Game Music, obviously, is the soundtrack of any video game. Such music could be anything, from a grand marching theme to the quick musical cue when an item is obtained or a party member joins.
In terms of "theme music", a game's "main theme" is more elaborate than other pieces within the game. Theme music plays over the game's title screen, and is often remixed and recomposed at various points during the game to suit a particular mood.
"Incidental music" can be anything from a brief musical "sting" to a fully-scored piece intended to establish the "mood" of a given scene. Pac-Man's "death" sound is one example, as is The Legend of Zelda series' "item tune", which is played whenever Link obtains a new item.
In early video game history, game music was very basic, rarely straying from a simple two- or three-note tune composed of electronic 'beeps and whistles' of various pitch and duration. With the rise of the soundcard, however, music has become more elaborate and memorable; Hollywood veterans such as Jeremy Soule and Harry Gregson-Williams are providing scores for many of today's top-selling games. Much like music fans, fans of games given to paying attention to soundtracks can tell when their favorite composers have written something (compare the soundtracks of Fallout and Planescape: Torment).
The Commodore 64 had an advanced (for the time) sound chip called SID, capable of playing three voices at once. Music programmers for the machine were capable of getting extra-ordinary results out of it. Music for the SID is being created today, and hardware to allow the chip to be accessed through current generation sound equipment is available. SID music programmers, whose output ended up in many popular games, were and still are held in extremely high regard.
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- The Ace Attorney series is popular enough in Japan that they get entire orchestras to play arrangements of the music.
- The Tomb Raider soundtracks have provoked remixes by Dean Kopri, Marcus Trogen and Michael Plichta.
- The Command & Conquer series has one of the most popular PC game soundtracks, having even sold soundtracks for every game at the time.
- Sonic the Hedgehog is well known for both its classic 16-bit songs from the various Zones (levels) and the later vocal tracks from the 3D games and the various Animated Series.
- From Sonic 1: Green Hill Zone (same one the trope comes from), Star Light Zone.
- From Sonic 2: Chemical Plant Zone, Casino Night Zone, Mystic Cave Zone.
- From Sonic 3: Hydrocity Zone Act 1, Hydrocity Zone Act 2, Ice Cap Zone Act 1.
- Also of note is the entire Sonic CD soundtrack, which had two distinct but equally amazing soundtracks depending on which region the game was released in.
- Jazz Jackrabbit (especially Jazz Jackrabbit 2), which, as the name suggests, if full of music influenced by Jazz, Soul, and Funk music.
- Final Fantasy VII has a very well known Final Boss Theme Tune which has been heard way too many times to count. Includes Ominous Latin Chanting to boot.
- Battle on the Big Bridge (Final Fantasy V) by the Black Mages, a band formed by Nobuo Uematsu, who composed most of Final Fantasy's music.
- Final Fantasy in general has released as many if not more remix albums than actual soundtracks, including piano albums, hard rock albums, vocal albums, orchestral albums, and trance albums. There have been live concerts, as well, including 20020202: Music From Final Fantasy and the Dear Friends concert series (named after a track from Final Fantasy V.
- And there's of course the original epic final boss fight theme, the magnificent "Dancing Mad", of resident nutjob Kefka. It's 16 minutes of pure awesomeness.
- Final Fantasy IV's theme, "Theme of Love", was even incorporated into the Japanese music education curriculum.
- Yasunori Mitsuda's music has often been almost a selling point for the various video games he has worked on, which include the Chrono series, the Xenosaga/Xenogears games and others.
- Xenogears would probably not had been the same if not for its greatly mood enhancing music.
- Even non-gamers will recognize the tunes of Super Mario Bros or Tetris, which helped early on to solidify Game Music as a legitimate genre, but it still has a long way to go before you'd hear the soundtrack to a video game on the radio.
- More recently, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games have progressed the idea of music in a game, with over a million copies of both games sold in the United States.
- And the more recent examples of the Grand Theft Auto series of course pioneered the use of popular music in video games courtesy of radios in vehicles which even included DJ banter and commercials. Players could even add their own MP3s and have them played, to extend the shelf life somewhat. In the case of Vice City especially, the choice of soundtrack helped set the mood for the setting (i.e., 1986).
- The soundtracks for the various Mega Man games, particularly Mega Man 2, are famous for what they did with the NES's soundcard at the time.
- OverClocked ReMix is devoted entirely to fan-made remixes of game music.
- Several bands, such as The Minibosses and Megadriver, have formed specifically to play rock versions of video game music.
- The band PressPlayOnTape specialises in covering Commodore 64 tunes, although a few Amiga tunes have crept into their repetoire.
- Machinae Supremacy has come full-circle with regard to the aforementioned SID chip, having used it as an instrument in their lineup alongside guitars and drums, and then going on to produce soundtracks for new games such as the PC side-scrolling shooter Jets'n'Guns and Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams.
- And then there's Video Games Live, a traveling concert that features fully-orchestrated versions of game music.
- The King of Fighters series has an arranged soundtrack for damn near every game it has, with real instrumentation replacing the Neo Geo sound. There's also usually an Image Song on each soundtrack as well.
- The Guilty Gear series may have been the first ones to use heavy rock pieces in the soundtrack, but surely the Trope Codifiers of this for the Fighting Game genre... Apart from the insane gameplay and character cast, this one became, perhaps, the most prominent feature of the series.
- Castlevania has absurdly good music, dating all the way back to the original NES game. The high point is undoubtedly Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's OST, composed by Michiru Yamane.
- Though North America missed out on it, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse in its Japanese incarnation has ridiculously good music. Konami added a special audio microprocessor chip to the cartridge, which added a lot more dimension to the music - alas, the North American NES couldn't handle it, and thus this side of the pond got, in return for that loss...a much more difficult version of Final Dracula...which is compensation how?
- The Super Smash Bros. games (especially Brawl) are packed with music from other Nintendo games.
- Brawl especially is also filled with all kinds of remixes and even obscure tunes.
- Back when copyright prevention in games was especially brutal, the warez scene exploded in popularity as a way to remove oppressive lockout systems. Many of the people that cracked these games to remove such code would insert their name into the title screen or loader for posterity, and as these credits became more and more elaborate in one-upsmanship, they became an artform in and of themselves. Called cracktros, they eventually split entirely from warez to become the demo, spectacular feats of audiovisual wizardry packed into astoundingly tiny amounts of code to create effects far beyond the commercial game industry's capabilities in sophistication, and rapidly developed a peculiar genre of music all their own.
- Some of the scenery crews involved in this ultimately ended up working in the games industry. An early example of this was Star Control II's soundtrack. The developers announced a contest online for people to send in sound tracker modules based on descriptions of the game's thematic content, the result was one of the best soundtracks in the history of gaming.
- The Crusader games had decent quality music; the second added a large number of tracks and improved quality, as well as remixing the main theme from the previous game from techno to a harder rock sound. Both games had the ability to cycle through music by pressing a key in-game.
- Deus Ex was admired, despite not quite using CD-quality audio, for its soundtrack, interactivity (having one theme for combat and one for other activities, and nimbly toggling between the two), and persistent use of the main theme. (For example, the Knight Templar level uses a variation of the main theme, except the main tune is rendered on an organ—appropriate, for a level effectively taking place in a huge cathedral.)
- This was a feature of the Unreal Engine that didn't get much use in Unreal games, but a few mods took advantage of them. But the themes of Deus Ex had some epic blockbuster qualities, and a few of the tracks turned out to be very catchy.
- Banjo-Kazooie does this as well, the main overworld theme switching from normal to jingle-bells-ey (outside the winter level) to piratey (outside the beach level). There was a variation for each level entrance area, and they seamlessly faded in and out to each other depending on the player movement.
- The Infinity Engine games all had a soundtrack that was very well-liked by its players, though it was probably Planescape: Torment that was the most admired for setting the mood.
- The first three Spyro the Dragon games on the Playstation had an amazing soundtrack. The songs were composed by Stewart Copeland, who was in The Police. The game's music is what makes these games held in high regard.
- Metal Gear from Solid onwards has had the theme music composed by Harry Gregson-Williams.
- The Wild AR Ms series is well-known for its excellent music, mostly composed by Michiko Naruke. Three arrangement albums have been released, including a piano mix, rock mix, and vocal mix.
- The World Ends with You was praised for its all-vocal soundtrack mix, consisting of J-Pop, rap, and R&B. All the more wondrous considering it's all crunched into a Nintendo DS cartridge!
- Part and parcel of Emulation is the emulated sound scene. You can find music ripped directly from game code for most console generations right up to the PlayStation 2. Its legality is arguably a bit better than downloading MP3s directly, especially if you already own the game, but nobody has really tested it.
- Insomniac Games has historically had very good BGM, in Spyro the Dragon by Stewart Copeland and in Ratchet & Clank by David Bergeaud. As of late, though, the music has been completely forgettable (though still composed by David Bergeaud).
- The music for the Jet Set Radio is held in high regard for its catchy and rhythmic music.
- Hidenori Shoji, one of the music developers for Amusement Vision is well known for his work for Yakuza F-Zero GX and the Super Monkey Ball games.
- The Legend of Zelda, being a long-running series, is almost as well-known for its music as its gameplay. Of particular note is Skyward Sword; in keeping with its overall "25th anniversary" theme, the game initially came packaged with a bonus CD containing orchestral arrangements and medleys of several of the franchise's most popular songs.
- Tekken and Street Fighter both get large amounts of acclaim for their soundtracks, especially the heavily electronic Tekken 4 and the hip-hop influenced Street Fighter III 3rd Strike.
- Civilization IV bizarrely averts this trope by having mostly a Classical Music soundtrack for the Medieval, Renaissance, Industrial, and Modern eras, featuring everything from Gregorian chant and polyphony to Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. The Modern era soundtrack is composed entirely of the strange, hypnotic Minimalist music of contemporary American composer John Adams (like this). On the other hand, other parts of the game do have original music, and the main-menu music—"Baba Yetu," a setting of the Lord's Prayer by Christopher Tin—is generally considered to be awesome.
- Falcom is well known for the various soundtracks for their games, along with codifying several of the earliest examples of the Action RPG. In particular, the Ys series was one of the earliest games to issue soundtracks of both original and rearranged material, bloops and all.
- Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ Omen, and Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished The Final Chapter featured a soundtrack by acclaimed composer Yuzo Koshiro on the PC-88. Examples:
- Ys was also one of the earliest series to adopt CD-quality music and voice acting in its games, thanks to the TurboGrafx-16's CD attachment. The port of the first two games was also significant in reaching American audiences, exposing gamers in 1991 to the potential of disc-based games.