Besides the obvious upgrade in visuals, the Super Nintendo dwarfed the NES in terms of sound quality. Though still limiting in many aspects, composers and sound programmers were able to utilize the SNES’ 8-channel format to make some grand music.
Super Nintendo soundtracks are among my favorite videogame tunes, which is why I bring you my Top “12” favorite SNES tracks. As you could imagine, picking only 11 tracks is incredibly difficult. I understand I may be leaving out certain games or other incredible tracks, so understand that this isn’t trying to be the “be all, end all” of best SNES music tracks.
Keep in mind that I am only including music originally created and composed for the SNES, so this doesn’t include revamped music from the NES era, multi-platform games or games that originated in the arcades.
12. “Blood Pool/Casandora” from Actraiser
Right from the outset, it was clear that SNES music could do orchestral music quite nicely, and what better way to start off the list with a 1991 release? Yuzo Koshiro of Streets of Rage fame made a great orchestral soundtrack to an incredibly original game. It’s epic and bombastic, closely emulating John Williams’ movie scores. This specific track has this chaotic aura about it that fits in with the player charging through a level, cutting down any monsters that stand in his or her way. The music was so good that a symphonic album done by the Shinsei Nihon Symphony Orchestra entitled Actraiser Symphonic Suite was released in Japan in 1991!
11. “Starting the Journey/’Breath of Fire'” from Breath of Fire
We continue our list with another orchestral track. Breath of Fire had a wonderful amount of orchestral tunes done by the team of Yasuaki Fujita, Yoko Shimomura, Minae Fujii and Mari Yamaguchi (although Shimomura only contributed one track). This one just screams “you’re a freaking hero, now go explore that world map and save the damn world!” It instilled a sense of triumph and willingness whenever my 6-year-old-self heard it. And it still does. Why this soundtrack was never redone with a live orchestra is beyond me. Chalk it up to Capcom’s blatant disregard of this underrated franchise.
10. “Athletic” from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Mario titles almost always a have a sort of “Athletic” theme for stages which require that extra platforming finesse. Yoshi’s Island also had it, and boy was it catchy. Koji Kondo’s composition sounds very ragtime-y, and hearing it just makes you want to move around. Just listen to this ragtime version, it’s so jolly!
9. “Simon Belmont’s Theme” from Super Castlevania IV
What better way to begin your skeleton-whipping frenzy than with the hero’s own theme song? Simon’s Theme has great dynamics, starting with a haunting organ in which a hopeful-sounding synth gradually comes in. It then suddenly kicks into an upbeat, rock-meets-organ tune that won’t get out of your head anytime soon. Like previous composers, Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudou knew how to start off a Castlevania: with a catchy tune that instilled the drive in players to go and kick Dracula’s undead ass. And it doesn’t get used just that one time, it plays again during Dracula’s final form, just to show that Simon’s the man.
You know what? Hold on.
I’m going to have to insert my Game Genie and cheat. Twelve favorite SNES tracks? Pshah! That’s just not possible!
8b. “Corneria” from Star Fox
There was no way I could leave this one out of the list, but I just couldn’t remove anything else. Hajime Hirasawa’s epic track begins right after the cool “emergency call” sequence where Team Star Fox begins to scramble and blast off out of the tunnels and into the Cornerian warzone. The song kicks off with a cool synth and employs several echoing orchestral hits. The little change where a distorted guitar and sick bassline play amidst a plethora of orchestral hits that come out of nowhere give this piece the edge it needs for an air combat game.
8a. “You’ve Come Far, Ness” from Earthbound
I get so nostalgic when I hear this one. Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka (with the help of Hiroshi Kanazu and Toshiyuki Ueno) made some of the most diverse and eclectic SNES music ever. If you haven’t noticed yet, I have a thing for uplifting videogame music. This track plays during the “coffee break” sequences where Ness and friends (and the player) take a break from their wacky journey and reflect on what has happened in the story so far. Together with the psychedelic background and the “coffee’s” inspirational message to Ness, the music just gives me a warm and toasty feeling.
