8 game soundtracks to make you feel something

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music

We all know that music can have a profound impact on our lives, but it can also change our perceptions of games. I have deeply emotional connections to some gaming experiences, primarily because of the soundtracks rather than necessarily the gameplay. I’m not just talking about soundtracks that sounded great, but ones that instantly make me remember the emotional journey, and feel it all over again.

Journey

First up is Austin Wintory’s Journey soundtrack. Whether or not Journey was the emotional experience that you were hoping for or not, Wintory’s music helps to create the emotional canvass upon which you can project your own feelings and psyche. Seamlessly mixing yearning string themes with lyrical winds, the music seems foreign and yet somehow familiar. Listening to the music can make you feel mournful or optimistic and adventurous depending on your own mood and interpretation, making it perfectly suited to the emotional arc of the game. Beautifully, the themes presented throughout the various tracks build to a stunning climax in the final moments of the game, reminding players of the touching journey they have just completed.

Child of Light

Béatrice Martin (aka Cœur de Pirate) composed a true tour de force with Child of Light’s soundtrack. Capturing the light and playful notes of childhood combined with the deeper and more circumspect melodies, each song harkens to the turmoil of coming of age. With an emphasis on piano, the soundtrack is able to remind players of the percussively traumatic nature of personal growth, along with the range and scale of opportunity. It is at once sad and delightful, filled with whimsy while still held together with an undercurrent of foreboding. Dissonance resolves in new ways as the journey progresses, highlighting that deeply emotional and personal knowledge we all hold inside us – we can overcome troublesome periods, but we will forever be changed by them.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Composed by Gareth Coker, Ori and the Blind Forest manages to capture players’ emotions by the end of the opening sequence. However, despite the oppressively sad opening, we are able to progress through the entire experience and even get caught up in the adventure of it all. This is done in part through Peter and the Wolf-styled musical elements where each character has their own instrumental theme, distinguishing them but also helping players to connect with the unique personalities given to them by their melodies. Although filled with moments of great sadness, the soundtrack is ultimately uplifting and inspiring.

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Transistor

Unique among the games on this list, Transistor actually focuses on a character who used to be a singer but has since lost her voice. As a result, the soundtrack echoes what we can only imagine was her voice prior to the incident. While there are introspective moments that can make the mood almost chilling, the majority of the music feels rebellious and assertive. Thanks to clever use of electronic and house motifs by composer Darren Korb juxtaposed with the aching vocals by Ashley Barrett, each track feels like a dare to feel something more. Listening to the soundtrack is about more than getting energized and excited, it feels like a challenge to overcome hardships and prove the world wrong.

(The official video isn’t allowed to be embedded, but you really should go listen here.)

Thomas Was Alone

While the voice acting was a big sell for Thomas Was Alone, the game managed to do something that would seemingly be impossible – it made players care about squares and rectangles. Without faces or voices of their own, each character was distinct and important, and their stories became deeply tied to the player’s. With a soundtrack by David Housden, the tracks are strangely upbeat and amusing while still filled with notes of dissonance and reflection. Even the jubilant exhilaration of freedom builds from a point of uncertainty without falling into the trap of being overly moody.

Shadow of the Colossus

Written by Kow Omani, the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack takes players through the highs and lows of an epic adventure. The exuberance of riding a horse across an open field is captured just as deeply as the dread of encountering a seemingly insurmountable challenge. The arrangement plays a bit part of it, with the percussion perfectly balancing the use of winds to keep it grounded while still allowing the imagination and feelings to soar.

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The Last of Us

Composed by Gustavo Santaolalla, the Last of Us soundtrack is part of what built the feeling of emotional connection between Joel and Ellie. Through use of guitars and other string instruments, mixed with hand-held percussion, the music sounds like something you might hear around a campfire at the end of the world, but on a grander scale. There is a resigned sadness to the dissonance built into each theme, as though we all know that we can’t avoid the horrible things in the world, and yet there are high notes and moments of such joy and momentary resolutions that still leave moments to be hopeful.

