Video games are awesome. Beyond their gripping stories, engaging gameplay, and social aspects lies an oft-overlooked aspect: video game music.
A good video game original soundtrack (OST) is tough to get right. It needs to highlight whatever emotion the player should be experiencing at a point in time, as well as being submissive enough to not distract the player.
Today, we’re going to celebrate some stellar video game soundtracks, perfect for those times when you’re studying or trying to focus.
Why Listen to These Video Game Soundtracks?
You may wonder what the big deal about listening to game soundtracks is, especially if you don’t play video games. As mentioned above, the soundtracks are engineered so that players can enjoy them while still being able to focus on what they’re doing. In addition, it’s difficult to really enjoy a good soundtrack unless you’ve listened to it outside the game, since all sorts of sound effects get in your way while playing.
The games discussed here have some of the best game soundtracks of all time, and make excellent collections that provide a good background for focus. If you enjoy them, check out some of the music genres gamers should love.
1. Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES; 1995)
Kicking off the list is one of the most-beloved soundtracks of all time. The first Donkey Kong Country game was an awesome title, but its sequel improved on it in every way imaginable, with better graphics, more varied locations, amazingly intuitive secrets, and one of the greatest game soundtracks ever.
It’s amazing to think that this much emotion could be packed into a game soundtrack, but composer David Wise made it happen. It is mostly upbeat and good for those times when you need a medium pace for your work.
2. Bastion (Multi-Platform; 2011)
Bastion is an action game with role-playing elements that follows “the Kid” as he strives to restore a fallen world. The soundtrack is excellent; it gives the feeling of the Wild West while also being upbeat and taking you to a fantasy world. The game’s Narrator is certainly one of the highlights; you can hear a sample of his voice in the opening track of the OST.
Bastion’s soundtrack is great for an even-headed day when you need some music to keep you fantasizing about saving the world.
3. The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube; 2003)
Nearly any of the Zelda games could have made this list, but Wind Waker’s soundtrack goes great with any kind of work. It’s also lengthy, so you won’t have to worry about opening a new video anytime soon.
Wind Waker’s soundtrack has an Irish feel to it, with pipe-based instruments bringing a sense of being in the beautiful outdoors.
4. VVVVVV (Multi-Platform; 2010)
Adding some variety into the mix is the soundtrack for VVVVVV (pronounced V-6), a retro-infused platformer game where you reverse gravity instead of jumping. Its 30-minute soundtrack is full of boppy tunes that would have been at home on the early consoles of the ’80s.
We featured VVVVVV in our list of tiny games that are fun to play. If you don’t mind a bit of a challenge, try it out.
5. Assassin’s Creed II (Multi-Platform; 2009)
The Assassin’s Creed series has been around for over a decade, and allows players to explore various historical cites. Assassin’s Creed II, one of the best, offers an equally historic and beautiful soundtrack with the sounds of Renaissance-era Italy.
6. Super Meat Boy (Multi-Platform; 2010)
Super Meat Boy is a tough-as-nails indie platformer, but it’s not unfair. SMB goes to great lengths to ensure you have everything you need to succeed. The soundtrack is just as well-crafted, and brings some tension while still being smooth enough to allow you to focus.
In Super Meat Boy, each level has a Light and Dark World variant. Most players will be able to clear the Light World levels, but the Dark World path contains some of the most difficult platforming stages in modern gaming.
What’s neat is that the music for each world reflects this. A more pleasant, traditional tune is used for Light and a twisted remix of it for Dark. Note that newer ports of the game feature a different soundtrack, which is inferior to the original.
7. Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage! (PlayStation; 1999)
Spyro is one of the classic PlayStation franchises. The second game’s soundtrack is whimsical and has a fantasy element to match the locales you visit. This ensures the high-energy gameplay of Spyro has some great background music to go along with it.
Unfortunately, the series has degraded over time. But the original trilogy stands as excellent 3D platformers, and we’re still enjoying their soundtracks today.
8. Fez (Multi-Platform; 2012)
Fez creator Phil Fish has a rocky story in the gaming industry. The one game he gave us, though, is brilliant. It tells the tale of Gomez, who learns that the world he thought was 2D is actually 3D.
The mostly electronic soundtrack conveys the lands you travel to well. If you want a dynamic OST to listen to, this is one to try.
9. Journey (PS3, PS4; 2012)
Journey’s name describes it perfectly. It’s a game all about wandering around and exploring, and cuts out the background noise of many modern games. The music, of course, gives you an awesome backdrop for this exploration. Even some movies don’t have soundtracks like this!
10. Braid (Multi-Platform; 2008)
Braid is one of the most popular indie games of all time, introducing many people to that special subset of games. In Braid, you control time by rewinding it at will, which also affects the music. Because of this, even if you’ve played it, you can’t appreciate the beauty of the soundtrack unless you’ve heard it without these interruptions.
Unlike most other game soundtracks, Braid’s music wasn’t created specifically for the game. Developer Jonathan Blow used licensed music to convey the game’s mood. Even if you don’t like video games, this is one soundtrack you have to give a listen.
11. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PlayStation; 1997)
Crash is another PlayStation gem, and it too had golden days with its first three iterations. The second game’s soundtrack is like Spyro’s: whimsical and excellent at matching the various locales you visit in Crash’s adventure.
