The Best Indie Game Soundtracks To Lose Yourself In
There are several core elements that make a compelling game: characters, gameplay, art style, storytelling (if that’s a key focus), control and soundtrack. As with the other elements, indie games have managed to tap into the latter beautifully, producing creative and often breathtaking pieces with barely a fraction of an orchestra. And in the case of these amazing scores, less is undoubtedly so much more. Here are a few sublime indie soundtracks to please your ears and leave the mundane world behind.
With a core theme like death and the journeys and emotions surrounding it, it would be easy to revert to violins and great swells for the emotional gut punch. But Spiritfarer seeks to capture not only death but also life, grief and compassion in every way they manifest themselves. And they achieve this in spades. Composer Max LL’s score punctuates every scene perfectly: acoustic guitars illustrate thoughtful contemplation, piano and woodwind combine for a wistful night-time sail and an amalgamation of strings both stir your drive for adventure and open your mind to words unsaid. Mix this with sounds reminiscent of Southeast Asia and you have a symphonic journey to give the great Studio Ghibli a run for its money. Within a few hours of gameplay, you’ll have found a favourite track and be completely immersed in the nautical journey of the world beyond. And yes, a few tracks may leave you a weepy mess.
Crypt of the NecroDancer
You knew this was coming. For a rhythm-based dungeon crawler to NOT have an exemplary soundtrack would be both laughable and heretical in equal measure. But indeed it does and six years later, we still can’t get enough of it. Crypt of the NecroDancer takes players on a head-bobbing, toe-tapping thrill ride and Danny Baranowsky displays his composing prowess with style. Many styles in fact. A master of multiple musical genres, Baranowsky channels Portishead-inspired trip hop, groovy funk, fiery metal and catchy trance, while still echoing the fantastical dungeon environment as the player ventures deeper. And if hell freezes over and there isn’t a track to your liking, fear not! With different playable characters comes 6 different remixed soundtracks, such as EDM, metal and ‘80s synth versions to enjoy. Crypt of the NecroDancer may have you facing death at every turn, but death is not so bad with a sweet beat behind it.
Very few evocative video game soundtracks have the distinction of stemming from a random encounter with a stubborn raccoon that refused to leave the composer’s backyard. Well, just one actually: Backbone by EggNut Games. From this escalating standoff—where only a loud trumpet got rid of the recalcitrant trash panda—came a unique and eclectic jazz noir fever dream. Collaborating with experimental artist Arooj Aftab, composer Danshin explores the unflinching reality of life in dystopian anthropomorphic Vancouver in strikingly symbolic soundscapes. The film noir influences are present in the smooth piano, bass and cymbals, but this is no dreamy Humphrey Bogart-seen-through-lingering-smoke kind of affair. The arrangements & electronic ambience echo the depths of degradation of poverty on the streets, the sleaze and corruption around every corner, the lurid glare of the neon lights. And the rare poignant moments of connection backed with sombre notes and natural sounds. This is a noir that cuts the romantic veneer to the grit and the bone.
It stands to reason that the game nominated for Best Independent Game at The 2021 Game Awards should have an award-worthy soundtrack to match. The second game and overnight hit from 2-person team Acid Nerve, Death’s Door’s charm and adventure is amplified by a masterful score by David Fenn. Using a plethora of instrumental sounds from pan flutes and stirring strings to powerful drums and electric guitars, Fenn creates a musical backdrop that perfectly captures the weird and wonderful world of a crow grim reaper striving to find a lost soul. Choral echoes accompany jazz piano in The Throne Room, exotic strings and low flutes reflect the flickering fires of Ceramic Manor and a grand orchestral waltz awaits you in Shall We Dance? Boss battle themes are also epic and invigorating, stoking the player’s courage for battle with steady builds and powerful crescendos. Deserving of all its accolades, this first-class game and its soundtrack are more than worthy additions to your library.
Seasons After Fall
An entire soundtrack composed almost completely of one type of instrument seems near impossible and runs the risk of being quite monotonous throughout. Seasons After Fall by Swing Swing Submarine rises to this challenge and comes out a winner. Every track is pretty much wholly made up of three violins and a cello, composer Yann van der Cruyssen showcases their great versatility and crafts an enchanting musical journey through pace, tone and harmony. Short staccato minor notes evoke a sense of urgency and danger, a flurry of light high notes over a slow cello an image of leaves fluttering in the wind. When you think you’ve got a feel for a track, out of nowhere Yann switches up the style and you’re off on an entirely new musical journey. ’Ritual with a Fox’ is a prime example, starting with bars putting you on edge before sweeping into a Pink Panther worthy slinky jazz number. Never underestimate the power of strings!