A great video game soundtrack makes an even better game. Who doesn’t remember the tranquil music of Minecraft playing softly in the background as they build, or the intense boss music of Dark Souls players cannot get out of their head because they’ve been stuck on the same boss fight for six days?
Each game on this list defies all expectations on what video game music should be by ultimately pushing the genre of “gaming music” to its highest artistic form. From the spooky atmospheric noises of Silent Hill 2 to the calmer 8-bit stylizations of Undertale, there’s a soundtrack for each and every gamer.
10 Experimental To Its Spooky Core – Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Silent Hill 2 is creepy enough as is, but what really makes a playthrough almost unbearable is Akira Yamaoka’s thrilling and suspenseful soundtrack. There’s an eerie sense in all the music that something is missing. A memory? A monster not seen lurking in the shadows?
And to add to that, a jarring metal scrapping or pulsating static will come in, leaving gamers wondering if they accidentally put on Nine Inch Nails or if someone is scratching at the wall behind them. All the music is built to off-put the listener, perfectly readying players to step into the shoes of Silent Hill 2’s broken protagonists and nightmares. It’s one of the reasons Silent Hill 2 remains the ultimate horror game.
9 A Modern Fusion Of Video Game Music – Undertale (2015)
Toby Fox’s breakout indie hit Undertale has no lack of quality moments. But one of the game’s true gems is its killer experimental soundtrack. From its heavy rock reimagining of “Megalovania” to its calmer 8-bit sound explorations of “Fallen Down” or “Your Best Friend” there’s no moment in Undertale where the music doesn’t shine through.
Undertale manages to combine the classic technology 8-bit and boops gamers know and love with a variety of classical and modern instruments to create a truly exhilarating listen.
8 Jazz Rock J-Pop Opera? – Persona 5 (2016)
Jazz-Rock Classical J-Pop Opera Techno? There are not many words to describe just what’s happening with Persona 5‘s killer soundtrack. What better way to get through high school demon battles than with the pulsating beats of songs like “Will Power”? Or the operatic soprano that belts her way through “Hymn of the Soul” accompanying the journey through Persona 5’s incredible writing?
The mix of genres helps to create a soundtrack that feels dynamic and engaging. From one moment to the next fans can never expect what will come on. Persona 6 is going to need to step up their game to meet the highs of this soundtrack.
7 Undertale Meets Nine Inch Nails – LISA: The Painful (2014)
Picture the Undertale soundtrack but with more disorientating technology and limbs lost. That’s how players get the joy-riddled beauty known as the Lisa: The Painful soundtrack. A game as disturbing and heartbreaking as Lisa: The Painful needs an equally more depressing soundtrack to go with it and developer Austin Jorgensen did not disappoint.
Some songs seem like a string of random notes, loose baritone sounds, and off-key pianos. But somehow, this symphony of horror creates some of the most compelling and disorientating music in gaming. It’s almost enough to forget they killed our favorite party member a moment ago.
6 Big Industrial Grindhouse Iron – Fallout (1997)
Anyone who’s played Bethesda’s Fallout series will talk about how great of a song “Big Iron” and “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” are. However, the true gems of avant-garde music come from the original two Fallout games. The original swaps out the upbeat Galaxy News Radio with a cold industrial soundtrack to make sure gamers know there is nothing fun about a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
It creates a great contrast between the original series and Bethesda’s 3D reimagining. If fans of the classic Fallouts want to play modern Fallout with the original ambiance, check out this Classic Fallout Ambient Music mod by Zako1989 on Nexus.
5 Forget The Rules Of Video Game Music – Cruelty Squad (2021)
A surprise hit of this year, Cruelty Squad’s Steam page tagline describes it as “An immersive power fantasy simulator with tactical stealth elements set in a sewage infused garbage world.” That tagline however cannot really put into words what kind of experience gamers keep finding themselves dropped into.
Forget everything about graphic design and gaming logic and rules, Cruelty Squad throws it all out the window in spectacular fashion. It sets out to break every rule for what constitutes a well-made game known. That said, its soundtrack equally challenges expectations; dropping sirens, white noise, distortion, and other unnerving sounds. What that ultimately leaves players with is a compelling gaming experience literally like no game that has ever been released.
4 8-Track Retro Realness – Hotline Miami (2012)
Hotline Miami is a series dedicated to sending players down its psychedelic murder rampages in 80’s Miami. Only Hotline Miami can capture the feeling of popping too many tabs of acid and being really annoyed the neighbor keeps parking in front of the driveway. An almost nostalgic feeling penetrates through each song contrasting the game’s extreme violence and horror.
And when it wants to get disturbing, boy does it get disturbing, making those ending scenes and jaw-dropping betrayals seem unnerving and horrific. It’s everything a speedy combo-killing player could want.
3 Turret Operas Are Incomparable- Portal 2 (2011)
Valve’s Portal 2 is arguably one of the most innovative and creative games to be released in the past ten years. For a game that is literally a decade old, a playthrough still feels fresh and exciting every time. What compliments this experience? A soundtrack that is equally experimental and game-changing.
Its exciting techno music leaves players constantly feeling at the forefront of the mind-bending puzzles and action complementing the game’s exploration into the abandoned facility know as Aperture Science. Furthermore, there’s a literal opera of Turrets.
2 A Secret Gem Of A Soundtrack – Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020)
Most would not expect to see Animal Crossing on an avant-garde soundtrack list next to Silent Hill 2 and Cruelty Squad. Yet, Animal Crossing: New Horizons actually has quite the unusual soundtrack. While most of its tracks are lo-fi beats to keep players relaxed and letting the many, many hours go by, the tracks all have a weird avant-garde quality about them.
For instance, “8AM/8:00 Rainy” has a start and stop music styling like the Wii channel music occasionally throwing in some extra guitars. “5PM/5:00 Rainy” has a funk vibe to it allowing gamers to get lost in its psychedelic beats. Next time fans open up their town, be sure to listen closely to the stellar experimental music happening in the background of the island resort. There’s more than initially meets the eye.
1 A Slow and Steady Corruption – Doki Doki Literature Club (2017)
This indie horror visual novel has an incredibly compelling soundtrack one misses the first time around. The soundtrack actually manages to almost “decompose” as it goes along. Just as the game slowly distorts the reality around players, the soundtrack also manages to slowly reveal its true horrors.
By the end, gamers are left with an industrial-sounding nightmare corrupted by a certain someone… The Doki Doki Literature Club soundtrack is a must-listen for seeing how a game can develop through its music.
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