What makes video game music iconic? It could be simply a list of the best video game songs ever made and leave it at that, but that’s not only subjective, it doesn’t really fit the exact feeling of what “iconic” video game music actually is. Iconic music is something that everyone knows. Even people that aren’t deep in the gaming space can hear a few notes and immediately start humming along. You see it in medleys and in many cases, it’s the music that is used to define a franchise.
Everyone has a different list when it comes to the best music or the best soundtrack, but iconic is iconic and you know it when you hear it. These are the most iconic songs in video games.
Final Fantasy: Prologue
One could fill half of this list with nothing but songs from the Final Fantasy franchise if they chose, but few themes have quite the same feeling as the Prologue theme from Final Fantasy 1. This theme started a tradition that has existed in all but a small handful of mainline Final Fantasy titles and that is, at some point, you will hear this original theme played. It may be remixed, but you are going to hear it.
Alongside that theme comes an overwhelming feeling of adventure and triumph. Any fan of Final Fantasy hears this theme and they are immediately filled with the sense that they can overcome anything. It’s time to grab a weapon and head off because the world needs to be saved, and you’re going to be the one to do it.
Super Mario Bros. World 1-1
World 1-1’s theme has become such an iconic piece of music for Mario that it has become synonymous with Mario himself. When you hear that jingle start to play there’s a sense of joy and nostalgia that fills your heart; it’s time to go on another fun adventure to rescue the princess from Bowser. There are endless remixes, musical renditions, and homages to Mario and they all use this theme to represent him. Mario is the most iconic figure in video games and unsurprisingly his music has that same level of fame.
Tetris is arguably the greatest piece of media ever created. Despite the simplicity of the game, it has been re-created, ported, and played on every device ever made. From flip phones to virtual reality, you can find a way to play Tetris.
With Tetris being available everywhere you would be remiss to not mention the perfect little jingle that has accompanied it along the way. It’s simple, short, memorable, and extremely hummable. Listen to this theme once and it will be impossible to not hum along for the rest of the day. In this simplicity comes endless remix potential. The main theme of Tetris has been possibly remixed more than any other theme in video games and the results are almost always great.
Halo’s Main Theme
When Xbox Live was at its peak during the Xbox 360 era there was probably one song you were hearing more than any other. The main theme of Halo. As everyone poured endless hours into online matchmaking or hosted LAN parties with their friends, the soft choir-like tones of Halo‘s main theme were playing. It was perfect background music as you waited to find a new match or for your friends to get online so you could play through Halo 3‘s campaign on co-op for the 100th time.
Escape From The City
Imagine for a second being a Sonic fan towards the end of the ’90s. The Dreamcast you bought is on the verge of death and your favorite blue hedgehog is quickly approaching homelessness. You know the Dreamcast needs a big hit and you’re hoping that Sonic Adventure 2 is going to be the game to save the console. You pop in the disc, play the opening level, and play “City Escape” for the first time. Just for a moment, you think that all is well and Sega is going to take the crown back from Nintendo and Sony.
Unfortunately for those fans that didn’t happen, but the music that accompanied that moment was “Escape From The City” a song that just perfectly captured the attitude of Sonic. This iconic piece of music would set the tone of what kind of music we’d hear in Sonic for years to come.
At Doom’s Gate
Doom was a revolutionary first-person shooter thanks to not only its innovative gameplay but extreme violence that at the time had not been seen before. You mowed through waves of demons and at one point battled your way through Hell itself with each level growing more demonic. Of course, a hardcore game like this needed a hardcore soundtrack to accompany it. “At Doom’s Gate” became the iconic piece of music from Doom that everyone thinks of when they think of the franchise.
There’s just something about Zelda and overworld themes. Take your pick of one and you’re going to find an incredible song to accompany you on your journey, but few had quite the impact that Hyrule Field from Ocarina of Time did. Maybe it’s the generation that grew up with it, but this became the theme that every other Zelda overworld theme was held to afterward. When the revolutionary Breath of the Wild came out, on Wii U/Switch, one of the largest complaints about the game was that it lacked an iconic theme like Hyrule Field. This is the gold standard that every Zelda game is going to be held to and that’s what makes it so iconic.