Best NES/SNES/Genesis Music

Full disclosure: I’m not going to do the Best of #Churchtweet post tonight.  I’m going to do it tomorrow.  Why?  Because I have Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and I fully intend to spend the entire evening playing it.

In the meantime there is a question I’ve always wanted answered: which NES/SNES/Genesis game had the best music of all time?  There will be all sorts of Mega Man love (Mega Man 2 had some phenomenal music) as well as props for Final Fantasy (I, IV, and VI) and Chrono Trigger.  But there were also some lesser-known games that had spectacular music such as Legacy of the Wizard (I sometimes listen to the dungeon theme on repeat while I’m at work), the Guardian Legend, and Maniac Mansion (Dave’s Theme was awesome!)

There are a host of others with great soundtracks like Bionic Commando, Crystalis, Blaster Master, Clash at Demonhead, Arcana, Earthbound (theme from Winters is so schnazzy), pretty much any Castlevania game, and Phantasy Star IV.

So, all you old-school gamers and/or musicians, which one takes home the trophy for the following categories?

1.  Best overall soundtrack

2.  Best song

3.  Most inventive music

4.  The soundtrack that has always stuck with you

It's funny how ambitions change over time.
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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Brian Fields

    Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past will always stick with me, for the number of times I’ve played it/replayed it.

    Nearly every Castlevania after 3 had a good soundtrack, so props to Castlevania 4 for the SNES.

    The Castle Music from Super Mario World always tripped me up about how edgy it made me.

  • Jason Thibeault

    My childhood was largely dominated by the NES, though I do remember some SNES themes fondly too.

    Castlevania has had the most consistently awesome soundtrack, for sure.

    When I heard Megaman 2 – Metal Man’s theme, I knew things were about to get insanely difficult. The disappearing/reappearing blocks sequence took me so long to get past, the theme is burned into my head.

    For number 4, Duck Tales. The Moon theme. Period. There is no catchier or cooler theme in NES history.

    • JT Eberhard

      Fuck the hell yes to the Moon Base Theme!

      • Brian Fields

        +1 for the Ducktales Moon Base!

        • Brownian

          Wow. I’d forgotten I’d even played that game until this thread. As soon as I saw “Moon Theme” I had a flashback—I didn’t remember the theme, I just remembered that I loved it!

          But Megaman II’s “Crash Man Theme” is one of my all-time favourites. I queue it up at work when I need the kind of boost that legal substances like coffee won’t deliver.

    • Sam N

      Jason, I must assume you mean Heat Man, he had the gnarliest disappearing blocks. I don’t even remember disappearing blocks for metal man, mostly large dropping metal spikes and conveyer belts.

      I always loved Bubble Man music, had a friend that would play Crash Man on the violin.

      • Jason Thibeault

        Argh! Yes, I meant Heat Man. I don’t remember the exact sequence of bosses now, but I remember having the Metal Blades equipped through Heat Man’s blocks-over-lava sequence, so I was probably conflating the names. Actually, I remember having Metal Blades through most of that game. 8-directional shooting, super fast, double the strength of the Mega Blaster (remember, it’s not the Buster til you can charge it!), and you can fire it either 32 or 64 times (can’t recall how many pips shooting took but it was tiny) before your energy is depleted, assuming you don’t get any powerups. It was the best special weapon in any Megaman game ever.

  • Laurence

    If we are limiting it to just NES/SNES/Genesis games, then these are my answers. It’ll change if that is not the case.

    1. Best overall soundtrack – Chrono Trigger

    Chrono Trigger has one of the most epic soundtracks of any video game ever. All the songs fit the mood for the scene that they are a part of.

    2. Best song – Final Fantasy IV – Red Wings Theme

    There’s something about the Red Wings theme that is just captivating. It’s the first song you hear when you actually start playing the game, and there’s certain amount of power but also sadness that comes with it especially considered the acts that occur while it is playing.

    3. Most inventive music – Not sure.

    4. The soundtrack that has always stuck with you – Super Metroid

    I have always enjoyed the Super Metroid soundtrack. I think all the songs on the soundtrack set the mood for their section. The creepy sections have creepy music, and the parts teeming with life have upbeat music. Great soundtrack.

  • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    Best overall soundtrack:
    I would have to say the Donkey Kong Country series – every song is awesome / haunting / beautiful / kickass.

