Being a fan of Nintendo-based video game music has historically been pretty tough. Older aural aficionados would cling tightly to their Killer Cuts CDs, dedicated collectors wept at the triple-digit pricing of rare Japanese CD sets containing most, but never quite all, of a popular '90s RPG soundtrack, and everyone else wondered why publishers seemed to have such a problem sorting out an obvious and mutually beneficial deal. Like the game, do you? Then order the soundtrack from your nearest retailer!
Or not, as the case was 99% of the time.
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Thankfully that default position of professional disinterest has shifted in recent years, and now music lovers all over the world are able to get their hands on more video game soundtracks than ever before.
What were once import-only rarities are now just a casual Spotify search away, and what once didn’t exist at all now get ornate limited-edition music boxes and premium vinyl releases. Many of them will still cost you a pretty penny, but they're more readily available and affordable than ever — we're moving in the right direction.
It’s time to take a fresh look at just how much game music is out there, and where you can get it. We begin with old-school media (don't worry, we'll get even older-school before long)...
Now almost 40 years old, the compact disc remains a straightforward and DRM-free way to get your hands on the biggest game soundtracks old and new. Nintendo itself has started releasing lavish box sets for chart-toppers like Breath of the Wild and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (the Zelda series has even had several orchestral concert albums made available too) with other titles, such as Link’s Awakening and Splatoon 2, receiving comprehensive multi-disc albums; all ready and waiting to be purchased through your favourite import website.
Closer to home Grandia, Actraiser, Streets of Rage II, and Skies of Arcadia all have official soundtracks released by the France-located Wayo Records and, at least in this writer’s experience, Mick Gordon’s growling soundtrack to Doom is something to be picked up from a small branch of HMV.
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Although often buried under wildly inconsistent tagging, both iTunes and Amazon offer a plethora of soundtracks in all regions, running the full spectrum from titles you’d expect them to have (such as Monster Hunter Rise — albeit with Japanese text — and Legend of Mana’s newly remastered soundtrack), titles you’d hope they’d have (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Hades, the entire Devil May Cry series), and titles you’d never dare dream of asking for.
Need to buy the soundtrack for Dreamcast homage ‘em up SEGAGAGA, Capcom’s Dino Crisis 2, or Namco’s Pac-Mania? You can do that right now, straight from your phone — no foreign currency gift cards or secondary accounts with fake addresses in the right country required, Just prod, purchase, and play.
Until the wax cylinder makes a mainstream comeback, vinyl is currently the trendiest of all audio formats, and gaming is keen to capitalise on its success. It’s large, tactile, discs are a joy to behold, and the mildly ceremonial nature of choosing and then playing one specific album in order is something of a pleasant novelty in 2021.
Labels like Brain Wave and Data Discs have led the way with this anachronistic (at least in terms of digitally produced video game music) format, and thanks to its boom in popularity, game soundtracks on vinyl are easily purchased (you’ll need to be quick if you want a specific variant, mind you) and can be anything from classic arcade shmups like Gradius, Ketsui, and the previously un-soundtracked Treasure legend Ikaruga, to indie hits such as Untitled Goose Game (an inventive album that cleverly mimics the game’s cheeky nature with its double-groove system, resulting in slightly unpredictable plays) Shovel Knight, and Celeste, or even the towering blockbusters of the last decade. Skyrim’s on vinyl. Dark Souls is on vinyl. Minecraft’s on vinyl. Pull any game’s name out of a hat and it’s either on vinyl or soon-to-be on vinyl (which will probably sell out its initial batch in seconds).
No game too niche to be considered for a vinyl release these days. Bliss.
Last but certainly not least is streaming, a format so frictionless that most platforms don’t even make you pay anything to listen to the wonderful melodies contained within — so long as you can tolerate the ads, that is.
Here the much-loved RPG developer Falcom arguably rules supreme, its online offerings stretching all the way back to a selection of albums originally released in the late 1980s while also including the soundtracks to games so new they don’t even have English releases yet, plus the vast majority of everything in between, too.
Square Enix is just as thorough, enabling users from everywhere and anywhere to listen to official recordings of NES and SNES classics, the very latest releases, concert performances, and even their own “Chillhop LoFi remixes”, although we won’t pretend to be cool enough to know exactly what that entails.
More specifically for Switch-owning music fans, you can enjoy listening to the varied delights of Undertale, Octopath Traveler, XCOM 2, and Hollow Knight without having to do much more than log in to your streaming platform of choice.
So, things are definitely better than they’ve ever been, to the point where finding game soundtracks in very ordinary local places is pretty unremarkable. Resident Evil vinyls, once the stuff of dreams, are now housed in the same stores that stock “100 Greatest Dad Rock Hits”. Anything from retro chiptune to soaring symphonic arrangements can be accessed via a phone or tablet.
