…Now for the next five entries in my ongoing series featuring my favorite NES game soundtracks of all time:
15. Zelda II: The Adventures of Link (1987; Nintendo)
Composer: Koji Kondo
For nearly 35 years, Koji Kondo has been the principal composer for some of Nintendo’s most popular franchises and even in 1987 much of his best work was yet to come. One of the highlights of his run on the NES was The Adventures of Link, the unconventional sequel to the NES fantasy masterpiece The Legend of Zelda. In terms of the soundtrack it ranks above its predecessor due to the improved sophistication of the compositions and though it was still pretty early in the NES’s run, it was one of the best sounding games on the system at the time with a range of classic tunes that capture a variety of moods and in 1987 was a surprisingly-meaty soundtrack with loops that were longer than usual, drawing inspiration from a number of music genres.
14. Blaster Master (1988; Sunsoft)
Composer: Naoki Kodaka
As you drive your tank across a strange, hidden world and shuffle your way through claustrophobic dungeons in this classic shooter, the soundtrack expounds on the action. Sunsoft’s record of great music is a credit to their sound team and their use of the NES’ hardware and to this day they rank among the most successful companies to attempt to harness the system’s power. The soundtrack, at its core, is a slightly more sophisticated take on the same tones and moods of the Metroid soundtrack. It is paced at a slightly higher tempo due to the faster pace of the game and Sunsoft maximized the depth and complexity of the music by lowering the number of in-game SFX freeing up channels for the soundtrack making way for fully, more deeply-composed musical tones.
13. Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo; 1988)
Composer: Koji Kondo
Here is Koji Kondo again! Kondo-san has left his mark on video game history and one of his career highlights is Super Mario Bros. 3. He had already paved the way for high-quality soundtracks on the NES with the Legend of Zelda series but the soundtrack to Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of his highpoints. The game is set up like a stage play, complete with a curtain and set dressings hanging from cables as if it were part of an overproduced, acrobatic, theatrical production. So, Koji Kondo gave the soundtrack a distinctly-Vaudeville-esque sound, complete with fast piano riffs and riffs that are heavily inspired by music from silent cinema, thereby further cementing the artistic direction of the game. The bright and varied soundtrack makes the world seem even more vibrant and softer tones make Super Mario Bros. 3 a somewhat unique soundtrack entry in its genre.
12. Final Fantasy (1987; Squaresoft)
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
For most people, when it comes to video game music, Final Fantasy sets the gold standard. It all started with a failing company on the verge of closing their doors for good in 1987 releasing a Hail Mary in the form of “Final Fantasy” on the Famicom; the “final” referring to it possibly being Squaresoft’s final product upon its release. The rest is video game history. Nobuo Uematsu became an inseparable asset to Team Final Fantasy and would later be joined by the likes of Masaharu Iwata and Hitoshi Sakimoto. The first Final Fantasy soundtrack is very basic in composition, but in its simplicity lies its brilliance. Uematsu has a knack for capturing the visuals of a game and transforming one sense into another, shaping the music and sound around what the player is seeing and doing. Needless to say, this and the sheer quality of Uematsu’s compositions have kept fans coming back to the series’ soundtracks for decades. His music has stood on its own and often has had full philharmonic orchestral symphonies touring the world, sharing Uematsu’s talents with wider audiences than Squaresoft could have ever imagined in the late 80’s.
11. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1990; Konami)
Composers: Hidenori Maezawa, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto, Yoshinori Sasaki
The benchmark test for the capabilities of the NES and all later clone consoles is destined to make this list. Aside from being the most system-intensive game released on the NES and Famicom, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is also a glorious soundtrack experience. Eerie tones, energetic numbers and pieces that fit the movement, flow and visual ideas of their respective levels perfectly make the soundtrack to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse stand out dramatically among other NES titles. The memorable music even holds up on its own and is easily the standout title from a purely technical perspective. This is a large setlist for an NES game too, with over two-dozen independent pieces of music, giving it a pretty broad soundtrack for the time.