Video games hold a special place in the hearts of millennials and Gen–Z, and for good reason. We’ve grown up in a time when they underwent revolutionary development in graphics, storytelling, and gameplay, turning a small fun pastime into a billion–dollar industry where we can escape into a world of enjoyment. However, there’s more than just the plots and the action that holds a place in our hearts; there are also fantastic soundtracks that have enhanced the quality of games to new heights. As you finally defeated General Shepherd in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the concluding piece of the end credits filled you with endless satisfaction and high anticipation for the concluding installment of the trilogy. What makes these scores even better is that you can enjoy them outside your gaming den, whether it be while working in Huntsman or frolicking outside in your free time on College Green. It’s part of what sets the best ones apart—so without further ado, here are five video game soundtracks to listen to.
Starting off the list is Halo 3, the pinnacle of the titular franchise. If a soundtrack were to ever epitomize the grandiose, inspirational nature of the franchise and its protagonist the Master Chief, this is it. After the soothing opening prologue of “Luck,” composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori (who had worked on a number of games for developer Bungie before the Halo series) build up the stakes of humanity’s survival with gripping orchestral pieces such as “Last of the Brave” and “This is Our Land.” As “Behold a Pale Horse” begins playing, you’re fully invested in the fight against the Covenant as the choir hums with suspense. The iconic “One Final Effort” provides a fitting sense of finality to humanity’s decades–long war with an organ–piano medley, while “Finish the Fight” utilizes the nostalgic chords synonymous with the franchise to convey the desperation to escape an exploding stage.
Listen to if: there’s an Eagles playoff game and you and the gang needs to get hyped for the NFC Championship against the Rams.
Final Fantasy VII
The comforting “Prelude” from Final Fantasy VII is a fitting start to the adventure of one of the greatest games ever made, as the electronic arpeggios deliver a sense of sweet wonder. For a score composed in 1997, composer Nobuo Uematsu (occasionally called the Beethoven of video games) was ahead of his time with the drama of pieces such as “Shinra Company,” which effectively communicates the gravitas of the situation by mixing in dark choirs, bass–claps, and synthesized scales. There’s a beauty in the idyllic melancholy of the “Main Theme,” which mixes high–keyed woodwinds and keyboards to reflect the bittersweet nature of the game’s story. In the final fight against super–powered villain Sephiroth during songs such as “Birth of a God” and “One–Winged Angel,” the chorus speaks to the futility of the protagonists’ situation as it chants the antagonist’s name over a hyperactive string arrangement. Final Fantasy VII was an influence for years to come with its soundtrack.
Listen to if: you’re going on an adventure in Center City to appreciate the majesty of Philadelphia.
God of War (2018)
The brilliance of composer Bear McReary’s God of War score strikes the ideal balance between its choirs, solos, and accompanying band. McReary’s previous work in television, with shows such as Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead, shines through in the emotional depth of this soundtrack. The terrifying tenors of the title theme are matched by the sweet vocals of artist Eivør on pieces such as “Memories of Mother” and “Ashes.” You feel like you’re personally facing the mythical beast as the trumpets and violins of “Dragon” express the danger of the player’s situation. The significance of boss battles is hardly understated in “Magni and Modi,” as the fast drums and violins speed up your blood pressure. After a game full of bloodshed and pain, the tranquility of “The Summit” delivers the peace of victory to your ears.
Listen to if: you need a good balance of study music—a good equilibrium between subdued content and amped–up adrenaline fuel.
The psychedelic Metroid sound is unmistakable—you know you’re going to be alone on an alien planet, fighting against hordes of monsters, as the entrancing pitched–up whistles of the “Title Theme” seep into your eardrums. Kenji Yamamoto, who had previously worked on Super Metroid and Mario Kart and has subsequently been involved in other Nintendo releases such as Donkey Kong Country, nails “Tallon Overworld Main Theme.” It generates explorative intrigue by being minimalist, combining slow alternating vocals and hair–raising synthetic vibrations. Similarly, the piano chords and electronic distortions of the “Phendrana Drifts Main Theme” feel like an emotional tribute to the solo battle waged by Samus Aran against her alien enemies amongst a snowy landscape. Songs such as “Metroid Prime Final Boss Theme” and “Meta Ridley Boss Theme” are head–thumping dubstep–like works that capture the heroine’s peril as the player focuses intently on conquering the last enemies in the game.
Listen to if: you’re engaged in a gloomy, thought–provoking soliloquy on the meaning of life as you apply to your 600th junior internship, or if you’re hallucinating for some reason.
Super Mario Galaxy
The Mario games are the standard of the video game industry for countless reasons, from the famous titular character, to the wide scope of critically acclaimed games, to an incredible assortment of soundtracks recognizable anywhere. Super Mario Galaxy succeeded in solidifying this reputation upon its 2007 release, particularly in the music department. Mahito Yokota and Koji Kondo (of Mario franchise fame, with the latter creating the original NES theme) create a perfect orchestra—from the festivity of “Star Festival,” to the enthusiasm of “Into the Galaxy,” to the adventurous nature of “Good Egg Galaxy,” there’s a special joy in the game from the start. Highlights such as “Gusty Garden Galaxy” are timeless masterpieces that meld a mesmerizing selection of trumpets and strings into a buoyant atmosphere. Few games better portray the feeling of a journey nearing its end than “Bowser’s Galaxy Reactor,” as Mario’s run to the final boss is accompanied by a growing salvo of instruments and choirs. You want to go back and start it all over again after listening to this work of art.
Listen to if: you’re playing video games instead of doing homework. We all need to let our minds relax sometimes.