What Is Your Single Favourite Piece Of Video Game Music?

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It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku’s rank and file weigh in on the burning questions of our times. Sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re less so, but mostly it’s just another excuse for us to talk vidya games. You down?

This week on Ask Kotaku, to celebrate the launch of our new Morning Music feature: What is your single favourite piece of video game music?

Zack

There are many songs in video games that I love and can hum along to. There are very few that elicit actual, deep, feelings and memories. The first song you hear when you boot the opening mission of Doom is one of those rare tracks. To this day the moment I hear it I’m flooded with memories of killing demons as a kid on my old Compaq PC. Any time a modern Doom game includes part of this song I feel like pumping the air with my fist, grabbing a shotgun, and killing some zombies.

Doom is one of my favourite video games of all time and the soundtrack is a big part of why I can still go back and enjoy the original Doom in 2020. And I’ll probably go back and play it in 2030. And in 2040 too. Well, assuming I’m still alive and the world is still around.

Fahey

Grandia III is not my favourite Grandia game. It’s far from my favourite Japanese role-playing game. Hell, it probably wouldn’t even crack my top 20. But sometimes I drop the disc into my PlayStation 2 just to let the edited English version of Miz’s “In The Sky” play over and over again. It’s an airy pop song that perfectly captures the wonder and excitement of setting off on a grand adventure.

Here’s the version from the game.

I know the song backwards and forwards, in English and Japanese, and it’ll be with me forever.

Alexandra

My top pick always teeters on a whim. What I can do is choose something nicely representative of my enduring passions and interests, a test easily passed by the soundtrack to Sega’s 1988 “super-scaler” arcade game Galaxy Force II, “Beyond the Galaxy” in particular. Casiopea-style jazz fusion in my 32-year-old arcade game? It’s more likely than you think when Sega’s S.S.T.Band is at the helm.

“Beyond the Galaxy” is a far cry from the energetic, heroic themes you might expect from the first stage of an outer-space shoot ‘em up. Instead it’s downbeat and mysterious (like me!), with a remarkably prominent bassline that carries us through several distinct passages, the first of which is downright plaintive… mournful! What is this, S.S.T.? Y’all are great, and I love this track.

Throughout, the instrument samples sound shockingly good for the era. How absolutely incredible that video games went from public-domain covers composed of beeps to competently sampled, original jazz fusion in the space of five years. What was it like for the artists fuelling this rapid innovation, constantly one-upping both the competition and themselves? Hopefully someday this story will get the in-depth exploration it deserves. In the meantime, “Beyond the Galaxy” remains both a great jam and a small milestone for an emerging artform.

Ash

I was 16 when I first played FFX, and it was the same year I wrote my first fic. The Ashley that was around when Final Fantasy X came out was the kind of Ashley who was obsessed with romance, shipping, fanfiction, and everything that had to do with scarred-up and ruggedly handsome protagonists protecting their softer, feminine (not to be confused with helpless) girlfriends.

I’ll never forget how I felt when I first saw that scene in the Macalania Woods, when Tidus and Yuna do it. They totally had sex in that river, you can’t convince me otherwise, and it was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen in a video game. I think it was the first time I’d seen anybody kiss in a game, let alone have heavily implied sex. “Suteki da ne” was the song playing over that scene, and I’ll never forget it for that. If I ever get married… again… and have a real wedding this time, this is what I want to play for my first dance. 16-year-old Ashley would be thrilled.

Ethan

How can I pick just one favourite? Video game music has resonated with me in a way few other aspects of gaming have ever since the first time I dropped down the chemical falls of Mega Man 3’s Shadow Man stage. The Lavender Town theme from Pokémon Red and Blue still gives me chills. Unlimited Saga is a barely incomprehensible, borderline unplayable board-game JRPG, but “Listless” is my head’s go-to music for when life is idling. “Sky Burial” from Kou Otani’s masterful Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack seared itself into my brain after looping it on the bus ride back from a bad breakup. “Silent Edge” made me fall in love with Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus after falling asleep to it while playing one night. I still remember beating Star Ocean: The Second Story all over again just so I could capture the credits track “We Form In Crystals” on my parents’ tape recorder.

