The best Xbox soundtracks

By Luke Albigés,
Music is one of the secret ingredients of great game design. It often goes unnoticed by a lot of players, and it's an aspect of gaming that doesn't get the love it deserves, so let's change that. In this article, we'll run through what we consider to be some of the best examples of gaming music from across the entire Xbox catalogue, all the way from 2001 to today, and try to break down why some of the best soundtracks work as well as they do.

Review

In order to create some degree of structure, we've introduced six unique categories — orchestral, instrumental, vocal, licensed, chiptune, and ambient — which allows us (despite a little crossover here and there) to feature a broader variety of both games and music. Naturally, any discussion of music is going to come with a degree of subjectivity, but we've tried to present as wide an array of styles as possible. We've also aimed to present games where at least most of the soundtrack is amazing, rather than just maybe one or two tracks, and naturally we're limited to Xbox releases, which leaves a lot of worthy contenders out of the discussion. And even just within the Xbox world, we know we're still missing a good few. Unsurprisingly, getting it down to just five entries per category was one hell of a challenge! Oh, and we've laid on Spotify embeds too, so you can check out the tunes without even having to leave the comfort of TA.

Well, without further ado, let's strike up the band...

ORCHESTRAL

If you're looking to lend grace, grandeur, and gravitas to a project, there's nothing quite like having a full ensemble of strings, horns, woodwind, percussion, and all the rest. The sheer breadth of an orchestra's many components give it the flexibility to adapt to any situation, from up-tempo action sequences to those quieter moments of reprieve and reflection. Countless modern games plump for a traditional (or close enough) orchestral OST, so it's incredibly difficult to narrow down the very finest, but here are some of our front-runners.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Black Flag



There's no shortage of great music in the Assassin's Creed series, but the sheer energy and intensity of Black Flag's soundtrack makes it the standout for us. From its rousing main theme to uptempo highlights like The High Seas, the lively strings and driving percussion really capture that sense of adventure, and you really notice the lack of the latter when it drops out during the game's calmer moments. Black Flag also gets bonus points for being the only game on this list with a 'sea shanty' button. All together now! Old Billy Riley, old Billy Riley, old Billy Riley...
Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

It is 1715. Pirates rule the Caribbean and have established a lawless Republic. Among these outlaws is a fearsome young captain named Edward Kenway.



The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Preview 5



The Witcher 3's epic score could have slotted into a number of categories here — it was recorded by an orchestra, uses a lot of non-standard folksy instruments, and a fair few tracks feature vocals — but the orchestral backbone landed it here. Pipes, fiddles, hand drums, and more give this a solid medieval fantasy feel, backed up by more traditional rousing swells of strings which perfectly complement Geralt’s adventure. With soaring highs and swooping lows, this stellar OST has a sense of place and purpose that few others can rival.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a story-driven, next-generation open world role-playing game set in a visually stunning fantasy universe full of meaningful choices and impactful consequences. In The Witcher, you play as a professional monster hunter, Geralt of Rivia, tasked with finding a child of prophecy in a vast open world rich with merchant cities, pirate islands, dangerous mountain passes, and forgotten caverns to explore.



Destiny

Destiny Age of Triumph Vault of Glass 5



Say what you like about Destiny as a game, but its music has never been anything short of phenomenal. There's some wonderful use of leitmotif in how the soundtrack reflects the enemy races — from the deep marching horns that accompany the Cabal to the unsettling syncopation and heavy distortion that represent the Hive — and each expansion layers on top of that its own motif, leading to some truly exceptional synergy between audio and action. Shoutout to Periphery's Misha Mansoor for the killer Sepiks Redux, a rock reworking of the amazing track from the game's very first Strike.
Destiny

Destiny

From the Creators of Halo® and the Company that Brought You Call of Duty®. Destiny is a next generation first person shooter, with rich cinematic storytelling set in huge worlds to explore. Create and customize your Guardian. Defeat your enemies. Become Legend in intense cooperative, competitive, and innovative public gameplay modes.



