Final Fantasy V - Gilgamesh
Sometime in 2010, Japanese board 2ch got together and voted on their favorite video game music tracks of all time. Culminating in a list of 700 pieces of music, there's a lot of interesting stuff, yet some of it seemed rather suspect. A decent, albeit random piece of Okami music as the favorite track of all time? That's weird. There's also a whole lot about it that is plain unrelateable - easily half of the stuff on the list consists of tracks no one outside the country has ever heard of, and there were only roughly half a dozen tracks from non-Japanese games.
So, I decided to hold a poll for Western gamers, to determine approximately the same thing.
Anyone amongst various forums were asked to pick up to 100 of their favorite video game tracks. They could also elect a "Top 5" of these 100. Every standard vote would get one point, every Top 5 vote would get three.
There were a few caveats. First off, most licensed music was not allowed. This was to avoid the smart asses that would pick licensed tracks and avoid the face-palming type of things you'd see when, say, a Guitar Hero game would win a Best Soundtrack of the Year awards. We were flexible on this rule, though - Jet Set Radio and Rez uses a lot of licensed music, but for the most part, very little of it is known outside the game. There are a few J-pop anime intros we allowed, and other scattered bits that we let slip through.
Umineko no Naku Koro Ni
The other major rule is that, for games with several entries, all votes for an individual song would be counted together. For example, there are easily twenty versions of the song Bloody Tears throughout the Castlevania series, but they would all be counted together, regardless of whether the vote was specifically for the original Castlevania II version, or the Dracula X version, or the Judgment version. They also had to appear in the games themselves - no arranged versions that only appeared on soundtrack albums.
Over one hundred people voted over the course of a month across a handful of forums, including here, NeoGAF and Soundtrack Central. There were over 11,000 points total amongst thousands of songs. We picked the top 1000 (plus a few extra) based on the scores and compiled them below.
We had two goals: the obvious one was to get an idea of which tracks were the most popular, but the more important one is just to create a huge list of music and hopefully expose more tracks to more people. Few people known of video game music outside of the type of games they typically play - an RPG player may know little of SNK music, or vice versa - so by taking votes we could a greater consensus of what were widely believed to be the "better" tracks for suggested listening. Of course, after a certain point, the number of points ceases to have much meaning for ranking purposes. Everything from 676 downwards is tied with the same number of points. We easily could've cut it off at 100 or 200 songs, but that would've defeated the goal to expose more unknown tracks.
Monty on the Run - In Game
There's some interesting observations about this list, of course. Several Chrono Cross songs placing high should be no surprise - even most of those that hate the game itself profess to loving the soundtrack. Chrono Trigger had the most single songs nominated. As expected, there's a lot of Final Fantasy music, though curiously not much love for XII at all. There's a whole lot of affection for Nier, too, which is much more recent than either of those. It is odd to see so many songs for the visual novel Umineko no Naku Koro Ni, but the music is legitimately excellent, so it's easy to see why it got so many votes. As for the biggest surprise, it's sort of amazing that a song from Barkley: Shut Up and Jam Gaiden was able to place rank. They weren't troll votes either - it's a great tune!
There are a lot of niches represented - Square, Nintendo and Mega Man music obviously dominate it, but there are numerous tracks from Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog, Shin Megami Tensei, Silent Hill, Falcom, visual novels and dating sims, Touhou and other doujin stuff, Guilty Gear/Blazblue, SNK, Gust, Cave and other shooters, and even some MMOs. Most of the best SMS, NES, SNES and Genesis tracks are represented, though there is a curious lack of Shinobi, based on how much respect those songs got back in the day.
The only thing I'm a bit disappointed on is the dearth of Western music. It's often stereotyped as being nothing more than wannebe Hollywood soundtracks, and there's quite a bit of truth to that, but that also doesn't mean there isn't a lot of outstanding music, especially from the European computers of the 80s. It's much more varied than the Japanese list - about 10% compared to 1% or so - but there's still a lot of stuff missing. The highest ranking song is Stuckerbrush Symphony from Donkey Kong Country 2, followed by Baba Yetu from Civilization IV, Tristram Village from Diablo and Still Alive from Portal. Most of the rest of the list consists of relatively modern small scale or indie titles, like Scott Pilgrim, VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy. The only Commodore 64 song to place highly was Monty on the Run. There are barely any Amiga tunes. A few Turrican songs made the list, but not many. A great number of 90s era PC and Sega CD games were totally glossed over, with only a few scattered tracks from Starcraft and Command and Conquer. I think most VGM fans are much more familiar with Japanese music in general - there's a whole subculture of collecting music CDs, and it's much more effectively promoted than Western games ever were. But I've been thinking of the next poll focusing solely on Western games, to give some space to the underappreciated songs that deserve way more respect.
Without further ado, here is the list in its entirety. Comments for selected tracks from the community coming soon. Thanks to anyone who's uploaded music to Youtube to allow easy access to these tunes!