Could things still be better? Of course they could. There are still far too many easily-spotted holes in gaming’s music catalogue, and plenty of odd inconsistencies across regions and formats — it’s still not a given that a new vinyl release will be accompanied by a digital equivalent, for example, and even if you do bear in mind licensing issues and label preferences that have to be negotiated when re-releasing vintage OSTs, that scenario still feels like a too-obvious missed opportunity for someone somewhere down the merchandising line.
Even so, what we’re seeing right now is game music finally being taken seriously without having to constantly fight to justify its existence to a more mainstream crowd; as audio entertainment in its own right, as something worth enjoying, indulging in — and ultimately paying for if you want to see (or hear) even more in the future.
Lots of options make for happy ears — let us know below how you like to enjoy your video game music when you're not playing the games themselves in the poll below, and be sure check out the other Nintendo Life VGM Fest articles in our season of music-focused interviews and features.
Vinyl when I can afford it. Cassette when I want a cheaper physical and it’s available. Streaming when neither of the above.
Nintendo may not like it but I listen through YouTube most of the time.
As a rule, with my ears.
All except for Vinyl. I don't have a record player
A mixture of the above. I have several CDs, but I usually go to YT for the ease of access.
YouTube YouTube YouTube.
I pay for YouTube Premium, and the YouTube music app alone is worth the price of admission. Not only do you get the likes of popular music upload accounts (Gilva Sunner anyone?), but more game publishers are growing wise to the fact that more fans access game music on demand that way, and are starting to put offical soundtracks up. Plus there's some great remix and cover content there too.
Is it a golden age? I keep listening to stuff from 2000 and back, with the occasional new release grabbing my attention.
I have a rather extensive, curated library of video game music I've been working on for almost 20 years since I was first gifted an iPod nano. Quite proud of that library, too.
But I haven't paid a single dime for it, because it's ridiculously expensive.
Yeah I usually just listen to youtube playlists for video game music. There's also NTS radio that plays a lot of eclectic interesting stuff including video game music. Now that I think about it would be cool to have some game soundtracks on vinyl too just for the novelty of it.
I usually just download youtube videos as mp3s so I can listen to music anytime.
@Yorumi Bandcamp’s really the only place I trust to buy FLACs from. Haven’t found a really great store for them.
I listen through my favorite "best vgm" subscriptions on YouTube. I used to listen a lot to Dystify's 24/7 Nintendo stream, but he had to stop sadly!
I'm still miffed some of these publishers don't understand just how much games I've bought because I loved the soundtrack!! 😂😅
Streaming mostly, I have a spotify playlist of Nintendo music. Remixes, covers, OSTs, there's a ton of great tunes. But I do love my Ocarina of Time vinyl.
Zelda, Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2, Metroid, Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy, Mario. All have amazing music
I love splatoon music. nothing else tp be said
I own a bunch of game soundtrack CDs, but rarely listen to them mainly because I lack a good CD player and the only good one is in the family living room, so is not really something I can just set up and chill to. Otherwise its just the music on youtube.
One thing I wish for is to just have the soundtracks available in a digital format but not having to import or be lucky on ebay finding them. Cus I would for sure be buying a lot more CDs if I could get them easier. At least bring back the CD rewards from club nintendo days, that'd be amazing.
I still buy CDs as they’re often the only lossless quality option, plus they’re physical, but I’m not quite as fussed about their tangibility.
I have my fair share of Nintendo soundtracks. Fire Emblem soundtracks are particularly excellent. I made an exception and bought the Pokémon HeartGold/SoulSilver and Black/White soundtracks via iTunes (where they were only AU$17 each) as the CDs are long out of print, and even used copies are horribly expensive. I own most of the other available soundtracks on CD, though I did skip Gen IV’s soundtrack as I suspect that BD/SP’s soundtrack will eventually be issued a CD release.
The original Sims also has the best soundtrack in the franchise’s history. No lossless option, sadly, but the MP3s within the game files can easily be imported to your music player.
I just listen to it on Youtube at least mainly.
None of the above. Always YouTube.
❗I've downloaded various Soundtracks via YouTube-to-MP3 sites.
I currently have:
🔹️Lunar Knights (my favourite DS Game)
🔹️Puzzle League DS
🔹️Street Fighter: Alpha 3
🔹️Valkyria Chronicles 4
🔹️Sonic The Hedgehog 1
🔹️Streets Of Rage 1
🔹️Streets Of Rage 2
🔹️Shinobi 3: Return Of The Ninja Master
🔹️Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (Mega Drive version)
If Physical CD's and I like it I will collect it for the most part or from another NA site I buy the OST and download and save them.
Love Super Smash Bros. Ultimate mainly for the music.