7. “Did You See the Ocean” from Secret of Mana
There are so many worthy tracks to pick from Hiroki Kikuta’s masterpiece of a soundtrack, but I picked this one for its upbeat and drum-heavy take on the original, more melody-driven field music, entitled “Into the Thick of It.” If this track and the boss theme “Danger” are any indication, Secret of Mana features some intricate drumming. It’s fitting that this starts to play as Randi & crew begin charging up the stairs to the witch Elinee’s abode, as it employs a “shit’s about to go down, son” type of statement.
6. “Brinstar Red Soil Swampy Area” from Super Metroid
Super Metroid has one of the most atmospheric soundtracks on the SNES. This track, composed by Kenji Yamamoto, perfectly fits into the whole feeling of isolation one feels as they explore Zebes as Samus Aran. It’s quiet, lonesome, and has a nice piano outro to add calm to the whole thing. You also gotta love the “Ah’s” produced by the synth-choir.
5. “Battle With Gilgamesh” from Final Fantasy V
You can’t have an SNES music list without a Nobuo Uematsu composition on it! “Battle with Gilgamesh,” which is commonly known as “Clash on the Big Bridge” is one of the Final Fantasy series’ most popular battle tunes. The music plays when Bartz and co. flee Exdeath’s Castle, their only means of escape being a ridiculously long bridge that’s heavily fortified with demons and the recurring lovable villain, Gilgamesh. I remember the first time I heard this tune I would just run around the beginning of the bridge listening to it, and simply not progressing because I thought it’d stop playing eventually. It’s fast and has a bombastic melody.
4. “Opening Stage” from Mega Man X
The three Mega Man X titles for the SNES prove that the SNES was the champion of producing incredible hard rock and heavy metal-style music. Mega Man X’s composing team consisted of a big crew that included Setsuo Yamamoto, Makoto Tomozawa, Yuki Iwai, Yuko Takehara, and Toshihiko Horiyama. These guys and gals were the champions of complex layering, as the track carries a lot of different instruments at the same time. You’ve got thumping bass guitar, rhythm and lead guitars that occasionally harmonize, fast-paced drums, and a backup synth, making for a great rock concert-like opening to one of the best platformers the system has ever seen.
3. “Wind Scene” from Chrono Trigger
Musical genius Yasunori Mitsuda’s Chrono Trigger soundtrack is another one of those “picking just one track is too difficult!” examples. “Wind Scene” plays on the world map when Crono time travels 400 years back into the past. It’s a very beautiful, dramatic-if-not somber piece that perfectly reflects the feeling of confusion one would get if they were stuck in a time period that wasn’t there’s. It is also appropriate given the turmoil going on in the plot at that point, where the kingdom of Guardia is undergoing a war with Magus’ army and Marle’s ancestor has been kidnapped.
2. “Stickerbrush Symphony” from Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
If you’re a Donkey Kong Country fan then you had to see this one coming. David Wise’s soundtrack for Donkey Kong Country 2 is one of the best on the system. This one played in the incredibly difficult “Bramble Blast” level. To quote Urban Dictionary, “Stickerbrush Symphony” is the “name of the most perfect video game song in video game history. However, the song has encouraged psychological breakdowns from its victims, due to the severe difficulty, hence bramble stage.” It’s a very “chill-out” track that makes me nostalgic for the mid-90’s. Great synth sounds are used here, and I love how it starts off slow and beautiful, and continues to remain that way, just with the added benefit of a drum beat.
1. “Dark World” from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
So now we’ve reached the end of our journey through some of the SNES’ greatest tracks ever, and what better way to top it all off with a Nintendo classic? Sure, the theme song to The Legend of Zelda may be one of the most iconic compositions in videogame music history, but Koji Kondo’s Dark World is just as epic. One hears it for the first time after Agahnim warps Link to the corrupted Dark World. The parallel existence of a Light World and Dark World in A Link to the Past was incredibly innovative for its time. The music here feels heroic, yet at the same time reflects the twisted and dangerous nature of the new world that Link finds himself in. It makes me want to just set out on my quest and set right to what was wrong.
And that’s that! I apologize if I forgot about any of your favorite titles or tracks, which is why I took the time to a compile a list of honorable mentions. If I’m still missing something, well then that’s what the comments are for! Sound off with your opinions! What are your favorite tracks? Do you agree with mine? Have I introduced you to music you really like? Let me know.
Honorable Mentions (aka Making a Top 12 SNES tracks list is impossible):