I have played both types of games, those with forgetable or replaceable kind of music and those that I would never want to play again without their iconic music. With older games it was often a question of what version of the game you were used to play. The Redbook audio tracks in the DOS and early Windows 95 era or cross platform releases come to mind.
My usual candidates for iconic and for me inseparable music or scores would be:
- "Tomb Raider" (the original one on the first Playstation): Soundtrack playlist
Especially, the adventurous "Tomb Raider" title or main theme: main theme shorter version
Or the variations of the dangerous encounter theme building up tension and suspense: track 05 Thor, track 07 wolfs, track 15 T-Rex, or track 19 'Time to Run' in the playlist.
Since, I initially knew it on the Playstation, I was really disappointed when I played "Tomb Raider" for the first time in its DOS version, lacking almost all in game music!
- "Tomb Raider II" (PSone) has a nice remix of the original's main theme: TR II main theme
and adds a nice classical violin piece: Lara's Mansion and Venice boat ride
- I also liked "Tomb Raider Anniversary's" rendition of the main theme
as well as the new score for the egypt levels, e.g. despite actually being Persian inspired music: TRA City of Khamoon
- "Icewind Dale":
The remarkable musical score from Jeremy Soule contributes a lot to the unique atmosphere in the game. My favourites are: Easthaven in peace
putting me in the right mood for an expedition! Kuldahar theme
gives me the sense of a warm and safe haven in this harsh and dangerous world of the ten towns.
- "DSA - Die Schicksalsklinge" (DOS, "Blade of Destiny" in English, first part of the 'Nordlandtrilogie'):
It is difficult to select a single track from Chris Hülsbeck's soundtrack for the first adaptation of 'Das Schwarze Auge' ('The Dark Eye' in English) pen and paper roleplaying system in a computer game. The music is so different from other typical computer roleplaying games and somehow fits perfectly in my mental image of 'Aventurien' ('Arkania' in English). It has a lighter, joyful and almost playful tone, encouraging both me the player and my party of characters for the adventure. I spent many hours in the character generator alone and never got tired of the corresponding music (third track in the link). DSA Schicksalsklinge Soundtrack
- "Advent Rising":
Try playing "Advent Rising" with its music turned off... and then compare it to your experience with the amazing original score
. The music and theme song are so emotional, at times it is awe-inspiring, or making you feel powerful, or pushing you forward, other times it lets you feel regret and sorrow or desperate and alone. The music let me easily forget or overlook the game's shortcomings and lifts this space opera right among (and for me often above) the likes of "Mass Effect" or "Halo".
- "Out of this World" ("Another World" in Europe) on the SNES:
Like the original Tomb Raider this falls in the category of cross platform releases were the difference in sound and music can be huge (at least for me). I played "Another World" long after its release and finished it first on the SNES, where it had additional and rearranged music. Others may find these laughable, but for me they are part of my original experience of the game and the protagonist's journey. Simple melancholic melodies that carry the heavy weight of what happens in this adventure: title theme ending theme
- "VVVVVV" (the letter V six times):
Amazing chip tune music based on memorable short melodies, full of energy, engaging both by pushing forward and by feeding curiosity: PPPPPP (playlist)
Tracks like 'Pushing Onwards', 'Positive Force', 'Passion for Exploring' and 'Predestined Fate' are reminiscent of classic oldschool chip tunes that are highly memorable!
...Honourable mentions to master pieces that are the atmospheric "Super Metroid" score and the always fantastic "Elder Scrolls" opening or title theme (which is actually always the same
in a new arrangement, wonderous in "Morrowind", impressive in "Oblivion" and mighty in "Skyrim").
- And to conclude an interesting experiment:
Try playing any of the original "Rainbow Six" games ("Rainbow Six", "Rogue Spear", "Ravenshield") and replace their original music with the motion picture's soundtrack of "The Rock" (1996)...
After accidently playing "Ravenshield" in a LAN multiplayer game with the soundtrack disc of the movie "The Rock" in the disc drive, I realised that even really great game music can be replaced with somewhat similar fitting music. Of course, both the game series and this particular film have a common theme overall, hence are an easy match. Rainbow Six main theme Rogue Spear title theme
and my favourite, because of the soft guitar part in the end: Ravenshield main theme
Since (full) orchestral scores got more and more common in video games, a lot of them tend to sound too similar and thus become unremarkable, replaceable and forgetable to me. When used too much or constantly, they even get distracting or disturbing.
In open world games such as "TES IV Oblivion" I wish, I could turn off only the music that plays during fights. Because they start too early, when the enemy begins charging me, and therefore ist acting like an alarm signal for an enemy's presence! And in "Gothic 3", for instance, the orchestral score for fights can get laughable in situations, for it has a too long wind up and is too strong for the often smaller fights with the game's wildlife.
I do prefer good recognisable melodies or (shorter) tunes over standard full orchestral scores, because a good melody or catchy tune is more memorable and more likely to become iconic.