During these periods, the audio hardware's capability was limited. For those that cared enough to make a game with a great soundtrack, before game soundtracks were even referred to as such, it was quite the creative challenge. A few companies that immediately come to mind with a lot of games with great music are Capcom and Konami.
To really understand and appreciate the music from these early eras, one must experience it. (Coincidentally, it's one reason I always include a favorite game tune of mine with every column). As an aside, some of my favorite game music composers to name a few are first and foremost, Yuzo Koshiro, famous for the music from one of my favorite beat-em-up series of all time: Streets of Rage. Another favorite of mine is Michiru Yamane, famous in part for the immortal Castlevania: Symphony of the Night soundtrack. Some others are Manami Matsumae and Yasuaki Fujita both famous for the early, excellent Mega Man trilogy and Kinuyo Yamashita famous for the soundtrack to the original Castlevania.
The work these masters created is indelible. To understand what they were able to achieve with the limited hardware of the time (Castlevania: SotN being an a more modern exception) one must understand the limitations. I don't want to bore anyone with the technical limitations so suffice it to say they were many. To hear some of the music of the composers I mentioned and to realize those limitations to make music more memorable than a lot of modern music, I think does a service to the composers and gives appreciation they deserve. So in order to achieve that appreciation, I'm going to include some playlists from some of my favorite game music ever. I hope their greatness shines through. They are some of my “must hear” soundtracks for game fans.
Streets of Rage 2 composed by Yuzo Koshiro. I can't recommend this one highly enough. Possibly my favorite game soundtrack of all time. I'm sure I'm a bit more partial to it because the second system I ever got/owned was a Sega Genesis and the first game I got with it was Streets of Rage 2. If you like electronic music or dubstep, I HIGHLY recommend this soundtrack. It's amazing.
Mega Man 2. I don't think I need to say much about this one. A classic soundtrack.
Mega Man 3. A lot of people debate over whether MM2 or 3 was better as well as the soundtracks. I'll let you decide.
One of the series that IMO has the some of the greatest music ever composed for it. This franchise was so blessed to have a lot of really talented composers work on it. Castlevania on NES. I cannot explain the greatness of this soundtrack. It must be experienced.
Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. Kind of the black sheep of the Castlevania series but IMO it had a solid soundtrack.
Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse. Another awesome soundtrack from the 8-bit era.
(Super) Castlevania: IV. One of the best soundtracks on SNES (16-bit). A masterpiece.
Super Metroid. A great soundtrack that really enhanced the isolated nature of the game. Many compared the sense of isolation to original Alien film. There are some inspirations from that film in the Metroid series. This game consistently places in the top five SNES games in lists. I think the music is some of the reason why.
What is some of your favorite game music?