Some games are much better when you don’t have to play them. Usually, this is because of the graphics or…well, mainly the graphics. But a select few games are better heard than played or seen. These are the games you leave paused on a stage just to rock and/or chill out to the awesome tunes included while you tried to forget how much money you would have saved if you just got the soundtrack instead. Let’s listen up for a few games ideally made for an iPod instead of an Xbox!
5. Cheetahmen II
And here we start out with the most glaring example. This piece of slapdash NES pain, originally part of the now-infamous Action 52 cartridge, is a horrible platformer that figured that TMNT was popular just because it was about animals hitting things. Yet, as brains were torn apart by the horrible visuals and gameplay, the surprisingly catchy theme song played in gamer’s heads for days. One can only hope that the sound designer who came up with that one tune found a different company to work for. Youtube houses a testament to how good this song is, showing remix after remix of this one track. Not surprisingly, each remix shows more effort than any part of the original game.
4. Final Fantasy Legend
This RPG is basically a testament to everything wrong in old-school RPGs. An insanely high random encounter rate, an impenetrable class and skill system, constant weapon degradation, and yes, ungodly amounts of grinding. It even came up with brand new bad ideas, like making it so that humans only level up by buying potions from stores and not from battle, ensuring every dungeon until you can desperately run away to a town. (Yes, I bought this when I was a kid and I’m still bitter, why do you ask?) Thank God for ol’ Nobuo Uematsu, who crafted an absolutely beautiful soundtrack for this. He makes that little Game Boy sound chip sing with resonance and a bittersweet melancholy, even crafting an opening tune just as memorable as the original Final Fantasy tune. Thankfully, finding the sound test is less grindy than the actual game.
3. Final Fantasy 8
Nobuo! Thanks again! Here he is at the height of his new sound design prime. The town themes are bright and fun (especially the Balamb Garden theme), the battle themes are awesome, and it even has an over-the-top wistful tune that wouldn’t be out of place as the main hit for a blockbuster movie. Eyes on Me is basically the My Heart Will Go On for the nerd set, and for good reason! It’s a great guilty pleasure when you feel like taking off your Cloud cosplay suit and slipping into a nice bubble bath. In fact, it was nice of the game designers to saddle FF8 with a broken stat system, uninteresting characters and an incomprehensible story, since it made the brilliance of the soundtrack that much more noticeable.
You want to know when a work of art is in trouble? When it just gives up on being whatever work it is. Imagine if the new Star Trek just turned into a text scroll of the script about halfway through. That’s basically what happens in Xenogears. While I gave up on this game quite early (You have to grind combos to learn new moves? Nobody told me!), I listened to the soundtrack for months regularly. It’s just plain RPG music brilliance, containing what is definitely the best desert area tune next to Scaraba and a guilty-pleasure melodrama ballad to rival Eyes on You with it’s ending theme. The pseudo-Irish flair to the music gives the whole arrangement that extra whimsy and fun. And on top of that, it doesn’t slam a Bible and a psychology textbook together for hours and call that deep!
1. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Now, this game is not bad. It’s actually quite okay! It may not be as memorable as other Castlevanias, but it’s a decent Devil May Cry clone and it’s got a pretty good story. So why is it on this list? Because the soundtrack is just that amazing. Each tune is incredible, from the thumping techno of the Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab to the building crescendo of the House of Sacred Remains to the serene piano of the Dark Palace of Waterfalls, this game brings some of the best Castlevania music ever. And that’s saying something!
That’s just me and my ears, though. If you can think of some other good-sounding game bombs or if you totally disagree with everything here, please say so in the comments!