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10 Songs That Transcend Video Game Music

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Without great music to accompany them, great games would fall flat. In recent years, video games have been given the same treatment as movies and television shows when it comes to their soundtracks. This resulted in some of the most incredible pieces of music I have ever heard. Below is a list of 10 amazing pieces from the world of video games. This list is not a traditional top list, but simply ten selections of music that have changed the way I think about video game music.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s “Far Horizons” by Jeremy Soule

Back in 2011, nothing excited me as much as Skyrim did. Having an incredible soundtrack to accompany my journey through the vast landscapes made for one of the most immersive experiences in years. After sinking well over 100 hours into the game, I found Far Horizons to be one track that got ingrained into my mind. It quickly became my favorite song on Skyrim’s soundtrack and I found myself denying the use of fast-travel, in hopes of hearing the song again. Hearing the swell of an orchestra while traversing the stunning environment made me feel like I could somehow relate to the world that Bethesda had created, regardless of how steeped in fantasy it is.

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Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep’s “Fate of the Unknown” by Yoko Shimomura

This song accompanied the secret ending unlocked at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2, with fans everywhere screaming “Yes,” in unison. The trailer for Birth by Sleep gave the series a much needed darker tone and Fate of the Unknown backed this tone beautifully. Seeing Xehanort rise up on a rock pillar after defeating the games protagonists got me incredibly excited for what I thought would be Kingdom Hearts 3. Of course, it turned out to be a PSP spin-off which I thoroughly enjoyed regardless. I could fill a whole other list of 10 with just Kingdom Hearts music alone, but this piece stood out the most.

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Grand Theft Auto IV’s “Soviet Connection” by Michael Hunter

As much as I didn’t care for Grand Theft Auto IV, I’d be a fool to deny how amazingly well this song suits the tone and story of the game. It’s exciting and fast-paced with the perfect mix of both American and Eastern European elements. It compliments GTA IV’s darker and grittier direction perfectly. Having this song to listen to during the painfully long loading screen made the whole experience much more enjoyable.

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Journey’s “Apotheosis” by Austin Wintory

Saying that Journey had an incredible orchestral soundtrack would be an understatement. For a game with no dialogue, Journey needed to rely on its aesthetics and music. Thankfully, these two go hand-in-hand in a pairing rarely seen in games. Gliding smoothly across the incandescent sand with Austin Wintory’s incredible soundtrack to accompany you makes every moment memorable. Towards the end of the game, after a perilous trek through the desert and snow, there comes a point where it seems like your journey has come to an end. It is at this point that, true to the songs title, you achieve your apotheosis. With the song building momentum, you are thrust into the most stunning part of the game. Given infinite flying ability, your character soars along with the music, ascending waterfalls and sheer cliff faces, accompanied by the cloth creatures previously seen throughout the game. This experience was enough to bring tears to my eyes, and hearing the bell slowly chime as you reach your destination is a moment in gaming that I will never forget.

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Bioshock Infinite’s “Elizabeth” by Garry Schyman

Breaking the mold of the conventional “virtual companion,” players fell in love with Elizabeth. This song composed by Garry Schyman as the perfect representation of Elizabeth as a person. You can hear Elizabeth’s wanderlust and oppression in every note. The tempo of the song gives hope for Elizabeth’s triumph, and helps the player root for her throughout the game.

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DmC: Devil May Cry’s “Lilith’s Club” by Noisia

Being a fan of Noisia, you can only imagine my excitement when I heard they would be providing the soundtrack for the Devil May Cry. Lilith’s Club is an outstanding example of how electronic music can accompany a story as effectively as an orchestral piece. The whole Noisia soundtrack suited the tone of the reboot very well, but Lilith’s Club took the center stage. This track is also an amazing song on it’s own and one I find myself regularly listening to. Even people that don’t know of DmC can appreciate how good it is.

