A roundup of all the month’s best Indie Game soundtracks Time for the second edition of High Scores, the monthly feature in which I pick my top three favourite indie game soundtracks of the month, and analyse them in far too much detail. October was always going to have a hard time topping September, which was an incredible month for game audio. We did see the release of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate this month, and while I can’t cover it in the depth I’d like to here, as Assassin’s Creed isn’t an indie title, I do want to take the opportunity to say what an amazing job Austin Wintory did on that soundtrack. The man behind the magic of Journey and the Banner Saga has done it again, and with the Banner Saga 2 on the horizon, I’m sure I’ll be getting a chance to talk about his music a bit more in the near future. Sometimes there are games that I want to cover in this feature that for a myriad of reasons, but I can’t look at in detail. I really wanted to award Mason Lindroth’s new RPG title, Hylics, a Second Fiddles position for this month. Unfortunately, the soundtrack isn’t available to listen to or buy, so I couldn’t give the music the coverage it deserves. I will say that it’s a crazy psychedelic trip of a game and its soundtrack really does a great job of subverting many of the expectations of RPG soundtracks. If you check that game out on Steam, or Itch.io, I think you’ll see what I mean. That being said, here are my top 3 indie soundtracks, for this month. Top Score- Soundtrack of the Month Legena: Union Tides Developer: Grandpa Pixel Composer: Satako “Holly” Young I’ve always loved music from the 16 bit era of games. Specifically, I love the distinctive timbre of the SNES. In many ways, the 16 bit era was like the awkward teenage years of video game audio – stuck between the 8 bit eras bouncy youthfulness, and the maturity of the relatively higher fidelity PS1 and N64 generation. It was trying to be an adult, fighting to show the world that it could do more than just make the rudimentary bleeps and bloops of the past. But with it’s huge memory restrictions it was always fighting a losing battle – and that’s kind of why I love it. In spite of all its hardware restrictions, the SNES still saw some of the greatest game soundtracks ever written. Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, A Link to the Past – all classic games, with outstanding soundtracks, composed by true masters of the art. And so it’s always been a source of great disappointment for me that so few games try to accurately capture that distinctive SNES sound faithfully. Fortunately, this month has seen the release of Legena: Union Tides, a game looking to put a new spin on the turn-based RPG, and its soundtrack features all the 16 bit goodness I could possibly ask for. Satako “Holly,” Young has done a fantastic job of showing the versatility of the 16 bit sounds in this soundtrack – she explores a wide range of styles, and even dares to stray from the well-trodden path of traditional RPG-style music, into pieces which sound more reminiscent of film scores from the likes of Hans Zimmer. Her melodies are catchy and memorable, and her pieces are always evolving, but never sound like they’re trying to overshadow the content of the game. From the calmness of “Relaxing At Home,” to the unfettered energy of “We Are Team VER!” no level of drive is left uncovered. She also explores a huge range of emotions– the hauntingly contemplative “Not Every Day is Full of Smiles,” and “Time’s Corridor,” (the title of which I’m hoping is a none too subtle reference to Chrono Trigger’s “Corridors of Time,”) are balanced by the uncontrollable happiness of “The Union Tides,” a traditional dance piece that bounces along with such joy it’s hard not to break into a smile, as you tap your foot along to its infectious beat. Legena: Union Tides is a game that’s unlikely to take the world by storm, and this soundtrack probably won’t get the praise it deserves, which is a real shame. It’s music that doesn’t rely on a gimmick to sell itself – it’s just a collection of really good pieces of music, by a really talented composer. I really hope to hear more from this composer in the future – you can pick up the soundtrack directly from her bandcamp page for $7.99, and if like me you’re a big fan of music from the 16 bit era of games, I highly recommend you give it a listen. Standout Track- Relaxing At Home http://indiehaven.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Relaxing-At-Home.mp3 A perfect chill-out track. Curl up on the couch, and have a cup of tea and a biscuit with this one. If Animal Crossing had come out in the 90’,s this would have been perfect for the soundtrack. Second Fiddles- the Best of the Rest Pulse Developer: Pixel Pi Games Composer: Joel Corelitz When looking at soundtracks to cover for this feature, I generally try to avoid covering ambient, soundscape-based music. When used in the right way, it can be incredibly effective, providing a subtle texture that underpins a game without being too obvious about its intentions. Too often however, this technique is overused, to the point that the music just lacks any really interesting qualities. However, for Pulse, Joel Corelitz has actually managed to compose a soundtrack that’s not only interesting, but also serves as an incredibly fitting backing track for the content of the game. Pulse allows you to take control of Eva, a small girl who has been blind for the majority of her life. Think of it as a faster paced version of Beyond Eyes. As a way of coping with the loss of her sight, she develops the ability to “see,” the world around her through sound, essentially using echolocation to light her path as she moves. This mechanic means the game is incredibly dependent on its sound design, and as a result, the music for the game needs to be as unobtrusive as possible. By using a lot of ambient textures, Corelitz manages to achieve this in a very effective way. Small moments of interest are interspersed into the textures, so it never becomes a homogenous blur of noise without purpose, but at the same time, it never intrudes upon the action of the game. This isn’t an example of conventional “video game,” music – there are no uptempo battle themes, or catchy melodies that loop over and over as you journey through each level. Instead, this is a collection of very zen ambient textures, which succeed in subtly imparting a sense of loneliness and isolation on the player, and this sense of hopelessness really helps to drive you forward as you explore the mysterious world around you. If you’re looking for atmospheric music, then look no further – this soundtrack is more like film music in style than a lot of game music, and in this case, that’s no bad thing. You can listen to the soundtrack in full on the composer’s personal website, and it’s also available to purchase directly from the Steam store. It’s not music that will get stuck in your head, and leave you humming along for hours on end, but then, that’s not its intention – it’s here to provide a canvas of sound, to make you feel like you’re lost and alone, and it does a tremendous job of being just ambient enough to sit in the background, while still being beautiful and awe inspiring enough to make you feel an emotional response to its presence. Standout Track: Ice Lake http://indiehaven.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Ice-Lake.mp3 Like a red sky at sunset, this track is beautiful and ominous in equal measure. Murder Developer: Peter Moorhead Composer: KubrixXx This month has seen some debate over whether or not Murder is a “good” game or not. With a playtime of approximately 20 minutes, Murder is an interactive short story, which sadly lacks any real depth or emotion, exploring themes of sentience and artificial intelligence, without going any deeper into the subject matter than a rudimentary skimming of the surface. However, in spite of its overall shortcomings, the game actually features a very interesting soundtrack by experimental-hip-hop producer, KubrixXx. The soundtrack strikes a balance between trying to reflect the emotion of the game’s story with conventional tonal music, and trying to reflect the presence of the artificial intelligence within that story. To do this, the composer balances chaotic, glitch based elements into the music, underpinning the entire soundtrack with a consistent theme; it almost sounds as though the robots are fighting to be heard over the humanity of the music, and that really works within the context of the story. The tone of the album is constantly changing, ranging from ambient synth tones, right through to driving electronic beats. The whole thing balances on the edge of a knife, and the music can morph into something totally new in a split second. This really helps to keep the music from becoming boring and blending into the background. At around half an hour in length, it actually takes longer to listen to the soundtrack than it does to complete the entirety of the game it’s attached to. I can also confirm that it has more replay value than the original game. I really wish that the game had made use of this soundtrack to its full potential. You can pick up the soundtrack for free on Bandcamp, and if you’re interested in experimental hip-hop, it’s well worth a listen. Standout Track- Murder http://indiehaven.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/kubrixXx-listless-city-Murder-OST-09-murder.mp3 A slow build, leading to an assault of noise at the end, serving as a perfect conclusion for the piece. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. About High Scores This is a monthly feature, where we celebrate the best new music, direct from the world of indie gaming. Each month, we’ll be looking at what we think are the three best new soundtracks, and discussing what makes them so damn good. No extra credit will be given to soundtracks that are attached to bigger games- small Steam releases will have just as much chance of being featured as bigger releases. To be featured in High Scores, a game has to be a full release- Early Access titles won’t be considered. The soundtrack needs to be available to purchase or stream online in some form or other. Soundtracks also have to feature only original content. If we’re even slightly suspicious that a game might be using royalty free music, it won’t be featured. I want to make sure I’m as fair as possible on composers for smaller indie developers. If you’ve got a suggestion for an obscure title that I may have missed, feel free to tweet me @PAldousMusic, and let me know.