Tuesday Top Ten: Video Game Soundtracks of the 90s


It’s that time again, friends—time for another Tuesday Top Ten!  Every week, we go through the top ten something-or-anothers related to our hobby, and this week is no different.  This week, we’re counting down the top ten video game soundtracks from the ‘Nineties!

Even narrowing it down to a specific decade, it wasn’t easy to pick just ten; as I’ve said numerous times, the ‘Nineties were the best decade for gamers, and that includes for soundtracks.  There were a lot of games of the era with wonderful soundtracks, music that helped make the games even more enjoyable.  Thanks to the invaluable help of the ever-lovely Dzeintra, we have this list.

Without further ado, let’s get it on!

10. StarCraft
Real-time strategy games were around for a while before StarCraft, but that game made the genre truly popular.  It’s not hard to see why—an interesting story told with tongue firmly planted in cheek, that expected Blizzard humor showing up here and there.  Three different races, each with their own unique “feel”, rounded out the game and made it fun enough to be still be played even now.

The soundtrack was a collection of interesting tunes, each crafted to be as unique as the races most of the tracks represented.  They helped make each race feel different, and were just nice to listen to, to boot.

09. Earthworm Jim
As I’ve said before, this game is one of the sillier games in an era of gaming known for making games seeming like they were inspired by a certain stereotype of the ‘Sixties that we shan’t talk about here, heh.

When you played this game, you had fun.  You enjoyed every minute of it, and the soundtrack helped with that immensely.  It was never really intrusive—it never pulled you out of the game.  It helped cement the odd-ball yet fun world you ran around in.

08. Baldur’s Gate
Ah, Baldur’s Gate.  It spawned a horde of sequels and expansions, and drew in a lot of gamers who weren’t familiar with traditional R.P.G. video games or their table-top inspirations.  It was a great game—blending the Dungeons & Dragons franchise that table-top role-players had loved for decades with the proprietary real-time video game engine with the end result being complex, interesting, and fun.

The soundtrack helped every single step of the way.  Whether subtle, mimicking woodwind instruments for more somber or quiet moments, or louder, using drums and horns to aurally sweep through, the emotions of the scene were enhanced.  The player was truly pulled into the world, making them enjoy it all the more.

07. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Another very important series, and a very important game in that series.  The first game of the series to be set in three dimensions, it proved that the franchise could adapt.  At the time, three-dimensional video games were still on somewhat shaky ground—some gamers were still wondering if this new move in the hobby would actually go anywhere.  The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time helped to prove that the new move deserved to stay around as long as possible.

Like the game itself, the soundtrack was somewhat deceptive—given only a passing aural glance, it could have seemed a collection of tunes more fit for a child’s game than a tale of epic heroism and bravery against an impossibly powerful enemy.  Yet—the soundtrack perfectly fit the theme of the game.  Even the Game Over music had a somber tone to it that somehow encouraged the player to try again, to not give up.

06. Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog game was the first for a couple of things—the first to feature Sonic, who would go on to star in many games of his own and appear in others here and there, and the first game to really give SEGA a mascot.  The game seemed your basic, side-scrolling platformer—but it really took the idea in an interesting direction, just with the introduction of speed.  Add interesting level design to the mix, and you have a great game.

The soundtrack was no less interesting and different than the game itself.  Each tune was unique, yet fanciful—which could be said for the game’s levels, really.  Some gamers found themselves tapping out some of the tunes when they weren’t playing the game, which is about as high of praise for a work as you could really ask.

05. Star Fox
Even now, Star Fox holds up as an exciting game.  You piloted Fox McCloud in a space-simulation, in a classic “face impossible odds and scores of enemies” set-up.  The game rarely lets up; you’re usually in fast-paced dog-fights while blasting enemies, to take down the enemy fleet.

What made this feel all the “bigger” was the soundtrack.  Full of sweeping scores that underscored the action quite wonderfully.  It really made the player feel like they were in the middle of an epic movie, facing off against overwhelming evil.

04. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider was a very important game, though for different reasons than other titles on this list.  One of the most important aspects of this game was Lara Croft herself.  A no-nonsense, take-no-guff woman as the protagonist.  Strong, confident, yet still undeniably feminine—female protagonists still don’t come much better than Miss Croft.  Another important aspect of the game was the exploration—at every turn, you might be attacked by a bear, you might confront a deadly puzzle, or you might find a secret.  You never knew, and that suspense was important—but difficult to maintain.

Helping that suspense was the soundtrack.  It was haunting, even a bit spooky—it made the game, already tense by virtue of dark corridors and low lighting—all the more high-strung.  I will admit that this game has actually made me sit closer to the edge of my seat than any other game I’ve played—and the soundtrack played a large part in that.

03. Super Mario 64
What an important video game.  Super Mario 64 was one of the launch titles for the Nintendo 64, and it packed a real punch.  It proved that the N64 was a solid platform, and it proved that Mario could move into the third dimension and still be just as fun as the two-dimensional games.  Those are very important bits of information; this was the very early days of three-dimensional gaming, so everyone was looking to those early titles, to see how they’d be received.  And, well—we know that it’s still an incredibly popular game.

Helping that popularity, of course, was the soundtrack.  It needed to have no less of an impact than the game play itself, and by cracky it achieved that goal.  It was light, fun, fanciful—fitting the game and series quite perfectly.

02. Final Fantasy VII
What can you say about Final Fantasy VII that hasn’t already been said by nearly everyone?  Whether you liked the game or hated it, there’s no denying the impact it had on nearly every aspect of the hobby.  As we discussed in our look at the Final Fantasy franchise, Final Fantasy VII touched every aspect of gaming, from game development to marketing, and hopefully made the hobby better for it.

Most of the imagery is iconic, and even there the soundtrack steps up.  Even a gamer’s even played the game once, how could they forget the music that accompanied the appearances of the Turks, or the tune everyone thinks of when they think of chocobos—and, of course, One-Winged Angel?  The music was masterfully created, so as to grab the player’s attention yet never detract from the game.

01. Ecco the Dolphin
Other games on this list are firsts, which were followed up by other titles in whatever the original was “first” at.  Ecco the Dolphin was the first to use a dolphin as the protagonist—and no game outside the franchise had done that since.  It’s almost lamentable, but any attempt would have a tall hurdle to overcome.  The most recent title a possible exception, Ecco’s games were always interesting, filled with exploration of the see to face off against a threat against dolphin-kind—if not reality itself.

The soundtrack really couldn’t have fit the game better.  It was haunting, moody, invoking emotions of loss and hope alike—perfect themes for the game.  The tracks helped take an already emotional game and made it all the more so.

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2 Responses to “Tuesday Top Ten: Video Game Soundtracks of the 90s”

  1. WhiteWolf Says:

    I still love the soundtrack to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time. Tomb Raiders soundtrack was nice and always made me feel like I was in a haunted hotel. Though I like FF8 soundtrack better then FF7. 🙂

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