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Final Fantasy VII’s “One Winged Angel” by Nobuo Uematsu

This song plays during the boss battle of Final Fantasy VII’s main antagonist, Sephiroth. It is terrifying. For the purposes of this article, I looked up the lyrics, which were translated from Latin. The song includes such heartwarming lyrics as “Raging anger, anger and misery, Raging anger, anger and misery. Sephiroth, Sephiroth.” The song perfectly suits the idea of Sephiroth that the game did such a good job of portraying. The song was remastered beautifully for the Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children movie in 2005.

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Shadow of the Colossus’ “A Despair Filled Farewell” by Kow Otani

Overall, Shadow of the Colossus is an incredible game. Coupled with an amazing soundtrack, battling the mountainous enemies feels infinitely more satisfying. Since there is no music during the exploration sections of the game, hearing this song slowly rise in the background as you begin your battle is an exciting feeling that no other game can mimic. Coupled with the intimidating size of the colossi, the swell of the music  had my heart racing with every fight.

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Portal 2’s “Want You Gone” by Jonathan Coulton

Upon finishing Portal 2, I was happy to hear another GLaDOS performance during the credits. Ellen McLain (the voice of GLaDOS) performs the song with perfect elegance. However, the song wouldn’t have been nearly as good if the character hadn’t been so well written. GLaDOS is the type of character that you can’t stay mad at for long, no matter how many times she’s tried to kill you, or mocked you for being an orphan. Both “Still Alive” from the original Portal and “Want You Gone” are almost like her way of making amends for the events transpired in the series. Let’s hope the tradition of the GLaDOS song continues with Portal 3.

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Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch’s “Dominion of the Dark Djinn” by Joe Hisaishi

Ni No Kuni is the perfect example of the time-honored phrase, “if it aint’ broke, don’t fix it.” With classic JRPG gameplay, its soundtrack fit beautifully. Composed by Joe Hisaishi and based on traditional Irish folk music, the main theme of the game promised an epic adventure of incredible scale and detail. Luckily, the game didn’t disappoint on any front and the music compliments the journey amazingly well. It even manages to feel familiar on your first listen!

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This is only a small selection of video games that show great attention to detail when it comes to the inclusion of their music. Do you agree with the songs on the list? What are some of your favorite original soundtracks in gaming? Let us know in the comments!

[Written by Contributor Neil Scanlon]

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  • jb227

    Great list, but you left off what was easily one of the best original songs from the past generation bar none for me. “Tears” by HEALTH ratcheted the ending of Max Payne 3 where he’s descending upon an airport full of paramilitary goons into one of the most visceral & memorable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. The way HEALTH’s score was built dynamically into the game was just masterful, and that song represented a culmination to a very literal crescendo of chaos…goose bump inducing for sure. Also, I’ll always have a soft spot for the main theme from Uncharted 2, easily my favorite piece of scoring, it elevated a cinematic gaming experience even further, blurring the lines between Adventure films of the 80s & a cutting edge gaming experience in the aughts.

    • Neil Scanlon

      I’ve never gotten to play Max Payne 3. It’s on my backlog of shame. I love HEALTH though so I’ll have to check out that soundtrack. The Uncharted series is unfortunately on the same backlog. I only really wanted to include songs from games that I had played and had an experience with in the game.

      • jb227

        I totally get that inclination, music is under appreciated in the gaming realm & it’s always been one of the core tenants, it’s great to see somebody acknowledge its importance like this. Hope I didn’t spoil you on Max Payne, I think the moment is pretty transcendent no matter whether or not you know it’s coming, I’ve played it multiple times myself and it always gives me goosebumps. That game flew under the radar for some reason, but I really enjoyed it, and HEALTH’s score was a big reason for it. Uncharted’s score feels just like a perfect matinee adventure at the cinemas, also really great stuff. I would most definitely recommend pushing those games up on the backlog a bit the next time you want to play a good game w/ amazing music, definitely the high points for me this past generation….I’ll definitely check out DMC & Ni No Kuni now, they’ve always looked like fun games, but if the music is top notch too those are some games I need to get to asap. Hope to see more lists like this one in the future, great work again

  • paulj

    Does Silent Hill 3’s You’re not here by Akira Yamaoka count? Maybe SH4’s Room of angel?