The orange bandicoot recently made his return with the N. Sane Trilogy on PS4, and that’s one of the remastered games worth playing, especially if you never played the originals.
12. Banjo-Kazooie (N64; 1998)
Banjo-Kazooie is one of the most beloved games on the N64 thanks to its memorable characters, expansive worlds, and excellent music. Grant Kirkhope’s soundtrack features several variations for the different areas of each world, with seamless cross-fades that haven’t been matched since.
It’s whimsical, joyful, and will bring you right back to your childhood. Choose this one when you need some upbeat study music.
12. Cuphead (XBO, PC; 2017)
Cuphead is a run-and-gun game that feels like playing a 1930s cartoon. The graphics, character designs, and even menus all look like something out of an early Disney work, with gorgeous hand-drawn animations and backgrounds.
The soundtrack is nearly three hours of live jazz, big-band, and ragtime music. It’s bombastic and oozes quality and charm, making it a significant part of this stellar game.
13. Animal Crossing (GameCube; 2001)
Animal Crossing is a peaceful social simulation game where you control human living in a village full of animals. The game runs in real time, with unique music for each hour of the day.
Thanks to the game’s variety of tunes that play inside various buildings and events during the year, the full soundtrack is over seven hours. If you’d like something a little shorter, you can listen to a full day’s music in just under an hour.
Animal Crossing is a relaxing series, with a chilled-out soundtrack to match. Check out the other Animal Crossing soundtracks if you enjoy it, or play Animal Crossing: Pocket camp on mobile.
14. Sonic Mania (Multi-Platform; 2017)
Though Sega’s mascot has had some missteps, you can always count on a solid soundtrack in Sonic games. Indeed, you could put pretty much any Sonic game on this list.
We chose Sonic Mania because it’s a collection of some remixed classic favorites along with a few new tracks. There’s something for everyone to love in this collection of funky, fast, and cool music celebrating the Blue Blur.
15. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U; 2014)
Smash Bros. is a celebration of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, with characters, stages, items, and music coming from dozens of game series. The latest entry packs an incredible 15 hours of tunes, including remixes and originals from Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Pokémon, Fire Emblem, and many more.
The OST has a ton of variety, making it a great way to discover new game music you might love. If you’ve got a long night of studying ahead of you, spin this up and don’t look back.
16. Undertale (Multi-Platform; 2015)
Undertale became a cult classic upon its launch. Acting as a one-man team, developer Toby Fox crafted the entire game, including the music. It was universally praised for its gameplay, story, and themes, as it turned several game clichés on their heads.
The soundtrack is masterful, with a variety of moods expressed. A lot of it is chiptune, but not all.
One word of caution: Undertale is a game best experienced without spoilers, and the soundtrack names can give away some plot points. Do yourself a favor and play this as soon as you can—without any foreknowledge.
17. Secret of Mana (SNES; 1993)
One of the most beloved RPGs of the SNES era, Secret of Mana set itself apart from similar games with a few key differences. It featured an action-based battle system instead of the traditional turn-based one, as well as seamless drop-in co-op for up to three players.
Of course, being a Square RPG from the early ’90s, it has a classic soundtrack to match.
18. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch; 2017)
Like Sonic, it would be easy to put most Mario games on this list. Mario Odyssey injected some much-needed freshness into the series, with vast open worlds, a ton of objects to collect, and the ability for Mario to control his enemies.
It’s also got a kicking soundtrack, with the game’s varying locales offering fantastic tracks. From the irresistible “Jump Up, Super Star” (with vocals, which is a first for the Mario series) to the epic orchestral “Cascade Kingdom”, this is one for the ages. It’s a must-play for Switch owners.
19. Metroid Prime (GameCube; 2002)
Metroid Prime took the formula from the popular Super Metroid (a world that gradually opens up as you collect new abilities) and translated it perfectly into 3D. The game makes you feel alone in the wild lands of Tallon IV, and the music plays a big part in that.
From eerie atmospheric background pieces to intense boss fights, this soundtrack will have you ready to explore other planets.
20. Persona 5 (PS3, PS4; 2017)
Persona 5 is an RPG for the ages. It features a memorable cast of characters, a slick art style, fantastic dungeons, and an incredible 100+ hour runtime. The game’s soundtrack carries acid jazz influences, making it funky and upbeat. You’ll also find somber, introspective tracks, rock, and a whole lot more.
If you enjoy RPGs, you simply must experience this phenomenal work of art. But if you can’t spare the time, at least enjoy the OST.
The Best Video Game Music Is Worth Celebrating
You now have hours of game music to listen to while you work or study. Of course, dozens of other games could have made the list, but we selected these for their variety and exceptional quality. Be sure to check out soundtracks for other games in a series if you enjoyed one of these.
We’ve highlighted full-game soundtracks here, but YouTube is a great place to find mixes too. Have a look at the channel Luigi, which features mixes of relaxing music from various series.
If you love these soundtracks and want to hear more, hop over to Rainwave, the best video game music radio site. It hosts thousands of game tracks, lets you vote and keep track of your favorites, and even has a cooldown system to make sure there’s always something fresh playing.