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Soundtracks do a huge amount of heavy lifting when it comes to conveying atmosphere, emotion and story in a gaming context.
With so many iconic and boundary-pushing game soundtracks to choose from, narrowing the field down to a handful of top tier candidates is tricky, and subjectivity has a big part to play as well. With that said, here are just a few contenders worthy of giving gamers aural bliss.
A darling of the indie gaming scene, Fez made waves when it released in 2012 thanks not only to its unique interactive mechanics, but also its immensely nostalgic yet thoroughly innovative soundtrack.
Composed by Rich Vreeland, otherwise known as Disasterpiece, the audio experience offered by Fez is undeniably routed in the earlier 8 and 16 bit eras of the gaming industry. But while the reference points may be retro, the execution is undeniably modern, with carefully crafted tracks that can evoke everything from wonder and excitement to discomfort and even fear.
Pokémon Red and Blue
The earliest iteration of this world-beating franchise emerged on the Game Boy handheld back in 1996 and, in spite of the limitations of this now ancient console, the soundtrack manages to stand out as especially memorable.
Nearly every tune will be etched in the memory of players, from the intense music that plays with every battle to the jingly-jangly joy that accompanies bike rides and water traversal.
The influence of this soundtrack can still be felt far and wide, in everything from triple-A first party Nintendo titles on the Switch to jaunty numbers often used when playing slot games at a casino online. Composer Junichi Masuda, who also helped to code the game, is to be praised for his enduring work.
Jet Set Radio
With a spiritual successor to this Dreamcast classic in the works, now is the perfect time to revisit this skating and graffiti-based, cel-shaded masterpiece from the turn of the millennium.
Today the world is familiar with Asian-inspired pop tunes, but back when Jet Set Radio was released on Sega’s ill-fated console, there was still a lot of exoticism and unusualness to Western ears that were exposed to its soundscape.
Made by a skeleton crew and released two years after the James Bond movie that it is based upon, on paper there was little reason to expect that Goldeneye would be a critical and commercial success when it landed on the N64 in 1997. However, it managed to become the first iconic console-based FPS and owes a lot to the soundtrack provided by industry stalwart Grant Kirkhope and his team.
Even the menu screens come with compelling, adrenaline-pumping tunes that encourage players to get into the action as soon as possible, and every level of the game is loaded with tracks that reflect the mood of the mission.
The fact that the N64 was arguably inferior to the PlayStation in the audio department, since it used cartridges rather than CDs, did not rub off on this or any of the other games that Kirkhope worked on during this era, including Banjo-Kazooie.
Best remembered for the hilarious and poignant end-credits song sequence, Portal should also be recognised as a trail-blazer thanks to the other choices made in the sound department over the course of its relatively compact runtime.
This is not a game that clobbers you over the head with its soundtrack, but rather uses it effectively to amplify the rest of the gameplay, increasing the tension when needed and focusing the player on what really matters. It continues to demonstrate why Valve is one of the best in the business.
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