Nier

When I think of emotional soundtracks, the first game that always comes to mind is Nier. While the gameplay needed a lot more, but soundtrack was near to perfect. Composed by Keiichi Okabe with his team including Kakeru Ishihama and Keigo Hoashi, the music was designed so that the various motifs would appear in different arrangements throughout the soundtrack, conveying a sense of sadness even during thrilling tracks. The deeply mournful feelings combined with the lyrical heights urging players to move on and find joy further along expressed throughout were so moving that I often refused to leave certain areas of the game without stopping to reflect upon what had just happened. If any game could bring me to tears through its music alone, it’s Nier.

Most games are putting more attention into their soundtracks, with some excellent indie and AAA titles realizing that it’s through the music that players are able to connect with the content more profoundly. While other soundtracks are excellent and memorable, these are the ones that still make me remember exactly what it felt like to play the game, even if it’s been years since I played through the experience.

Which ones do you still remember making you feel happy, sad, angry or everything in-between?

Last Updated: October 15, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let’s get on with it!

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    Game soundtracks, like movie soundtracks, don’t mean much to me because they’re background noise for the most part. I only really notice them when they’re bad. Actual songs are a different story, those I can listen to and appreciate the lyrics – but the standard instrumental stuff may as well be instrumehntal as far as I’m concerned.

    • Mistake Not…

      80% of my music library is instrumental, and from game and movie soundtracks. I’m always keeping an ear out when I’m playing a game or watching a movie. I actually get annoyed when the music is too soft.

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        I can appreciate it in context while playing a game, but outside of that it’s just a big fat nope.

        Steam introduced a music player feature a while back that searches through your installed games & stuff to build a little soundtrack library – I gave it a quick test with the Bastion soundtrack, which is pretty good, but listening to it outside the game just did nothing for me. Odd.

        • Mistake Not…

          Yeah, game soundtracks is a bit of a niche market. But regardless of whether you listen to it outside the game or not, I think it’s very important that it works in context. It can really help with immersion.

          • (Umar) Must be Cipher

            I don’t know….I wouldn’t consider it a niche market at all, especially when looking at sales of these albums on iTunes and all the concerts that keep popping up.

          • Mistake Not…

            You’re right. I think people just talk about it a lot less. Maybe if 5FM could start playing some Final Fantasy or Skyrim things would turn around.

    • For thge most part, I’m like you – and it barely registers in my head. But subconsciously, the music makes a huge part of the experience, and when I hear *some* game music, I’m transported right back to the game. Notable ones for me are Child of Light, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Ori and the Blind Forest. And Guile’s Theme from SF2, of course. 😛

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        What about the minion theme song?

        • Mistake Not…

          This minions thing is getting ridiculous XD. I’ll make sure I never tell you guys what I hate.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            Geoff broke the rule by admitting something that he totally loathes, and putting that on the internet

          • Mistake Not…

            Lesson learned.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            I LOATHE it when popular Youtubers send me royalties

          • Mistake Not…

            Any poplular Youtubers around? No? I guess you’re outta luck. I loathe it when I win bloody Lazygamer competitions.

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        That’s because Guile is the best SF character.

    • Commander JJ of the Normandy

      *unfriends*

  • Deceased

    Listened to the Ori track – what a game!!!

    On a side note – You seem to have missed this gem:

    • HHHHGGGGGGGGGGGNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

      • Mistake Not…

        Is that a moan of sadness or… something else?

        • *whistles*

          • Mistake Not…

            Haha, daily dirty joke quota achieved.

          • hehehe

          • Hammersteyn

            You need a happy tissue or a sad tissue?

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Either way the tissue will end up being very sad.

          • Grand Admiral Chief

            Ewwwwwwwwwwwww

          • No idea what you are talking about

    • Hammersteyn

      *cries*

      • Deceased

        +1

    • Grand Admiral Chief

      SANIC!!!!

