Video Game Music
January 31, 2003 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Video game music is designed to heighten tension, and get you involved in the game, but it's come a long way from the days of Pong, now we have a single video game generating a 4 CD boxset & a greatest hits CD. Game Music Home, one of the first sites dedicated to gaming music is still preserved online. Now there's even a game music database and sites like,, etc specialize in selling video game soundtracks. Here's a brief timeline of video game music. Of course with original songs like "Taxi Drivers Must Die" (lyric), how long before we see a video game song on the Billboard charts?
posted by riffola (38 comments total)
You mean besides Buckner and Garcia? (I am, by the way, deeply disturbed that that web site exists). Oh, wait, that's a song about a video game, not video game music.

I've occasionally been inspired by non-original video game music (I bought a couple Ink Spots CDs after hearing them in the intro to Fallout 1), but I haven't often been impressed by original game sound track music. It's often fitting (the swinging 60's stuff in NOLF, the trent reznor stuff from quake), but rarely great.

Anyway, great post riffola.
posted by malphigian at 10:44 AM on January 31, 2003

Techno remixes of video game music.

Excellent site.
posted by andryeevna at 10:44 AM on January 31, 2003

The Minibosses do some pretty excellent rock covers of classic Nintendo music, which you can download for free from their site. Contra and Castlevania!
posted by sklero at 10:47 AM on January 31, 2003

Thinking about how wonderful the Vice City soundtrack is compared to my usual driving soundtrack reminds me of a joke:

If a lawyer and a Clear Channel executive were drowning and you could save only one, would you go to lunch or read a book?

Some men read Playboy for the articles, I play Vice City for the soundtrack...
posted by togdon at 10:53 AM on January 31, 2003

I've always been a fan of Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for Square's Final Fantasy series. There have been some excellent albums of his music done by orchestras, and it's quite moving. But even hearing the bleeps of the original Super Nintendo version of the opera in FFVI...oh, yeah.

Yasunori Mitsuda's good, too. He did Chrono Trigger and Xenogears.

And I'm a total geek for knowing this.
posted by RakDaddy at 11:01 AM on January 31, 2003

I like the music from the first Tomb Raider game. The quiet stuff with a sense of wonder to it that plays when she discovers some beautiful new underground level, you know?
posted by Shane at 11:02 AM on January 31, 2003

How could you forget MC Frontalot, boyyyyyyzzzzz?!
posted by byort at 11:09 AM on January 31, 2003

My favorite composers of video game music are both women - Yoko Shimomura and Michiko Naruke. Uematsu was good, but seems pretty burnt out by now. Shimomura (Legend of Mana, Kingdom Hearts) has a way of composing strong melodies (which I dig), and Naruke has a unique style that fits the Western-fantasy-hybrid world of the Wild Arms series perfectly.

And I'm more of a (console) video game music geek than RakDaddy, and willing to defend my title (esp. as concerning the MegaMan series - so much time lost to the little blue guy...)
posted by wanderingmind at 11:12 AM on January 31, 2003

Wow. I'd stopped playing video games when the buttons seemed to get out of hand (Playstation, I'm looking in your direction...) but hearing the minibosses play 'castlevania' and 'mega man 2' brought back Nintento-thumb, that pre-carpal-tunnel syndrome that blistered my and many other kids' digits in its time.

great Friday links.
posted by krewson at 11:17 AM on January 31, 2003

7th Guest. Used to just leave the game running for the soundtrack.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:23 AM on January 31, 2003

The first thing I did, togdon, was turn off the music in GTA:VC. Loud and distracting... The talk radio channel has some pretty funny, if offensive, bits tho.

But then, I read Playboy for the articles too...
posted by maniactown at 11:33 AM on January 31, 2003

one of my favorites has always been Terry S. Taylor's soundtrack to The Neverhood. For sheer catchy wierdness, it can't be beat.
posted by clockwork at 11:34 AM on January 31, 2003

How could you shut off the music in GTA:Vice? That's criminal. I still remember (wow, it was all of two months ago) duking it out with the cops around false dawn in a running highway battle, winding up in a junker with all four tires blown, no control, hurtling toward the Paint'n'Spray down near the docks when I got blindsided by another cop, spinning me around so I was perfectly lined up with the P'n'S but backwards. Backed in and got away with it. To the tune of "Waiting for a Girl Like You." Near perfect video game moment.
posted by yerfatma at 12:15 PM on January 31, 2003

Minor correction: Vice City's soundtrack is *7* CDs. And still incomplete.
posted by jozxyqk at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2003

...we have a single video game generating a 4 CD boxset...

I think you mean 7 disc box set.
posted by boost ventilator at 12:16 PM on January 31, 2003

True gaming music fans should check out "Video Games Live at the Hollywood Bowl" at E3 this year -- the first orchestral show dedicated to game music ever on this side of the Pacific. Generally, game soundtracks are a big business in Japan -- don't know why they don't catch on here, but I guess there's a sort of stigma associated with "music" and "games" -- as though it's for children.

I, too, am a fan of Uematsu. His early (Final Fantasy IV - VI era) stuff, when orchestrated, is absolutely amazing. It even sounds great on the SNES -- which is an achievement considering the hardware limitations. I believe that if all he had was a rubber band and a paperclip, he could still compose something truly beautiful.

Kenji Yamamoto's scores for the Metroid games have been great too.

As far as Vice City is concerned: it's a good soundtrack and all, but it's all licensed music. A lot of companies are starting to drop original composition in favour of licensed music. This I don't like. Give me the original stuff. The moody ambient stuff.

Personally, I think the soundtrack for GTA3 worked better than the one for GTA:VC, because it was all spoof songs and parodies -- it helped emphasize the satire of the game. In Vice City, it makes it look like -- excuse the indieness -- they sold out.
posted by mkn at 12:41 PM on January 31, 2003

posted by linux at 1:27 PM on January 31, 2003

Loom MIDIs

Bow down to the granddaddy!
posted by linux at 1:29 PM on January 31, 2003

Apologies. The link is busted. Use this one instead.
posted by linux at 1:32 PM on January 31, 2003

Grim Fandango!

Short but cool pieces.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:34 PM on January 31, 2003

I'm rather shocked that they left out Rez... probably the most innovative musical game since DDR.
posted by vorfeed at 1:34 PM on January 31, 2003

Grim Fandango, Monkey Island, seriously any LucasArts adventure production had excellent music.

The Dig even came with a music CD that made for good ambient background music ... sort of like the kind you listen to when playing a computer game. How odd.

Outlaws did a great job spoofing all the spaghetti western themes.

Grim Fandango lovingly captured all those old 40s serials and movies in its mood and music.

Monkey Island just rocks.
posted by linux at 1:38 PM on January 31, 2003

I'd rather listen to chip tunes.
posted by straight at 1:59 PM on January 31, 2003

Star Control 2 always struck me as having excellent music, not for general background tracks, but moreso for establishing character personalities (or alien races in this case).

For thematic music that's very listenable in its own, I'm rather fond of Jeremy Soule's work - the Baldur's Gate series and many others. And for more remix/cover fun, give Estradasphere a listen (not all their stuff is game related).
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:05 PM on January 31, 2003

Nobuo Uemitsu is the god of video game music. In Japan Square (or whatever) released a CD of stuff he wrote for the NES, only now played by a full orchestra.

On the SNES, his greatest work was in FF4, though the track that stands out most in my mind is Epic of Gilgamesh in FF5.

The FF7 soundtrack is probably the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a game, bar none, though.

Compositionally speaking, I think the most interesting tracks in the games tend to be the music played in the background of the battles- I suspect Square realizes that its battle system isn't really all that interesting, and if the music sucked and was repetitive you'd probably just go "#%^& it" and stop playing a quarter the way through the game like most people did with FF2j. Among FF2j's many sins, it had a HORRIBLY depressing and slow theme for all its battles, even the final boss. Even when playing the game at triple speed that track seems to play too slow, and I think after that fiasco Square consiously chose to use the most listenable tracks as battle music.

The most memorable tracks for me were the battle ones... I mean, all of the battle music in FF4 was awesome, especially the regular boss theme. It was really punchy and hit the spot perfectly. Nobuo screwed up in FF5 though - ironically enough, the best piece of SNES music ever written ends up being only used 3 times as the background of a boss who is designed to be pathetic (... Epic of Gilgamesh), but the regular battle music was so incredibly upbeat and the boss music was WEIRD... There was also this one town that had all these flutes going and stuff that didn't mesh... horrible. Heck, some of FF5 made me glad for the mute button. FF6 was better, but I liked 4's battle music better, and you spend a lot of time in these stupid games listening to that, so it really impacts the way you feel about these games. FF7 was great... Not a single piece i didn't like. Just walking in the room while it's playing makes me tremor - FF7 is like heroin to me.
FF8's soundtrack was uneven. The standard battle track sounds cool the first time... And gets old fast. Laguna's battle theme was AWESOME, though. And the background music in the demo which got cut was amazing, but sounded too much like another track written by a real artist(tm) so Square cut it, fearful of getting sued. Bastards. FF9 was different. The opening theme was weird, cool and medieval... But I don't remember anything else about the music other than that the standard battle theme was a remix of previous FFs, much like the game was. Best track (again) was the boss music. FF10's music was pretty good, but was also definitely getting stale. I wish Uemitsu-san weren't getting out of the business. He'll be missed.

