For as long as video game consoles have been able to generate sound, music has had an impact on all of our favorite games. You can probably hum the original Tetris theme or the Super Mario Bros. theme if I asked you to, right? My point exactly. As time has progressed, and video games have evolved into interactive films, music has become even more important for a myriad of different reasons. Music can evoke feelings in ways that visuals can’t, especially when it’s a familiar tune. Music can set the ambiance for a scene, or the tone for an entire chapter (or game.) It’s not just composed music anymore, either - games have also been using licensed tracks for moments where a composition just wouldn’t work. We’ll get more into specifics later, but for now, let’s talk more about how music has evolved in video games and how music has impacted our favorite titles. 

Setting the Tone

There are plenty of games that use music to help get players into the moment and Nintendo’s first-party games like Mario, Legend of Zelda, and Pokemon do this masterfully. Some songs are designed to make you happy, some are designed to pump you up, and some are made to creep you out. No matter what they try to do, Nintendo’s music producers do a wonderful job of creating music which helps immerse you into the game. Keeping the first-party theme alive, the Halo series has always had incredible music to accompany its games. We all know the Halo title screen meme, but it’s because the music is so iconic that the meme even became popular in the first place! We’d also be remiss if we didn’t include the main theme from the series - we’ll go with the Halo 2 version as our favorite - as you knew it was about to go down when those drums hit. 

Outside of the Final Fantasy series has traditionally done a fantastic job of this, so much so that gamers even know the composer by name - Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu worked for series developer Square and composed the scores of the first eleven Final Fantasy titles, while also pitching in for some of the later titles, as well as the main theme to Super Smash Bros. Brawl. You know all the classic Final Fantasy songs, but if there’s a reason to link One-Winged Angel anywhere, you know we’re gonna do it. Jam with us. 

One game we’d particularly like to focus on is Street Fighter III: Third Strike. While you can debate on how good the gameplay is, there’s no debate that the soundtrack is probably the best when it comes to ambiance and getting the player in the right mindset. Third Strike’s official soundtrack (OST) took the jazzy, chillhop tunes from Second Impact, its predecessor, and added an infusion of traditional hip-hop and deep house to an already solid soundtrack and created one of the greatest soundtracks ever. “Beats In My Head” and “Jazzy NYC” are the songs most people know, outside of the character select theme, but every song on the soundtrack is incredible in its own right and helps set the atmosphere for every battle. Check out “The Longshoreman” (Shawn & Oro’s stage theme,) or KOBU (Ryu’s stage theme,) for deep cut bangers that you never knew you’d love. Street Fighter’s themes are always incredible, but Third Strike truly took its music to the next level. 

Getting Your License

Original soundtracks are great and all, but sometimes using familiar songs to generate feelings works better than even songs curated specifically for the game. The true master of this is Hideo Kojima, the former director of the Metal Gear Solid series. While the early series games didn’t feature too much licensed music, the final main series game, Metal Gear Solid V, was packed to the brim with licensed music cassettes that players could find and play on their iDroid, the in-game smart device Big Boss carries around. Players could also set their favorite song as their theme when the helicopter comes to pick them up. And yes, I do have “The Final Countdown” blaring from my helicopter’s speakers every time it lands, thanks for asking. 

MGSV also does an outstanding job of using their licensed songs to add some ambiance to the story. Kojima uses “The Man Who Sold the World” in the game’s intro, (and at another point in the game...but we won’t spoil anything…) but not the David Bowie version, or even the Nirvana version for that matter. Nope, Kojima uses a cover of the song performed by Scottish recording artist Midge Ure, which adds its own ominous tinge to an already portentous opening scene. 

But it’s not always about using these songs artfully. Sometimes, you just want some bangers to play in the background while you sift through menus and sign free agents. Sound familiar? Yeah - we’re going to talk about the mastery of the vaunted sports game soundtrack. 

Sports Games Soundtracks (and why they’re awesome)

Mid to late-2000s sports games will always have a special place in most 20-somethings’ hearts. We grew up with them and often remember them fondly. Yes, it’s true that while we’ll always say the old Madden and NBA 2K games were better than the current crop of games, the reality is that we’re just looking at these games through rose-colored glasses. While they’re certainly a ton of fun, they lack the realism and graphical power the current games have. We can argue about gameplay until we’re blue in the face, what can’t be disputed is how amazing these soundtracks were, and sports game soundtracks have continued to bring a perfect blend of music in each game.

Sports game soundtracks often feature a nice mix of genres, ranging from rock to hip-hop and just about everything in between.There’s also an awesome mix of popular and emerging artists that would break out thanks to whichever sports game their song was featured in. Think back to Madden NFL 2004, where the diverse soundtrack featured established acts like Blink-182, Big Boi, and Avenged Sevenfold, but introduced us to acts like Jet, Yellowcard (RIP), and Joe Budden. Fast forward to Madden NFL 19, and you have artists debuting songs in the game! These aren’t lesser-known talent debuting songs in Madden, either - we’re talking the likes of A$AP Ferg and Migos. The team behind the Madden soundtrack is also updating the list on a regular basis to avoid the “staleness” of sports game soundtracks. For the last few additions to the NBA 2K series, developers 2K Games have partnered with popular artists like Drake, Travis Scott, Jay-Z, and more to curate the game’s playlist. Just goes to show how important these playlists are to the overall gaming experience. 

So what’s your favorite video game soundtrack? Is it an orchestral marvel like Final Fantasy VII’s soundtrack? Or do you prefer a Madden or Need for Speed soundtrack full of your favorite hits? Visit Subnation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and let us know! 

Live performances?