Music has always been an integral part of the video game world. Whether it was a particular theme that was triggered when you stepped into the overworld for the first time or a song that played during an emotional cutscene, every gamer has those songs which they will never forget.
These are the soundtracks that brought me closest to crying like a tiny baby. I’d say that a sense of mourning and/or sadness permeates each of these soundtracks, although some of them certainly contain other types of feels.
Journey – Austin Wintory
Whereas most game soundtracks contain standout tracks with their own individual personalities, Journey’s score is more about the sum of its parts. The themes that hit me the hardest when I played through the game are solace, wonder, and mourning. These themes are only enhanced by the beautiful soundtrack, which is with you every step of the way.
The strings are the biggest part of the music, reaching those rough lows and screeching highs. Flutes, bells, and drums also find their way into the mix; there is even a vocal piece reserved for the credits that ties everything together.
Journey wouldn’t be the game it is without its music. Its soundtrack is one of my favorites to listen to all the way through when I’m feeling particularly serious.
Undertale – Toby Fox
Undertale just barely released at the end of 2015, but I can bet that its music will be remembered for a long time. Its whopping 101 song soundtrack hearkens back to the days when game music was all about melody; many of the songs are even chiptune inspired.
The music you hear in the game depends on how you decide play it. The tracks that play when you go through the “genocide run” (which involves killing everything) fills you with a sense of emptiness and despair. Play through the “true pacifist run” (where you spare everything) and the music “fills you with determination.”
Songs such as “Undertale” and “Home (Music Box)” really bring home the feels. Two of the most moving songs in the game are “Heartache” and “Hopes and Dreams”, which is interesting because they’re both battle songs. There’s just so much variety in the score, with chiptunes, strings, synths, and some guitar, among other instruments. Undertale’s soundtrack is playful and unnerving at the same time. Hopeful, yet dark. Truly one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, in any medium.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep – Yoko Shimomura (and others)
One of the things Kingdom Hearts is most known for is its music. You can tell Square-Enix put a lot of time and money into making the soundtrack in every game stand out.
Each entry’s soundtrack is filled with basically every instrument that plays in an orchestra and even some synths. For me, the most emotionally touching soundtrack belongs to Birth by Sleep. “Tears of the Light” and “Ventus” break my cold heart into hundreds of jagged pieces (careful not to step on them). Of course you have “Dearly Beloved” as you do in every other entry, but I think this one is the best version. “Destiny’s Union” is hopeful, but also mournful; it’s quite the tearjerker.
This soundtrack is one of the reasons Yoko Shimomura is my favorite game composer. If you haven’t listened to her music before, Birth by Sleep is a good place to start.
The Last of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla
The Last of Us is usually praised for its immersive gameplay and mature story, but its music deserves just as much recognition.
Many of the songs are ambient and don’t contain much melody, but they do help set the mood for the emptiness and horror you encounter as you trek through abandoned landscapes. When the melody does hit, it hits harder than Joel’s fists could ever hit you.
The soundtrack contains multiple arrangements of some songs, with “The Last of Us (Never Again)” and “All Gone (No Escape)” being standouts. The game’s score makes heavy use of bass, guitar, and strings; these instruments define the soundtrack. “Vanishing Grace” and “The Choice” are also responsible for quite the “feels-trip.”
Final Fantasy X – Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, and Junya Nakano
It has always been my strong opinion that games from Japan have the most memorable soundtracks. Final Fantasy X is no exception. The first track you hear when the game boots up (“At Zanarkand”) is one of the game’s best and saddest. It consists entirely of piano, but that’s all it needs.
By the end of the game, you’ve heard “Yuna’s Theme,” multiple versions of “Song of Prayer,” and one of my favorites, “Wandering Flame.” “Suteki Da Ne” (translated as “Isn’t It Beautiful?”) is the game’s vocal piece, and even though I don’t understand lyrics, it still resonates with me. I have looked up the translation of the lyrics though and they’re truly poetic.
This article was submitted by Nathanael Hueso.