Grim Fandango Remastered

Grim Fandango Remastered Achievements



There's a case to be made that Manny should be living down in the Instrumental section, but the way Grim Fandango's eclectic soundtrack uses the full extent of an orchestra's tools over the course of the game landed it here. Much of the soundtrack is horn-fuelled swing and jazz, sure, but the way it sidesteps into lilting strings or energetic pipes as locations and characters demand keeps you guessing all the same. And thanks to the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the remaster's score sounds even better than the original version.
Grim Fandango Remastered

Grim Fandango Remastered

Grim Fandango's epic story of four years in the life (or death) of Manny Calavera, travel agent to the dead, has been remastered to look, sound, and control even better than when it won GameSpot's Game of the Year award upon its original launch.



Final Fantasy XIII trilogy

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII ~ HeroArt





Is it cheating to put an entire trilogy on this list? Probably, but whatever — Final Fantasy has so much incredible music that if any series deserves preferential treatment, it's this one. The oft-disparaged trilogy is musically fascinating both in terms of the themes that run throughout, and the way the soundtrack evolves. XIII starts to layer more electronic components and vocal tracks over its wonderful orchestral score (plus Blinded by Light is one of the all-time best RPG battle themes), XIII-2 takes that even further as it heads to both past and future (earning bonus points for the ridiculous Crazy Chocobo in the process), while Lightning Returns strips things back to better suit its end-of-days bleakness. Are there better FF soundtracks overall? Sure. But with so many to choose from, we just felt this was a more interesting case study than picking, say, FFVII and just going on about how amazing Uematsu is. Which he is, obviously, but we all know that already.
FINAL FANTASY XIII

FINAL FANTASY XIII

Thirteen days of fates intertwined reveal a truth beyond reckoning. Do you have the courage to face your destiny?


FINAL FANTASY XIII-2

FINAL FANTASY XIII-2

The 2010 release FINAL FANTASY XIII now has a direct sequel! Join Lightning and company as a new battle begins!


LIGHTNING RETURNS FFXIII

LIGHTNING RETURNS FFXIII

The world ends in 13 days, and once again its fate rests on Lightning's shoulders. Experience the new, revamped gameplay of the thrilling FFXIII series finale!




INSTRUMENTAL

Orchestral scores are all well and good, but they're not going to mesh with every game. Sometimes, you need to go louder, to go harder, to go dirtier. Just as in other media, soundtracks for games can and will cover just about all musical bases, depending on what the composer(s) think will best suit the action. Again, with such variety on display, any attempt to nail down the absolute best is always going to be subjective, but here's a decent cross-section of amazing examples to check out, if you haven't already.

Bastion

Bastion



Bastion was a perfect storm of Supergiant’s inventive game design, Logan Cunningham’s beautiful narration, and Darren Korb’s unique soundscape. Most tracks are fairly minimal in their instrumentalism, but backed with beats that either add a layer of intensity or take things down a notch or three to chilled-out trip hop places. Along with the likes of Braid and Super Meat Boy, Bastion was — if you’ll excuse the pun — instrumental in raising the profile of indie games, and Korb’s masterful soundtrack played no small part in that. His work in Hades is arguably even better, although this one gets the shoutout here as it's where the dream team began.
Bastion

Bastion

Bastion is an action role-playing experience that redefines storytelling in games, with a reactive narrator who marks your every move.



Doom

DOOM ~ SuperHeroArt



Master of metal Mick Gordon was on top form when he turned in the chugging soundtrack for id’s 2016 reboot of classic FPS, Doom. The drop-tuned OST swerves from riff-driven metal through unnerving ambient lulls and doom metal strains, all the way to the staccato djent stabs of highlight, BFG Division. From the moment you grab the shotgun to the sound of a crescendoing new twist on the original game’s opening track, At Doom’s Gate, you know you’re in for one hell of a ride.
DOOM

DOOM

Now includes all three premium DLC packs (Unto the Evil, Hell Followed, and Bloodfall), maps, modes, and weapons, as well as all feature updates including Arcade Mode, Photo Mode, and the latest Update 6.66, which brings further multiplayer improvements as well as revamps multiplayer progression. Developed by id Software, the studio that pioneered the first-person shooter genre and created multiplayer Deathmatch, DOOM returns as a brutally fun and challenging modern-day shooter experience.



Cuphead

Cuphead screenshot 8



Cuphead's beautiful retro cartoon visuals are only one part of the game selling its 1930s illusion, with the phenomenal big band musical accompaniment putting in just as much work. Featuring all the muted trumpets and wailing horns you could ever want, this is one of the few game soundtracks out there that will make you think a pair of tap shoes sounds like a sensible investment. If you're into this, you might also want to give the Skullgirls soundtrack a listen, as a fair few tracks cover similar ground, and are similarly excellent.
Cuphead

Cuphead

Cuphead is a classic run and gun action game heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by cartoons of the 1930s, the visuals and audio are painstakingly created with the same techniques of the era, i.e. traditional hand drawn cel animation, watercolor backgrounds, and original jazz recordings.



Furi

Furi - First Boss



An action game as chaotic as Furi needs a suitably intense soundtrack, so inviting Carpenter Brut, Waveshaper, and friends to lend their thumping electronica skills to this unsung masterpiece was the perfect play. Furi is effectively a boss rush, and having different artists compose themes for each major threat just gives them that much more character. High-intensity tracks interspersed with calmer cuts proves to be a winning combination, even in some cases within individual pieces — the incredible What We Fight For doesn’t even kick in properly until almost halfway through the track, which only makes it all the more potent when that drop does come.
Furi

Furi

You were captured. Look what they’ve done to you… The jailer is the key, kill him and you’ll be free.



Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

Castlevania HD



The 16-bit era gave us no shortage of killer soundtracks, and hearing them brought to life with modern arrangements is always a thrill. With this underrated XBLA multiplayer release being a celebration of all things Castlevania, it made perfect sense for the score to take the form of full band versions of some of the best tracks from the series’ history. The lack of Bloody Tears is somewhat surprising in a ‘greatest hits’ package like this, sure, but the reworked tracks we do get are all amazing, so it’s hard to stay mad for long.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

Step into the shadows of the hell house: Castlevania is back in all its pixel-powered 2D glory, this time in full 1080p! Call upon the series' most hallowed heroes and vanquish your nemesis, Dracula! All-new multiplayer modes like 6-player Co-op and Survival have been whipped up for you, too... but enough talk. Have at it!




VOCAL

Vocal tracks have long been used to accompany key story beats and create centrepieces, perhaps most famously in the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts franchises (or the likes of Portal and 'Splosion Man, where lyrical numbers are instead used to sell gags). Dialogue-heavy games — which a lot of modern ones are — risk confusion due to lyrics and speech merging into an unintelligable mess, hence why vocal tracks are used sparingly, but that's not to say there aren't examples of them being put to incredible use. In fact, here's a quality quintet right now...

Nier: Automata

Background



Keiichi Okabe, Keigo Hoashi, and Kuniyuki Takahashi knocked it not just out of the park but into freaking orbit with this, one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time. As in the original Nier, most tracks are sung in a made-up language, meaning voices serve more as instruments and never muddy dialogue, plus it's in keeping with the mysterious nature of the game itself too. The choral impact of A Beautiful Song, the mesmerising intertwined harmonies of Song of the Ancients, the playful nonsense of Emil's Shop, the haunting twinkles of Amusement Park... Automata's OST has everything, and it's every bit as incredible and inventive as the game to which it's attached.
NieR:Automata™ BECOME AS GODS Edition

NieR:Automata™ BECOME AS GODS Edition

Invaders from another world attack without warning - unleashing the machine lifeforms. To break the deadlock, a new breed of android infantry is sent into the fray: the YoRHa squad. Highly-acclaimed and award winning NieR:Automata™ is a fresh take on the action role-playing game (RPG) genre that gracefully blends mesmerizing action with a captivating story.



Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Revengeance



Dynamic soundtracks are always cool, and Revengeance is comfortably one of the best modern examples. Boss fights begin with fairly simple instrumental tracks, with more layers added as you move between phases until the music escalates into full vocal-led walls of noise by the climax of the encounter. Hearing this happen for the first time with the amazing Rules of Nature blaring and building as you slice up a Metal Gear RAY as the very first boss sets the tone for the over-the-top action game perfectly, and there are even better crescendos to follow later. Well, maybe. Rules of Nature is pretty bloody good...
METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE

METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE

METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE takes the renowned METAL GEAR franchise into exciting new territory by focusing on delivering an all-new action experience unlike anything that has come before.



Jet Set Radio Future

jet set radio future



The oldest Xbox title on this list, and about as far back as we can go for Xbox tunes — this stylish skating sequel was an original Xbox launch title in territories outside of the US, after all. Taking the form of pre-mixed playlists of upbeat original tracks (most 'vocals' here are loops and samples, in truth) and some leftfield licensed tracks on an in-game pirate radio station, this high-energy feel-good soundtrack offers the perfect blend of beats to skate and tag your way around Tokyo-to to. Likely due to licensing issues with parts of this amazing soundtrack, Jet Set Radio Future sadly isn't playable on modern hardware, so you'll need to dust off The Duke if you want to go back to this cult classic.

Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls III 8



FromSoftware loves to set its epic boss battles to ominous choral chanting, and in Dark Souls 3, this assault on the senses begins before you even get into the game. The main theme is a chilling blend of choir and strained strings that sounds more like something out of PS4 exclusive Bloodborne (arguably From's finest soundtrack) than previous Souls games. Almost every boss theme here uses some kind of similarly affecting vocal work, from powerful, almost operatic pieces to bastardised Gregorian chants, in keeping with so many of the bosses coming from religious or noble backgrounds. Intense, yes, but also incredible.
DARK SOULS™ III

DARK SOULS™ III

DARK SOULS™ continues to push the boundaries with the latest, ambitious chapter in the critically-acclaimed and genre-defining series. Prepare yourself and Embrace The Darkness!



Katamari Damacy Reroll

katamari damacy reroll



What a tonal leap this is, going from Dark Souls' Doom Choir to some of the most playful game music of all time. Katamari games are very silly, so it's only right that the soundtrack should reflect that. Which it does, and brilliantly. Bouncy original pop tracks abound, with the entertaining trash-ball-rolling action made all the sweeter by fantastic gibberish-spouting vocal tracks such as Katamari on the Rocks and Lonely Rolling Star. Sadly, this is the one soundtrack on this list that isn't on Spotify in some form, so you'll have to make do with this pretty faithful cover version by the superb 8-Bit Big Band.
Katamari Damacy REROLL

Katamari Damacy REROLL

The beloved roll-em-up game returns with fully updated graphics, completely recreated cutscenes and in full HD!




LICENSED

Unlike a lot of other kinds of soundtracks, licensed music is typically used pretty sparingly outside of certain genres. Within those genres, though, it can be employed to great effect to get players pumped for a big sporting event, to provide the beats for a high-octane race, or just to make you feel like you're part of a believable world. The downside, of course, is that these licenses never last forever, so using real tunes can put a shelf life on games and see them later withdrawn from sale, but many developers clearly still feel that the impact of using popular existing music is worth the trade-off. Save for the preservation problems it can present, examples this strong make it hard for us to disagree.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater Remaster



For many people, just hearing that initial drum roll that leads into Goldfinger's Superman is enough to get the fingers twitching and ready to bust out some ridiculous skateboarding tricks, combos, and lines. The THPS remake's sick playlist is loaded with ska and punk classics from the first two games (it's only missing a handful of tracks, in fact) along with a selection of newer tunes to help keep it from feeling too dated. Whether you're into that scene or not, most of these tracks complement the tricktastic action brilliantly, and everyone has their own few key songs that help them propel their play to the next level.
Tony Hawk's™ Pro Skater™ 1 + 2

Tony Hawk's™ Pro Skater™ 1 + 2

Plays via backward compatability on Xbox Series X|S.

Drop back in with the most iconic skateboarding games ever made. Play Tony Hawk’s™ Pro Skater™ & Tony Hawk’s™ Pro Skater™ 2 in one epic collection, rebuilt from the ground up in incredible HD. All the pro skaters, levels and tricks are back and fully-remastered, plus more.



DJ Hero

dj hero



It was so sad to see a studio as musically talented and creative as FreeStyle Games get assimilated into the Call of Duty production line, though it absolutely made its mark on the gaming world beforehand. The professional quality mixes and mash-ups of the sublime DJ Hero were all put together on-team, and many of them go hard — Justice's Genesis colliding with Dizzee Rascal's Fix Up, Look Sharp is just one for the ages, and whoever slammed together I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Feel Good Inc. deserves to be making millions, not multiplayer maps. Spotify playlists sadly only have the individual tracks, although you can find the full mixes on YouTube easily enough. Trust us, it's worth it.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

grand theft auto vice city



Vice City is often cited as people's favourite GTA game, and the Eighties setting and perfectly curated soundtrack are integral to that appeal. This loaded track list features over 100 songs from the era — from chart toppers like Billie Jean and Africa to a surprising amount of deep cuts that showed off the audio team's genuine knowledge of the era — all worked into that brilliant faux-radio playlist style that GTA does so well. Vice City's soundtrack is one of the best in a series known for being incredible in this department, catering for all your new wave, classic hip-hop, hair metal, and synth pop needs while setting off the game's loud colour palette wonderfully.

Mafia 3

Screen 10



Another blast from the past here, this time with 2K setting the time machine for a couple of decades earlier than for Vice City. Mafia 3 is all about the sounds of the Sixties, and while there's perhaps slightly more of a reliance on well-known tracks than with Rockstar's retro vibe, Mafia 3 also has its share of less familiar choices to prevent it from feeling like a straight-up greatest hits of the era. Also, the fact that these songs seldom get a chance to appear in modern games still makes the soundtrack feel fresh, and cruising around New Bordeaux to this superb selection of the era's best tunes is always a delight.
Mafia III: Definitive Edition

Mafia III: Definitive Edition

Part three of the Mafia crime saga - 1968, New Bordeaux, LA.
After years of combat in Vietnam, Lincoln Clay knows this truth: family isn’t who you’re born with, it’s who you die for. When his surrogate family, the black mob, is betrayed and wiped out by the Italian Mafia, Lincoln builds a new family on the ashes of the old and blazes a path of military-grade revenge through the Mafioso responsible.



Brütal Legend

Brütal Legend ~ HeroArt



One for the metalheads now. Double Fine cranked the amps to 11 when it sent roadie Eddie Riggs (played by Jack Black, because of course he was) to a demon-packed hellscape in Brütal Legend, fuelled by one of the all-time great metal soundtracks in gaming. This is a real love letter to all things heavy, with Tim Schafer and music director Emily Ridgeway putting together an amazing setlist that manages to feature many of metal's biggest names while avoiding a lot of what would be considered the 'obvious' choices. Each in-game faction has its own preferred style of metal, from doom metal to classics to black metal, and the suitably noisy soundtrack reflects this brilliantly.
Brütal Legend

Brütal Legend

Brütal Legend is an action game from the mind of Tim Schafer. Eddie Riggs, a roadie chosen by the Rock Gods and played by Jack Black, must battle through a heavy metal fantasy world to save humanity and slay demons — using only a broad axe, his guitar Clementine, and an army of metal heads.




CHIPTUNE

Those who grew up with the bleeps and bloops of the games of yesteryear will likely always have a place in their hearts for a great chiptune score, although the fact that it has since blossomed into a legitimate genre all of its own means it's not purely for the oldies. These days, it's kinda limited in its usefulness in the big leagues — you could probably count on one hand the number of triple-A games that have employed this simple throwback musical style — but given the incredible rise of indie games in recent years, you don't have to look too far or too hard to find some exemplary chiptune goodness.

Undertale

undertale



If you ever find yourself with a determination deficiency, blasting Toby Fox's awesome Undertale soundtrack is a sure-fire way to sort yourself out. The retro aesthetic of the indie darling meant that a classic kind of sound would always be a perfect fit, and the score is every bit as unpredictable as the game itself. Blistering boss battle beats give way to quirky town themes or one-off tracks that fit the moment they're used beautifully, and it's with good reason that there are so many cover versions of Undertale tunes out there, a lot of which are really darn good.
Undertale

Undertale

The world-famous indie RPG UNDERTALE comes to Xbox One! Fall into the underworld and explore a hilarious and heartwarming world full of dangerous monsters. Date a skeleton, dance with a robot, cook with a fishwoman...or destroy everyone where they stand. The future is yours to determine!



Celeste

Celeste Portrait



A good deal of Celeste's gorgeous soundtrack is chilled enough that we considered giving it a spot in the Ambient section instead, although given how frantic both gameplay and music can get when the action starts to pick up, we ended up placing it here instead. Just as the game itself deals with scaling an epic peak, Celeste's soundtrack too uses major changes in pace, tone, and intensity to help tell the tale of Madeline's increasingly perilous ascent. Lena Raine knows precisely when to hold back and when to let loose, and the result is a soundtrack with the power to defy its apparent simplicity — how very apt for a game like Celeste.
Celeste

Celeste

Help Madeline survive her inner demons on her journey to the top of Celeste Mountain, in this super-tight platformer from the creators of TowerFall. Brave hundreds of hand-crafted challenges, uncover devious secrets, and piece together the mystery of the mountain.



Streets of Rage 2

streets of rage 2



Remember when we said that Jet Set Radio Future was the oldest Xbox game on this list? It won that title on a technicality. You see, while Sega's classic scrolling brawler Streets of Rage 2 originally launched all the way back in 1992, it didn't get an XBLA port until 2007. Either way, Yuzo Koshiro's bouncy club-inspired OST was nothing short of mind-blowing back in the day, and still holds up just as well today. It's one of the iconic retro soundtracks so absolutely deserves a spot on this list, but it's also precisely why Street of Rage 4's music was so disappointing — Koshiro only contributed a handful of tracks to the latest game, leaving his replacements with shoes that proved way too big to fill.
Streets of Rage 2

Streets of Rage 2

Single Player, Live Multiplayer 1-2, Local Multiplayer 1-2, HD (High Definition). To commemorate their defeat of the Syndicate exactly one year before, Blaze, Adam and Axel went out to celebrate. The next morning, however, Axel received a frantic phone call from Adam's younger brother, Eddie 'Skate' Hunter. Blaze and Axel rushed over and found Adam and Skate's house wrecked and a picture of Adam chained to a wall at the feet of Mr. X. The city was returned to its nightmarish state and criminals were once again running rampant. Unable to contact their old friend in artillery, Axel and Blaze team up with Skate and Max Thunder to free the city and rescue Adam from the Syndicate. It is up to you to take down Mr. X once and for all!. There are no refunds for this item. For more information, see www.xbox.com/live/accounts.



