There’s just too much incredible music out there to fit into one show! In an attempt to cover even a fraction more of it, we’ve each collected a few more songs we think are worth listening to. It was still nearly impossible for me to narrow it down so there’s quite a bit on here, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to a few of the songs here. Let’s start with a few songs from my all-time favorite game composers, in no particular order:
Hiroki Kikuta – “The Boy Aims for Wild Fields” (Secret of Mana)
There’s a good chance that, like me, you first heard Hiroki Kikuta’s whimsical compositions while playing Secret of Mana on the SNES. Since then, he’s gravitated towards less prominent projects than most other SNES-era composers, like Koudelka and the Japan-only Soukaigi, but his music is absolutely worth seeking out. His two-disc original project, Alphabet Planet, sounds sort of like the soundtrack to an unreleased Secret of Mana game.
“Few Paths Forbidden” (Seiken Densetsu 3)
Tsuyoshi Sekito – “The Musashi Legend” (Brave Fencer Musashi)
After firmly grabbing my attention with Brave Fencer Musashi’s bombastic score, Tsuyoshi Sekito has been frustratingly elusive in the console scene, usually contributing a few original songs to larger soundtracks like Dawn of Mana or arranging older songs for Square’s countless remake projects.
“Twin Mountains” (Brave Fencer Musashi)
“Midair Giant Playground Battle” (Brave Fencer Musashi)
Masanao Akahori – “Tower of Light” (Brain Lord)
Brain Lord was one of Enix’s obscure SNES releases and its soundtrack was appropriately quirky. Masanao Akahori’s uninhibited score wears its artificiality on its sleeve and is an island in a sea of RPG soundtracks trying to be virtual orchestras.
Yasunori Mitsuda – “My Village Is Number One” (Xenogears)
I’m sure Paul will be laying out some praise for Mr. Mitsuda and I don’t want to steal his thunder, but I have to mention that this track was the perfect accompaniment to Xenogears’s cheerful, pastoral opening hours.
“Fight, then Riot!” (Legaia Duel Saga)
“Old Smudged Map” (Shadow Hearts II)
Yoshitaka Hirota – “Atmosphere – Blow Up” (Shadow Hearts)
Shadow Hearts is one instance where I bought the soundtrack before even playing the game. A relatively new composer, Yoshitaka Hirota mixed sinister guitars and frenetic percussion with Eastern-influenced strings and a good amount of creepy to create an enormously atmospheric backdrop to the game’s early 20th Century China and Europe. I was disappointed when the series abandoned its macabre roots and became progressively campier with each sequel, but the soundtracks managed to retain Hirota’s unique sound.
“Brain Hopper” (Shadow Hearts)
“Factory -Beltconveyor for Killers-” (Shadow Hearts)
Akira Yamaoka – “Cradel of Forest” (Silent Hill 4: The Room)
The Silent Hill soundtracks are probably best known for the dark, ambient pieces that play while wandering through fog or trying to stay out of sight from some hideous creature, but Akira Yamaoka also does a terrific job writing a few guitar-heavy rock singles for each game. He usually collaborates with vocalist Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, but the haunting voice in “Cradel of Forest” belongs to Joe Romersa.
“Theme of Laura” (Silent Hill 2)
Nobuo Uematsu – “The Man with the Machine Gun” (Final Fantasy VIII)
Undisputably the biggest name in game music and someone I closely associate with symphonic RPG scores, Uematsu can also drop funky electronic beats like no other.
“Force Your Way” (Final Fantasy VIII)
“Mt. Ordeals” (Final Fantasy IV)
Yasunori Shiono – “The Doom Island War” (Lufia & the Fortress of Doom)
Mr. Shiono, or, as I like to call him, “The Other Yasunori,” is responsible for all those Lufia series tunes that manage to stay buoyant and cheerful, despite each game being about the impending end of the world. “The Doom Island War” paints a foreboding picture of Lufia & the Fortress of Doom’s opening battle.
