Video game music has always been an iconic part of the memories and nostalgic attachment we have with our childhood. Whether that be video game music emanating from the arcades or from the televisions where our consoles were attached, it’s all a part of the medium’s history. Certain tunes are so ingrained in our popular culture that they have become frequently purchased ring-tones for our ubiquitous smart phone society. Hearing the Legend of Zelda theme music bursting out from a ringing cell-phone is an instantly recognizable way for a complete stranger to identify a fellow “gamer”.
Do people actually listen to entire video game soundtracks, as part of casual listening, when not playing the games they are associated with? In theory, this activity should be no different than listening to the score from one of your favorite motion pictures. However, I think there is a common misconception that video game soundtracks do not contain compositions worthy of casual listening, which is not only false but awfully dismissive. Video games have been fighting a decades-long uphill battle to be considered works of art in a similar vein as film and television, so it would make sense that the soundtracks to these games are equally disrespected.
One of the earliest systems that allowed video games to contain more than just catchy chip tunes, but full, glorious Red Book audio (which is just a fancy way of saying “CD Quality Audio”), was the Sega CD. Yes, the Turbografx-CD came out before the Sega CD, but Sega’s Genesis console was one of the two top dogs in the console wars of the early 90s, so this expensive add-on had a built in consumer base eager to play the CD quality games and listen to CD quality music.
I am of the opinion that the music found on many of the Sega CD games, and yes, I think the North American soundtrack to Sonic CD is comparable in quality to the Japanese soundtrack, should be held in the same regard as music found on the Super Nintendo or the NES. I’m certain there are other fans of this system that know some of the music contained in this post by heart. These are the games in my own personal Sega CD collection that contained soundtracks worthy of mention.
Android Assault – The Nobuhiro Makino composed soundtrack for this shooter is all glossy rock n’ roll and adrenaline.
Batman Returns – Spencer Nilsen knocks it out of the park in regards to the music within this enhanced version of the already available 16-bit Genesis and SNES versions.
Earthworm Jim – A Tommy Tallarico (a name that will come up again) composed soundtrack that goes all over the place, just like Earthworm Jim. The common thread? Amazing-ness.
Final Fight CD – Horn and synth filled, 80s goodness carried over into the 90s. The music within was composed by a team that included Harumi Fujita, Hiromitsu Takaoka, Junko Tamiya, Manami Matsumae, Yasuaki Fujita, Yoko Shimomura, and Yoshihiro Sakaguchi. Bottom line, this team created one of the most revered gaming soundtracks of the 90s.
Lunar: The Silver Star – Another team effort (Noriyuki Iwadare, Hiroshi Fujioka, Isao Mizoguchi, and Yoshiaki Kubodera), the soundtrack for the Lunar series remains as epic and memorable as the games.
Lunar: Eternal Blue – Noriyuki Iwadare returns for the Lunar sequel and there’s no discernible drop in quality! These two soundtracks match up perfectly to the scenes and gameplay, just like a good soundtrack should.
Popful Mail – Composed by the Falcom Sound Team, this is not an actual Red Book audio soundtrack but that detracts nothing from the amazing music this game possesses. Earworm brilliance.
Road Avenger – Michael K. Nakamura composed the score but the game’s opening movie song was performed by J-Walk and it’s awesome in it’s utter cheesiness. Just listen to it and if a smile doesn’t cross your face, you’re dead inside.
Shining Force CD – Motoaki Takenouchi took the honors for this enhanced version of a couple of Game Gear Shining Force entries. Wow. This is a masterpiece, possibly the best “epic” soundtrack on the Sega CD.
Snatcher – Akira Yamaoka and team created the music for this cyberpunk thriller. The music is at times moody, disturbing, relaxing, joyful and alarming. Just like Snatcher. Probably the best score, since Snatcher plays like a movie anyway.
Sonic CD (North America) – David Young was given the unenviable task of creating an entirely new music score for the North American version of Sonic CD. The Japanese/European soundtrack is revered, and rightfully so, but I don’t personally find David’s revamped music to be a deterrent to owning the N.A. version of this Sonic game. Sonic Boom! Get that song out of your head if you can.
Terminator – Tommy Tallarico (told ya you’d hear his name again), creates one of the most atmospheric and fist pumping soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The hard drivin’ guitars will make sure you’re at least jamming out along with the Arnold. This is my personal favorite soundtrack on the Sega CD.