Crypt of the Necrodancer

Crypt Of The NecroDancer review screenshot



Shame on you if you thought you were going to make it through this section without mention of one Danny Baranowsky, as we could not in good conscience have allowed that to happen. He's done a lot of great work with other indie games in the past — notably Team Meat, before disputes led to his original Super Meat Boy music being replaced — but for us, the Necrodancer OST is some of his best stuff. The rhythm-based nature of the dungeon-crawling gameplay meant the tunes had to be on point, and Danny B did not disappoint. As good as pretty much all tracks are (Crypteque and DLC track Vamplified are god-tier), most get even better when you get close to a shop and Freddie Merchantry starts singing along. Oh, and the game even has a bunch of (almost as good) alternate soundtracks by other artists for when you want to mix things up. Perfection.
Crypt of the NecroDancer

Crypt of the NecroDancer

Crypt of the NecroDancer is an award winning hardcore roguelike rhythm game. Move to the music and deliver beatdowns to the beat! Groove to the epic Danny Baranowsky soundtrack, or choose from five additional remixed soundtracks, including the new remixed chiptune soundtrack by Chipzel!



Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight May 1st



Considering the quality of the soundtracks in the retro classics from which Shovel Knight draws inspiration — thing like the early Mega Man and Castlevania releases — Jake Kaufman was always going to have his work cut out penning a score to rival those greats. But somehow, he managed it. Just like the game itself, the music manages to perfectly capture that bygone era of gaming while pulling off a few tricks that probably wouldn't have been possible on 8-bit hardware, riffing on how we remember those things rather than accurately emulating how they were. Regardless, this is a relentless rampage of audio awesomeness, and comfortably one of the best OSTs of its kind from the nu-retro movement.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is the full and complete edition of Shovel Knight, a sweeping classic action adventure game series with awesome gameplay, memorable characters, and an 8-bit retro aesthetic




AMBIENT

Less can sometimes be more, and that's especially true when it comes to music. Not every moment in a game (or anything else, for that matter) stands to benefit from epic fanfare or elaborate arrangements, and letting a poignant scene breathe is incredibly important. Music is one of the unsung heroes of the gaming art form at the best of times, so examples where things are deliberately kept on the down-low are naturally going to fly under a player's radar more than most. But when you can pick up on the subtle details of a more gentle soundscape and appreciate those rare occasions where the music can afford to pick up the pace a little, you really start to develop a much better understanding of — and appreciation for — soundtracks like these.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Best Games on Xbox Game Pass



Gareth Coker's beautiful scores for both Will of the Wisps and Blind Forest are almost interchangeable in terms of quality, although the sequel having a few more action-heavy moments means it's the original that best suits a slot here. There's a sense of calmness to much of this (even when strings swell a little and percussion is introduced), and that calm is only really broken in two instances — during the stressful escape sequences, and whenever the giant feathery antagonist Kuro is around. The amount of emotional connection Coker is able to evoke with even just simple twinkling melodies is enough to invite goosebumps and tears alike to the party, and that's a great fit for a game like Ori, which likes to tug at the heartstrings anyway.
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

The forest of Nibel is dying. After a powerful storm sets a series of devastating events in motion, Ori must journey to find courage and confront a dark nemesis to save the forest of Nibel. Experience a visually stunning, hand-crafted adventure with a deeply emotional story in the Definitive Edition of Ori and the Blind Forest from Moon Studios.



Minecraft

minecraft skin creator character



What better place for an ambient soundtrack to shine than in a game where you can go anywhere and do anything, freed almost entirely from the trappings of narrative beats that might dictate what kind of audio might work best? C418's musicial offerings for Minecraft are perhaps the most understated on this entire list, to the point that it's rare for a Minecraft tune to even have a beat. More often than not, it's as simple as unaccompanied rubato keys, so you'd be forgiven for barely noticing its gentle melodies while exploring the world or focusing on a big build. Still, if you're after a chilled game soundtrack to enjoy while working or studying, you'll find few distractions and lots of nice gentle sounds here.
Minecraft

Minecraft

Explore randomly generated worlds and build amazing things from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles. Play in creative mode with unlimited resources or mine deep into the world in survival mode, crafting weapons and armor to fend off the dangerous mobs.



