There were several great game soundtracks that blessed my ears in the past few months. Surprisingly to me, they have all come from independents or otherwise obscure games. Also surprising, these soundtracks have all supplemented intriguing stories, charming art styles and solid gameplay.
I would be remiss not to mention the fact that two of the soundtracks on this list led me to discover their respective games and may have changed the way I first played them. In the era of high budget production and amidst clamor for AAA quality, these soundtracks make the argument that music should do more than provide a game with mere ambiance.
Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery: The Ballad of the Space Babies
If you followed my 4 part feature of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, you already know the iOS title has my vote for game of the year. I have yet to come across a title that has fully changed my mind. But let’s save that discussion for another time. Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery: The Ballad of the Space Babies can very well be my game soundtrack of the year.
To call it just a game soundtrack would be pigeonholing this masterful work, however. As I explain in the game feature, I discovered this album before I discovered S: S&S EP. I was literally stuck for days playing and re-playing all 27 tracks while I quietly typed away at work. With my headphones on, I probably looked like a moron with a slight grimace on my face, furiously bobbing my entire body back and forth. This was especially while listening to Lone Star, the second track of the album.
Lone Star is beat heavy and boasts a melodic theme that is often repeated with several synthesized instruments. The meat of the track is reminiscent of traveling through the forest of your favorite RPG. In fact, the entire album is reminiscent of various RPG and adventure environments that have been played through again and again, but with strange twists and attitudes that ultimately transport the listener into a new space that is altogether deeper and more vicious.
I for one kept hearing influences from the Zelda franchise. At the same time, Guthrie never just stops being influenced by Hyrule or any other game. With a toolkit full of both synthesized and more traditional sounds, he delivers his take on the adventurer’s landscape. It’s like he’s responding to these recognizable themes that have come before him, with something that is both modern and timeless. An absolute pleasure for the earholes.
Bastion Original Soundtrack
The soundtrack for Bastion is yet another collection of music that transports the listener to a definite place. This time, it’s somewhere dusty and desolate. This obviously fits the themes of the game, as the main playable character is met with the destruction of his world. At the same time, when you close your eyes and just listen, you meet your own wasteland in the most poetic, T.S. Eliot sense of the word.
Similar to Guthrie’s work, Darren Korb’s Bastion Original Soundtrack boasts a lot of beat heavy runs. The soundtrack also oscillates between wild west and middle eastern themes. The soundtrack further expands its range by offering short pieces hand in hand with full length ones, for a total of 22 tracks. This may sound like it goes all over the place, but Korb’s control of the themes make it all fit together.
Each track, no matter if its a full bodied experience like Bynn the Breaker or a melancholy tease like Faith of Jevel, has something to say. One would find it hard to just skip through. In fact, listening to the entire soundtrack from start to finish will reward the listener with plenty of peaks and valleys.
Case in point: Percy’s Escape is a fast paced romp with a relentless drum role and harrowing slices of violin; as soon as it’s done, it’s like the listener is dropped into a pit with Faith of Jevel’s slower tempo and wandering guitar notes. Another example: Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme) features a cool woman’s voice that carries the whole track with minimal guitar strums following her in the background; once she lets go of the listener’s ears, the soundtrack takes off running with Spike in the Rail — that guitar takes the foreground followed by a hard drum.
Now, full disclosure: I have never played Bastion. But, with a soundtrack that can stand on it’s own, I am sorely in need to take part in the full experience.
Rich Vreeland’s soundtrack for Waker is the shortest of the three with only 5 tracks, but it’s definitely not the least. What the soundtrack lacks in quantity, it more than makes up in atmospheric melodies and moods that swallow the listener up in their simplicity. There are no drums save for one track, The Earth’s Restoration. The rest of the time, the listener is riding on a cloud of piano, violin and bells.
Like all the other soundtracks studied here, this one matches its game’s story and gameplay tit for tat. For those not familiar with Waker, it’s a charming little puzzler where you take control of a monkey-cat animal hybrid tasked with fixing people’s dreams. You do so by solving physics puzzles, creating bridges to progress to the next level. With how ethereal this all is, it’s only fitting that the soundtrack makes listeners feel like they’re moving through a dream themselves.
Speaking of dream bridges, The Earth’s Restoration, the only track with noticeable percussion, serves as the midpoint of the musical journey. It has the most action out of all the tracks — featuring a relatively harder hitting theme that in the end gives way to a dream-like piano; the hard theme tries to come back, but can’t overcome the power of the dream.
This was the other one I listened to before I ever played. Like S:S&S EP, Waker I’d argue is a wholly different gaming experience than if I had played first. I find the game more pleasurable, both in its simplicty and in how all the gameplay elements work with the art style and music.
The website where I stumbled upon all these soundtracks. It’s a shameless plug of sorts, but hey, the site lets you listen to the entire album for free. You can find The Ballad of the Space Babies, Bastion Original Soundtrack and Waker (Soundtrack) here. You can find much more, like Shag’s Flyrule, a tribute to the Legend of Zelda franchise, as well as other game and non-game related music.
What’s your favorite game soundtrack? Let Gamer Limit know in the comments below.