    Best song:
    Tie, but from the same series. Fear of the Heavens from Secret of Mana and Meridian Child from Seiken Densetsu 3 – both opening themes for the series, and both incredible!

    Most inventive music:
    Not really sure.

    Soundtrack that has stuck with me:
    Mega Man 2 – I will always be sitting around humming those songs when my brain is on idle mode. Dr. Wily’s Theme is super awesome!

  • James C.

    Best overall soundtrack: I’m thinking Final Fantasy VI. Grandeur all around, as long as you stick to the SNES version (the GBA version isn’t quite the same.) Well, the synth voices are kind of cheesy, but they’re much less noticeable in the multi-movement final boss theme.

    Best song: Sonic 3 – Hydrocity Zone Act 2. That is one intense bassline.

    Most inventive music: Earthbound is the obvious answer, and the only one that comes to mind.

    “Stickiest” soundtrack: Pokemon Gold/Silver. The composers clearly have a better grasp of the Game Boy’s sound chip, and it shows, especially in the remixes of the first games’ music. Since I was a major fan of those games in my childhood, the music has pretty much fused with my very being.

  • Parse

    I’ve also always been a fan of the Super Metroid soundtrack.
    There’s also Earthbound, for bouncier music.
    For the bounciest music, Bubble Bobble, without a doubt.
    For Best Song, I’d nominate the ‘Maze Fortress’ from Contra – the portion in 2.5 dimensions, where you’re shooting up the screen to blast your way through a series of walls.

    I assume you’re aware of Though there’s a lot of chaff to sort through, there’s some real gems out there. I’d recommend listening to Four Little Metroids, if you’ve played Super Metroid before – it’s one of my favorite mixes on the site.

  • Mr.Kosta

    Right now I remember this one from Castlevania Bloodlines (Genesis, or Mega Drive here in Europe).

    Man, this is bringing some good memories.

  • Nes

    My selections are going to be heavily biased towards SNES RPGs, as those are basically all I played.

    I have to give best soundtrack to Chrono Trigger. While I won’t claim that every track fit its scene perfectly, they are very good at evoking the emotions that the scenes are looking for and damn near every track is memorable. Sadly, the final boss themes were, in my opinion, eclipsed by the fake out end boss theme in the middle of the game.

    Best Song is hard… I’d probably give it to Aria de Mezzo Carattere, which was recycled for a certain character’s theme song in FFVII. Though, to be fair, I haven’t played much of the earlier games, so it itself could have been recycled from one of them.

    I’ll have to agree with Earthbound for most inventive… just check some out for yourself, especially the battle themes (or “Ness’ Bike”; I love the ringing bell and “whistling”).

    The soundtrack that’s stuck with me? Chrono Trigger’s, of course. As I said in the best soundtrack paragraph, damn near every track is memorable, and I meant it!

  • Shaun

    Hold on. You’re an atheist who frequently blogs about confronting religion, you openly acknowledge and blog about your own personal struggles with mental illness, AND you listen to old school video game music? You, sir, are my hero. Forever.

    Weighing in on the topic, for best song I would have to go with the track that plays while you’re tearing through the Mana Fortress in Secret of Mana (my MP3 tells me it’s called Leave Time For Love). It seriously gets my blood going every time. There probably hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t listened to that song directly or replayed it in my head since I first played that game as a kid. A very, very close second goes to the track that plays when you’re in the fortress of the Sinistrals from any of the Lufia games (my favorite is Lufia 2′s version, though).

    For best overall soundtrack, I would have to say that Tales of Phantasia wins, but there are so many close contenders. I would play that game just to listen to the music until I finally got my hands on the soundtrack.

    For most inventive, if we can use more recent stuff, I consider Cave Story’s soundtrack to be very 8/16 bit and I would say it secures that title. Even though it only came out six years ago or so, it feels like it could have been an old school game. If you haven’t played it, you absolutely have to (

    I can’t even put forth a candidate on which has always stayed with me. Given that about half of my music is video game related, obviously several have. Too many to list in this already egregiously long comment.

  • adamshelton

    I cannot/will not choose! But here’s a shortlist:

    Best Overall Soundtrack:
    -Anything Squaresoft (the FFs, Chronotrigger, the Secret of Manas)
    -Sonic games
    -Donkey Kong Country (2 in particular)
    -I want to mention the Suikoden games but I guess they came later. Waaaaah!

