How often do gaming soundtracks go unfortunately unnoticed? From adrenaline-charging guitar solo boss fights, to romantic acoustic ballads that create a moment as memorable as your first kiss, to sonatas that softly, whimsically carry the subtlety and style of an entire world. Each soundtrack is painstakingly envisioned over many hours as songwriters and composers attempt to describe a feeling with sound.
Composing a piece for any form of media is challenging, however, as immersive as video games are, it can often feel like describing a painting to the blind — not just the colors and shapes, but the emotion. A video game’s score can sometimes go completely unnoticed by a gamer, and, to an extent, that’s almost exactly what the composer set out to accomplish. Hours toiled away capturing a complete experience, blending so perfectly with the environment that it feels like an essential part of the game.
Although almost every video game score receives not nearly enough attention they deserve, gaming’s unsung indie heroes only ever garnish a periodic nod of support or thumbs-up — often only from fellow fans of the obscure. For however many Mass Effect or Bioshock OSTs are out there, there are just as many talented and gorgeously striking indie albums, as well.
Each album selected in this list can stand-alone, but, more importantly, have each shown that gaming is only a full experience with the perfect music behind it.
A mix-tape of odes to the 80′s, Hotline Miami‘s soundtrack may not have a single composer creating an experience but still perfectly captures the nefarious, vileness of the 1980′s Miami gone mad.
As your character teeters the line of detestably insane and real-world superhero, bouncy, jittering, catchy high-pitched squeals guide the player through their first mass-murder. Occasionally transferring between a hipster dance party to a Miami Vice tribute, the Hotline Miami soundtrack is such a perfect, unique collection of obscure, indie synthpop artists that it almost transcends the game itself.
Sword & Sworcery
Jim Guthrie is easily the most recognizable name in video game compositions these days, and rightly so.
Atmospheric, soothing, and triumphant melodies blend with Guthrie’s signature synth-style, creating an all-around absorbing and gorgeous score.
If Jim Guthrie is the John Williams of video game scores, Jasper Byrne is gaming’s Danny Elfman. Lone Survivor could easily be labeled as 8-bit’s creepiest, but Byrne’s compositions were what made it feel as such.
Silent Hill-esq echoing piano, mellow and eerie ambient beats, and a My Bloody Valentine-styled soft electric guitar over quiet, echoing vocals perfectly encompass the game’s intense blend of insanity, making Lone Survivor‘s score one that will stick with you for a long while.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Chill, calming, and inventively arranged, newcomer Ben Prunty created the flawless backdrop to 2012′s space ship simulator.
A low-key, ambient album with an eerie feel that splendidly blends high-pitched synth-pop rhythms with mellow chiptune beats, ultimately creating a sedative composition that won’t cause any headaches if paused too long.
Tower of Heaven
Of any soundtrack on this list, Tower of Heaven is probably the one you’ve never heard of. Short and sweet classic chiptunes style, superlatively suited for this obscure 8-bit puzzle flash game.
Tower of Heaven is not only the consummate 8-bit soundtrack, but the most-addictive for any nostalgist out there. Although tracks are often repeated in this short, 20-minute soundtrack, the foundation delivers one of the best modern chiptunes albums available.