Video games are massive projects, with hundreds of people working together to create an incredible final product. All elements are important — graphics, gameplay, writing — but the soundtracks are often overlooked.
A good soundtrack enhances a game, creating tension where otherwise you would be bored, hyping you for a coming battle. A bad soundtrack can ruin the experience as the annoying or dull score repeats again and again. That is why today I am going to recognize the 10 greatest video game soundtracks of this generation. This can include any game released on PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo Switch, or PC; basically, any game released 2013 or later is up for a spot on the list.
Without further ado, here are the soundtracks that made you excited, made you cry, and made you feel.
10. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
For the most part, I tried to avoid picking games from long-running franchises known for their incredible music. The Legend of Zelda has one of the greatest themes in the history of video games, and each individual title has its own standout tracks.
The thing about Breath of the Wild is that it is completely unique in its sound. Only in tracks like “A King’s Request” can you hear homages to signature Zelda themes. However, even that track is wonderfully changed, with new elements that surprise while perfectly maintaining Breath of the Wild‘s tone and atmosphere. Other tracks, like “Dragon”, sound like they’ve been inspired by traditional Japanese melodies. There isn’t a hint of fantasy on the track. Much of the soundtrack is, otherwise, composed of relaxing piano music, the perfect accompaniment for exploring the game’s painted world.
This is one of those video game soundtracks that took you by surprise, enhancing this revolutionary entry in the legendary series.
9. Infamous: Second Son
Infamous: Second Son was one of the first games to ever be released on the PS4, and because of that, I think people have forgotten all about it far too quickly. The game was stellar. Its action was incredible, its world beautiful, and its story was surprisingly engaging.
And the soundtrack is absolutely instrumental in all of this.
First off, the soundtrack is a right banger. Much of it is some version of rock or hard rock with many electronic influences (“Conflict Resolution” is a perfect example). This perfectly matches Delsin’s punk style and attitude, but it also feels great to wipe out your enemies with your incredible powers while guitars and synthesizers dominate all sound.
However, some of the pieces on the soundtrack are beautiful and emotional, such as “The Call”. There are many powerful moments in the game, and these instances are definitely helped by the powerful soundtrack. You can hear the themes of brotherhood, regret, and power in this fantastic, if unorthodox, soundtrack.
8. God of War (2018)
The God of War series has always had great music, but Santa Monica Studio really outdid themselves this time around. The soundtrack takes strong Nordic influences, relying heavily on powerful choirs and deep brass. The title track, “God of War,” demonstrates the power associated with the ancient style of music.
The score is fantastical when it needs to be, like when “Witch of the Woods” creates a sense of wonder as we wander through a world full of dwarves and dragons. It can also be quite grave, however, when the narrative calls for it. The power of the soundtrack comes in at key moments in the plot, accentuating the emotions present in a scene.
It is really quite incredible how a soundtrack can sound so godlike yet so human at the same time. The music is grand in scale, but the emotions it imparts are personal.
7. Dark Souls 3
The final entry in the infamous Dark Souls series has the strongest soundtrack out of the trilogy. It is grand in scale, contributing to the feeling of awe you experience when you see the massive and horrifying enemies you must conquer. At the same time, some tracks are quite somber, such as “Dancer of the Boreal Valley” reflecting the tone set by the dying, decaying world around you. Tracks like “Soul of Cinder” combine these two elements to make a final boss theme that is both monumental and emotional.
Additionally, where Dark Souls shines where others don’t is knowing when to utilize music. See, a soundtrack is just as much about when to utilize silence as it is when to play a track. The soundtrack is reserved for bosses, for the most part, meaning that there is just silence as you wander the lonely, withering Lordran.
This way, when the violins, choir, and brass do kick in, there is more weight to the music and adding emotional weight to every boss encounter.
Undertale has a soundtrack unlike any title on this list. Composed by Toby Fox, who also developed the game himself, this soundtrack is long and eclectic. Some tracks are like classic 8-bit songs, some are orchestral affairs, and others combine jazz, rock, and pop elements. For such a long soundtrack, it can be difficult to find two pieces that sound alike.
It all works together, however, which is the incredible part. This soundtrack works hard to ensure that you laugh and cry when the story calls for it, and that you get hyped when starting an epic battle. The title track “Undertale” acts, as you might imagine, as a kind of summary for the soundtrack, and it is just a masterpiece.
The music gets more cheerful or menacing based on your choices throughout the game. Whatever path you choose to take, Toby Fox has ensured that this soundtrack will not only surprise you but affect you.
5. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
An RPG of such a high quality, and of such grand scale, had to have a soundtrack that enthralled its player through its 100 hours or so runtime. With almost no tech elements or modern instruments, this soundtrack sounds like it came straight from the Continent.
Lutes, strings, and choirs combine to create a score that fits every need of this game. It is tragic when it needs to be, upbeat and exciting when it’s time to fight, and catchy and fun when you need encouragement to keep exploring.
There is no feeling like exploring Skellige as a beautiful soprano serenades you to fantastical strings in “The Fields of Ard Skellig”. And don’t get me started on the Gwent tracks — at times, I would play Gwent just to hear the music. This is one soundtrack that will stick in your head for a long time, whether because of its impact or simply because of how catchy it is.
Cuphead is one of the hardest games of all time, and I’m almost grateful it is. Every time I died, I got to hear the soundtrack again and again and again; I never got sick of it.
Cuphead is animated as if it was an old cartoon, and the music is composed to fit that theme. They all sound old due to incredible production, and the songs include elements of jazz, blues, and much more. I mean, you know you’re in for a treat when a barbershop quartet opens the game up with “Don’t Deal with the Devil.”
What’s even better about this soundtrack is that it changes as the boss fights change. If you get to the next phase of a boss fight, the songs get more chaotic, a faster tempo, and, frankly, even more fun! “The Airship” is an excellent example of the music keeping up with hectic nature of every boss fight in this game.
Cuphead is a gem, and it is no small part to its incredible soundtrack.
3. Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania title that, due to a few small similarities and punishing difficulty, is unfairly labeled as a Dark Souls clone. It is very much its own game, crafting a distinct identity with a beautiful world full of insect warriors, deep lore, and an absolutely amazing soundtrack.
In a Metroidvania, a soundtrack is incredibly important. Backtracking to areas multiple times means you will be hearing the same songs over and over again. You know that composer Christopher Larkin nailed it when you want to return to areas just to hear their themes!
Consisting of mostly strings, brass, and piano, with a few notable exceptions, this soundtrack is simultaneously beautiful, exciting, and fantastical. “Greenpath” is a good example of the wondrous tone of the score, encouraging exploration and discovery. “Sealed Vessel” demonstrates the hype a song can create, but it quickly turns tragic, yet still grand in scale. This devolution from excitement to tragedy perfectly encapsulates the incredible final boss fight.
What is especially impressive about Hollow Knight‘s soundtrack is how seamlessly it transitions from the environmental music to battle music. It doesn’t skip a beat, simply adding more details and instruments to build hype, only to take them away subtly once a fight is finished. Hollow Knight is an incredible game, and its music plays a key part in giving the game that status.
2. Doom (2016)
Doom’s music has always been great, but Mick Gordan took the musical foundation of the series and ascended it far beyond what anyone would’ve imagined possible. Like Breath of the Wild, there are songs that pay homage to the original’s music, but the vast majority of this soundtrack is original.
The game’s soundtrack is an absolute banger. Rich, full, heavy guitars and bass tear their way through the entire soundtrack, building hype with every strum. “Rip and Tear” is the type of song that gets you ready — no — excited to slaughter your way through the hordes of Hell.
However, this isn’t just a metal video game soundtrack. Mick Gordon ingeniously incorporates electronic music into the mix, utilizing dissonant synths and rhythmic sequencers to make the game’s songs ever more intense. Heavy compressed drums, metal guitars, and electronic music can combine in tracks such as “Skullhacker” to create the ultimate battle music.
Regardless of its loud and seemingly simplistic nature, the music is quite complex. The attention to detail is incredible, the skill is commendable, and its violence is captivating.
1. The Last of Us Remastered
The Last of Us Remastered brought this near-perfect title into the current-gen where it belongs, especially considering it released only months before the PS4’s launch. The game features intense combat, a heartbreaking story, and a beautiful world, and the game’s soundtrack encapsulates all of that.
Guitars, both acoustic and distorted, emphasize the lonely, somber state of the world in tracks such as “The Last of Us”. Otherwise, pianos and violins make up the game’s score, simultaneously creating hope while also highlighting the tragic plot.
Battles are often accentuated with pounding drums, with every slam of the drum building tension in “The Hunters”. In some ways, the soundtrack can be simplistic, not filled to the brim with detail like Doom’s soundtrack is, but it is the stellar production, the power of a few notes, that makes The Last of Us stands above all the rest as the greatest video game soundtrack of this generation. The game just wouldn’t be the same without it.
What do you guys think? Do you agree with the list? If not, what are your favorite soundtracks? It was hard to narrow so many great scores down to a list of 10, so let us know in the comments what you think should have been included!