From Jesper Kyd to Josh Whelchel, Grant Kirkhope and more, 411mania’s Marc Morrison gives his list of the Top 8 Western Video Game Composers inside!

games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Western Video Game Composers

March 19, 2019 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball. Last week I talked about Japanese composers so this week I’m talking about “Western” ones. For the sake of this argument, I’m basically counting any composer that isn’t from Japan, not specifically American or British, or New Zealander in one case. Unlike with Japanese composers there aren’t any hugely notable ones. Not to say there aren’t great ones out there, but none are as iconic as Koji Kondo or Nobuo Uematsu. Also, I’ll be taking a small break off for next week as I’ll have people in town. With that said, let’s begin:

#8: Module (Jeramiah Ross)

“Module”, aka Jereamiah Ross, is only low on this list because he really only has one video game credit in his list (mobile games don’t count). But man, what a credit he has. He did the soundtrack for the PS3/PC game “Shatter”. Shatter had a superb soundtrack with techno music yet some good guitar and singing mixed in where appropriate. He is still creating music on Bandcamp and he still is holding it down in NZ. I just wish more of his stuff was in games, Beat Saber would be an excellent match for him, I think.

#7: Josh Whelchel

This is another case where “if he was still doing VG music, he’d be higher on this list”. To be fair to Josh though, he does have at least a few more credits to his name than Module does. I think he occasionally still does some music but is doing more technical work now. Regardless, he did the soundtracks for Masquerada: Songs and Shadows and Ravenmark. What people may know him best from is a Remix he did on the Super Meat Boy soundtrack, which is where I first noticed him, actually. If you listen to the podcast I do with Sean, you’ll recognize his Super Meat Boy song.

#6: Austin Wintory

Wintory is on here for a distinct reason: his soundtracks generally have an orchestral richness to them that most others don’t. In fact, I think only one other guy on this list uses an orchestra to its full effect. Wintory’s biggest game is Journey but I honestly don’t remember a ton about that particular soundtrack. For me, I did enjoy his Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate soundtrack quite a bit. I’d actually say it’s the last bit of good AC music since the scores in both Origin and Odyssey didn’t excite me much.

#5: Grant Kirkhope

While the DK64 rap isn’t as good as the Buck Bumble title song, it still jams by all accounts. Kirkhope has done different work in the past decade or so, projects like Mario + Rabbits Kingdom Battle or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning shows this but it is his Rare that people usually associate with him. He composer, or helped compose music for GoldenEye 007, Viva Piñata, Banjo Kazooie and lastly with Donkey Kong 64, among other titles from when Rare was worthwhile. He left Rare in 2008 after doing the music for Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, which is also incidentally the last time Rare made a “proper” video game. His work is usually jaunty and energetic, which a lot of games don’t have that feeling anymore.

#4: Mark Morgan

Morgan has somewhat slowed down over the past few years, only doing about a game or two per year but his earlier games are pretty SPECIAL. There’s an obvious pun here because Morgan composed the music for the first two Fallout games. He also did music for Descent 2, Wasteland 2 and Need for Speed: Shift. The real reason he’s on this list is because he composed the soundtrack for Planescape: Torment. Of those old Interplay RPGs, Planescape: Torment had the strangest and most unique soundtrack of them all. One song could be entirely harmonious and the next could be a (purposefully) disjointed mess. He also did the music for Torment: Tides of Numenera but that was basically unplayable on consoles.

#3: Garry Schyman

It’s funny, unlike most composers who start in games and then move to movies/TV, Schyman started in film/TV and then moved into games. He was one of the composers for The A-Team, after all. Sadly, his video game work can’t quite hit that high but he has done the music for such games as BioShock (all of it), Dante’s Inferno, Shadow of Mordor/War and Destroy All Humans. For my purposes, I’ll specifically point out BioShock 1’s soundtrack which is really superb. The first 15 or so minutes of BioShock is great but the music of when you’re in the bathosphere going down into the ocean is still some one of my most memorable moments in video games.

#2: Jesper Kyd

Jesper is on here because he did two of my favorite game soundtracks: Assassin’s Creed 2 then following that up with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. He also did the work for the earlier Hitman games, Vermintide 1 and 2, State of Decay, co-composing for Borderlands 1 and 2 and Darksiders 2. But his early work in AC games is what I and many others know him from. The “Venice Rooftops” song in the video above really sets the tone for the game that it is going to be a lot more playful but rich than in the past AC game (which he also did). Brotherhood has a lot of the same musical tones but amps it up even more, given the grand city of Rome that you are exploring.

#1: Danny Baranowsky

Danny B has three games with soundtracks that I love. He did the music for The Binding of Isaac (original), Super Meat Boy and Crypt of the Necrodancer. All three games have great soundtracks but the soundtrack for Necrodancer is I think the best. The reason is *because* the game wouldn’t work if the music wasn’t good. In the normal mode of Necrodancer you have to move and attack to the beat of the music and if that was messed up, the core of the game just wouldn’t work. The soundtrack is so good that there are different remixes, the metal and techno ones that invoke that have the same basic notes but are pretty different. Also, it’s a real shame the “Rebirth” version of Isaac didn’t include the original soundtrack as it’s the only real problem of that game, but that’s just me.

For comments, list your favorite Western composers and why.

article topics :

The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison