A famous man once said, “Videogame music is the broth upon which the chicken and noodles are cooked.”
I don’t know exactly what he meant but I do know that there’s a lot of Sega games which have music that is pleasurable to listen to. Click the jump below to find out our 10 favorite Sega videogame soundtracks of all time.
10. Phantasy Star Online
Flake: Sega has this ability to craft soundtracks that so fit the theme of the game, the music comes to be as much a part of the experience as any gameplay or visuals. Phantasy Star Online has this distinctive sound to it that just makes you think “future”. Each zone has a theme that gives you a sense of what is going on there. The central hub has this very busy melody that makes you envision a packed and bustling futuristic city as opposed to the tiny four rooms of Pioneer 2 you are able to access. On Ragol, each area also has a matching theme to set the mood for exploration. When battles occur, the theme changes subtly, gaining a faster tempo, helping the players develop a sense of urgency.
Alex Riggen: Shenmue’s music is every bit as ambitious as the rest of the game was. Every area, business, restaurant, home, time-of-day, season, etc. often has its own theme and often adds a unique personality to whatever environment or moment you’re currently in. Looking at the credits for Shenmue only helps to elaborate on how much work was put into Yu Suzuki’s epic. Where many games at the time had one person doing all the music and sometimes the sound as well, Shenmue’s credits list more than ten individuals. Now, all this music wouldn’t count for anything if it wasn’t memorable but that isn’t the case here with the majority of Shenmue’s tracks being some of the greatest themes in a video game ever. I highly recommend anyone some of the many soundtracks that have been released for the game.
8. Revenge of Shinobi
Mike Kyzivat: As you probably already seen from my NiGHTS write up, video game music really came into it’s own in 1996 where now game music didn’t have to rely on a sound chip to produce the music, but even in the days of boop and bleep music you get a stand out or two. Revenge of Shinobi is one of those examples, while it didn’t have the advantage of a full orchestra behind it, it sounded pretty damn good for video game music. the composer Yuzo Koshiro was a well know video game composer at the time. You could say he was the Akira Yamaoka of the Genesis days. And you should, because not only did he do the music for such titles as Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage 1, 2 and 3, and Shenmue, he is also is well known for being a major influence to electronica, dubstep and grime styles of music.
The sound track for revenge of shinobi is a mix of techno and traditional japanese instruments, which makes for an interesting combination. Notable tracks include: The sad “My Lover” (i believe this was the music that played if you got the bad ending) , like a wind, the 1920’s sounding “The Dark City”, “Long Distance” and “Ninja Step”. All the songs sounded great on the Genesis, I can’t imagine how it would sound if it was done with the technology of today. Actually, while looking up the name of the composer online I found out that a selection of music from Revenge of Shinobi arranged by Yuzo, was featured in that PLAY! series of video game concerts, I wish I could have been there for that.
Again this music was so good that my friend Jared, who initially criticized me for listening to video game music, eventually started to like it after hearing a little of it. So much so that we started recording it on cassette tape with little (and horribly cheesy) radio DJ introductions for each of the tracks. Yes, I know, I’m glad I no longer have that tape either.
7. ToeJam and Earl
Alex Riggen: Buh-da-buh buh buh Bow bow buh bu-bow bow Buh-da-buh buh buh Bow bow buh do-do-da-do.
ToeJam and Earl’s music includes some of my favorite 16-bit tunes ever. It’s incredibly jazzy and bass heavy and so damn catchy that I still find myself humming the songs to myself nearly once a week. It’s amazing how infectious some of the melodies for this game are and one of the best examples of how music can actually make a game even better. The music to ToeJam & Earl fits the funky over-the-top stereotyped 90’s hip hop tone of the game and really builds on the characters and setting. This is one game I could never play on mute.
6. Jet Set Radio
Sven Wohl: Jet Set Radio’s soundtrack succeeds in keeping at with the game’s overall uniqueness and that’s already a compliment. It’s a unique cross of J-pop, Trip-hop, Hip Hop, Electronic some rock and even metal! That huge variety provides for a great listening experience and fits the setting, characters and overall theme like a glove. There’s even some licensed material in there from Jurassic 5, Mix Master Mike and Rob Zombie. Best of all, the soundtrack still holds up today. It sure is no Crazy Taxi!
