Engaging Video Game Soundtracks


(Image: Holly Ireland, Nintendo, and Steam)

Minecraft by Mojang (top left,) Hyper Light Drifter by Heart Machine (top right), and Hollow Knight by Team Cherry (bottom.)

Christopher Martires, News Editor

There are so many factors as to why people choose to spend their free time playing a video game. It can be because they want to have some fun playing with their friends and make some fond memories with each other. It can be because they want to experience an enticing narrative that might make them feel sad, angry, happy, or even all of the above. It can be because that is how they show off their creative outlet to the world. Regardless, all these reasons have one distinct commonality between them: You will always be–whether you are aware of it or not–listening to the game’s soundtrack. Here are 3 games where their soundtrack elevates the gaming experience.


Building, fighting, destroying; through it all you will always hear the beautiful piano of composer C418, the mastermind behind the Minecraft soundtrack. For a game like Minecraft, there is a big emphasis on creation, so naturally you want to have a soundtrack that’s not only pleasing to the ears but also stays within the background of your mind. This in layman’s terms is the description for the genre of ambient music. However, Minecraft does something a rare number of games can replicate and that is creating ambient music that stays within the foreground and the background of your mind.

From the very moment you start the game, you are treated to the opener of the soundtrack “Key.” At a glance, it’s a simple song that strictly uses piano with lots of reverb. In a deeper examination, you start to realize the hidden narrative the song creates. This track creates this sense of fear and awe through the ominous reverb of the piano. You ask yourself “What is this place? Where am I? What am I supposed to be doing?” This fear and awe for the unknown is what drives the player–the curiosity of what’s to come. It’s like a shut-in finally pushing himself to leave their house. Then immediately the track transitions into the song “Door” and just like that all your fears and wonders are thrown out of the way. You open the door with the key and are greeted with glorious, triumphant woodwinds and synthesizers followed by the once ominous piano to a pleasant, calming one. This is your moment, this is the start of your journey. 

As you explore the world, you will always be greeted by the minimal tracks at random times. Despite the randomness of the songs, they still are able to evoke the right emotions in different scenarios. For example, whether you are exploring a cave or staying in your house during a rainy evening, songs like “Living Mice” and “Haggstrom” are able to fit the scene with such immaculate detail. The heavenly crescendo of the piano and synths of “Living Mice” eases the tension of what’s hiding in the caves, egging you on to continue exploring as the track gets louder and louder. In contrast, the reminiscing sounds of “Haggstrom” washes away the gloom of the rain, bringing with it a jovial kalimba accompanied with a calming violin and piano. Tracks like these are why despite its fundamental purpose to be just pleasant background noise, they go beyond their original design to enrich the entirety of Minecraft. Whether or not you are paying attention to the minimal genius of the soundtrack, Minecraft is not Minecraft without it’s music. 

Minecraft is rated for anyone 10 and older. It is available on Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Xbox 360, Raspberry Pi, Windows, Phone, PlayStation 3, Fire OS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita, Universal Windows Platform, Wii U, tvOS, Nintendo Switch, and New Nintendo 3DS. As well as the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Series S. 

Hyper Light Drifter

This is a recent game I played and I was enthralled by the world that the developers at Heart Machine made with their debut title. The 2D top down action-adventure game centers around the titular “Drifter” and his mission to cure an unknown disease he has, implied to be heart disease as the lead developer Alx Preston suffered from it. One of the most fascinating aspects about this game is how the story is presented through visuals only and never with dialogue. Interacting with a character gives you a slideshow of events that unfolded in the post-apocalyptic setting of Hyper Light Drifter.

Due to the visual storytelling the game presents, the soundtrack by electronic artist Disasterpeace takes center stage with the opening track “Vignette:Panacea” setting the mood of the entire game. It begins with a soft piano slowly playing, but there’s a tinge of sadness with it, reflecting the current war-torn state of the game’s setting. The piano continues playing only to be enveloped by synth reverb and suddenly the piano becomes louder and more pronounced, synchronizing with the menacing aura of the synths. This is then the transition of the next song “Vignette:Visions,” where the Drifter is revealed his mission on how to cure his disease. As to how he is able to reach his goal continues to be shown to the player, the electronics starts to become distorted, almost hellish in a way, and with brief moments of quiet reprieve. This sense of dread and otherworldly creations riddle the rest of the entire game with seldom moments of relief and happiness.

