Kick off E3 with 10 great video game soundtracks

Arcades are where the video game industry was born.Kyle Nieber

June 10, 2021

E3 is for video games what the BBC Proms are for classical music. The Electronic Entertainment Expo, which runs virtually Saturday through Tuesday, is the biggest video game event during the year, and it’s a chance for developers to show off the latest and greatest creations in their field. But as video games have advanced, so has the music that immerses you in the action. From old 8-bit computer sounds to fully orchestrated and original scores, video game music has elevated itself to a place where the classical music and video game communities can come together. In the spirit of E3, here are 10 great video-game soundtracks with great music that nongamers are sure to enjoy, too.

‘Super Mario Bros.’

Koji Kondo was the first person hired by Nintendo in 1984 specifically trained in music composition. After he scored the 1985 game Super Mario Bros., and with it the theme music that has become one of the most recognizable melodies in video games, Kondo has contributed in one way or another to most of Nintendo’s games, including Star Fox and The Legend of Zelda

‘Tetris’ 

Video game folklore says that Tetris is the only game to make it past the Iron Curtain, and the truth isn’t far off. The creator, Alexey Pajiynov, worked for the Soviet Academy of Sciences with the goal of using computers to make people happy. Little did he know that he would achieve his goal when his game went on to become one of the most popular and iconic puzzle games ever. The Russian folk song “Korobeiniki” became the theme song to Tetris after it was arranged by Hirokazu Tanaka for the 1989 Nintendo Game Boy version. 

‘Final Fantasy X’



Final Fantasy is one of the longest-running and most well-known science fantasy RPG franchises in video games. It was scored by Nobun Uematsu, with Masashi Hamauzu and Junya Nakano. The music featured on Final Fantasy X is among the most popular in the 15-game series, beaten out only by Final Fantasy VII, VIII and it’s sequel, X-2.

‘Chrono Trigger’ 



Chrono Trigger was released in 1995, and for video game lovers this was the combination of three legendary designers: Akira Toriyama (Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball Z) Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy) and Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest). The high-octane music often combines thrilling guitar riffs with passionate orchestral harmonies that are scored by Yasunori Mitsuda.


‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’



Skyrim’s soundtrack has become legendary since its 2011 release. Series veteran Jeremy Soule was no stranger to scoring for the large, open-world settings in the fictional land of Tamriel, where the series takes place. Some music critics have called Soule "the John Williams of video game music" because his compositions are heavily influenced by film music. 


‘Halo’



Halo: Combat Evolved swept the gaming world by storm when it was released in summer 2002. While first-person shooters were always popular, Halo brought the genre to a new level. The game also was praised for its soundtrack, which before its release was something that was talked about only in role-playing or adventure games. The title track is one of the most recognizable vocal melodies, which composer Martin O’Donnell describes as "Gregorian chant, string orchestra, percussion and just a bit of a 'Qawwali voice.'"


‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’



The Metal Gear franchise is a brilliantly bizarre tactical espionage game that takes us deep inside the fictional conspiracy theory world of Hideo Kojima.  The theme of the third game’s title track is reminiscent of the opening to a James Bond movie. The track plays in the opening credits just like in the 007 movies. Norihiko Hibino wrote the music and the words, with a huge influence from ‘70s spy dramas. The original vocalist, Cynthia Harrell, won the award for best original pop-vocal song from the Game Audio Network Guild for this recording, and she also voiced “I Am the Wind” from the 1997 game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night


‘The Legend of Zelda’



The Legend of Zelda is one of the few mainstream game franchises that has used musical instruments to create fun and entertaining musical puzzles nestled within the game. The ocarina in Ocarina of Time and the three different musical instruments associated with masks in Majora’s Mask created a break from smashing all the clay pots. Music has been a tremendous part of the franchise, and it is all thanks, again, to series composer Koji Kondo. His music for the games sparked an international orchestra tour called The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses


‘Sid Meier’s Civilization IV’

‘Baba Yetu’


Sogno di Volare’


Sid Meier’s is a powerhouse when it comes to 4X games. The ‘4X’ meaning eXplore ,eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. His Civilization series is among the best and the music, historically, has always been amazing. Composer Christopher Tin won a Grammy for the theme song for Civilization IV, “Baba Yetu.” He displayed his amazing talent again when he was asked to compose the opening theme for Civilization VI, “Sogno di Volare.”