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Top 10 Video Game Soundtracks of the 1990s

Mar 23, 2016

By: Alex Hirsch

Video game music has changed dramatically over the years. There was a time when music in games was little more than sound effects and warning notes that helped you realize that your coin-operated arcade time was coming to a close. All of that changed very drastically once home consoles became the norm in the late 1980s and early 1990s as sound technology and development grew.

In this series of articles we’re going to take you on a journey through some of the best video game soundtracks of each decade. The 1990s seemed like the most logical place to start, as it is probably the decade that showed the most growth in sound design (and video games as a whole). As you read through this list feel free to stop and listen to the examples for a fun trip through gaming’s history.

10) Toejam and Earl

In 1991 Toejam and Earl for the Sega Genesis brought us some very complex and funky jams. It’s an incredible example of the early breakout into rhythmic and original music in games, and it certainly sets the atmosphere.


9) Ecco The Dolphin

One of the most unique soundtracks (and unique games) on our list comes in the form of Ecco the Dolphin. The game is about a lost dolphin who is searching the haunting depths of the ocean for his lost “pod”, or family. The music in the game ranges from open and airy to compressed and full of despair. It lends a very unique feeling to a very unique game, and as such has earned our number 9 spot.


8) Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Speaking of atmosphere - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night has it in spades. The dark and orchestral soundtrack is filled with haunting bells and ghostly choir voices, as well as wild electric guitar solos and intense percussion. The combination sounds odd on paper, but in practice it worked to great effect.


7) Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue

Pokemon Red and Blue earned it’s spot on the list for its iconic staying power. As a Gameboy title, it is the weakest entry on the list from a technical standpoint. But what it lacks in technical depth it makes up for in pure brilliance. The soundtrack was so great that it was adapted into the anime and future games, with versions of the original music still being used in new titles today!


6) Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country took full advantage of the SNES from a graphical standpoint, for which it is often held in high esteem. But the sound design and music in this game truly helped to set it apart from its platforming counterparts. This is a great example of setting atmosphere, using technology, and all-out-fun all wrapped into one furry brown package.


5) Super Metroid

As we move into the second half of our list with Super Metroid it is important to note that, while every game on this list helped set the mood, Super Metroid is perhaps the best example of atmospheric music in 90s gaming. It is dark, haunting, and rarely anything else. The soundtrack to this game really helps to capture the feeling of being alone in an alien world and surrounded by things that want to turn you into space dust (or worse!).


4) Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII... where does one even begin? This soundtrack accompanied what many consider to be the greatest game of all time. Using the power of Sony’s Playstation and its ability to play MP3 tracks, Final Fantasy VII features music that plays well even outside of the context of gaming. There have been numerous covers, remixes, and even performances by symphonies... all of which hope to capture the amazing quality set forth by the legendary Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu. Also, from start to finish, it’s over four and a half hours long! That’s insane for 1997!


3) Super Mario World

Super Mario World earned its entry as the number 3 title because it’s probably the most well-composed, most diverse, and best quality version of the Mario games’ music from the 90s. It would be easy to make a list with four or five Mario Bros titles on it, but that just seems unfair.

Everyone knows the theme song, but I encourage you to listen to some of the other tracks and really enjoy what made this game special for an entire generation of gamers.


2) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is probably one of the most widely-known Zelda titles to date. It was our first journey into Hyrule from a “realistic” 3D perspective. It was dark and scary at times. It had amazing set piece moments, genuinely fun gameplay, and a great, if simple, story. But Ocarina of Time is also very fondly remembered for its music and how it was used to change the world of Hyrule.

There are classic entries, like the main theme. There are also some now fan-favorites, like "The Lost Woods" and "Zelda’s Lullaby". The ambient battle music was tense and fast, the music in Kakariko village was jaunty and inviting. In a lot of ways, Ocarina of Time had it all. Give it a listen below.


1) Chrono Trigger

To this day, twenty-one years later, I still think of Chrono Trigger when I think of game soundtracks. Chrono Trigger is a game that has been often-imitated and never-bested. Appropriately, a game about time travel has a soundtrack that could only be described as “timeless”. The sound quality is incredible, with a depth that is unmatched at its time or for long after. You owe it to yourself to not only listen to the soundtrack, but to play this game from start to finish.

Have Your Say!

Do you agree with our list? Do you have any fond memories of gaming and game soundtracks in the 90s? Let us know in the comments section below!