Throughout Nintendo Life VGM Fest — our season of music-focused features, interviews and other audio-based bits — we’ll be bringing you some of the Nintendo Life team’s personal playlist picks of the best music in all of video-gamedom. Our collective gaming experience spans many decades’ worth of incredible audio, from the nostalgic ‘blips’ and ‘beeps’ of the arcade era (for some of us, at least) up to the full orchestral majesty of today’s triple-As, and all the glorious variations in between.
Below you’ll find a handful of our top gaming tunes for unwinding at the end (or indeed the start or the middle) of the day. The only self-imposed rule we had when selecting these tracks for our relaxing VGM playlist was they must have featured in a game on a Nintendo platform. Simple!
Is this a comprehensive list of every great relaxing track ever in video games on Nintendo consoles? Of course not; how could it be!? This is but a small sampling of some of our favourites, but feel free to nominate your own personal picks in the comments and share the love — we’re entirely open to expanding the list over time.
In the meantime, grab some headphones, sit back, and enjoy…
Staff key: Gavin Lane (GL), Thomas Whitehead (TW), Kate Gray, (KG)
Jolly Roger Bay / Dire, Dire Docks (Super Mario 64, 1996)
Composer(s): Koji Kondo
One of the most chill tracks in Super Mario 64, this calming Koji Kondo number lulls you into a false sense of security and makes the appearance of Unagi the Eel all the more disturbing while you’re casually enjoying the waters of Jolly Roger Bay. GL
Rito Village (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 2017)
Composer(s): Manaka Kataoka, Yasuaki Iwata, Hajime Wakai
I have no idea if this is my favourite BOTW song, or even my favourite Zelda song, to relax to. But that’s the thing — they’re all so good. Rito Village is a soaring, bird-filled track stuffed with Spanish guitar and sleepy woodwind; the “Night” version is even more languid, sounding exactly like moonlight on a lazy river. KG
Hear it in: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Aurora’s Theme (Child of Light, 2014)
Composer(s): Béatrice Martin (Cœur de pirate)
When I first played Child of Light, I was blown away by its surprisingly dark, yet hopeful tone, told through misty, dreamlike watercolour. Its soundtrack pretty perfectly nails the tragic fairytale theme with its slow, sorrowful strings; you can almost follow the entire story just in this one song. KG
Hear it in: Child of Light
Title Theme (Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005)
Composer(s): Kazumi Totaka / Asuka Ohta
I could have chosen any number of tracks from across this series (2am is always pleasant in any of the games, and Kate picked another one coming up, too), but this entry was my first Animal Crossing and this tune gets me all nostalgic for a time when I visited my village Dibly each and every day for an 18-month period. Every. Single. Day.
Good times. GL
Hear it in: Animal Crossing: Wild World
Japan / Hōjō Tokimune Theme (Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, 2016))
Composer(s): Arranged by Geoff Knorr / Phill Boucher
Civilization VI is a relaxing game for me, one where I sit comfortably and let the hours melt away, often in the Switch’s portable mode. Each civilisation has fantastic music, but the arrangements when playing as Japan / Hōjō Tokimune are particularly soothing and relaxing. Beautiful and, at times, inspiring. TW
Hear it in: Sid Meier’s Civilization VI
Yarn Yoshi Takes Shape (Yoshi’s Woolly World, 2015)
Composer(s): Tomoya Tomita / Misaki Asada / Kazumi Totaka
Another pick where I could have gone with a dozen other examples from the Yoshi series or Good-Feel’s amazing Kirby’s Epic Yarn, I just love the instrumentation on this particular track — the perfect introduction to one of the most pleasant and relaxing games on Wii U. GL
Hear it in: Yoshi’s Woolly World
Sanctuary in the Glades (Ori and the Will of the Wisps, 2020)
Composer: Gareth Coker
It’s a delight and a marvel that this game is on Switch, not just because it’s a wonderful adventure/platformer but because of the pure soul it has. The soundtrack is a big part of that, and during my playthrough I would actually warp to the Glades area for no other reason than to sit and listen to this track for a few minutes. TW
Hear it in: Ori and the Will of the Wisps
To Celebrate, and Say Goodbye (OPUS: Rocket of Whispers, 2017)
Composer(s): Triodust (Huang, Zhen-Yang)
Full disclosure, once upon a time I worked on publishing the Switch eShop release of this game, so that’s how I came across it and its soundtrack. Nevertheless, for a smaller download experience OPUS: Rocket of Whisper’s soundtrack truly touched me; it’s quite minimalist in parts with a piano focus, and I think a number of its tracks are particularly beautiful to listen to both in-game and when relaxing. TW
Hear it in: OPUS: Rocket of Whispers
7 PM (Animal Crossing: New Horizons)
Composer: Kazumi Totaka
Oooof. This funky, snoozy little jazz number sounds like it should have lyrics, and should be played in a smoky basement bar as the hours while away from evening to morning. Thank goodness one of ACNH’s best tracks is at 7pm — prime bug-catching time — and not squirrelled away in the 2am – 7am block, when absolutely no one should be playing Animal Crossing. Go to bed! KG
Hear it in: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Yellow Giant (Doshin the Giant, 1999)
Composer(s): Tatsuhiko Asano / Yasuyuki Suzuki
In honour of our senior video producer Alex, we’ve decided to add this little otherworldly guitar piece from one of his favourite games (well, he certainly likes the titular giant a lot). A tranquil tune, indeed. GL (for AO)
Hear it in: Doshin the Giant
Those are just some of our personal favourites, but what about yours? Let us know your favourite video game tracks to unwind to in the comments below, and if your picks vibe with us you may well see them migrate north from the comments at some point.
Be sure check out the other Nintendo Life VGM Fest articles in our season of music-focused interviews and features.