    Best Song:
    Wind Scene – Chronotrigger (I couldn’t choose between this and Corridors of Time)
    Chemical Plant Zone – Sonic 2
    Magnet Man – Megaman Whatever (I didn’t play them much; they were too hard)
    Stickerbrush Symphony – Donkey Kong Country 2
    Web Woods – Donkey Kong Country 2
    … I’m cutting myself off.

    Most inventive:
    I guess Sonic? It’s a lot different than any of the nintendo-based games. Kirby has some pretty unique music too.

    And since lesser-known games were mentioned, if you haven’t played these games, you really ought to:
    -Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals (SNES). Seriously. So good. Great music; great puzzles; not random battles (in dungeons at least); interesting story; plus, I’m pretty sure they invented pokemon (aka Capsule Monsters). Just sayin’. I cannot pimp this game enough. GO PLAY NAOW!
    Boss theme
    You know you want to play it until Skyrim goes on sale. :P

    -Terranigma (SNES): another action RPG. Guide the growth of the world from the formation of the continents right up to teaching the US how to make hamburgers! It’s a Squaresoft game, so solid music of course.
    Overworld theme

    -Crusader of Centy (Genesis): a Zelda-style game, but with jumping and more Sonic-y Genesis-flavoured music, plus you get little animal friends instead of extra weapons/tools. Not a huge time commitment either so give it a shot!
    Icy level

  • Pattin

    The one video game theme that still gets stuck in my head 20 years later is the Spring Yard Zone theme from the first Sonic. Shit’s funkier than a week-old ham sandwich.

  • joshbrookes

    Favourite Soundtrack: Castlevania 4 (SNES)

    Favourite Song: Zelda; a Link to the Past (overworld theme)

    Inventive: Super Mario Brothers (the first one on the NES – set a standard for all others really)

    Stuck with me: Secret of Mana and Mega Man 3 (tie)

  • EdW

    1. Best overall soundtrack

    Has to go to Final Fantasy III (VI). Any two or three of the songs in this game would qualify it for this category, but almost the entire game has memorable and enchanting music.

    2. Best song

    The opera from FFIII was truly epic in its detail and scope, but my personal favorite would have to be the intro song from Secret of Mana

    3. Most inventive music

    for me, Super Mario RPG takes the cake here. The music was playful, imaginative, and really pushed the SNES music engine to its potential

    4. The soundtrack that has always stuck with you

    Would have to go to SMRPG again. It was incredibly fun, and fit the game perfectly

  • neatospiderplant

    I’ve always liked the music from the special stage in Sonic.

    On another note about video game music, I’ve made my wishes known that at my funeral, I insist they play the Tetris theme as they lower the coffin.

  • Pickle surprise

    Best overall soundtrack – Donkey Kong Country 2. Recently playing this on Wii Virtual console and am astounded by how good this soundtrack is! It is incredibly atmospheric and each theme fits the level perfectly.

    Best song – Lost world theme from DKC 2. That is one badass beat.

    Most inventive soundtrack – Earthbound without a shadow of a doubt. It is just trippy as hell.

    Most memorable soundtrack – Chrono Trigger. As soon as you hear the main theme, you just know you are in for one big adventure. It is truly astonishing what the SNES sound chip is capable of.

  • Robert B.

    Best overall soundtrack: Heeh, well, Terranigma always tops my list for best everything from that entire video game generation. My love for that game is probably neither rational nor healthy. (Well, except for the magic system. Fuck that noise.) But seriously, there was some hauntingly beautiful music in that game.

    Best song: “Prologue” from Final Fantasy IV. Had a crowning moment of awesome when I got to hear that song again for FFIV: The After Years.

    Most inventive music: Earthbound. The integration of the plot with the quirky setting, especially the memory stone song that was the hook for much of the plot, was really original and strong.

    Soundtrack that always stuck with me: Chrono Trigger. Whenever I feel the urge to whistle, I whistle Frog’s Theme.

    • Jason Thibeault

      Frog’s Theme for the win! As though I needed another reason to think you’re awesome, Robert B.

  • Rumtopf

    Horribly off topic, gaming platform-wise, but I gotsta remind everyone of the Neverhood soundtrack: