We play video games to enjoy an experience. That experience is a challenge, a brainteaser, a journey… the list goes on. Almost all of those experiences share a commonality, a thing that enhances the experience for the player—music.
When you recall a game, there is probably music tied to whatever memory that is. I can clearly hear the epic notes of the showdown with Ganon, the intense drumbeats of the Pillar of Autumn’s warthog run, and the energetic tune of Green Hills. There’s a feeling tied to each of those, and the feeling I’m honing in on here is this: relaxation. Some of my favorite experiences in games come from the quieter moments, and I’m a sucker for some peaceful music. If you’re looking for a few good recommendations in that particular area, I have them right here.
Vigil (Mass Effect)
When Mass Effect launched, I was excited. When I first played it, I got chills before even selecting “New Game.” This haunting track manages to convey a sense of both calm and excitement. It’s a sci-fi epic that is filled with action, but it takes place across the mysterious, quiet expanse of space.
Morrowind was my introduction to Bethesda Studios’ games. Admittedly, I’ve never beaten it thanks to a lack of safeguards against royally screwing up your save file and preventing main quest progress. Regardless, the music played a huge part in making this game a standout one for me. It’s not slow, but it still manages to be a track for the laid back adventurer.
Dearly Beloved II (Kingdom Hearts II)
Like the first several hours of the game it belongs to, Dearly Beloved II is slow. Unlike the first several hours of the game it belongs to, it’s enjoyable and stress-free. It just makes you want to linger in the main menu for an extra minute or two.
To Zanarkand (Final Fantasy X)
The tenth installment of one of the most beloved RPG series ever was a great entry point to me, and it’s largely thanks to this one-instrument track that opens the story. I was twelve when I first played this game, and didn’t yet have a real appreciation for slow music like this. Despite this, I still loved this track. It somehow manages to carry an emotional punch before you’ve formally met any of the characters.
Starlight Zone (Sonic the Hedgehog)
I know what you’re thinking. How can a track from the video game incarnation of caffeine be included in this list? My answer? No idea. But while this tune is probably the fastest on the list, it’s made up of softer notes that aren’t found anywhere else in the series.
Anxious Heart (Final Fantasy VII)
I’m aware of the irony here. The title doesn’t exactly scream “calm and relaxing,” but trust me on this. Yes, it is absolutely a slow, soft tune, but it manages to move from an ominous opening to a genuinely soothing sequence that you might find in a lullaby. A nerd-approved lullaby. Regardless, Anxious Heart is considered by some to be the “true” FFVII theme.
Jolly Roger Bay/Dire, Dire Docks (Super Mario 64)
Super Mario 64, to this day, remains a masterpiece in the pantheon of 3D platformers. Not only were the gameplay and world varieties a feat in their own right, the game effortlessly manages to mix the fast and upbeat style of music that players probably expected with the slower tunes like this one. Somehow, they all felt like they belonged, and while the other tracks are all very well done, this one provided some chill enjoyment to stages that were admittedly kind of a slog.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that when most people think of Skyrim, they associate it with the epic Dragonborn theme. That’s totally justified, but I like having a fallback song for when I’m not in the mood to slaughter bandits and shout dragons out of the sky. Jeremy Soule’s Secunda provides a respite from the bloody fantasy action that allows you to take in the scenery in the frigid world of Skyrim.
Main Menu Music (Star Fox 64)
I have a confession. Sometimes when I’m stressed at work, I’ll throw a ten-hour loop of this on to unwind while still being a good little employee. I don’t know what it is about space games and hauntingly good menu music, but I’m not complaining.
Azuremyst Isle (World of Warcraft)
There are dozens of tracks from the massive archive of WoW music that I could have chosen for this list, but there’s something special about Azuremyst Isle. Maybe it’s because I love playing as the Draenei who inhabit this zone and thus spent a lot of time there, but the music just makes for a great start to your character’s journey.
The Spirit Tree (Ori and the Blind Forest)
Ori and the Blind Forest was a huge surprise. What I expected to be a pretty game with some cool platforming turned out to be one of the best Metroidvania games ever (with a sequel that somehow managed to top it). That’s thanks largely to the beautiful soundtrack. The sadness of The Spirit Tree compliments the art style and story perfectly.
Majula (Dark Souls II)
I remember getting to the “town” that this track is named after upon completing what equates to the opening tutorial. The soft chimes of Majula will almost make you forget that you’ll spend the next several hours being relentlessly slaughtered. Almost…
Song of Healing (The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask)
In a game that’s surprisingly filled with so much darkness, the Song of Healing provides a bit of relief no matter which iteration is playing. And though each variant is easy on the ears, it’s the version that plays when you actually break the curses of your friends that stands out.
Ambient Wonder (Halo: Combat Evolved)
Aliens! Guns! Explosions! Soft ethereal music! Wait, what? Despite Halo being a game about shooting aliens in their split-lipped faces, it boasts an impressive amount of slower compositions that somehow fit nicely even when the lead starts flying. Ambient Wonder is a standout for me. It just sounds so alien and eerie.
Title Music (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Honestly, was there any other option? Though this list isn’t meant to be a ranking, I can confidently say that his piano and ocarina masterpiece is my favorite. Sure, my opinion is biased, considering my love for the game it’s a part of, but I don’t care. N64-era Nintendo seemed to have a knack for creating wonderfully slow tunes that stick with you no matter how much time has passed. Hearing this tune takes me back to when I was a wee lad sitting on the floor in my pajamas, about to embark on one of the greatest fantasy adventures in gaming.
Obviously, this list is subjective. I’ve heard wonderful things about countless other soundtracks, but those are ones that I either haven’t experienced or don’t stick out in my mind for one reason or another. That said, I’m always looking for great gaming music to enjoy. Don’t hesitate to make a recommendation in the comments!
Honorable Mention: The entire Minecraft sountrack
Seriously. I don’t care if you love or hate the game. Every track in it is like an anti-depressant in video game form.