I download some MP3s from wherever I can get them and dump them into my phone, simple. There's some real obscure stuff that you cannot get any other way in such a convenient manner and as long as that continues being the case that's how I will do things.
@nessisonett It works perfectly for Indie game osts
I have a pile of imported soundtrack CDs from before the days of streaming. These days I almost exclusively use youtube. It would be nice if CDs were more readily available for listening in the car.
Mix of Spotify, YouTube, Bandcamp and CDs. I would rather have everything in one place. Still waiting for the day Nintendo adds their music on Spotify, other than the few Kirby soundtracks. And even those were added because of HAL, not Nintendo, as far as I know. Importing CDs is expensive so I haven't been doing it much lately. The latest physical soundtrack I got was for Bravely Default II.
I mostly buy on Bandcamp. The rest I download wherever I can. Not gonna buy the music from games that I already own.
I listen through rainwave.cc
Mostly a mixture of the above. I only have 2 vinyls (Silent Hill and Shadow of the colossus). Majority is digital for me but I do have 1 OST from square enix that is a blu-ray that plays the song on a blu-ray player but if it has wifi (ie like a console) then you can then transfer the songs as mp3 through your router to your pc to then transfer to another device.
I prefer to have physical CDs, but launches of those officially are few and far between, so I usually use YouTube, Apple Music, or Bandcamp for streaming and Bandcamp, Steam, or Itch.io for downloads.
Sometimes it's a mix of all three; for example, I have the physical Undertale CD OST, but I also have the digital OST on Steam and have the album saved on Apple Music. Similar situations for Rivals of Aether and Friday Night Funkin' (even though the Rivals and FNF CDs haven't come out yet).
I'd love to have all my game music on CDs (I recently bought the Club Nintendo Smash Wii U/3DS sound selection CD off ebay) but that's simply impossible, so streaming and downloads will have to do for me.
CDs! Vinyls look cool on the wall though.
I prefer CDs so i can rip to FLAC or ogg but they can get pricey so I also do a mix of digital and when working youtube rips.
I buy soundtracks in whatever format I can, and download/rip the ones that never get an official release. I have a plex server running on a raspberry pi for my music library, and I use plexamp on my phone & Echo devices at home to play video game music anywhere. It's a bit more work, but it keeps everything in one place and has all the soundtracks I want down to obscure stuff like Legendary Axe or Teleroboxer, with the same functionality as any streaming service.
Finding out that you can type in pretty much any video game and add "OST" to it to get the soundtrack on YouTube was a revelation that vastly improved my telecommuting lifestyle.
YouTube. I use a modded app called Vanced for background play and when the screen is off.
I stream but I need to get into a platform that's better for the artists because the large majority of the music I listen to are arrangements and remixes of video game themes.
YouTube, Spotify and cds.
Stumbling upon the xenoblade OST in an HMV in Japan was the best shopping experience ive ever had!
Youtube and cds.
YouTube because some companies cough*nintendo *cough
don't put up their OSTs anywhere else, and also because of remixes like game chops' "& chills"
Nintendo Sound Selection - yes!
Alternatively, piano and orchestral covers. This cover of the ending theme to SMW is AMAZING. Even more so when you consider it's totally sight read (ie first time the player has ever seen the music). Just wait until the fast section kicks in around 2.20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9IkpUYlOx8
I got the music from Youtube. 😅
And i found some fan remixes of video game OST including Eurobeat version of Big Blue F-Zero, Wii Sports, Waluigi Pinball, etc.
and it falls under 'None of the above' in the poll... which surprisingly is not the top answer.
I recommend you all listen to 'The Console' on Scala radio. Premiers every Saturday and features 45 minutes of videogame music old and new.
I mostly use Droidsound-E (on mobile) or foobar2000 (on desktop) to listen to emulation rip formats. Saves a ton of space, and I can loop tracks as I see fit.
Back in ancient times when I was a youth (the 90's and 00's), the only options were to import soundtracks (which I did a lot of), or to hope someone used the sound test on a game to record their own version of the soundtrack and put it online (which is also something I did occasionally). Now you can find just about anything on bandcamp, and older games on [redacted because it might be super shady]. Unfortunately, a lot of the obscure games from the ancient 90's~00's are still super hard to find, and that makes me sad and old.
Back in the mid 90s teenage me stumbled across fan-remade MIDI tracks of games on good old dial up internet which I lapped up. Mainly square soft games. I actually listened regularly to tracks then from games that I didn’t play until years later. And since the sound of the instruments depended entirely on your pc sound card it seemed strange to finally hear the ‘proper’ versions. I even made a couple myself of midis of the final fantasy legend games and uploaded them.
Nowadays I buy digital downloads on Bandcamp, or Amazon if I can’t find it there. Or if it’s just not available then a naughty download…
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