Five Quality Video Game Soundtracks To Check Out If You Like Orchestral Music
Gamers are some of orchestral music's most dedicated listeners, and great game soundtracks tend to be one of the most overlooked genres of modern music composition.
Musically, video game soundtracks are truly incredible. They have to stay interesting for twenty or more hours of playtime, and for some games that stretches well into the hundreds.
So whether you're a gamer or just someone who appreciates great orchestral music, check out these five amazing game soundtracks.
God of War - 2018, Bear McCreary
2018 Game of the Year winner God of War, directed by Cory Barlog and developed by Sony Santa Monica Studios, is the fourth mainline game in a series of the same title and serves as a reboot for the franchise.
In this God of War game, you play as Kratos, who is setting across Norse mythology with his son Atreus to spread the ashes of his wife, and Atreus’s mother, atop the highest peak in the land. It is an extremely emotional story of father-son bonding that takes place in a beautiful and hostile fantasy world.
Bear McCreary has masterfully composed a soundtrack that expresses the depth of emotion in the game, from family moments to high fantasy adventure. The soundtrack was recorded in Iceland, features a full orchestra and choir, and draws inspiration from Nordic folk songs. Throughout the score, you will hear instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle, hurdy-gurdy, and nyckelharpa, along with lyrics sung in Old Norse.
You can see a little of the game while listening to Bear McCreary talk about the soundtrack and discuss his development of the iconic three-note theme here.
Halo: Combat Evolved - 2001, Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori
Halo: Combat Evolved is the first game in a now-classic series developed by Bungie that started in 2001. You play as Master Chief, a Spartan warrior in the United Nations Space Command, when your ship is attacked by an alien race known as the Covenant, causing the ship to crash on a ring-shaped planet, where the name of the series originates.
The music features a variety of sounds including synth, tribal beats, orchestra, and choir, and offers a feeling of discovering an ancient planet predating humanity.
Martin O’Donnell, Bungie’s audio director until 2014, said the soundtrack takes influences from other artists and composers like Samuel Barber, Giorgio Moroder, and even the song “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Halo has one of the most iconic soundtracks in all of gaming. It's also the best selling video game soundtrack of all time.
Civilization Series - 1991 to Present, Christopher Tin
Civilization is an interesting game in that it plays more like a digital board game than a video game. In the game, you take control of a real historical group of people, led by a famous figure from that group, and try to “stand the test of time” as the game puts it. There are other “civs” on the map that are also competing for victory via domination, culture, science, diplomacy, and a few others. The game serves as a fun simulated walk-through of world history, and the music reflects that.
Civilization has been around since 1991 and has hosted many different composers. Most notable of these composers is Christopher Tin, who composed music for Civilization IV and Civilization VI. The theme from Civilization IV is actually “Baba Yetu,” a piece for choir and orchestra with lyrics composed of the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili.
In 2011, Tin won the Grammy award for Best Arrangement, Instrumental, and Vocals, and “Baba Yetu” has been a favorite for choral ensembles across the world. As stated above, Tin also did the music for the most recent installment Civilization VI, and you can see its theme “Sogno di Volare” performed at the same concert as the video above here.
Bloodborne - 2015, Ryan Amon
Developed by Japanese company From Software, Bloodborne is an extremely dark Action role payer game filled with Gothic Horror and Cosmic Horror similar to the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The game is extremely atmospheric, and while traveling the streets of Yarnham there are many sights to see from giant gothic cathedrals to tight, brick-laid city streets lit by gas lamps, and horrifying beasts to be confronted by you, the hunter.
Bloodborne is extremely fast-paced and frantic, and the music matches that feeling. From personal experience playing Bloodborne, it’s hard to listen to the soundtrack without my heart rate immediately climbing to 100 beats per minute. Recorded with a full orchestra and choir, Bloodborne’s music is fast, low, and intense.
Bloodborne won the NAVGTR Award for “Original Dramatic Score, New IP” and was nominated for the BTVA “Best Vocal Ensemble” Award. From Software also developed the similar series Dark Souls whose soundtrack has more of a fantasy feel similar to the series itself. You can watch the live recording of the track, “Cleric Beast” from Bloodborne here.
Cuphead - 2017, Kristofer Maddigan
This pick is a little different from the others on this list. Cuphead is an extremely difficult (so difficult, it started a controversy) 2-D platformer developed by StudioMDHR in which you play as a little man with a cup for a head who has to fight a series of bosses. If that sounds strange, it should.
Cuphead is based on cartoons from the 1930s, and all the animations are hand-drawn just like they would have been at the time, and consists of around 50,000 frames. Synonymous with those cartoons is the big band music that accompanies them.
Kristopher Maddigan wrote an incredible score of big band music that fits the game perfectly, and in 2018 won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Games Award for Music.
If you get through these five soundtracks and are still hungry for more, check out game series like Final Fantasy, The Witcher, and Dragon Age.