Video game musical scores are largely underrated. I have a playlist dedicated to game scores from the likes of Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill), Martin O'Donnell (Halo), and Harry Gregson Williams (Metal Gear Solid), all of which we'll get to discuss more in depth later on. Contrary to popular belief, it's not the visuals, dialogue, or story that is the backbone of a video game's lasting impression, it's the musical score. The musical score is subtler than high polygon counts and high-resolution textures, both of which can be found in many, many games these days. They're comprised of the music and sound design, two of the most important things for making a game seem believable.
Truly incredible scores are difficult to find and tend to come from a select group of companies and people. But you know when you've stumbled across a great one when you find yourself getting lost in the world you're exploring. Here are the ten games or series of games that managed just that.
This game's unique in that it's largely a quiet, even lonely experience. For much of the game, you're exploring the vast terrains, mountainous valleys, and deep lakes in search of the massive beasts that roam the land. Most of the adventure is actually getting to the fight, thinking about what you have to do to save a young woman and taking in the sweeping landscape the game takes place in. It's not until you enter the arena where you'll attempt to take down a Colossus that the music shows itself, but the wait is well worth it. The contrast between silence and the orchestral scores of the battles is startling at first, but when your adrenaline's pumping and you're holding onto a Colossus the size of a large mountain for dear life, it matches the action perfectly.
The video games industry has no lack of sci-fi games, especially ones that include large arsenals of weapons and looming alien threats. Jack Wall composed the soundtracks for both Mass Effect games but his work really grew up in the second. The original's score was heavily inspired by 80's sci-fi movies but its successor took that and tossed in a large amount of roaring orchestral tracks that had a more foreboding tone that matched the tension Shepard and his crew undoubtedly felt about the suicide mission. They could've taken the same route many developers take and thrown in some frenetic and action-centric tracks to match Mass Effect 2's increased action but instead they took what the first game did well and improved upon it. That deserves some commendation.
The Dead Space series is known for its incredible sound design, and that's primarily the reason this game makes the list. These games aren't about adding music to match the scenarios because it would be difficult to find tracks that would work with a man being torn apart from the inside as he transforms into a Necromorph. Instead they're about creating a tense atmosphere with sounds that either makes you jump or feel like there's something quietly creeping up behind you. The second game had quite a bit more action, though it still retained many of its scares, and the score mirrors that change. Composer Jason Graves took into consideration Isaac Clarke's deteriorating mental state and made the soundtrack feel more personal. It worked.
This game is a very cinematic experience; its limited gameplay, gorgeous visuals, and thriller movie plot all make it more of an interactive film than a game. To work with this, it was necessary to create a unique score that was akin to a blockbuster film soundtrack. The best way to manage this was to bring on a film composer, someone who's worked with the medium Heavy Rain resembles so closely. Enter Normand Corbeil, a composer who's worked on over fifty titles to date, including Indigo Prophecy, Quantic Dreams' project prior to Heavy Rain. The final product is an intensely emotional score that made an already memorable story even more unforgettable. The most interesting aspect of the soundtrack is its evolution as the game progresses. It starts off innocent before transforming into something dark and twisted as the game's tale continues toward its climactic conclusion.
As a series Final Fantasy has some incredible music, but it's the seventh game that really takes the cake here. Widely considered one of the best games in the fantasy franchise, Final Fantasy VII's music (especially the final battle theme) is some of the best in the industry. Nobu Uematsu, who also composed eight other games in the series, composed this one all on his own. That alone is an incredible feat that definitely deserves some praise.