“Main Theme” (Lufia & the Fortress of Doom)
“Town” (Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals)
Koichi Sugiyama – “Fun Casino” (Dragon Quest VIII)
Koichi Sugiyama’s scores are what I most closely associate with the Dragon Quest series, at least after those smiling slime faces. Because of Dragon Quest’s immense popularity in Japan, it’s pretty easy to find most of his music performed by a live orchestra. In Dragon Quest VIII, the series’s classic casino song received the symphonic treatment.
“Overture” (Dragon Quest series)
“Intermezzo” (Dragon Quest series)
“Mysterious Tower” (Dragon Quest VIII)
Hitoshi Sakimoto – “Hero’s Theme” (Final Fantasy Tactics)
Hands-down my favorite composer, Hitoshi Sakimoto’s compositions are recognizeable by their stately string and brass sections, nostalgic flute melodies, and a cascading piano or harp. He’s incredibly prolific and many of his pieces tend to be complex and layered, but his talent for creating powerful, emotional music really shows in the minimal and somber “Hero’s Theme.”
“Snowfly Forest” (Vagrant Story)
…And just a few more favorite songs I couldn’t resist squeezing in:
Michiko Naruke – “Into the Wilderness” (Wild Arms)
Wild Arms’s intro was an amazing intro to PlayStation RPGs, and this song had a lot to do with it. The Ennio Morricone-influenced whistling and strings were perfect for the game’s Wild West setting.
Simon Viklund – “Power Plant” (Bionic Commando Rearmed)
Mr. Viklund’s thumping remixes of this classic NES soundtrack were just what Bionic Commando Rearmed needed. (Bonus: This also makes a fantastic level in Audiosurf.)
Yoko Shimomura – “Southern City Polpota” (Legend of Mana)
I’m doing Yoko Shimomura an immense disservice by only listing one track since she’s one of the most accomplished composers in the industry, but this is probably my favorite from one of her best albums.
Riku Nuottajärvi – “Hyperspace” (Star Control II)
When you spend as much time traveling through hyperspace as you do in Star Control II, you’d better hope players never get sick of the background music. With this track playing, there were times when I didn’t want to leave hyperspace.
Marika Suzuki – “Main Menu” (Lost Planet 2)
In case you need to kick some alien insect ass and you don’t have a copy of the StarCraft soundtrack within reach.
Masafumi Takada – “Yet… Oh See Mind” (God Hand)
In case you need to kick some midget Power Ranger ass and some hooligan cut off your arm with a boomerang.
SNK Sound Team – “Fairy” (The King of Fighters ’96)
What The King of Fighters series lacked in popularity, it more than made up for with rocking soundtracks and the dedication to release a live soundtrack album for each year of the series’s main run. Each disc is filled with stormy saxophones and wailing guitar solos like only SNK can conjur.
Shira Kammen – “Downstream” (Braid)
This is simply one of the most achingly beautiful songs I’ve heard used in a video game.
Takeharu Ishimoto – “Theme of Crisis Core ‘Under the Apple Tree'” (Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core)
Another case where the soundtrack turned me on to the game. Newcomer Takeharu Ishimoto takes Final Fantasy soundtracks in a radical new direction with his acoustic guitar.
Yuki Iwai/Hideki Okugawa – “Jazzy-NYC (NY House Mix)” (Street Fighter III 2nd Impact)
The 2nd Impact provides a strange but appropriate backdrop for a new generation of street fighters, filled with jazz and funk influences.
Asuka Sakai/Charlie Kosei – “Que Sera Sera” (Katamari Damacy)
As if the premise of Katamari Damacy wasn’t ridiculous enough, I had to pause and reprocess just what was going on when one stage greeted me with this insane Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin-esque ode to rolling junk into a ball. Absolutely brilliant.
Masato Koda/Tetsuya Shibata – “Triumph” (Monster Hunter Freedom Unite)
Finally, no piece of music has ever brought me a greater sense of pride and accomplishment. Fellow hunters will understand.
And that’s it for now! I’d love to go on, but it’s your turn: Who’s in your list of top game music composers?