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Video game music is one of the most exciting areas of contemporary music, with composers like Austin Wintory, Jessica Curry and Nobuo Uematsu winning fans the world over with their video game soundtracks.
Sony’s 2018 instalment of the God of War saga was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. And it proved to be one of the most acclaimed – not least because of Bear McCreary’s epic soundtrack. The atmospheric soundtrack includes contributions from an Icelandic choir, Nordic instruments like the nyckelharpa and hurdy gurdy and plenty of grumbling orchestral bass. Picture: SIE Santa Monica Studio/Sony Interactive
Unlike most of the games on this list, Monument Valley 2 is a mobile game. The concept is simple: you have to guide the characters (Ro and her child) through a series of puzzle mazes that include optical illusions and intricate moving parts. And the elegant simplicity of the design and concept are reflected in the music and sound design by Todd Baker. He said: “I wanted to create a sound aesthetic that felt gentle and spacious." Picture: ustwo Games
Austin Wintory’s soundtrack to Sony’s Journey caught the world’s attention when it was shortlisted for the Grammy Award for ‘Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media’, up against the scores for The Dark Knight Rises, Hugo and The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo (which ended up winning the gong). The nomination brought Wintory’s soundtrack to a whole new audience and cemented its place in the pantheon of great video game music. Picture: Sony Computer Entertainment
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was a first-person game that was as much artwork as game. And the stunning soundtrack was written by Jessica Curry (who has presented two series of High Score on Classic FM). The story begins like this: you’re in a village in Shropshire and everyone has disappeared. The whole village is transfused with a beautiful golden light, but every living thing has gone. Picture: The Chinese Room
Japanese video game composer Nobuo Uematsu is probably the world's most well-known, and something of a legend in his own country thanks to his stirring scores for the long-running Final Fantasy series. Through several entries in the series, Uematsu's scores are a constant as players battle their way through dangerous and enchanted worlds. The scores have become so well-loved that concerts of Uematsu's Final Fantasy works have been sell-out successes across the world.
A lush fantasy and a key title for Nintendo, the various incarnations of The Legend of Zelda have become classics. The music from this game has become so popular that it's been expanded and developed into a four-movement orchestral symphony called 'Symphony of the Godesses'. Composer Koji Kondo has worked for Nintendo since 1986 and is the mastermind behind many of their most famous titles.
We recommend 'Nate's Theme' from this action adventure game. With a brass chorale effect and some thunderous drumming, composer Greg Edmonson brings a thoroughly cinematic dynamic to this short work. Uncharted and its various sequels have won several awards and sold upwards of 17 million copies.
Classics don't come much bigger than this in video games, but it might surprise you to learn that it started life as a Russian folk song called Korobeiniki from the 19th century. Thanks to its tinny appearance in Nintendo's 1989 GameBoy classic, it's become affectionately known as 'The Tetris Song'. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have recorded a jaunty little version of this one that's well worth exploring. Well, we couldn't leave this one out, could we?
Composed by Joris De Man, this battle-hardened epic of a soundtrack was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. A high-watermark in action-adventure video game music, Joris De Man's score is liable to make even the most timid person believe they're on a special ops mission.
If anyone needed proof of video games having the same stature as movies, Enslaved provided it. Written by The Beach's Alex Garland, starring Lord Of The Rings actor Andy Serkis and with a soundtrack from Nitin Sawhney, this adventure epic was a blockbuster in 2010. Sawhney's score draws on a rich variety of sources and lets rip with a full orchestral arrangement.
Yasunori Mitsuda reportedly worked so hard on the soundtrack for Chrono Trigger that he frequently passed out and eventually gave himself a stomach ulcer and was hospitalised. Now that's dedication. The music for Chrono Trigger and the follow-up, Chrono Cross, have both enjoyed popularity in the concert hall as well as on the screen. With world music influences and almost Wagnerian dramatics, this is intense stuff.
This swords-and-dragons epic has a suitably epic soundtrack, provided by Jeremy Soule. For the recordings, Soule enlisted a 30-strong choir of barbarian voices singing in the game's own invented language. It's perhaps no surprise to learn that Soule is known as 'the John Williams of video game soundtracks' - this is symphonic, tuneful and exciting, and it even made the Classic FM Hall of Fame!
Yoko Shimomura is notable not only for being one of the only female video game composers, but also for the lightness of the music. The game itself is a role-playing adventure (a co-production between Disney and Sqauresoft), and feature a voice cast including Haley Joel Osment and Hayden Panettiere.
Before he was a Hollywood composer in demand for his atmospheric scores for JJ Abrams, Michael Giacchino was hired to record a suitably cinematic score for Medal of Honor, which featured a storyline created by none other than Steven Spielberg. As you might expect for a game that offers a realistic depiction of World War II, the main theme is part respectful anthem, part militaristic march.
Christopher Tin's theme from the strategy game Civilisation IV was the first video game soundtrack to win a Grammy award. Recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Soweto Gospel Choir, it has the same accessibility and verve of Karl Jenkins.
With a full orchestra and a Latin-singing chorus, Danish composer Jesper Kyd's expansive soundtrack for Hitman 2 could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood score. He also wangles in some light electronics for many of his compositions, so expect to hear something slightly different every time. Kyd also won a BAFTA for the soundtrack to Hitman 2's sequel, Hitman: Contracts.
Taking a smooth, late-night jazz bar vibe and applying it to a video game might not sound like a natural move, but British composer Simon Hale's soundtrack for LA Noire does exactly that. And it clearly works, because Hale was the most recent recipient of the video games BAFTA.
The Halo franchise is one of the most popular in video games history (as the queue in the photo suggests) and Martin O'Donnell's soundtrack is suitably blockbusting as well. In fact, the original soundtrack is still the best-selling video game soundtrack of all time. Try the main theme - it's gently choral with some serious orchestral clout (and electric guitar!).
Harry Gregson-Williams made his name as a film and TV composer before dipping his toes in the world of video games music. Films like Enemy of the State and Shrek gave him a suitably cinematic background before he started work on the legendary Metal Gear Solid games. With electronic effects over an orchestral bed, Gregson-Williams perfectly captures the espionage feel of the game.