5. Sonic CD
Sven Wohl: You can say a lot of things about the soundtrack to Sonic CD, but it certainly does not lack variety. Every zone has its own song, which is the Standard, but since the game revolves around time travel, this means there have to be three different version (four to be precise) for each and every zone. The soundtrack excels at mirroring the time period it comes from, with more instruments for the past versions of stages and more techno-sounding versions for future settings. The best thing is that the game has two different soundtracks, which are both included in the recent re-release, so there’s something in it for everyone.
4. Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side
Tom Kyzivat: I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, there goes Tom again blabbing about how cool that stupid Eternal Champions game is. Now he’s going to flap his gums about the music, and say how much he loves it just because it’s in that game.” Well, to that I would say, um… you’re totally wrong. But it’s true—this being one of my favorite games aside, the soundtrack of Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side brings the thunder, in a big, 90s way. Unlike the original Genesis game, the soundtrack greatly benefits from being on the Sega CD. Music director and very French-sounding man Tristan des Pres put together an impressive, techno-heavy collection of music to beat someone to death to, and while the techno is a bit dated, the deft mix of actual guitars (played by Jeff Snider) and drums and percussion (provided by Calvin Lakin) made this one of the more complex and intricate soundtracks to a fighting game to date. The music was so good that this became one of the first games that I would play with the soundtrack in mind—this wasn’t just music to listen to while you play the game, it was as much a part of the game as the fighting. If you need an example of how cool the music is, check out the unforgiving riffs in the hidden level for the Senator character: peppered in amongst the heavy guitars is a squealing rendition of hail to the chief, as you watch a little pixilated Bill Clinton jog into a burger joint. Even Beethoven would be jealous of that.
3. Space Channel 5
Flake: Usually a sound track is built around the game. At some point in the design process, someone adjusts their glasses and looks at their fellow game developers with a grave look on their face and announces “We need music”. I think the exact opposite happened with Space Channel 5. I think that the good people at Sega formed a band one day and went around Japan solving crimes and stuff. And then when they got bored of that, they took their music and made Space Channel 5.
Space Channel 5’s crazy jazz, rock, fill-in-the-blank infused soundtrack is so good, in part, because it had to be. Imagine how bad the game would be if you were tapping dance moves into your controller for terrible tunes? The soundtrack keeps you playing, though, and really brings the story of a space orphan turned rocket-ship-reporter to life.
Mike Kyzivat: To me, NiGHTS marks the first time video game music became indistinguishable from other forms of music. Before this point in time you would listen to a video game music track and instantly know by the bloops and bleeps that it was from a video game. In 1996 games were now predominately on CD’s, which had a sound quality that was never available before. NiGHTS is the perfect example of SEGA taking advantage of the new medium. You have honest to goodness violins, tubas, flutes, pianos and drums instead of synthesized versions. It basically sounds like modern classical music. Now I really wasn’t a fan of the dreams, dreams duet. It just sounded too cheesy to me, though it was amazing to me that video games now had actual singing in them. The tracks I loved were the wise man boss battle music, or the techno sounds of the Reala boss battle (and it’s guitar remix). And all of the level music was great as well. And you didn’t have to be a video game fan to appreciate it, since it is so well crafted.
This music was so good that when my intro to classical music teacher in college asked us all to bring in examples of music that we could analyze, I brought in the final boss battle with wise man. And not only did everyone there like it, they also couldn’t tell it was from a video game. I guess that is my semi point in this long write up, that video game music can now be judged on it’s own content and merits, it is no longer the case were someone will say: “that’s pretty good music, for a video game.”
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Tom Kyzivat: If you ever find yourself wondering what Tom Kyzivat’s childhood sounded like, look no further than the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 soundtrack. Everybody knows that this game is possibly the best retro Sonic game EVAH, and that is due in no small part to its genius soundtrack. So what makes the music so good? Well, there’s probably not much that I can that hasn’t been said already, but you know as well as I do that just hearing that music makes you happy. It’s just really good music, and each song is so perfectly evocative of its specific level. I would go so far as to say that this is the pinnacle of 16-bit video game music. Composer Masato Yakamura did more than merely compose music for a Sonic game—he defined what Sonic sounds like. Everything he achieved in the first Sonic game was built upon for the second, and there’s little doubt that it will go down in history as one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. Personal favorites? Certainly the edgy techno of Chemical Plant Zone, the down home country shenanigans of Hilltop Zone, and of course the wacky horror that is Mystic Cave Zone, and the purposeful call to duty of Wing Fortress Zone.