Nothing tickles a gamer’s nostalgic funny bone more than music. In an era of HD remasters and re-releases; even if the gameplay might not hold up we still look to the music and ask, “Did they get it right?”. From 8-bit MIDI to fully orchestrated scores, these are the ten tracks that make me look back fondly on the titles and do more to make me want to revisit those games than any gameplay video ever could.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night – Prayer
The SOTN soundtrack has waves upon waves of amazing music. The thunderously foreboding “Dracula’s Castle” sets the pace at the beginning of the game and “Marble Gallery” combines elements of dance and jazz rifts that oddly enough find it’s place well in the soundtrack. The one track that always gets me is “Prayer”. I’ve always felt strongly about it because it’s at the Load menu, so I would hear it all the time. It’s wonderfully angelic and oddly soothing. Quite possibly the best music for a Memory Card Loading screen ever. Check out “Prayer” in the link below (as well as all the other tracks).
The Symphony of the Night Soundtrack is essential listening to any gamer looking for good music. Composer Michiru Yamane went on to work on several other Castlevania games after Symphony of the Night.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Lost Woods
“Lost Woods” always stuck in my head after playing Ocarina. Probably because it’s the same 35 seconds recycled over and over again. But those 35 seconds are aggressively joyful and really push you along your journey. Have a listen, but don’t be surprised if it pops into your head later on in the day.
Mega Man 2 – Dr. Wily’s Castle
I’m confident that this track is on every Top 10 list on the internet. There are several frenetic melodies that happen simultaneously that are always building on top of each other. The best moments are when they work together in unison to rip through your ear. There’s a galaxy of fantastic 8-bit music out there, but composer Takashi Tateishi just owns it with “Dr. Wily’s Castle”. Have a listen below.
Ninja Gaiden Shadow – Stage 3
Not too many GameBoy games rocked it as hard as Ninja Gaiden Shadow. Although I tried looking, I couldn’t find a proper title for this track besides, “Stage 3”. Composer Hiroyuki Iwatsuki really pushed that lone GameBoy speaker. So much that it was the first GameBoy game I got stereo headphones for. Yes, stereo headphones for a mono speakered device. “Stage 3” is best described as a mythical rock track. You’re a ninja in a military base completely infested with cyborgs, spinning pinwheels of flames, and collapsing spiked ceilings. This is the kind of music that sells that level of peril.
Final Fantasy VI – Terra’s Theme
Nobuo Uematsu is best known for his work in Final Fantasy. He is gifted with the ability to tell stories through music alone. Terra’s Theme named after the character Terra (duh), illustrated in my mind, an unknown beckoning the character was experiencing. It leads to stakes much more grandiose than she could every imagine, even if she would never recall it. All of the events of FFVI are masterfully foreshadowed in the game’s first track.
Super Street Fighter II: Turbo – Guile’s Theme
People will argue about this track’s right to be in this spot. Is it true that Guile’s Theme goes with everything? Yes. Is there anything more American than Guile’s Theme? No. Does it change how people play Street Fighter? Absolutely. As someone that loves and plays Street Fighter with others that love and play Street Fighter, Guile’s Theme will be the theme/level that will make even the most storied opponents play differently. Guile’s Theme makes you feel invincible, unstoppable even if you are not. As it crescendos you just want to stomp through your opponent. Soon, you’ll missing blocks and dropping combos because the music drives you to play foolishly. THAT’S how badass the track is. It just changes your game. Or maybe I just suck when it comes on? Regardless, Guile’s Theme is here to stay at #5.
Silent Hill 2 – Theme of Laura
Akira Yamaoka has a ridiculously large musical palette. He brings a studio-style mindset to game music creation. Dabbing into rock, alternative, industrial and trip-hop, he melds multiple genres together for it to fit into the Silent Hill series. It’s not the mess one would expect and comes together nicely in the iconic Theme of Laura. Akira has gained so much attention that Konami included the full soundtrack of Silent Hill 3 with each copy of the game itself. Theme of Laura is a marriage of hard rock acoustics and R&B. Even as a violin makes it’s presence known towards the end, the blend always sounds appropriate; truly selling the melancholy themes of Silent Hill.
Metal Gear Solid – Encounter
Encounter is the track that defined Metal Gear for me. It slowly ratchets up the tension to the breaking point and lets it sit there. Encounter kicks in when you get discovered and grabs you by the throat. The enemy radio chatter is usually heard over this track as they try to zero in on you. It keeps your palms sweaty and heart beating. Not too many tracks convey the sort of palpable urgency Encounter does.
Final Fantasy VII – Mako Reactor
Lets get this out of the way now, I refuse to put One-Winged Angel on this list. Yes, it’s a very epic track, but it has seen it’s way onto too many Top 10 lists. It’s like the “Free Bird” or “Sandman” of the Final Fantasy series. Mako Reactor is an excellent track that thrusts players into the world of FFVII. It a very industrious track that sounds [well] put together and manufactured. Every time I hear this, I can just imagine Barret laying some heavy shit on me. Mako Reactor later on makes a return as the evil Shinra’s theme, almost solidifying the track as a character itself.
Super Mario Bros. – Underground Theme
Everybody knows this theme. Even if you don’t play games, you’ve heard it and know it. The main theme is way too easy of a pick and just as tiresome (timeless nonetheless). However, the Underground theme is just as recognizable. It is the quintessential 8-bit bass line. I love it because it makes me feel like a kid, no matter what age I hear it at. That is something no other piece of music can do for me.