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Video game music has evolved from sets of simple bleeps into full-scale orchestral soundtracks. It has become so diverse, in fact, that many people enjoy listening to game music for studying.
While listening to original game soundtracks is great, there are entire genres of music that have inspired, or been inspired by, video games. Today, we want to highlight several music genres that all true gamers should love.
Synthwave, also known as retrowave or outrun, is a type of electronic music that sounds straight out of the 1980s. Think music to set the scene of a tough guy in a leather jacket jumping into his fiery red sports car while the city looks down with neon lights.
It’s typically instrumental, and features retro ’80s themes like corny action and science fiction in its artwork and track names. Expect to hear a lot of synthesizers and pounding electronic bass.
Many gamers were introduced to synthwave thanks to 2013’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. The entire game is a parody of 1980s action movies, from its characters to the synthwave soundtrack. But even if you missed the game, synthwave is a great genre for gamers thanks to its rad influences and electronic beats.
Sample artists: Lazerhawk, Miami Nights 1984, Mitch Murder, Waveshaper, Wolf and Raven
Simply put, J-pop is Japanese pop music. Thanks to the internet bringing greater Western interest in Japanese culture through mediums such as anime, more people have started paying attention to Japanese music. Typically, J-pop is fast-paced, has rock elements, and may even contain some English lyrics.
If you have played many Japanese-developed games, you’ve likely come across a soundtrack comprised at least somewhat of J-pop. The Dance Dance Revolution series contains plenty of high-energy songs from this genre. You’ll also hear J-pop inspired tunes in The World Ends With You and the Bayonetta series.
Sample artists: AKB48, Arashi, Hey! Say! JUMP, Momoiro Clover Z, Stereopony
Just because early video game soundtracks were primitive doesn’t mean that we’ve abandoned them. Chiptune, or 8-bit music, is a genre composed of simple computerized blips and bloops. On retro consoles like the NES and Game Boy, these basic soundtracks emerged due to hardware limitations. Today, many composers create chiptune music inspired by these classic games, yet free from their restrictions.
Lots of now-legendary tunes got their start in chiptune form. The main themes from Zelda and Mario, various stages from Mega Man, and the Pokémon battle theme all started in modest 8-bit. Many recent indie games, like Shovel Knight and VVVVVV, feature modern chiptune music.
Sample artists: Bit Shifter, Goto80, Rushjet1, SpellingPhailer, Xinon
Next up is something a little heavier. Djent, an onomatopoeia, is a loosely-classified subset of progressive/heavy metal. It’s notable for palm-muted distorted guitar sounds.
Often instrumental (but not always), djent music usually contains lots of complicated riffs and long solos. Often, bands use seven or eight-string guitars to achieve the unique sound.
The in-your-face soundtrack to Doom (2016) is a recent example of djent video game music. While some classify it as industrial metal, there’s no denying that its angry guitar and complex melodies fairly fit as djent. Its intensity makes it a great genre of music to listen to when you work out.
Sample artists: Animals As Leaders, Chimp Spanner, Intervals, Polarization, Scale the Summit
5. Gregorian Chant/Plainchant
You might not think that such an archaic genre of music would appeal to video game fans. Gregorian chant, a form of plainchant, is a monophonic type of song that originated from the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. In its traditional form, Gregorian chant is simple, with no music and sung in free rhythm.
Yet video games have used chant to great effect. Notably, the Halo series features a Gregorian Chant-like tune on its title screens. Zelda: Ocarina of Time‘s Temple of Time has chanting music inside, and the music of the Dark Souls series features chants also. Even to people unfamiliar with the genre, there’s something quite beautiful about it.
Sample artists: Check out the Spotify artist below for plenty of Gregorian chant:
6. Acid Jazz
Do you find traditional jazz a little boring? Then acid jazz may just be for you. It takes elements of regular jazz and spices them up with dashes of soul, funk, and groove. But thanks to electronic music becoming more popular, acid jazz isn’t as well-known these days.
Recently, acid jazz was prominently featured in the phenomenal Persona 5 soundtrack. It helps set the scene for both the game’s version of Tokyo and battling in wild dungeons. This genre makes for fun listening anywhere, and can add some groove to any situation.
Sample artists: The Brand New Heavies, The Groove, Incognito, James Taylor Quartet, Jamiroquai
Most people are familiar with dubstep, the wildly popular genre of electronic music characterized by heavy bass. Chillstep dials this back a bit with low bass, slow beats, and a general soothing tone. While dubstep can quickly become grating, chillstep makes great background noise.
The recent indie Metroidvania title Axiom Verge features a few tracks loosely connected to the genre. While it’s hard to point to a few particular video game series known for chillstep music, this genre could easily serve as generic background music for a variety of games. Unless you despise electronic tunes, you should enjoy chillstep.
Sample artists: CMA, Lookz, Mapps, Sappheiros, Wayr
What’s Your Favorite Music Genre From a Game?
We’ve taken a look at several genres of music that have some connection to video games. You probably won’t hear these on the radio, but each offers a deep library of music to enjoy. Whether you want more music similar to what you’ve heard in a game or just wonder what type of music is out there, we hope you’ve found at least one new music genre worth exploring.
If you love video game music, try listening to game music radio to find plenty of new tunes.
Did you know about any of these music genres? Which of the ones we featured piques your interest the most?