Not just the best songs. These are the best songs performed by characters in-game. In other words, if it's not sung by a fictional band, hollered by a karaoke-obsessed protagonist, or purred by a honey-tongued vocalist who also shoots at you with a ridiculous firearm, then it doesn't count. For this reason, in-game radios are also out. It's too easy, video games. Sorry. That means no rock station classics from Grand Theft Auto and no 80s bangers from Metal Gear Solid V. Learn to accept it. The best music is diegetic, baby.
Good Riddance - Hades
You stumble across Eurydice, musician and collateral damage of Greek tragedy, as you wander through the underworld. She'll be singing this sorrowful number alone in her chamber. It's a song about death, rest and letting go, all tinged with a sense of bitterness. Because anyone who knows their myths knows that Eurydice was left behind in the underworld after her lover and fellow poet Orpheus fluffed the chance to free her from the dead realm. That means, hey, this is also a breakup song. Worry not, you can reunite these lovers in the game, and the reward is a harmonious duet of the same song.
Karaoke song - Disco Elysium
A growling, existentialist lament from a drink-dependent Detective. It's more spoken word than outright song but it's a sombre, wistful bunch of lyrics dedicated to the decrepit beauty of Revachol city. A sweet moment for a guy who has spent the last few days fumbling through that city, trying to solve a murder case with the melancholy knowledge that his life is one big joke. Of course, the joke might keep going if you fail the skill check to sing it, in which case you'll perform this version.
Bakamitai - Yakuza 0
A song so good it is worth belting out in a karaoke parlour, completely alone.
Ode To Somewhere - Deathloop
Yes, this is on a radio that you stumble across, so I'm breaking my own rules. But a) it's implied that antagonist musician Ramblin' Frank Spicer performed the songs you hear in-universe. And b) it is a total croon tune. A 60s-inspired love song with lyrics that, on closer inspection, bring to mind the broken relationship of two of the game's characters. Just listen to those strings kick in halfway through. In fact, damn, all Frank's songs are good. From the energetic oo-oos of The Revenant to the bitter twangs of No Class, your old drinking buddy has style. You might not know it to hear his Tom Waitsy growls over the loudspeaker in his Fristad Rock hideout, but he is an angry rockstar with "the voice of an angel", as his doctor tells him at one point (before adding he also has the internal organs of a geriatric).
Dva Concerto - Botanicula
You find yourself whooshed into a genie's lamp at one point in this psychedelic point and click adventure, where two important contributors to the game manifest as blobulent larvae. Larvae with trumpets. Worms with drums. This is Dva, the musical duo that developers Amanita Design worked with to help fill out the clicky sound japes of both Botanicula and follow-up Chuchel. What language do these larval performers sing in? Nobody knows. They made it up.
God Only Knows - BioShock Infinite
Gotta love musical anachronism. This here's a barbershop quartet singing The Beach Boys on a floating airship in an alternate reality 1912. BioShock Infinite is a shoots-em-dead with plenty of environmental double takes for music lovers. Of course there is this short churchy choralesung by Elizabeth in a quiet moment after you pick up a guitar, a brief soother from the 1907 hymn Will The Circle Be Unbroken. But you can also find the original Tainted Love by Gloria Jones as a crackling song on a gramophone, or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun reproduced as a beachside jingle, alongside a few others. I haven't been so joyfully offended since I heard Mad World in ragtime.
The Wolven Storm - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
There's something unconvincing about how CD Project Red animated all the characters to cry and glance meaningfully around, as if they weren't confident the audience would understand the concept of "sad song in minor key". But hey, it's a nice song. Can't take that away from them.
The Wind and Rain - Her Story
A folk song that almost certainly doubles up as a giant spoiler for this SEO murder mystery. It's not a perfect performance, which makes sense in the fiction of the game. Not many could sing well in the cramped, reverberating confines of a police station interrogation room. But it's a revealing musical moment for our unreliable witness. (Here's a super version by Altan, if you're up for it.)
Eyes On Me - Final Fantasy VIII
A romantic tune that, once sung by pop star Faye Wong, became a record-breaking single in Hong Kong, pretty much breaking free of its video game origins. In the gunswordy world of Final Fantasy VIII, this song is written and performed by Julia, a lounge pianist who falls in love with charming goofball Laguna. Sadly, the pair never seal the deal due to hesitance and shyness all round. Resisting the call of love is a running theme throughout the JRPG, making this the musical keystone of the soundtrack. Not everyone who recognises the song will know about the missed connection between two good-hearted virtuafolks. But those origins are important to fans of the actual real genuine legitimate best Final Fantasy, which is this, Final Fantasy VIII, or 8 in Arabic numerals, that's Final Fantasy 8 to put a stamp on things. Out of an abundance of caution let me repeat that this, the eighth game in the mainline series, is the best Final Fantasy, thank you.
Pam-Pa-Ram - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I don't need to explain myself to you.
One Off The List from… the 10 steamiest trains
Last time we stayed on-track with the 10 best trains in PC games. But one of these locomotives needs to be decommissioned. It's...Doom Train from Final Fantasy
The whistling summon with an ugly mug and a steamy temper has been sent to the scrappers on a technicality. "The Doomtrain shouldn't count," says list inspector 'icarussc', kicking the wheels and feeling no resistance. "Because it isn't a train, it's a ghost. Duh."
The goblins have spoken. The cult of the listpocalypse continues marching ever forward. Will there be no end to the cataloguing of seemingly random things as related to video games? The answer is no. We move with anticipation towards the omni-list, goblins. Nobody can stop us.