The top 10 best video game soundtracks of 2010-2020 that you don’t know about

Cover art: Ori and the Will of the Wisps by Moon Studios

The top 10 best video game soundtracks of 2010-2020 that you don’t know about

Introduction – Nerd Street Cred

So if you’ve been wandering around the site (or heard about me back in the day), you’ll know I don’t mind nerding out on some video game music. And, I say this with all the ego and vanity in the world, my opinion on the subject is a towering height above other nerds. I don’t just listen to video game music like some plebeian out in the square, I do the deed – and have been composing and performing video game music since 2000 – being a classically trained pianist since the age of 5. 

Thus, from the upper-echelons of true geekery, I feel like now is as good a time as any to showcase all the best music I can think of made in the modern age of gaming that I am personally offended – devastated that nobody knows about. 

To make this list, a soundtrack must meet the following guidelines:

  • The game must be obscure (by some arbitrary metric that’s in my head!)
  • The game must be released between Jan 1st 2010 and Dec 31st 2019
  • The game soundtrack must be excellent in execution or otherwise noteworthy in composition

I’ll try to link whole soundtracks, but I’ll also include what I feel are outstanding tracks indicative of the sum quality of the whole. Click on these with reckless abandon – we’re here to listen, not to talk! 

TALKING CHAPTER 2. Before we begin, and with a special nod to people who are terrible readers, this blog is about 10 of the best video game soundtracks of the decade 2010-2020 that you DO NOT KNOW ABOUT. 

That means not the obvious stuff, but just to make sure we do our due diligence, here are 10 soundtracks from 2010-2020 that everybody knows are amazing. So let’s get those out of the way first.

Nier & Neir Automata

Destiny & Destiny 2

Smash Bros. Ultimate

Dark Souls III

Halo 5 Guardians

Deus Ex Human Revolution & Deus Ex Mankind Divided

Final Fantasy VII Remake

The top 10 best video game soundtracks of 2010-2020 that you don’t know about

(in no particular order)

Sid Meier’s Civilization – Beyond Earth by Grant KirkhopeGeoff Knorr

I’ll start with what I consider one of the underrated musical gems of the modern age, especially considering its production values and tectonic emotional impact. Framed against the hopefulness and wonder of starting a new life on a new world, Beyond Earth is a wild frontier of sound. The soundtrack is a reeling, rocketing score that never seems to relent – balanced with tranquilizing ambient tracks that set the otherworldly tone without ever overstepping it. Beyond Earth also receives the dubious honor of being my go-to pick for “incredible soundtrack paired with an objectively rancid game”.

Listen to these Standouts: Beauty in the Eye of the Orbiter, Destroyer, Promethean

Also consider: Beyond Earth, Rising Tide: the sequel to Beyond Earth with a soundtrack just as soaring in its composition, but with… you know… more water. 

Double Dragon Neon by Jake Kaufman

While I’m not “buds” with Jake Kaufman, I have met him personally, and I’ve been a huge fan of his for decades. By way of nerd credentials: I saw him perform a chiptune version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller live while I was attending my first E3. Sit down, Junior.

I could pick any soundtrack that Virt (his name back in the OCremix and VGmix days) has made over the years, but I don’t think anybody knows about Double Dragon Neon and it’s intense affections for the 80’s. Switching from recognizable rearrangements of the NES classic themes to intensely hummable “modern” pop remixes – the soundtrack runs the absolute gamut and could not be more fun. 

Listen to these standouts: Title Theme, City Streets 2, Giga Skullmageddon  

Also consider: River City Girls. Almost tonally identical, and another revival of a beloved 80’s grey-box NES franchise – but pH balanced for a woman’s special needs. 

Farcry 5 by and Dan Romer, Hammock

This soundtrack goes into wildly unfamiliar territory with not just country and rockabilly, but christian-rock – and somehow weaves them all into something not just beautiful, but haunting at times. There is no ambient music outside of the rare cutscene, so almost every bit of the “soundtrack” comes from real world sources: radios, passing cars, houses, etc. 

Of special note is that the game has two, sometimes three versions of every song: one “vocal” track for the radio, usually boisterous with an incredible signature voice. A “choir” track, done by the cult in the game that feels appropriately close and alive. Lastly there’s a “reinterpretation” track, as if edited through the miasma of a half-remembered dream. All 3 styles are utterly above-the-call for a first person shooter with no “soundtrack” to speak of. 

