Never underestimate the importance of music in video games. A truly great gaming composition should, at its best, evoke the spirit of the game, spark feelings of nostalgia, and maybe even get your blood pumping and your feet tapping a little bit.
Who among us hasn’t heard a snippet of Saria’s Song and instantly found themselves reminiscing about exactly where there were and how they felt the first time they played Ocarina of Time?. Who can listen to the victory fanfare from Final Fantasy VII and not feel a sense of pride and accomplishment?
The following ten pieces of music are the ones we believe stand head and shoulders above the rest, both perfectly encapsulating the games from which they originate, and just being absolute bangers in their own right.
Before we dive in, let’s just point out that music is obviously a massively subjective thing. Your own favourite pieces will vary depending on personal taste, the games you played growing up, and all kinds of other factors. There was a lot of arguing and knife fighting among the team before we settled on the following ten, obviously.
THE LAST OF US – MAIN THEME
Gustavo Santaolalla’s work on Naughty Dog’s post apocalyptic drama The Last Of Us is among some of his finest to date, but it’s the game’s main theme that acts as the standout piece.
As that beautiful, haunting guitar slides into the earshot, you can almost hear the decay of life as we know it. It’s undoubtedly a deeply sad piece of music.
As the track continues, that same, gentle guitar winds and meanders throughout, even as the other instruments get louder and more aggressive.
I might be reading into it a bit, but to me that single, unpredictable guitar track that threads throughout is representative of the nature that slowly reclaims the world in The Last of Us. I’m probably reading into it.
SKYRIM: SONG OF THE DRAGONBORN
The song of the Dragonborn is the first thing we all heard when we booted up Skyrim for the first time, and I don’t think any piece of music promises epic adventure quite like composer Jeremy Soule’s majestic effort here.
While it’s essentially the same iconic theme used for Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, it’s the most recent version that I’d argue is the best, with its heavy drums and nordic chanting, it gets me in the mood to go out and punch a dragon right in its stupid scaly face.
SUPER SMASH BROS MELEE MAIN THEME
Fun fact about Super Smash Bros Melee: it’s actually the first Nintendo game to feature a full orchestra on the soundtrack, something director Masahiro Sakurai was adamant on including, even going so far as to offer to fund the orchestra from his own pocket.
The result very much speaks for itself, and the main theme of Melee – which plays over the game’s gorgeous cinematic opening – is a wonderful, playful, sweeping piece of music that manages to sum up everything Nintendo is about in less than two minutes.
SUPER MARIO BROS WORLD 1-1
I mean, what can we even say about this iconic tune that hasn’t already been said? You could hum one bar of this to your gran and she’d immediately know what it is.
It’s perfection, so let’s just shut up and listen.
GREEN HILL ZONE
No matter how fast I run, I’ll never escape the pain of Sonic’s journey from loveable silent gaming icon of early 90’s gaming to gobby Bart Simpson style cool guy who keeps showing up in titles that range from kind of okay to god awful messes.
Still, whenever I need to remember a simpler time, I’ll simply whack on the Green Hill Zone theme. The first piece of music we hear in a Sonic level, it’s a timeless, instantly recognisable classic that’s been covered by more YouTubers with Ukuleles than is reasonable.
UNCHARTED NATE’S THEME
I’ll be honest, I can’t really listen to Nate’s theme without picturing a glorious billion dollar Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion in my head, but I guess that was kind of the point.
Uncharted was probably the first AAA video game to offer up a truly “cinematic” experience, complete with thrilling set pieces and over the top action. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the game’s main theme has a real John Williams, adventure movie vibe to it.
Hell, it’s better than most of the movie themes of the last decade.
POKEMON RED/BLUE MAIN THEME
Ah, the main theme from the original Pokemon Red and Blue. It’s a piece of music that builds up anticipation for an impending adventure, one coated in discovery, nostalgia, and the enslavement of fantasy animals for personal gain.
In all seriousness though, the original Pokemon theme is a genuinely wonderful bit of work that really does conjure up images of something grand on the horizon, which is what the game is all about, really.
METAL GEAR SOLID ENCOUNTER
Holy forking shirtballs, I’m really not allowed to swear in these videos, but if I could, I’d say that the Metal Gear Solid Encounter music one of the most *beeping* *beeping* exciting *beeping* bits of video game music of all time.
As if trying to sneak through an enemy base full of highly tried murderous goons wasn’t tense enough, when you ARE caught, this is the music that blasts in your ears as you desperately attempt to fight your enemy’s, or evade them.
Honest to God, I can’t listen to this one without getting a little bit stressed out.
HALO MAIN THEME: HALO 2 MJOLNIR MIX
I tell you now, if I could have convinced my wife to hire a group of Gregorian monks to chant this absolute fire for our first dance, I would have done so without hesitation.
Composed and produced by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori, the original Halo theme is the epitome of awesome. A modern anthem for gamers around the world, and deservedly recognised as one of the greatest gaming tracks in history.
So, when Halo 2 came around, O’Donnel got guitarist Steve Vai to casually drop some face meltingly epic riffs on top of the already iconic track to create something that’s essentially the musical equivalent of a flaming tiger punching a hole in the side of the moon: Insanely over the top, but all the more perfect for it.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA OVERWORLD THEME
If the Halo theme is gaming’s modern anthem, then the original Legend of Zelda overworld theme is the classical equivalent.
Originally composed and created for a console whose sound quality barely exceeded that of your doorbell, Koji Kondo’s masterpiece felt far grander than it ever actually sounded, effortlessly evoking that spirit of thrilling adventure that Shigeru Miyamoto was so keen for the player to experience.
While the overworld theme in Zelda often changes quite drastically, you can always hear a touch of Kondo’s original composition from game to game.
Whether rolling across Hyrule Field in Ocarina of Time, or catching those faint but familiar notes as they drift into your ears while playing Breath Of The Wild, that original theme remains a constant, enduring classic in a truly legendary franchise.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.