Video Game Music That’s So Nostalgic It Hurts

It’s Friday, so why not relax and have your heartstrings tugged by some familiar harmonies of years past? Nostalgia can be a large part of what holds our interest in games as we age, and as such I always find it fun to revisit some of the most sentimental pieces I can think of and become reduced to a wistful wreck. You know, standard weekend behavior.


I once saw a YouTube comment that I’ll never forget, on a track from one of the older Pokémon games. It read, “this is so nostalgic it hurts.” I thought about it, and realized the comment is spot on. Sometimes nostalgia actually borders on painful; of course, in the best way possible. I think.


Below are five tracks that for me evoke super-extra emotion when I hear them. Of course, this depends on both your childhood as well as recent gaming history, and I was surprised to discover that a few relatively modern pieces made the list. I suppose if your experience with a game is powerful enough, it doesn’t take long for those pesky brain synapses to be laid down and subsequently tapped through tears and a longing for the past. Anyway, enough sappy exposition.


Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire – Petalburg City


Sometimes the power of in-game music can be so effective as to actually control what the player does. Given that every town in Pokémon contains a Pokémon Center, the player is granted free reign of which PC to choose once HM02 Fly is acquired. As such, I would always choose Petalburg City solely for its evocative vibrato and the general feeling of hope brought about by its looping, upbeat theme.



Chat with a townsperson standing at a nearby lake, and you’ll be greeted by a shockingly heavy quote, considering this is a children’s game. “My face is reflected in the water. It's a shining grin full of hope… Or it could be a look of somber silence struggling with fear… What do you see reflected in your face?” It’s hard to believe what slips past when we’re young, but stands so apparent years later. Oh, and this music also plays in the home of Mr. Briney, the guy who won’t stop chasing his pet Wingull. The track appeared in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, bit in this instance the original stands superior.


Tiny Wings – Day Music


I didn’t expect to include something from a mobile app (they’ve only existed for 10 years after all), but as soon as I revisited Tiny Wings’ main daytime them I was instantly teleported back to 2011 when I first tried the game. Its gameplay is simple (and was later aped by Fly, Dragon on Android and others), but the mood set by its music, in tandem with its sharp colorful visuals, made its rolling hills a truly pleasant place to be.



Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – Superman


This track has been unavoidable lately, especially with the news of an upcoming Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater documentary sharing its name. I think pretty much everyone who hears this is instantly reminded of the warehouse stage in the original game, which begins with shattering glass and Goldfinger’s Superman blaring in all of its compressed N64 cartridge glory. The game was also available on PlayStation, and would be followed by the highly-revered Pro Skater 2, which still ranks surprisingly high on all-time best lists even today.



Fire Emblem Awakening – Conquest


Awakening is a relatively recent game, but still, 2013 isn’t exactly last year anymore, and it came out in February. The game had been around for nearly a year prior in Japan (April 2012) making it a full five years old as of next week in 2017.



The track is equal parts soothing and evocative, cleverly weaving Fire Emblem’s main theme into its middle section for those listening closely. There’s also an upbeat version for the battle phase (as opposed to just viewing the grid), and the track only plays during challenge encounters that result from spawns of demonic Risen appearing on the world map.


Kirby’s Dream Land – Green Greens


I’m pretty sure anyone who plays videogames will recognize this tune, even if they can’t for the life of them place where it comes from. Since its initial appearance in Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992, it reappeared a year later on NES via Kirby’s Adventure and has been a series mainstay ever since. It has a fondness for changing keys across games, so watch out for that as well. For something a bit peppier, there’s also the “invincible lollipop” theme, which reoccurs just as often.



RuneScape – Wander


It might be a surprise to some that RuneScape even had music, and it’s nothing a hobbyist couldn’t whip up in a free DAW nowadays. Still, when RuneScape 2 came out and contained a full score, it was a pretty big deal. Its soundtrack managed to push the right buttons, capturing the moods of wandering its vast, often dangerous world effectively.



These days RuneScape is playable via downloading a client, and still adheres to a free-to-play model featuring a paid members option. I haven’t checked out the latest soundtrack yet myself (nor have I spent time with the current version of the game), but I’ve little doubt kids playing RuneScape in junior high computer labs everywhere are enjoying it just fine.