The list goes on: Xenogears’ “Shevat: The Wind is Calling,” Chrono Trigger’s “Sealed Door,” Secret of Mana’s “Into the Thick of It,” Mass Effect’s “The Presidium.” And on: Donkey Kong Country’s “Aquatic Ambiance,” Donkey Kong Country 2’s “Stickerbrush Symphony,” Final Fantasy XII’s “A Moment’s Rest,” The Last Story’s “Ruli Castle,” and Final Fantasy XIII’s “The Cradle Will Fall,” and Final Fantasy XIII-2’s “Parallel World.” (Little known fact: FFXII-2’s soundtrack is one of the best in the entire series). This barely scratches the surface of every piece of beautiful gaming music that’s transported and transformed me, and even these are mostly the B-sides. I’ll go ahead and settle on a favourite though: the soundtrack of Fez by Richard Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace. That’s cheating, I know, but the entire score builds so beautifully that I almost feel like I’m replaying the game when I listen to it.

For the requirements of today’s question I’ll go with “Nocturne.” Musical composers have been churning them out for centuries, but none captures the contrast of dark alienation and comforting nostalgia quite like Vreeland’s. It makes being consumed by the glitchy void feel like returning home again. From T.S. Elliot’s The Little Gidding: “We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”

Ian

I’m not really one for video game music, to be honest. But give me a chance to talk about “favourite” anything and my thoughts will always drift to killer7, the trippy GameCube fever dream from 2005 that I regard as Goichi “Suda51” Suda’s magnum opus.

“Rave On” itself isn’t all that special — it’s a decent little electronic bop if that’s your thing. I mostly like it because of the context in which killer7 uses it. Most of the game’s levels are in a weird, alternate-reality space known as the Vinculum Gate, that looks and sounds like a club. The room is dark and you can hear a loud, thumping rhythm coming from beyond the doors.

It isn’t until you pay the requisite amount of Soul Shells to the Gatekeeper (don’t worry, these terms aren’t really important) that you finally get a full taste of the track. “Rave On” only plays in the small hallways that connect the Vinculum Gate and the boss areas, and thus it’s easy to miss if you’re rushing to finish the level. But take your time, and you’ll be treated to one of killer7’s more memorable tracks.

Luke

There is nothing on Earth that makes me happier than the opening few seconds of the Dragon Roost theme from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. It’s so jaunty, and windy, and carefree, and every time I hear it I either want to dance a jig or jump in a boat and go sailing (please note I cannot dance a jig nor live anywhere near the ocean, that’s how powerful this track is).

Ari

I was planning, as I usually do, to only semi-seriously respond to this week’s query — maybe call out “Escape From the City,” from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle; or “Live and Learn,” from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle; or “A Ghost’s Pumpkin Soup,” from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle; or “It Doesn’t Matter,” from Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. But the other week, I went through a truly life-changing experience.

On July 23, 2020, at 12:04 p.m. ET, I saw the gameplay reveal for Halo Infinite. It was glorious. Then, at the end, around the eight-minute mark, it kicked in: the Halo theme, reimagined by Gareth Coker (who, by the way, composed the Ori theme, another track for the ages). Those unmistakable swells reawoke a dormant flame in my soul, and since then, I’ve been playing Halo pretty much nonstop. The music for Reach and 4 and 5 is good, but you can’t beat the main theme of the original trilogy. Unlike you or me — unlike everyone who plays Halo and everyone who does not — some things just never get old. Some things really are infinite.

Brian

A year after I moved to Japan, Utada Hikaru’s “Hikari” was the latest in her long string of hits. It was also the theme for Kingdom Hearts and was re-recorded as “Simple and Clean” for the English-speaking world. It’s a great, great song and a terrific theme. Listening to it now reminds me of my early 20s and when I just moved to Japan, so for me, it has a very large resonance. I am always excited when a big, new Kingdom Hearts game is announced, because I look forward to a new Utada theme.

As an aside, the greatest hardware theme song of all time is this ditty by Shigeru Matsuzaki for the PS Vita.

[This week’s last word goes to Chris Person, who was unexpectedly laid off on Friday along with about a dozen other video producers at our company. Chris spent eight wonderful years masterminding Kotaku’s video features. You can follow his future exploits on Twitter. Your heart, insights, and contributions will be missed, friend.]

Chris P.

“Oh yes, yes. This is the sound, that glorious sound! We’d forgotten this sound for so long.”

There are definitely better songs than The Legendary Theme from Gitaroo Man, but it sets itself apart as the culmination of a perfect, beautiful rhythm game. Gitaroo Man was some bona fide freak stuff that hit me at just the right time in my life. I even imported the CD from Japan. It makes me truly sad that iNiS went from this, Ouendan, and Elite Beat Agents to having to put out stuff like The Black Eyed Peas Experience. Ah well, we’ll always have Gitarooman.

How About You?

Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? What one track represents, to you, the very best of video game music? The conversation continues below, so have your say. We’ll see you in the comments, and will be back next Monday to take on another no-doubt nerdy head-scratcher. Until then, enjoy some Morning Music!

Comments

  • It’s really hard not to choose something from FFVII but I’d prob go with the ending credits music from Mickey and Donald’s World of Illusion on Megadrive.

  • Probably main opening song from Kingdom Hearts 2 for me, remember putting KH1 and 2 on permenent replay for a while.

  • The version of Urban Trail (City Theme) that’s on the Scream No Hito compilation is probably my all-time favourite piece of music, even though it’s not technically from a game (it’s a remix of a tune from the game Night Terror).

    Otherwise it would either be Endless Love from the Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy soundtrack or Fear by Adam Freeland from the Rez soundtrack.

  • I’d have to go with Calloneta’s song from The Witcher:Wild Hunt (The Wolven Storm).Bioshock,Doom and San Andreas Soundtracks are great as well.

  • The Godhand soundtrack is beautifully bonkers and the Shinobi PS2 OST has some great tracks.
    The Monkey Island series has some amazing music too that transports me to the Caribbean every time I play.
    Can I include all of Space Channel 5 Part 2?

  • ‘Glacial Skies’ from Ace Combat: The Belkan War (Published as Ace Combat Zero in other regions) Its the OST for the first mission aof my most favourite game. As a kid I had no idea how to save, so i played this same mission over and over and over again and this track is just ingrained in my memory. I still love it so many years later.

  • Crazy Motorcycle from FF7
    Flight from Xenogears
    Radical Dreamers from Chrono Cross

    Most recently the Airbuster remake in FF7

  • For fun I’ll start with VNs whose music always makes me cry:
    EMIYA from Fate/Stay Night
    Gate of Steiner – Steins;Gate

    I’d say the various vocal tracks from FFXIV, such as various Primal tracks, but especially the Dragonsong from Heavensward, and some of the Shadowbringers tracks as well.

  • Just one track from decades of fantastic and iconic game music? Act on Instinct from C&C is probably one song I’ll never be able to get out of my head, and I booted up World of Warcraft so many times back in the day that every time I hear those opening notes it immediately makes me cower in the corner going “No more grinding! No more farming!”

    But I’d have to say my favourite piece isn’t actually from the games most people would associate with me but is Maritsu Jaku Gakuen, the opening song from Disgaea 3. It sets the tone for the game really well and was my gateway into the fantastic music that NIS creates for their games.

  • I’m going to ignore tracks that whilst are excellent video game music, don’t hold up as well on their own (I’m looking at you MGS, which for me that entire soundtrack encapsulates the environment and MGS’s themes perfectly) or pieces like the Resident Evil save room music.

    Which means we are talking about tracks that I’d put on Tidal and listen to. I’ll also ignore tracks that are just licensed music in games (good play Hotline Miami, Wipeout 2097, Braid).

