All of us have at one point faced the following conundrum: it’s distracting at the office so we want to put on some music to help us focus, but any music that we put on is distracting and makes it difficult to focus as well. As it turns out, there’s a great solution to this problem that comes from one of your favourite pastimes that you never imagined would actually help you be productive.
Video game soundtracks are a great option to listen to when you’re having a hard time getting your work done. They typically have no lyrics, are long scores as opposed to constantly-changing 3 minute songs, and are often eclectic mixes of various styles that keep things fresh. Above all, they’re designed to keep you interested and engaged while you focus on doing something else. Only now, instead of slaying a dragon and rescuing a princess, you’re updating contact information in a 3000 line Excel spreadsheet. But who says that can’t feel just as exciting?
Now, I know that any discussion about video games can get very intense very quickly, so let me clarify: this is not the 10 best video game soundtracks to boost productivity, it’s just 10. As in, there are definitely other ones that have not made the cut that are perhaps even better than the ones here. If there’s any that you like to listen to, please share them with others in the comments! But for now, here’s 10 of my personal favourites:
Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Composer: Koji Kondo
Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Nintendo 64 is considered by many to be one of the greatest video games of all time. Released in 1998, it was ahead of its time with its massive open world to explore and epic adventure to journey through. When listening to the orchestral stylings of the soundtrack, those who have played it will instantly be taken back to riding a horse through the rolling pastures of Hyrule. Interspersed throughout the soundtrack are whimsical numbers pertaining to the many different villages & puzzles found throughout the game, which help to keep the soundtrack fresh.
Composers: Christophe Héral & Billy Martin
Whimsical, quirky and eccentric don’t even begin to describe this soundtrack. Similar to the many different worlds found in the game, the Rayman Origins soundtrack consists of light-hearted renditions of a range of musical genres that will have you bopping your head and smiling. This soundtrack is best suited for when you’re feeling low on energy and need a quick boost to bring you back.
Super Mario 64
Composer: Koji Kondo
This game holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts because it ushered the beloved Mario franchise from its well-established 2D environment to a 3D world. Similarly, the soundtrack borrows some melodies from its previous games but without being repetitive and overly lo-fi like the technology of the NES and Super Nintendo limited the audio to. For the most part, though, the soundtrack is a collection of great original scores that are all fairly distinct from one another.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time
Composers: Mutsuhiko Izumi & Kozo Nakamura
If you’re already on a roll and want to keep the momentum going, the Turtles In Time soundtrack will give you just the energy boost you need. Its synth-heavy score is – just like their favourite food – very cheesy, but it definitely has a lot of fun with this. Some may find this soundtrack incredibly distracting, but if you need a shot of adrenaline for a mindless task that you’re working on then this is the perfect choice.
Composers: Yasunori Mitsuda & Nobuo Uematsu
Look at any “Top Video Game Soundtracks” post and inevitably you will find Chrono Trigger on most results. It’s got great melodies and has many distinct parts, but is never too overbearing. Fans of the iconic lo-fi Super Nintendo sounds will definitely want to check this one out.
Composers: Trent Reznor & Nine Inch Nails
Before he would go on to win an Academy Award for his soundtrack to The Social Network, Nine Inch Nails frontman, Trent Reznor, got his start creating scores in 1996 with Quake. It’s everything we’ve now come to expect from a great Trent Reznor score: ambient, industrial, and very atmospheric. The soundtrack can be divided into 2 parts: the first half is a collection of sounds that create an eerie and dark mood, while the second half consists of songs ranging from orchestral to metal.
Final Fantasy X
Composers:Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu & Junya Nakano
The Final Fantasy X soundtrack has a diverse arrangement of instrumentation and styles, ranging from rock to electronic to cinematic. Though quite lengthy, the soundtrack changes styles fairly quickly, which makes it easy to listen to for a long period without beginning to sound repetitive.
Composer: Darren Korb
Though one of the more recent entries on this list, 2011’s Bastion has a soundtrack that many believe to be one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time. Like any great game soundtrack it’s got a wide range of styles, which composer Darren Korb describes as “acoustic frontier trip hop.” Though some small portions of the soundtrack have vocals, it was too good to pass up for this list.
Composers: Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques & David Kates
The Mass Effect soundtrack is the most cinematic of any of the entries on this list, which makes it great at setting an overall tone of adventure and tension. It’s largely orchestral, though it also has very creative uses of synthesizers to keep things interesting.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Composer: Michiru Yamane
Just looking at the cover of 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night tells you exactly what you’re in store for. The soundtrack is very symphonic, with an eery tone that makes you feel like you’re adventuring through a haunted castle. Similar to other games of its time, it’s got some moments that have a hard rock/metal feel to them, but for the most part it sticks to the haunted house feel that makes this soundtrack so iconic.