July 29, 2011

10 Truly Awesome Old-School Video Game Soundtracks

I often skip through my collection of soundtracks and as you know, I'm a sucker for nostalgia. So I guess it's time I told you about my choice of 10 Truly Awesome Old-School Video Game Soundtracks ~ enjoy!

10. Illusion of Gaia

Quintet (SNES, 1993)
Soundtrack by Yasuhiro Kawasaki

Our first entry is a neat little RPG from Quintet, who went on to develop the better-known Terranigma for Enix a short time later. Illusion of Gaia comes with a vast world and many weird as well as historical places like the Cambodian temple complex Angkor Wat. To make the journey work, composer Kawasaki had to create a variety of tunes fitting to each setting, culture and mood. A challenging task with this game, which also features locations like the lost continent Mu or a maze of giant mushrooms. The music is often very sad and depressing, just like the story, which remains pretty serious until the philosophical ending.

"Signs of the Past"

"The Great Wall of China"

9. Super Metroid

Nintendo R&D1 (SNES, 1994)
Soundtrack by Makoto Kano

Super Metroid offers a unique setting of science fiction and technology blending in with nature – the memorable Spore Spawn boss being only one example. To create an appropriate sound style for Super Metroid, Makoto Kano often intertwines techno beats and dark, atmospheric and organic melodies. The two Brinstar tracks I chose show a lot of the range of the soundtrack, which also includes minimalistic tracks like a song only consisting of a dark, frequency-like string line, rain and thunder. The deeper you delve into the world of Super Metroid, the more cautious and moody the music grows – a truly fine effort.

"Upper Brinstar"

"Lower Brinstar"

8. Shadowrun

Beam Software (SNES, 1994)
Soundtrack by Marshall Parker

Marshall Parker's awesome soundtrack to the SNES version of Shadowrun was the best thing that could happen to this fine piece of old-school cyberpunk. Many tracks rely on dry drums, slapped basslines and tinny samples to create dramatic moments for a dramatic story. The gritty, dark melodies and dire instrumentation fit perfectly to the atmospheric game and should prompt every rock musician to jam along the music – Rival Turf even use a sample from Shadowrun as tribute during a bridge in one of their songs.

"Oldtown Station"


7. Terranigma

Quintet (SNES, 1995)
Soundtrack by Miyoko Kobayashi & Masanori Hikichi

The extremely beautiful soundtrack of Quintet's 1995 RPG for the SNES is even a step up from their former project, Illusion of Gaia. Again, the vast story poses quite a challenge, since you can travel almost the whole world, and each location received it's own coherent music style. The gypsy theme of the Quatros (see down to the right) is completely different than the colder and more chilling sounds of the Northern regions or dungeons (see down to the left). All the towns in Terranigma got utterly charming themes, and the majestic castle themes make you fear the dark keeps in the game before you enter them. A masterful soundtrack!


"Wandering People"

6. Chrono Trigger

Square (SNES, 1995)
Soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu & Noriko Matsueda

One of Square's best-known RPG classics and a rare one where soundtrack chieftain Nobuo Uematsu didn't work alone. The trinity of Mitsuda, Matsueda and Uematsu crafted a totally charming and lovely soundtrack for this game, which celebrates exotic melodies, light-hearted tunes, dramatic epics, iconic songs like Frog's theme, and furious and thrilling sounds for dungeons and battle sequences. I'm often amazed at how gorgeously written those themes are, and it's no wonder that Square released orchestrated versions of most of their RPG soundtracks.

"Corridors of Time"

"Schala's Theme"

5. Deus Ex

ION Storm (PC, 2000)
Soundtrack by Alexander Brandon, Dan Gardopée, Michiel van den Bos & Reeves Gabrels

A rare PC classic on this list, Deus Ex rings a bell with any gamer of my generation. Rather a fascinating thriller full of conspiracies than merely a "game," Deus Ex came as a surprise to all of us who hadn't played such an elaborate drama before. A quartet of composers was hired for the soundtrack, and they created one of the most atmospheric ones I've ever heard. The ultra-sad intro of the DuClare Chateau theme below already makes me cry tears of nostalgia and goodness. While many tracks on the soundtrack keep something like a distance to the action and often remain in the background, their beauty is still as present as eleven years ago.