Listen to these Standouts: We will Rise Again, Oh John (Choir), Oh The Bliss (Reinterpretation)

Boneworks by Michael Wyckoff

The Boneworks soundtrack is the complete surprise of the decade. VR gaming is in its awkward adolescence – with very few “polished” titles and a flood of indie conflagrations. Boneworks stands at a middle point;  Indie-hearted but with a clear eye and crystalline pool of talent. But the soundtrack surprises at almost every turn with its powerfully memorable themes. From the enchanting invitations of its main theme, to the throbbing base of House Monogon, to even playful aberrations like Museum and Tuscany – Boneworks is supremely and consistently listenable — you 99% without a VR headset need to experience this.

Listen to these Standouts: Bone Theme, Museum, Zombo Mode

Street Fighter 5 by Hideyuki Fukasawa, Keiki Kobayashi, Masahiro Aoki, Takatsuki Wakabayashi, Zac Zinger

But John, I know all about Street Fighter, it’s a household name – shame on you! Yes, but I don’t think many people outside of the hardcore fighting scene play Street Fighter 5, as they seem the most likely to endure its crushing dlc costs. But tournament-unworthy players needn’t fret, the soundtrack is on youtube and it is spectacular. Classic themes are re-imagined with incredible, sometimes far-afield results. Everything in the OST is larger than life and will make your eardrums give up the fight, go home and become a family man.

Listen to these Standouts: Ken’s Theme, Rashid’s Theme, Karin’s Theme

Final Fantasy XIV by Masayoshi SokenNobuo UematsuTsuyoshi SekitoNaoshi Mizuta

Easily the poster-child for “game that had the worst launch to become a polished product” that ousts even No Man’s Sky – Final Fantasy XIV, like so many other games on this list, had one thing going for it from the onset: an outrageous music department. Original themes are lavishly produced with exotic (proprietary?) vocal distortions and familiar songs are played in obvious and devilishly subtle ways. The soundtrack is wild, absolutely panoramic in styles, tone, instrumentation and execution. A towering achievement in music with a library that goes back like a damn tooth.

Listen to these Standouts: Insatiable, A Hopeless Race, Tsukuyomi’s Theme

Ace Combat 7 by Keiki Kobayashi

I’ll freely admit I haven’t played any of the Ace Combat’s and can tell it’s definitely not my teacup, but as far as creating a powerful and undeniable presence by way of music, Ace cannot be beat. The Ace series has a long musical legacy, and it’s always wonderful to see traditions being held up to new standards of excellence. Ace Combat 7’s score is excellent, nails the TopGun tone, adores its leitmotifs, and never lets up on the afterburner.

Listen to these Standouts: Daredevil, Battle for Farbanti, Hush

Cuphead by Kristoffer Maddigan

Cuphead’s 1930’s Steamboat Willy-inspired antics needed a suitably stylized soundtrack to fit its lavish hand-drawn animations. The soundtrack more than keeps pace, throwing you on a never-ending kaleidoscope of ragtime that would make even Joplin break. Untrained ears might experience a blur of themes and not quite pick one song from the other, but frequent listeners will be rewarded. 

Listen to these Standouts: Inkwell Island 1, The King’s Court, Threatenin’ Zeppelin

Shovel Knight by Jake Kaufman (again)

Remember how I mentioned at the top some of the criteria for “popular” would be fairly arbitrary? Shovel Knight beams with indie pride, and I’m going to have to assume in spite of its all-rounder excellence, it met with indie-level sales. If true, more people desperately need to hear the depth and breadth of Shovel Knight’s ost. Jake Kaufman is back at it again, bringing his signature awe for the Megaman-adoring chiptune age kicking and screaming into the modern era. Absolute banger, and a bridge between the old and the trendsetting. 

Listen to these Standouts: Strike The Earth, An Underlying Problem, Courage Under Fire

Ori and the Will of the Wisps by Gareth Coker

Ori sneaks in just underneath my 2020 cutoff date. I’ll freely admit I’ve only played the original, but the Ori name is now synonymous with a powerful (and yet somehow humble) musical pedigree. Equal parts diminuitive and towering, the soundtrack is a dreamscape that fully supports – damn near elevates the luminous artstyle. While many soundtracks try to capture a mood, Ori and the Will of the Wisps’ soundtrack is so evocative that, when seperated from its source, still contains worlds within worlds. A simple, stunning and piece of work.

Listen to these Standouts: Main Theme, Ku’s First Flight, Now Use the Light We Want to See

John “The Wingless” Burnett is a 15 year User Interface Artist (UI Artist) and User Experience Designer (UX Designer) in the video game industry and digital design sphere. He is an award-winning artist available for hire or for UX Design Mentorship