Fez

AprilScreen 7



As with Coker's remarkable Ori scores, Disasterpeace's amazing Fez OST doesn't stick exclusively to subtle background noise and can occasionally raise its voice. Those moments are both warranted by the action and equally great, sure, but Fez is at its best when you're just drinking in its mysterious world and trying to wrap your brain around the devious puzzles that lie in wait all over, and the score only adds to that sense of mystique. The free-form lo-fi tunes aren't as abrasive as some chiptune stuff can be, and couldn't be a better fit for Gomez's mind-bending adventure — if you're looking for a somewhat trippier version of Minecraft's mellow music, look no further.
Fez

Fez

Gomez is a 2D creature living in a 2D world. Or is he? When the existence of a mysterious 3rd dimension is revealed to him, Gomez is sent out on a journey that will take him to the very end of time and space. Use your ability to navigate 3D structures from 4 distinct classic 2D perspectives. Explore a serene and beautiful open-ended world full of secrets, puzzles and hidden treasures. Unearth the mysteries of the past and discover the truth about reality and perception. Change your perspective and look at the world in a different way.



Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer



There's an unusual sense of restraint to much of Spiritfarer's soundtrack that perfectly reflects the game's themes of love and loss, where elation and sorrow may only ever be moments apart. Just compare the more upbeat seafaring tunes of this and. say, Black Flag — while tonally similar, Ubisoft's full orchestra score carries an adventurous pomp while Max LL's music, stripped back to just a few instruments, keeps up a similar energy while lending an inherent sense of emptiness and sadness to proceedings. Which, unsurprisingly, benefits something like Spritfarer greatly. It's unlikely that you'll come away humming any of the tunes from the game, but that doesn't mean the soundtrack hasn't done an incredible job without having to steal the spotlight.
Spiritfarer®

Spiritfarer®

Spiritfarer is a cozy management game about dying. As ferrymaster to the deceased, build a boat to explore the world, care for your spirit friends, and guide them across mystical seas to finally release them into the afterlife.



Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley



With a MIDI synth sound that recalls games of the mid-to-late Nineties and a refusal to use more than a couple of instruments at a time, Stardew Valley's heartwarmingly pure soundtrack is a masterclass in minimalism. There's often a spring in the step of the music that channels the same kind of optimism of the life sim's gameplay loop, with seasonal shifts in tone helping to convey to ever-marching passage of time — you'd be able to tell that summer had turned to fall even if the visuals hadn't changed. The nature of the musical style means this really comes into its own when winter rolls around and the gentle plinks and plonks evoke falling snowflakes and glistening ice, but honestly, this wholesome soundtrack is great all year round.
Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

You’ve inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. Armed with hand-me-down tools, you set out to begin your new life. Can you learn to live off the land and turn these overgrown fields into a thriving home? Ever since Joja Corporation came to town, the old ways of life have all but disappeared. The community center, once the town’s most vibrant hub of activity, now lies in shambles. With a little dedication, you might just be the one to restore Stardew Valley to greatness!




Well, that's gonna do it for our Xbox soundtrack recommendations for now. Obviously, music tastes are extremely opinion-based, so while we've tried to cover as much ground as possible here, the comments section below is just waiting to be filled with more suggestions of great soundtracks that others should check out — play nice down there, and we can't wait to check out some of your recommendations as well. You can never have too much great game music!
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Hey, I'm Luke! I've been playing games since way back in the 8-bit days, and have spent the last 15+ years writing and talking about them professionally for anyone and everyone who would let me. Monster Hunter fanatic, wearer of many fine hats, and always up for a raid.