"DuClare Chateau"

"The Synapse (Hong Kong Streets)"

4. Final Fantasy VI

Square (SNES, 1994)
Soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu

One of Nobuo Uematsu's early masterpieces for Square, which set the tone for many other Final Fantasy games and their music to come. Even in recent episodes of the RPG series you can still hear some of the roots that go back to this very part and this very soundtrack. It includes everything you could wish for in a RPG as epic as Final Fantasy VI, and I think there's no RPG more epic than FFVI. Sad, depressing melodies run during the many dramatic moments of the big story, as well as quiet and beautifully written piano compositions or cheerful tunes like the wonderful airship theme. I can't really describe how iconic and great Uematsu's soundtrack for FFVI is, so I recommend you check out a few songs on YouTube for yourself.

"The Mines of Narshe"

"Searching for Friends"

3. Mega Man Series

Capcom (NES, 1987 onwards)
Soundtracks by Takashi Tateishi, Yasuaki Fujita, Minae Fujii & others

The Mega Man series on the NES is not only reknowned for its brutal difficulty or the great variety in all the games, but also for its great 8-bit midi themes that often sound like complete techno or trance songs – gorgeous ones! I don't know how many electronic remixes of all the various Mega Man themes exist, but there are a whole freaking lot of them! Since each entry in the series comes with its own share of cool themes, I couldn't decide on a single game to put here, so I give you my favorite two samples from Mega Man 3 and 4 below. You've likely enjoyed other themes as much, like the the intro song or the dreamy Bubble Man theme from Mega Man 2, but they are all great 8-bit compositions anyway.

"Snake Man" (Mega Man 3)

"Dr. Wily Stage 2" (Mega Man 4)

2. Secret of Evermore

Square Soft (SNES, 1995)
Soundtrack by Jeremy Soule

Secret of Evermore was a child of Square's US studios and the little brother to Secret of Mana. It was often rebuffed due to its less complex gameplay, scale and story, but many saw the game for what it was: a really exciting RPG with great locations, bosses and music! Jeremy Soule, who is also known for the soundtracks of the Dungeon Siege, Guild Wars and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, gave his best to create some of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard in video games. I especially love the two themes below, but the game offers so much more great music, which you best experience while playing it.

"Greek Temple"

"Dark Castle"

1. Planescape: Torment

Black Isle Studios (PC, 1999)
Soundtrack by Mark Morgan

Probably my favorite PC game ever and also my favorite PC soundtrack ever. Mark Morgan, who also did the music for most of the Fallout games, is responsible for this stunning audio representation of the brutal and desolate Planescape setting, and I love him for that. The game features an acclaimed storyline unbeaten in philosophical deepness and scope, taking place in a dirty and gritty battlefield of a world where a skull named Morte is your floating and most eloquent companion. Morgan's soundtrack is as atmospheric and deep as the game, balancing startlingly wild and rumbling themes with brilliantly beautiful and utterly sad pieces. If you consider that publisher Interplay first wanted dark ambient dude Lustmord for the soundtrack, it's baffling to think that Morgan wasn't tied to the project from the beginning.

"Deionarra Theme"

"Fall-From-Grace Theme"

There are many, many more great game soundtracks, of course, and I can't list them all, but feel free to tell me about your favorite video game music in the comments!

7 Kommentare:

Rawry said...

Streets of Rage 1 & 2 had great music too. The 3rd installment... not
so much. But yeah, I consider SoR to have the best music on the Sega

Cliff said...

Yeah, those good old scrolling beat'em ups had a lot of cool music, too. Too bad I never owned a Genesis, though. I would have loved to play the Genesis Shadowrun!

(And don't wonder, I deleted your first comment =)

Misato20 said...

Great idea this list! :D
What did you think about the orchestra versions of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy X? I surely loved those!

Cliff said...

Thanks! Your mentioned orchestra soundtracks are awesome, FFX was just too recent for my old-school list. The regular FFX soundtrack is one of my absolute favorites!

Gajinder Singh said...

Two and a half years late but...
Streets of Rage 2 is an absolute classic. 'Dreamer' is just my childhood condensed into one song. A song with great beats, awesome rhythm and it just makes me want to go out and fight someone!

Cliff said...

Will listen to your suggestion soon! My main 16-bit sound flaw is that I was 100% SNES gamer and despised everything on the Genesis, mainly due to its worse color palettes, sound chips, and controllers =)

But ah, gladly YouTube allows us to enjoy good old sidescrollin' beat 'em up themes without having to bother with the rest, huh? ^^ (And I know, the Genesis had lots of gems and cool stuff like SoR 2 as you mentioned!)



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