My music tastes are incredibly odd, though.
/longwinded ramble
posted by Veritron at 3:16 PM on January 31, 2003

Rez, because I'd play the game over and over just to hear, and interact with the music. Holding onto a charge long enough to build a musical phrase, or hammering the fire button to create drum trills. Best game evahhhh!

Chu Chu Rocket, which, on the dreamcast at least, had the funkiest little minimal techno loop thing going on during the puzzle levels.

Midnight Club Racing, but just because they paid money for proper underground club music, rather than the usual corporate trance offcuts.

Looking forward to Jeff Minter's Unity too.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:17 PM on January 31, 2003

I'm one of those listen to all music types (except country), and I too have quite a few video game soundtracks. Among these are pretty much every Final Fantasy CD and the Xenogears CD among others.

I'm sure a lot of people don't know that these games actually have soundtrack albums. Probably less still know that there are many versions of them - for example, the Xenogears Creid album which takes select songs from the soundtrack and makes acoustic/orchestral/vocal "real songs" out of them. Another example would be all the versions of the newer FF albums, such as Final Fantasy VIII the Original Soundtrack, the Piano Collections, and the Orchestral Version - each one a complete and separate album.

A pretty good site with game soundtrack reviews is Soundtrack Central, which I check out to get other opinions on game music. The thing about game music is that though I don't remember each individual song and probably mix them up a lot, I recognize pretty much EVERY song from all the games since I've played through them all. I can name some though, such as Laguna's battle theme that Veritron mentions ("The Man with the Machine Gun" on disc 1 of the FF8 OST - truly an awesome song). For an interesting twist, take a listen to the orchestral one.
posted by swank6 at 3:36 PM on January 31, 2003

What about Umjammer Lammy, folks? UMJAMMER LAMMY. sooooo good. Parappa = whatevah. Umjammer Lammy = good times, good tunes.
posted by evinrude at 3:54 PM on January 31, 2003

I absolutely love the soundtrack to GTA Vice City. I even love the talk radio stations. I agree with what yerfatma was saying. It always seems like the right song is playing at the right time.
posted by monique at 4:09 PM on January 31, 2003

Words cannot describe the love I have for videogame music. There's probably something wrong when I'm listening to "Banjo-Kazooie" at work, but hey.
posted by kevspace at 6:23 PM on January 31, 2003

Oh yeah, I can relate. I've had music from Shadowgate playing on repeat lately -- and I just feel, I don't know, weird for listening to it. I'd feel odd if anyone were to ask me what I'm listening. shrug.
posted by mkn at 7:56 PM on January 31, 2003

"Man with a Machine gun" ... I knew that.

Oh, and don't buy an FF5 soundtrack. If it comes with the game, throw it the hell out. That's arguably the worst CD I own - not a decent track to speak of.
posted by Veritron at 8:05 PM on January 31, 2003

I second a lot of the music already mentioned above--the Minibosses, MC Frontalot, the GTA series, Grim Fandango (and Michael Land's Monkey Island music! Yes!), and Rez. In fact, I second Rez twice, just for introducing me to Adam Freeland. I also love the music in SSX Tricky, Jet Grind Radio, and Jet Set Radio Future.

But I especially want to point out that for fans of classic John Williams scores, Michael Giacchino out-Williamsed Williams for years with his fantastic scores for the Medal of Honor series. "Taking Out the Railgun" from the first MoH sounds like a track from an unreleased Indiana Jones soundtrack. The CDs of the scores are hard to track down, but it's well worth the hunt. To whet your appetite, he provides sample MP3 on his website.

(Sadly, Giacchino won't be doing any more MoH music in the near future. Luckily, you can still hear his work (albeit in a slightly different style) every week on Alias.)
posted by Inkslinger at 11:28 PM on January 31, 2003

I am a big fan of the theme song from Kindom Hearts, sung by a japanese pop princess: apparently that was released for commercial release in Japan early last year.
posted by elphTeq at 11:48 PM on January 31, 2003

i meant released commercially but you already know that. :)
posted by elphTeq at 11:50 PM on January 31, 2003

I've got way too many video game/computer game MP3s. I blame Quest Studios for offering tunes from all those old Sierra games, and a handful of people on KaZaa for their extensive archives of Monkey Island and Sonic the Hedgehog stuff.

I remember listening to the 7th Guest CD soundtrack, too. A few years back the composer came out with a CD of music culled from both the 7th Guest and the 11th Hour. Creepy and nostalgic, all at the same time!
posted by brookedel at 12:43 AM on February 1, 2003

Here's a question for you - does anyone know where I can get my hands on the sound clips from the game Blasto? I'd love to have Phil Hartman's voice saying "Damn! I'm dead." for my shutdown sound on my machine.
posted by Irontom at 3:37 AM on February 1, 2003

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