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Pixel Sounds: 11 Essential Video Game Soundtracks

by John Rogers, Jeremy Miller & Ruth Coppens

Still: Kentucky Route Zero (2017: Annapurna Interactive)

Video games are perhaps the most intrinsically multidisciplinary of the artistic media. When immersed in playing, it’s easy to forget the amount of work and talent that goes into crafting each game’s interactivity, visual design, foley art, motion-captured physical performance, voice acting, and – of course – music.

Much like video game development itself, the production of soundtracks can vary in scope from home-recorded solo projects, right through to grand productions played by world-renowned orchestras. As you’ll see in the list below, much of the more experimental work is to be found on the independently produced side of things, but there are also some AAA productions included in our list. One thing is certain – video game composition is a thriving biome of music that shouldn’t be overlooked.


Hyper Light Drifter | Bandcamp | Spotify

This pixel art action-adventure is lovingly crafted in all respects, from the expressive sprites to the crackling campfires, colourful wastelands, and mesmerising mountaintops. Award-winning composer Disasterpeace’s soundtrack is absolutely key in creating the emotional core of the game.

Fans of Fez will recognise his signature sound, in which distinctive synths are bitcrushed like they’ve journeyed through a dial-up modem before arriving in the game. These pieces are interspersed with quietly mournful piano and guitar melodies, with brighter moments arriving like pixelated sunlight through a forest canopy. One to remember. JR


Related: Hidden gems: seven great games you might have missed


Final Fantasy | Apple Music

Music from several Final Fantasy games – more specifically those composed by Nobuo Uematsu – are songs that deserve a frequent relisten. Over the years, these soundtracks have presented a wide array of emotion and intensity in a variety of musical genres. There have even been touring shows of orchestral performances of these soundtracks, such as “Distant Worlds: The Music of Final Fantasy”. At these events, local orchestras perform the music during multimedia presentations, sometimes accompanied by Nobuo-san himself. The orchestral renditions are a mainstay of the series, but the MIDI and chiptune originals are very much worth a listen. JM


Sayonara Wild Hearts | Spotify

This neon dream of Nordic design describes itself as an interactive pop album, and justifiably so. Composed by Jonathan Olsén, Daniel Eng and vocalist Linnea Olsson, it’s a sugar-rush of dreamy dance-pop that’ll summon the endorphins as you navigate the barrage of high-speed on-screen action. From the magical reworking of ‘Claire De Lune’ that welcomes you into the game to the anthemic, emotional finale of ‘Wild Hearts Never Die’, this is an unprecedented pairing of contemporary Scandi-pop and thrilling gameplay. JR


The Unfinished Swan | YouTube

Somewhere between electronic composition and symphonic scope lies Joel Corelitz’s wondrous and surprising soundtrack for The Unfinished Swan. There are grand, chiming melodies, like the lutes and lyres of a fairytale monarch’s court, with eddies of strings swirling around them; washes of electronic sound add softness and ambience. The eponymous opener is intriguing, and it’s built upon throughout the game, as fresh environments and new mechanics are each welcomed with surprising new sounds. JR


Hollow Knight | Bandcamp | Spotify

This fascinating Metroidvania was an indie smash-hit. It’s an engrossing journey into