17 videogame soundtracks ahead of their time

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?


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!

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.

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.

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  • TheWoolyMammoth - April 28, 2009 9:44 p.m.

    Wow! Brilliant article Brett! Hits home with me as I'm a massive gaming soundtrack nerd also. The earlier Sonic games are the tunes that I find the most impressive, also ones I listen to consistently today. Only picked Brawl up a couple of days ago and the first thing I noticed was the amount of music on offer, must have wasted over 2 hours listening to it all before I even played the damn game!
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - April 28, 2009 10:26 p.m.

    Aquatic Ambiance!
  • leroybrown - April 28, 2009 11:27 p.m.

    Good list. However, Naoto Shibata's excellent shred version of Castlevania III (from Dracula Battle released in Japan) is FAR FAR superior to the sloppy, out of tune, childish mush by the Minibosses. Here's a link, enjoy!
  • twishart - April 29, 2009 1:01 a.m.

    Elston: great editor, or greatest editor?
  • 435 - April 29, 2009 1:11 a.m.

    Streets of Rage and ToeJam & Earl. Two of the best soundtracks ever created. I squee every time I hear a track from either of them.
  • onesweetdream11 - April 29, 2009 1:15 a.m.

  • RareHero - April 29, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    I got something to add. Ridge Racer Type 4's soundtrack should probably go down as one of the best of all time. Here's a link:
  • TrIp13G - April 29, 2009 2:04 a.m.

    CV III's beginning level theme is so tight. Also, you totally brought back some great memories with the inclusion of Spidey's theme from Arcade's Revenge.
  • TyeTheCzar - April 29, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    I highly recommend you check out the Japan-only Indie-developed(by one guy) Touhou series for it's great music(Visit for more information). I'm telling you, their tunes(all done by one guy... who also makes the entire games) rival that of top-banana composers. Here are some examples of the songs; note that they've recieved a LOT of remix treatment there:
  • JakkedGamer - April 29, 2009 4:40 a.m.

    The duke nukem guitar theme should've made it on this list, and i'm not just saying that because i'm a duke fan, i'm also a musician.
  • madrejugo - April 29, 2009 4:54 a.m.

    You forgot The moon level soundtrack from Ducktales, for the nes.
  • garnsr - April 29, 2009 5:22 a.m.

    I think Wipeout XL definitely deserves a place, it got me into techno-type music. Castlevania has the best music in any video game. Whatever happened to Yuzo Koshiro, he was so huge in the 16 Bit era. And nothing from Tommy Tallarico?
  • GR_DavidHoughton - April 29, 2009 8:35 a.m.

    Aquatic Ambience and Terra's Theme back-to-back? Are you trying to kill my ears with joy, Brett?
  • bruce - April 29, 2009 10:06 a.m.

    It's a shame that DK devolved to that Kong-Rap or whatever it was called in DK64. Also I'm going to start listening to Out Run in my car! Prime driving music!
  • teamRAMrod37 - April 29, 2009 11:23 a.m.

    I almost drowned in nostalgia when I heard Aquatic Ambiance.
  • TheWoolyMammoth - April 29, 2009 12:06 p.m.

    Remember, it's not a list of every soundtrack ahead of it's time, just 17 examples of said tracks! =)
  • FinalGamer - April 29, 2009 12:18 p.m.

    As my first post ever in this place, lemme just say I wholeheartedly agree with this entire article. I mean I'm a real fan of videogame music, BIG fan, it's the only thing I listen to all day even, and I didn't even realise about a few of these until now. I love when you guys do articles on music, thanks for this one.
  • miiketakashi - April 29, 2009 1:27 p.m.

    I'm reliving some classic C64 games and soundtracks, so this article couldn't have come at a better time. I remember One Man and His Droid being used during Ghostbuster's game-within-a-game, Invade-A-Load! It still sounds fantastic today, that was the power of the C64's SID chip, it was always ahead of its time.
  • BenitoMasterSystem - April 29, 2009 3:54 p.m.

    Oh, and i can't believe there's nothing from Jet Grind Radio on here.. Also, I'm a sucker for ambient, haunting music and aquatic ambience is awesome..

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