The 6 Most Iconic Video Game Music & Soundtracks

Last updated: 12/31/2023
5 minutes read

The right sounds can turn an average game into a masterpiece. Check out our guide below to find out how video game music can become seriously iconic!

What is Video Game Sheet Music?

Video game music, aka VGM, is the soundtrack that plays from the start until the end of a game. Early video game music was monotone and limited to simple tunes due to memory constraints.

Early video game discs and cartridges only contained a single sound chip, such as a programmable sound generator (PSG), meaning there wasn’t much capacity to compose complex tunes.

So when video game sheet music was first written, it was little more than simple synthesized beats. This 8-bit music, or chiptunes as they came to be known, were catchy. However, it didn’t set the mood in quite the same way as modern video game sheet music.

Today, when you play the latest PvP, for example, there are complex sounds that have an almost cinematic quality - in fact, that’s why video game music is described as a soundtrack.

In both film and video games, a soundtrack is music that’s synchronized with specific images/video sequences in order to heighten and intensify the tension, drama, or any other emotion the creators want an audience to feel.

How Does Music Move Us?

Music moves everyone in different ways. However, the psychology of musical notes and melodies tells us that we are moved by certain tunes. From a biological perspective, our brains start tuning into sounds in the womb.

From the 16th week of incubation, we’re already being shaped by sounds! This continues throughout our lives. Scientists have identified various parts of the brain that respond to music, but the five most responsive are:

  • The Hippocampus
  • The Frontal Lobe
  • The Temporal Lobe
  • The Amygdala
  • The Cerebellum

Each part of the brain responds differently. For example, lyrics are processed and understood in the temporal lobe.

The amygdala deals with emotion. Basically, each part of the brain filters sound and music in a specific way and this contributes to our personal interpretation of it. The end result is a certain reaction.

Oftentimes overlooked, video game music is an essential part of any game!

What Type of Music is Used in Video Games?

So, after establishing that we react in certain ways to music, and that it is used to influence our emotions, what types of music are common in video games? And, building on this, where can you find video game soundtracks?

Looking at the types of music you’ll find in video games, the genres fall into two main categories: linear and adaptive.

Linear video game music plays continuously during a scene or in a setting. For example, when you start the game, there may be an introductory soundtrack that plays on a look. Linear video game music isn’t affected by your gameplay.

Adaptive video game music changes based on the situation and/or your actions. In other words, the music adapts and interacts with the game engine. For example, if you enter a fight sequence, a certain type of music might kick in or speed up.

There are plenty of reasons for Video Game music being called a Soundtrack

Within these two general categories, there are three main types of video game music:

  • Diegetic: This music emanates from an identifiable source within the environment you’re in. For example, if a car drives past and the radio is on, this would be a diegetic piece of music. What you’ll notice with this type of video game music is that it moves in line with the current dynamics. So, as the car gets closer, the music gets louder and, as it drives away, it gets quieter.
  • Extra-Diegetic: This type of video game music is also known as the underscore because it underpins a scene/setting. You can think of extra-diegetic music as background tunes that play while you’re performing a task. For example, this type of music might be playing while you walk from one scenario to another or when you engage in a battle.
  • Gameplay: This video game music is controlled by you (i.e. the player). You become the source of the music. For example, in Guitar Hero, you’re the person making the music.

What is the Most Iconic Video Game Music?

That’s a great question, but it’s a tough one to answer! We’ve already established that video game music is an essential ingredient in the entertainment equation.

However, when you open up the video game music archive and attempt to pick out the top tracks, things get tricky. Why? Because the tunes that Person A might class as the best video game music aren’t the ones Person B would choose.

This is why we can’t simply say: here’s the best video game music. What we can do, however, is offer some suggestions based on different settings.

For example, if you’re playing action games, there will be a certain type of music that suits you. If you want to use video game music for studying, there are suitable tracks for that.

Basically, by breaking things down into categories, it becomes slightly easier to search through the video game music archive and select some hits.

So, to conclude, here are six tracks that, in our opinion, should be listed among the best video game music offerings of all time:

Video Game Music for Studying

If you want something that’s calming, and playful, but not too intrusive while you study, check out the Piano Collections from Final Fantasy 7.

Video Game Music for Action Titles

For a moving, haunting, and moody musical experience, try the soundtrack from Shadow Of The Colossus.

Video Game Music for PvP Titles

PvP games are all about changing momentum, so you need a soundtrack that can go from calm to energetic. For this - check out the Dota 2 soundtrack.

Video Game Music for RPGs

When it comes to video game music for RPGs, we can’t ignore the variety you get when you play Grand Theft Auto.

Video Game Music for Sports Titles

If you’re looking for Olympic video game music, Tokyo 2020 has a great soundtrack. For inspiring opening and closing ceremony Olympic video game music, you should also check out London 2012.

Video Game Music for the Old School

If you want an old school tune that’s unmistakable, give the soundtrack to Super Mario a listen, in any number of various renditions!

Tune into the Top Video Game Soundtracks

There you have it, music matters when it comes to gaming. It doesn’t matter if it’s Olympic video game music, something for an action-adventure, or a PvP hit.

Music sets the scene and brings a deeper sense of engagement and emotion to proceedings. We’ve picked out six hits from the video game music archive, but there are plenty of other top tunes to listen out for.

So, next time you play your favorite game, make sure you tune into the notes it’s hitting!