We’ve all felt it at some point, I’m sure. You know, that overwhelming flurry of emotions coursing through our bodies as we embark on a magical journey? There’s something truly enchanting about that moment, isn’t there? Only, it isn’t just the thought of the unwinding adventure that captures our attention, is it? Oh no, there’s far more to the hairs standing tall on our necks than just good narratives and characters. Listen in closely and you’ll come to learn that the best feelings stem directly from the musical scores whispering in the background. That’s where the true magic idles.
Whether it’s a clash of drums pounding to the march of two armies or a subtle choir timidly chiming over your shoulder — a perfect score can truly define an experience. Although, not every sound design team can elevate a score to breathtaking heights — and many often fall at the first hurdle and settle for a more mediocre performance. Of course, that isn’t always the case — as these following five go to show. It’s these five outstanding scores that possess the powers to bring both joy and tears to the player’s eye.
7. Grand Theft Auto 4 — “Soviet Connection“
Rockstar Games made one of the deepest lunges in the history of the Grand Theft Auto series when compiling the fourth main chapter. The bright lights of San Andreas were thrown behind us, and the Liberty City underworld was introduced through a completely new palette of greys and ashen whites. That humourous charm was quickly silenced from previous sequences, and the new beginning launched with a whole new perspective on drama. “Soviet Connection” crept in through the opening credits — and we were suddenly inducted into a brand new world where no two turns would feel the same. A whole ocean of bad tidings tiptoed beyond the horizon — waiting patiently for our arrival.
6. Assassin’s Creed 2 — “Ezio’s Family“
One thing Ubisoft has managed to get right with almost every Assassin’s Creed game is the music. Even the smaller spin-off sequences that don’t play a major role in the timeline have some level of beauty encapsulated within them. Though, it’s Assassin’s Creed 2 that delivered excellence through the power of an awe-inspiring orchestral score. After only fifteen to twenty minutes of settling into the first chapter as the beloved Ezio Auditore, we’re already drawn to the families enticing story — and this theme absolutely radiates both its warming history and unpredictable future.
5. Kingdom Hearts 2 — “Dearly Beloved“
You know a soundtrack is perfect when all you want to do is sit at the title screen and listen for three hours. Even on a continuous loop with the game urging for you to progress, it’s never an easy task when accompanied by absolute bliss. “Dearly Beloved” is both majestic and iconic, and every note is delivered with such heartfelt emotions and raw talent that it essentially becomes an uncontrollable force in itself. Kingdom Hearts brings a whole range of genres to the table — both melancholic and triumphant. And yet, nothing quite tops the bittersweet introduction that is this memorable masterpiece.
4. Final Fantasy X — “To Zanarkand“
While covering the Square Enix portfolio, it seems only right that we include one of the celebrated Final Fantasy scores. Although holding a library of well over a thousand tracks and battle themes that spread over 94 games, “To Zanarkand” from Final Fantasy X seems to convey the ideal amount of emotion for this list. Without a doubt, this melody puts us on a wondrous path that is full of both woeful intrigue and pain. Even before the opening credits roll out and the story is stepped into, we’re already bound to flourish a connection to the characters and listen closely to the following story. Now, that’s how you draw an audience from the get-go.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time — “Hyrule Field“
There’s a reason why people still praise The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to this day. The music — plain and simple. Of course, there is so much more that bundles into the most respected title in gaming history, but the soundtrack alone binds enough power to sway an entire globe of gamers. That’s why selecting just one track from the OST was more of a challenge than I wanted it to be. Far too many iconic choices were swept under the rug on this one — but “Hyrule Field” has to steal the podium. Why? Well, not only is it triumphant and nostalgic, but it is also a legendary marker on the story. Hyrule opens up to us for the first time — and the world beckons for a hero. The beginning of the quest begins, and it all starts with the chime of this beautiful theme.
2. Halo — “Theme“
Branded as one of the most iconic scores in the gaming universe, the Halo theme has reached such inspiring heights that no developer can ever dare to replicate it. I mean, there’s a reason why fans of the franchise harmonize it in bathrooms and at wedding receptions. Gamer or not, Halo possesses such an uncontrollable power that no matter your background or choice of platform — you’re automatically drawn to it. It’s ambient, it’s effective — and it’s beyond epic. It’s Halo, clean and simple.
1. Mafia 2 — “Theme“
Seeing as we’re on the hot topic of ambient scores, it seems only fitting that we round off this list with a hidden gem. Mafia 2, although proving to be one of the biggest 2K games in existence, still managed to lose a few million ears over its beautifully mapped-out theme. As the track for the menu screen, a lot of players skipped through this masterpiece without even thinking twice. And, you know, that’s painful for us to see considering its level of elegance and vigour. Mafia 2, in general, is masterfully crafted both inside and out — but this bittersweet marker is the absolute cornerstone to the experience overall.
In need of another 7? Check back next week for more in our Encore Edition.