What is a game without its soundtrack? In the indie space, where experimental design is expected and celebrated, composers have taken to creating novel and expressive accompaniments to our favorite titles. These soundtracks can be as deeply personal as the games themselves and showcase the sonic range of an entire orchestra to match the epic scale of the mediums best. Whether it’s Darkest Dungeon’s haunting intensity or Journey’s wistful strings, our gaming experiences can’t be separated from the sounds that accompany them. I first played some of my favorite games after hearing their soundtracks⏤sometimes just a single song⏤and I hope that you’ll find some new games out of this list, too.
Below are some of the best indie game soundtracks, ranked from Chill to No Chill for your listening experience.
Favorite Track: “Gathering Together”
Pure Vibes. I know “the chillest background music ever” does not sound like particularly high praise, but think of it this way: Alessandro Coronas’ OST to the criminally underrated Mutazione is the kind of accompaniment that transforms a lazy evening into a rich, serene calm. There’s four hours of music, including ambience and wildlife recorded around Corona’s home in southern Sardinia, that enliven the eponymous fictional island of the game and, more often, my office.
Heart of the Woods
Favorite Track: “ending theme”
Split among composers Sarag Mancuso and Kris Flacke, the soundtrack to the cult hit visual novel Heart of the Woods could warm even the coldest heart. As the accompaniment to the snowy adventures of paranormal investigators Tara and Maddie, these soundtracks are rich with piano and strings that stir an aching ennui. But my absolute favorite track, something I listened to for years before even playing the VN, is “In Love With A Ghost’s” eponymous ending theme. With vocals by ukuletea, the track reminisces on the hope and longing of an incipient love. It gets me every time.
A Summer’s End – Hong Kong 1986
Favorite Track: “2:30AM [ VHS Skyline ]”
The neon glow of the shop signs through the rain, leather jackets and short skirts on a dance floor, speeding along the beach on the back of a motorcycle⏤all these images are conjured by A Summer’s End’s OST. Featuring synthwave and citypop from Crystal Cola, Stevia Sphere, and developer Oracle and Bone, drum machines drive this game about seduction and identity. The whole soundtrack is so good I’d be remiss not to point you to the notable absences on the official soundtrack: Timecop 1983’s “Dreams” and Jared Stevenson’s “Smooth Funk.”
Favorite Track: “Campfire Song”
This one comes with a warning for those of you who have played Outer Wilds: it’s gonna hurt. There are few games that conjure such nostalgia in a short time with their worlds, and the sense of loss from Outer Wilds is made better by the conceit of its cosmic time loop. Both Andrew Prahlow’s soaring synths and banjo-y campfire tunes evoke wonder and adventure in the sky above Timberhearth, but these melodies will come for you like a dagger when “End Times” sets in.
Favorite Track: “Clear!”
Mixolumia is Tetris reimagined as a chill musical affair. You don’t have to be good to enjoy (trust me, I know) because the game is utterly satisfying. That’s thanks in no small part to the tracks in this collection. Whether you play your mixoluminos at a drizzly pace or spark fireworks on the screen, the best part of Mixolumia’s soundtrack is how it always feels like an adaptive accompaniment to your game. There’s no sense of victory or loss, just the next track to vibe to for a few minutes while my board slowly but surely fills up.
Favorite Track: “City of Tears”
From the desolation of “Dirtmouth” to the propulsion of “Mantis Lords,” Christopher Larkin’s soundtrack is as expansive as the game it was made for. Haunting vocals softly accompany gentle, deliberate melodies played on piano. Stretched out tones of woodwinds tied together with the strings of a harp lead down a firelit path by a violin played with such sonority, the strings sound ready to snap. Hollow Knight’s OST captures both the directionless exploration and the precise evasions of the nail-wielding Knight in an orchestral showcase of what games can sound like.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Favorite Track: “Erase”
Lena Raine doesn’t miss. The Celeste, Minecraft, and Guild Wars 2 composer shows off her range in Chicory with idyllic acoustic town music and crashing synths during boss battles. Whether it’s a verdant picnic or a fight with the personification of mental illnesses (whatever your needs may be!), Raine paints a compelling sonic picture with an unconventional orchestra at her fingertips.
Heaven Will Be Mine
Favorite Track: “Plastic to Plastic”
Alec Lambert understood the assignment. A mech game and dating sim set in space, factions divided over the course for the future of humanity, each future aligned with a different one of your exes, of course it could only sound like this. From the distorted, synthy bwaaahs of “Plastic to Plastic” that imagine some great, gravitational force pulling you into its reactor (for a kiss), to the compressed funk groove of “Joyride” as you jet across the sky as a literal shooting star to your haters, Heaven Will Be Mine’s OST is a powerful mood.
Umurangi Generation Macro
Favorite Track: “Tariq’s Rap”
The Macro DLC to 2020’s indie darling Umurangi Generation brings even more drum and bass from the base games composer ThorHighHeels. An accompaniment to the end of the world, Thor still finds a way to fill the OST with humor, imagining what a dolphin hooked up to a computer would spin under the moniker of DJ Tariq. Yeah, it’s a diegetic soundtrack by a DJ dolphin that raps with text to speech. I’m not really sure “experimental” begins to encompass the sonic space of this one.
Sounds of Tokyo-To Future
Favorite Track: “PULL UP”
Did Not Have To Go This Hard. So this one isn’t exactly a soundtrack, but you’re going to wish it was. The sequel to his hit Jet-Set Radio homage Memories of Tokyo-To, 2 Mello is firing on all cylinders in Sounds of Tokyo-To Future. 2 Mello’s discography has a knack for capturing a sense of place, and Tokyo-To is the coolest city you’ll never get to see. An urbane album of rap, hip hop, breakbeat and so much more, you’ll be reaching for spray paint and skates by the end of a playthrough.