hey, if I would have covered every soundtrack I wanted to, this article would’ve been too long to read. I would’ve had to split it up into chapters. ;)

  • Savory

    No Ys?
    Falcom have some of the best composers in the industry. Ys – Oath in Felghana is now my favorite game OST ever.

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