Despite that, the game is constantly forcing you to face the reality of the dystopia the Drifter lives in and keep pushing towards your end goal. The boss fights in this game are built up so incredibly well after knowing the atrocities they committed that the music only ramps up this feeling of overwhelming power that is shown in front of you. The instrumental behind the boss track “The Last General” is filled to the brim with foreboding electronics and continues like that throughout the entire song. Not once does it deescalate or escalate; it is just constant uneasiness from the threat in front of you. “Cult of the Zealous,” while in a regular listen it crescendos into its climax, but during the boss fight it throws you straight into the climax with no warning. The electronics in this track almost feel like they’re imitating a rumbling sensation with high pitched synths contrasting with the constant rumbling felt. The track “The Sentients”, by far the most unique boss track, replicates the otherworldly steampunk atmosphere of the titular robotic Sentients. The drum beats accompanied with the glitch-like synths create a different mood altogether; you aren’t being faced against extreme power, you are now facing machinery with no understanding of their purpose. It’s mysterious yet melodic, piquing your interest into what exactly you are fighting. The game has an amazing way of making the player have a sense of true fear when trying to fight the bosses and enemies of these games, but when you vanquish them you feel that immense feeling of satisfaction overcoming the obstacles in your way.

Hyper Light Drifter is rated T Violence, blood and gore. It is available on Linux, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and iOS.

Hollow Knight 

My personal favorite game out of the three, Hollow Knight is set in a world ruled by insects with the mysterious protagonist the Knight (Not to be confused with the titular Hollow Knight) being called to venture in the world of the bug kingdom Hallownest. A 2D metroidvania, Hollow Knight reigns supreme in not only its gameplay, but in its beautiful orchestral soundtrack thanks to composer Christopher Larkin. He uses his music to immerse yourself into the environment you are exploring, make you appreciate the world around you, and to acknowledge the care that was placed by the developer to make your experience as impactful as possible.

By far the best example of the game’s incredible soundtrack is when you are introduced to the capital of Hallownest, City of Tears. When you are first introduced to this city constantly raining, a character asks the Knight–and by extension, you–to settle down for a little and take in the scenery of the city. The track named after the capital hits you with a soothing melodic piano followed by a woman’s heavenly soprano vocals. It fits the atmosphere so incredibly well with the rainy mood of the capital that you are compelled to just relax to the ambience of it all. On the opposite end, the City of Tears introduces one of the most harrowing sections in the game with the track “Soul Sanctum”, utilizing the same motifs in “City of Tears”. The ominous organs from the track parallels the literal sanctum you are exploring and as the track continues it only gets more intense with the introduction of drums, cellos, and violins roaring. It’s an exceptional track that truly makes you tense up knowing you are in the place filled with the dead. 

Other great examples of the orchestral soundtrack can be seen in the city of Dirtmouth and its title track. A nostalgic-feeling track, it uses only two instruments, the piano and a larger emphasis on the violin, signifying the center pieces for all tracks in the soundtracks. It’s a sorrowful yet calming song, reflecting the barren gray city and the inhabitants living there. This is the first city you reach in the game and it shapes the tone for the rest of the other environments you will have to venture through in the game. Of these environments is the Resting Grounds, where the title track, similar to “Dirtmouth”, has an emphasis on the piano while the violin takes the backseat. It’s a peaceful track that plays as you learn about the dead spirits that have rested here for a millennium, lamenting on the state of the Resting Grounds and it becoming forbidden from the public eye. It’s tracks like these that carve Hollow Knight’s identity and why people get sucked into the immense world that is Hallownest.  

Hollow Knight is for anyone 10 and up. It is available on  Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X and Series S. 

Gaming to me has always been about finding a new story that I can interact with, but for a long time I never realized how important a game’s music can help amplify that adventure. It is something that usually people don’t tend to notice because of how well it’s usually done, but that’s why I want to highlight these games and how much their soundtrack shapes the direction of their style. Whether it be building something in Minecraft to slashing in Hyper Light Drifter or to discovering the nooks and crannies of a bug kingdom in Hollow Knight, it will be the music that will always accompany you.