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17 videogame soundtracks ahead of their time

 
Platform
Super NES

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 looking here.


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 the single best Final Fantasy OST of 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.

72 comments

  • ross_drew - January 11, 2012 8:42 a.m.

    Aw what?! The Sensible themes never made it in? http://soundcloud.com/ross-drew
  • mrmorozov987 - June 10, 2010 9:43 p.m.

    I can't believe you missed Doom. Doom! Blasting demons in the face wouldn't have been half as fun without the ear-splitting 90's hard rock.
  • Imgema - May 18, 2010 11:33 p.m.

    I would add F-Zero X. Why? Because, it has death metal music in it. Complete with nonsensical distorted vocals (listen to Devil's Forest theme). But that's not the only reason... The other reason is that its for Nintendo for Christ sake! You would never expect a soundtrack like that from a Nintendo developed game and of course you will NEVER see another one, ever again.
  • arahman56 - February 27, 2010 12:04 a.m.

    What? No love for Monty on the Run's theme? Unless you're told, you wouldn't even think that it's from a Commodore 64 game.
  • Fat - May 14, 2009 1:53 a.m.

    I thoroughly remember the Donkey Kong ambient theme. I remember playing this game so long ago, I even remember that level being a pain in the ass. Aaahh, nostalgia.
  • LionheartAce - May 4, 2009 3:06 p.m.

    Super Smash Bros. Brawl OST is a beast, I crapped my pants at most all of the songs.
  • dland - May 4, 2009 12:46 a.m.

    Good job Brett!! You did a fine article, and you are the master of VG music. I bow to you.
  • Kang81 - May 3, 2009 1:17 a.m.

    Hands down, the music from the Donkey Kong Country series has the best scores ever! Aquatic Ambiance for the win...only the best video game song ever made, imo. Now if I could only find a way to take that track from my iPhone and turn it into a ring tone.
  • theatticusera - May 2, 2009 9:12 p.m.

    Sonic rush is one of the best platormers ever :)
  • Red - May 2, 2009 12:39 a.m.

    Gotta raise my hand here and say that I still listen to the music from Jet Grind Radio and Jet Set Radio Future occasionally.
  • sharker - May 1, 2009 1:19 a.m.

    wait, i don't know what i'm talking about
  • iluvmyDS - April 30, 2009 1:35 a.m.

    Loved all the selections. Hopefully we'll hear these on the podcast.
  • PCG_Evan - April 29, 2009 5:23 p.m.

    Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Earthworm Jim, DOOM, and a hojillion other PC games would've qualified well for this, too.
  • BenitoMasterSystem - April 29, 2009 3:50 p.m.

    How come a karate chopping, fu manchu moustache wearing giant onion doesn't get any shit for a gong sound effect, but TDar had to retire theirs?!?! Injustice if ever there was one.
  • Xplosive59 - April 29, 2009 3:41 p.m.

    WOOT sound garden Fear factory DK is not any indication to the industrial death metal band Fear Factory REcaptcha: Castrate large (dont hurt me)
  • RedOutlive10 - April 29, 2009 1:55 p.m.

    Definitely yes for Metal Gear Solid's Encounter. Made boss battles unforgettable.
  • dustLOOP - April 29, 2009 11:32 a.m.

    What about Castlevania SOTN - Lost Paintings?! That track orchestral-wise in the game ost world is light years ahead of its time. Well I think so anyway :D
  • G0LFK4RT - April 29, 2009 10:54 a.m.

    My favourite ones on this list are Castlevania III, Silver Surfer, and MGS. I actually don't like the Megaman soundtrack that much, but I really really like the Megaman 2 soundtrack. Dr Wily Stage 1 FTW. ReCaptcha: Yellowed Especially
  • sprog - April 29, 2009 10:19 a.m.

    First of all, an absolutely cracking article! It was good to see FF6's theme in there, that games had music that provoked the rare (at the time) feeling that you weren't just playing a game, you were following an epic and well crafted story. If I had to add anything to the list I'd have to say Thunder Force IV - those riffs were amazing -, FF7's One Winged Angel - an entire choir assembled for one last boss theme? Crazy! - and I always loved the Pyramid Head boss music at the end of SH2, horrifing and beautiful at the same time with such despairing, tragic air.
  • FistfulofPelican - April 29, 2009 8:55 a.m.

    10/10 for including UmJammer Lammy music!

Showing 1-20 of 72 comments

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