17 videogame soundtracks ahead of their time

Hear the games that dared to be more than noise

Sample song: Intro

Why it was ahead of its time
Utterly obscure in 2009, King Arthur’s World was mildly known back in the day for being the very first videogame to support Dolby Surround. The music itself was fine and good, not necessarily groundbreaking or inspired, but worth noting for introducing 16-bit gamers to separated audio channels.


Above: If our embedded file loses surround, this should still have it

As long as we’re on the subject, King Arthur’s World is also one of the very few games to support the SNES mouse peripheral that shipped with Mario Paint. An RTS on the SNES? With mouse support? Why wasn’t this a bigger hit?




Platform
3DO

Sample song: Rusty Cage (Soundgarden)

Why it was ahead of its time
You know how Tony Hawk games license the hottest new and upcoming bands of each year? Road Rash did it five years before the first Hawk entry, and stars bands like Soundgarden, Monster Magnet, Therapy? and Hammerbox, bands that capitalized on the total grunge/alternative takeover of the early ‘90s.


Above: GR’s own Eric Bratcher literally starts jumping up and down every time Hammerbox’s guitar solo kicks in

Granted, the Tony Hawk games packed more bands and more songs onto one disc, but for 1994 this was a brand new idea. Promoting new bands with them newfangled videogames? Unheard of!


Platform
Super NES

Sample song: Aquatic Ambiance

Why it was ahead of its time
DKC is notable for many reasons (return of Donkey Kong, pre-rendered graphics, start of Nintendo’s “aggressive” marketing), but the soundtrack is just about the only one that’s stood the test of time. Its composer, David Wise, mixed a rich, varied soundtrack using animal sound effects, soothing backbeats and catchy riffs, and was one of the very first game music CDs released in the US. Up until then, the very concept of releasing videogame music on CD or cassette was ridiculous, even though Japanese gamers routinely see game soundtracks for sale. Check the album, DK Jamz, by lookinghere.


Above: Fear Factory, another fan favorite

The Donkey Kong franchise has tapered off since then (Jungle Beat being the last decent game), so you can thank DKC and its long-lived soundtrack for sustaining DK’s popularity through these dark days.



Platform
Super NES

Sample song: Terra’s theme

Why it was ahead of its time
Make no mistake, just about every game to bear the Final Fantasy name carries with it a fantastic set of songs that’ll undoubtedly be fawned over and heavily remixed for years to come. But in our eyes, the epic three-disc soundtrack of FFVI set a precedent that all other top-tier RPGs had to follow. Chrono Trigger, FFVII, Dragon Quest VIII and others have lived on after their release thanks to their robust soundtracks, something we say might not have happened without Terra, Edgar and their friends inspiring Nobuo Uematsu to craft thesingle bestFinal Fantasy OSTof all time. As popular as the series was even in 1994, the soundtracks had never reached this level of completeness.


Above: The Phantom Forest, invoking a bit of Danny Elfman’s “Jack’s Lament” from The Nightmare Before Christmas

Every single song is noteworthy, from the unforgettable intro tune to the unprecedented ending song that clocks in at an astonishing 21 minutes. Truly one of the most impressive collections of game music, placed here for both its uncompromisingly strong compositions, vast number of tracks, a full album release in the US (as Kefka’s Domain in 1994) and some of the most impressive use of the SNES’ beefy sound chip.

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