    So, after all that, that leaves for me personally Quake 2’s Descent into Cerberon. Absolute banger of a track IMO.

  • Orchestral music like Halo or Mass Effect 3 theme.

    If anyone is interested look up “Halo meets metal” a lot of great covers.

  • King of Fighters ’96 OST – Seoul Road

    Arrange or original it don’t matter, that tune pumps!

    (Special mention to Jin Chonshu/Jin Chonrei theme from Real Bout Special. I don’t know if it has an English title, only seen a romanized title)

  • The Outer Wilds soundtrack is the most memorable and impactful game soundtrack that comes to mind. Specifically, the title track ‘Outer Wilds’, and ‘End Times’. Any time ‘End Times’ comes on my playlist, whatever I’m doing at the time feels suddenly terrifying and profound, like I’m running out of time. Doesn’t matter if it’s as mundane as driving home or walking the aisles of the supermarket, it makes my heart race.

  • I have two:
    Hero Quest/Quest for Glory = Erana’s Peace.
    And Ultima games = Stones.
    They sounded great back then on my soundblaster pro gold. Now dated… but the nostalgia brings it up there for me.

    • Erana’s peace – great call. I love this game and it has a bunch of great music. Now if you’ll excuse me Dosbox calls…

  • Hate to sound basic, but Last of Us theme from the first game and the OG Uncharted theme are probably the top ones for me. And Mortal Kombat.

  • For some older titles:
    C64 Parallax main theme by Martin Galway, along with the Last Ninja soundtrack and Ocean loaders.
    On the Amiga, Agony main theme along with Ghouls and Ghosts and R-type.

    They’re definitely products of their time but I remember being spellbound by them.

  • Obviously going to give away my favourite series here.

    FF13 – The Promise

    FF7 – Tifas Theme (downloaded a theme for the PS4 the other day that plays it and say there and listened to it for like 40 minutes because it’s relaxing).

    FF Type-0 end credits theme, not sure if it’s name.

  • I’ve got a few that come to mind –

    Mass Effect – Uncharted Worlds
    Mass Effect 3 – Leaving Earth
    Hollow Knight – Hornet
    Hollow Knight – Mantis Lords
    The Red Strings Club – Marketing Director
    MGS3 – Snake Eater / Ladder theme
    Almost everything in HL2:E2

    ^These are all great, but there’s one track that I’ll always come back to, the one that pretty much scored my introduction to ‘real’ games:

    Half-Life – Black Mesa Inbound

  • Doom – E1M1. Classic. Nothing else to be said.
    Max Payne 2 – Main Theme. I still think this is the best version of this theme. It drips with emotion and the atmosphere of the game. Stunning.
    Assassin’s Creed 2 – Ezio’s Family / Heart. Whether you pick the mellow or the more rock version of this song, it’s emotional and really sing through with the feeling of this game.
    Mass Effect 2 – Suicide Mission. Just plain epic. When those highs hit, you were Commander Shepard.
    Witcher 3 Hearts of Stone – A Gifted Man Brings Gifts Galore. This delivers the foreboding of meddling with powers beyond you. So thematic and brilliant.
    Nier: Automata – Weight of the World. It’s hard to pick just one track, but this surely would have to be it. It’s possibly not even my favourite track from the game, but it’s undeniably amazing for how it fits with the game. Sure, it’s only a couple of years old, but this music of this game will stand the test of time.

  • Can narrow down to 3
    -I was born for this Austin Wintory/ Lisbeth Scott. . From Journey
    -Memories of Mother farewell to faye version Bear Mccreay/ Elivor. From God of War
    – Ori and the blind forrest theme Gaeth Coker/ Aeralie Brighton

    Honorable mentions
    -Halo theme Martin O’Donnell / Michael Salvatori
    -Bloody Tears Kenichi Matsubara from Castlevania
    -Twinsanity sound track Spiralmouth
    -Locorocco soundtrack

    Have spent the last few days going through all the suggestions from both the staff and comments some good stuff thank you all

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