  • Mistake Not…

    I own 5/8 of these. Yes, I listen to the music outside of the games. Sometimes I’m more excited for the music than I am for the game (AC: Syndicate for instance). But Transistor, though. Dayum, it made me emotional. And Child of Light & Ori is just something special.
    And let’s not forget Skyrim. I even own the album signed by the composer, Jeremy Soule.

    • Mistake Not…

      And Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Civilization: Beyond Earth. Damn, no one I know listens to this kinda music. Finally somewhere to talk about it.

      • DEHR,Child of Light and Ori are some of the best soundtracks I’ve listened to.

        • Mistake Not…

          YES! Makes me love Ubisoft very very slightly. Only for the music, though.
          And Michael McCan is on board for DE: Mankind Divided.

        • Grand Admiral Chief

          I need to get Ori, been hearing awesome things about it. And as I told you earlier today, got the CoL soundtrack on repeat

  • Hammersteyn

    Track 1, fits the game perfectly

    • Hammersteyn

      XD

  • Hammersteyn

    And of course…. Where’s the third game!

    • Grand Admiral Chief

      Yeah, epic soundtrack!

      • Guild

      • Guild

      • Guild

      • Guild

      • Guild

      • Guild

  • Grand Admiral Chief

    Music maketh the game

  • A villain so awesome he has his own epic music with his own name in it xD

  • (Umar) Must be Cipher

    Nier…..
    Zoe knows what’s up!

  • Grand Admiral Chief

    I REALLY enjoyed the Witcher 3’s soundtrack.

    The Fields of Ard Skellig is my favourite, oh and of course, Dink Up, There’s More!

    • Dutch Matrix

      Dink Up?

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        Ja man, dink, dink die dink dans masjien

    • (Umar) Must be Cipher

      FREKKING LOVE THE MENU THEME OF WITCHER 3

      • Grand Admiral Chief

        Have you listened to the rest of em? GOLDEN!

  • Grand Admiral Chief

    TWA!!!!!!!!

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    I just remembered this one… tee hee

    • That is cringe worthy

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        🙁

  • (Umar) Must be Cipher

    I LOOOOOOOOOVE LOOOOVE LOOOOOVE Team J.D.K. One of the best in-house bands imo. Nihon Falcom rocks!

  • DragonSpirit009

    I’m a huge fan when it comes to music in games or movies. I haven’t even played some of the games but I do have most of the music on that list. Usually listen to them at work… helps with the day dreaming.
    And I still get goose bumps when I listen to that song of Ori! I love every second of it!

    • Mistake Not…

      People at Lazygamer know where it’s at when it comes to music.

      • Dutch Matrix

        SNOTKOP 4 EVA! JURIE ELS RULES MY BED! LEON SCHUSTER HAS MY HEART!

      • DragonSpirit009

        Which is why I’m glad I can talk to people about it here. In my personal everyone just looks at me funny

        • Mistake Not…

          Whenever anyone asks what I listen to I just say everything because they usually get the wrong idea when I try to explain. At least here I can skip the preamble and just talk about what I like with like-minded people. Best website ever.

  • Dutch Matrix

    I know this is not…well, they did have a T2 game didn’t they? If I’m buried, I want my coffin lowered into the ground with the theme song from Terminator 2 accompanying my final descent.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      That’s what you want, what’ll happen is this…

  • Commander JJ of the Normandy

    Transistor and Child of Light.
    Yes and yes. 🙂

  • Gareth L (That eXCheez Guy)

    Mass Effect 2 and 3 are possibly two of the best examples of how to boost a game’s experience and emotion with sound alone.

    • konfab

      Yup. Though to be fair, Bioware are experts at that type of thing.

      KOTOR 1&2 and Dragon Age Origins have amazing music.

  • Aaron Lucas

    Add Bloodborne, Castlevania: SOTN, and Chakan: The Forever Man to this and you’ll really have a list!

  • konfab

    No Baba Yetu? You lot are troglodytes.

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