Members of Generation X and Y have an extra pop culture medium associated with their childhood: Video Games. The platform gave birth to a new form of visual entertainment, and gave birth to a entirely new method of interactive storytelling. While the first video games were fairly rudimentary, it wasn’t long before they grew sophisticated in scope and story, especially those dealing with science fiction or fantasy elements. And many of these games featured timeless music — themes that have permeated through generations of upgraded hardware and pixel density. It’s not easy playing favorites with such a deep pool of possibilities, but here is a cursory guess at the top 8. From 8-bit classics to modern day full orchestration.
8. Mega Man (1987)
The Mega Man series made a killing off the popularity of its multi-stage play, as well as its incredibly memorable music. Each “boss” robot had its own recognizable theme, and the games always kept these themes as varied as they were interesting. For me, the most beloved of these series of themes is the Mega Man 2 set, although I would venture a guess some might prefer the updated electric guitar MIDI used for Mega Man X. Either way, it’s a dynasty of a franchise with an emphasis on memorable music.
7. Halo (2001)
Halo is one of the best modern examples of an instantly noticeable and different theme. The haunting Gregorian chant, mixed with sparse imagery of the titular machine floating in space sums up the series quite nicely, and stands as one of the best uses of score as an unforgettable part of the experience. It sneaks on here due to its sheer influence in the way modern video games are scored with original material.
6. Donkey Kong Country (1994)
No one seemed to know the importance of franchise music quite like old-school Nintendo. After the success of a certain related plumber, their Donkey Kong series also featured some of the most recognizable and unique themes known to video games.
5. Chrono Trigger (1995)
Considered by many to be one of (if not) the best RPG and/or best game of all time, it’d be hard to separate Chrono Trigger‘s innovative gameplay, compelling story, and instantly classic music. Just one listen is enough to transport any player back to AD 600, or forward to AD 2300, or back to 65,000,000 BC…
4. Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
Sega mostly failed when it came to taking on the massive franchises of Nintendo in the early console wars, but Sonic was undoubtedly a win. The brash and feisty gameplay, mixed with a snappy, slick set of tunes for levels made Sonic a much cooler alternative to the bubbly Super Mario series. And the music was a big part of that perceived cool.
3. Final Fantasy (1987)
Like Mega Man (or perhaps more so), The Final Fantasy series had unique music for each of its numerous titles — but each one was so quality, and several so memorable, that the series is almost as well known for its intricate scoring as its sprawling stories. Here are two memorable compostions, one from Final Fantasy VI, and the main theme from Final Fantasy VII, although we’re sure you have your own personal favorites.
2. The Legend Of Zelda (1986)
It’d be tough to deny that The Legend Of Zelda has one of the most classic themes in all of the video game universe. Like most of the top picks on our list, it started in the 80s as an 8-bit opus, and still survives today as a sprawling set of fully-formed orchestral variations on the theme. It’s a beloved tentpole Ninetndo franchise, with exceptional scoring.
1. Super Mario Brothers (1985)
Is there anything more well known in the video game universe than the original Super Mario Brothers theme music? This theme has proliferated through countless sequels and spinoffs, derivatives and distant relatives, not to mention covers, variations, and general YouTube recreational fame. Instantly recognizable, and timelessly ingrained in pop culture, it is the theme by which all others influence is measured.
Did we miss any? Let us know your favorite timeless video game music in the comments.
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Joe Puglisi is an NYU grad and the Managing Editor of Baeblemusic. You can email him at joep (at) baeblemusic.com if you want him to listen to your music, go to your show, or write nice things about you. In his spare time he enjoys haunting New York’s rock clubs, a nice whiskey, and tweeting. Baeblemusic brings to its growing audience exclusive video and editorial programming focused on highlighting the most interesting music acts of today across the country. Their voice is positive — they are fans — here to bring a curated and exclusive selection of artists and editorial to their devoted audience.