Good or bad music can make or break a video game. Sound effects, voice work, and even periods of silence all have a part to play, but it is the various forms of music that will stick with you long after you put down the controller, or step away from the PC.
Whether it’s the background theme before you begin the game, a pulse-pounding battle anthem or a strategically placed original song, here are just a few of my favourites from my years of video gaming. Top 10 lists are too easy, and you know I like a challenge, so I figured for now at least I’d keep it to nine.
1. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag – Main Theme
Before I even began playing the fourth entry in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, I knew I was in for a treat when this played over the main menu. It’s clear that Brian Tyler’s score, and this song in particular takes a few cues from the soundtrack of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but the fiddles and percussion blend to make something memorable that immediately sets the tone for the game.
I wrote recently about my enduring love for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and considering how none of the games in the series since have had any impact on me in any meaningful way, I feel that love more than ever. It wouldn’t be difficult to rush out a half-baked sequel, reusing most of the assets from the game, but if it doesn’t feature songs like the main them of Black Flag, then it would falter at the first hurdle.
2. Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness – Miror B Battle
For anybody that plays this game, be honest: when Miror B offered you to join his funky crew of Pokémon thieves, you said yes in an instant. I sure did. And a very big part of that decision is the absolute banger of a theme that Miror B has in his battles, and the hope that maybe you’d get something even half as good for your own theme.
Of course, it wouldn’t fit the world of Pokémon to allow you to actually join him, so there was standard ‘I know you meant no’ thing video games do, but when it leads to another battle against this Disco Stu wannabe, who could complain? Seriously, imagine this dropping in the club on a Friday night. And yes, I realise there’s only one R in ‘Miror’. It bothered me in 2005, and I hate looking at it now as well.
3. Bastion – Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)
It was arguably not the music of Bastion that caught most people’s attention, as the narration seamless covered whatever actions you chose for your character to do. But a few songs do stand out, and if you’ve found yourself invested in the story, when Zia’s Theme kicks in you’ll probably choose to stop progressing just to her the song in full. It’s been a while since I played the game, but off the top of my head it doesn’t even really relate to the plot; it’s just a fantastic song.
And that’s when the kid hears something he’ll never forget. How did it go again? Ahh, that’s right…
4. Far Cry 5 – Oh John
When I first reviewed it, I gushed at length over the original soundtrack to Far Cry 5, and how I would have joined their cult in an instant if I was able, simply because of how good their songs are. It was hard to choose just one from Far Cry 5 to go on this list, but I settled on “Oh John”, because it’s the one I seem to catch myself singing the most.
The entire soundtrack to this game has ended up on my Spotify end-of-year charts for the past two years now, and you can rest well assured it will be there against come December 2021. And let’s be honest, who in life wouldn’t want such a catchy theme song all about themselves for their endless number of believers to sing?
5. Chrono Trigger – Gato’s Theme
Yes, Gato, that super easy robot you fight in the opening five minutes of the game. He tells you to beat him up, and you do it. But once you hear his banger of a theme, you’ll find yourself doing it over and over, until the points you’ve earned are just a side bonus to having this in your head for the rest of all time.
I almost went with “Frog’s Theme“, but I refer to my cat as ‘Gato’ in a hilarious multilingual pun, and I sing this to him all the time. Despite the ‘My Favourite Games’ column on this being the fifth I wrote, I stand firm in my belief that this is my single favourite video game of all time.
6. Age of Mythology: The Titans – N.D. Nile
Leaving aside the hilarious title of this piece, if it’s not the voice stings from selecting the units in Age of Mythology (“Prostagma?”) that stick with you, then it will definitely be this song. I was and am a Hades player by choice, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t handicap myself to play as the Egyptians just to hear this one blaring.
A small part of me wanted to choose the main theme to the game, because it always blare out before the menu had actually loaded on my older, crappy PC, but the vision of a Pharaoh empowering a building in time to this beat just sealed this track’s position on the list.
7. Red Dead Redemption – Deadman’s Gun
I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it doesn’t actually play during the main game, but instead over the final credits. And gosh, what an emotion release you get. After playing as John Marston for so long, living out his betrayal and death, and then getting the revenge so many years later as John’s son, Jack, hearing this play over the credits really makes you appreciate, or perhaps regret, everything that has happened to the Marston family.
Maybe I’ll get around to playing the sequel properly one day, and who knows; there might be a track in there somewhere that could be on a list itself one day. But for now, I’ll just be over here, thinking of John Marston. And sobbing. I should play the first game again.
8. MadWorld – Look Pimpin’
It’s not often I love a song so much to make it my phone ringtone, but hot damn how could I say no to this? The battle theme for the final boss of the supremely underappreciated MadWorld on the Wii, “Look Pimpin'” is the top track of a whole soundtrack full of great music. Somewhere between a hip-hop concert and a horrendously violent death match free for all, MadWorld has all sorts of wacky characters, each with their own motifs.
And the final boss is The Black Baron, who as a reminder is not a baron, nor is he even black. You can thank the in-game commentary team (who were voiced by Greg Proops from Whose Line is it Anyway? and John DiMaggio doing his full Bender voice) for that fun fact.
9. DOOM (2016) – Rip & Tear
Few would have expected 2016’s DOOM reboot/remake/sequel/whatever to be as good as it was, and a very large part of that is Mick Gordon’s original soundtrack. The dynamic playlist would ebb and flow in pace with your own combat, and getting into a murder groove was never as easy as when “Rip & Tear” started playing.
I mentioned that the Far Cry 5 soundtrack is one of the most played video game soundtracks on my Spotify; well guess what is the most played? It was a tough choice between this and “The Only Thing They Fear Is You” from the sequel, but this won out in the end, because “Rip and Tear” also nicely doubles as an instruction manual for how to play the game.