Every great game’s accompanied by an amazing soundtrack, it’s a fact. Okay, maybe it’s a made-up fact, but it should be that way and luckily the formula prevails with video games trying to prove themselves on all three artistic levels: story, music, and visuals.
When it comes to the independent genre, we tend to find surprises that come from daring turns or simply new content that’s rising in between the standards, and that’s why these soundtracks make an impact. They are bold, they are truly part of the experience and they tie the game’s greatest moments to an atmosphere. So let’s jump into 5 indie soundtracks worth listening!
5 Indie Soundtracks You Must Experience
Composers: El Huervo, Hello World, Sasac, Ratvader, Triobelisk, Philip E. Morris, Åke, Eli Hedman, and Tor Bruce.
The first pick on the list is also the oldest, with every other title belonging to 2016 or 2017. else Heart.Break() released two years ago developed by a Swedish team which Erik Svedäng led, giving us a retro adventure that has a great story focus and a virtual-dominated scenery. As Sebastian walks the battered streets of Dorisburg, not only does he find a life for himself and all that comes with it, but also a dynamic city where hackers can really make a change in the world. And when this new generation rises, the faded town is challenged as they try to break with the current depressing state.
It’s an emotional and cybernetic story, so the soundtrack couldn’t be any different. A huge one by the way, with 56 songs composed by 9 artists, including many pieces by one of the designers: Niklas ‘El Huervo’ Åkerblad. As the game itself, else Heart.Break()‘s soundtrack shifts constantly in the electronic spectrum, with minimalist bases that quickly intensify to industrial beats that reflect a youth ready to protest, and enjoy.
There’s a tune to match each aspect of the game, from the romantic 80’s ballad styled Here Without You, to El Huervo’s All About You Too, an explosive chiptune that builds up intensely to catch your ear. It’s all about a variety of sounds that identifies the game: a distorted city that vibrates, the sudden sparks of feeling that dominate the tracks, and the new wave of underdogs catching up with power. There’s a whole musical culture that directly affects the in-game story, and (if it was any different) else Heart.Break() couldn’t have worked as well as it did.
Composer: Christopher Larkin
When you face a hand-drawn world that’s as intriguing as it is obscure, you need special tunes to set up the mood. Hollow Knight takes the classic scrolling action game and takes it to a whole different level of beauty, showing with its extremely detailed levels that Team Cherry knows how to set a proper atmosphere. The charming aspect of it combined with a hidden darkness that lures players into exploring the buried kingdom deep beneath Dirtmouth as you take control of this little yet mighty hero.
Epic quests with equally epic soundtracks. Christopher Larking’s work in this instrumental piece amazes and brings life to each moment you experience in Hollow Knight. Whether you’re enjoying the best of the depths or facing the worst bugs in town. It’s how the orchestral approach suits the title’s style: simple at heart but incredibly complex, as chords and winds combine to hint what’s really going on.
A soothing moment in the City of Tears requires the tune that carries the same name, a great example of how ambiance and music can combine. Melancholic and soothing as its inhabitants, but still powerful because of what remains. However, it doesn’t apply only to the environments, Hollow Knight also does a great job when identifying characters with its tunes. So when Dung Defender is played you know that boss you’re up against is mighty proud, and quite charismatic, pushing you to be even mightier. Once you give it a listen, you’ve got to know what’s behind that soundtrack.
The next two picks are odd in a musical sense as they are mainly ambient indie soundtracks. Although, how they add to these indie titles is entirely different, and both cases have their proper approaches.
The first of them is Oxenfree, a supernatural thriller that evokes classic horror films with its story-telling gameplay. Alex’s plans of taking his stepbrother to a party with friends on an old military island fail, and instead, they descend into a mysterious plot that features paranormal encounters on Edwards Island. This teenage-themed story shines on how its characters interact, with the conversation system and your decisions playing the role of big influencers when it comes to the plot’s finale.
Oxenfree’s soundtrack is like its environment design: ethereal, minimalist, and vintage. When these 21 tracks come up, you listen to them passively as you explore and focus on helping your friends out but it doesn’t overwhelm you at all. Instead, the songs slowly creep behind you in spectral moments and then mystify themselves into a pop-synth tune like Epiphany Fields to calm your nerves. In that way, SCNTFC managed to merge both soundtrack and story into one, with elements like the VHS white noise helping to keep the in-game immersion. Even in a song as tender as Lost, capable of provoking goosebumps.
Hyper Light Drifter
On that same note, with its own twist, comes Hyper Light Drifter. Among all recent indie soundtracks, this one strongly took its place as one of the best modern albums. Well, the game itself as a whole did. The combat is simple yet hard to master. The sleek storytelling that avoids any kind of text and simply relies on the setting and images; and Disasterpeace’s 28 track ambient soundtrack is impactful and crucial in the title’s way of conveying the plot.
You’re a drifter, a mute hero who once fought the titan’s off the lands, but with a victory that didn’t end his path because a darkness still haunts him and his world. You may be hurt, but something keeps you going. Something that you can’t identify as friend or foe but it marks your way through the ruins. The ruins contain little remnants of ancient societies, with settlements scattered and a few friendly faces to shop and train. Many died during the titan’s arrival while others just fell under the corruption’s influence and became obstacles on your quest.
Among every indie soundtrack listed, Hyper Light Drifter’s the one that gets potentiated the most by the game itself. The mixture between nature and bionic looks that the pixel world boasts almost reflects onto the music, with ghostly synthetic tracks that hook you on the feeling you’re experiencing.
Much like the lands you walk, there’s a roaring threat that haunts the peace and tranquility, giving you hindsight on the history of the corrupted land. After all, as you can hear in The Winding Ridge, this soundtrack pulses as it plays. Literally, and together with the atmosphere.
The Flame In The Flood
Composer: Chuck Ragan
And here comes a different finale, with The Flame In The Flood bringing both its in-game instrumental soundtrack and the complete version with Chuck Ragan adding vocals and lyrics to his guitar. In a reinvented American post-apocalypse world, what style could go better with a river journey than country tunes and a ragged voice? You’re crafting your way through what’s left of society, so better keep that guitar around because this world isn’t forgiving.
The game is developed by The Molasses Flood. Helmed by Bioshock’s former art director leading a team of Halo and Guitar Hero veterans. A fact that is easily seen from the game’s attractive and colorful design. Hop on your raft as Scout with her dog Aesop, rowing through a flooded country that has peculiar characters living isolated and at risk of falling to nature’s laws. Home is where your raft lands, but getting there requires avoiding lots of threat both on land and water. If not bumping into debris, you might find yourself poisoned or thirsty and in need of some lucky loot.
You want to know how to place a dark country setting, listen to In The Eddy or the suffering fiddle in Spanish Moss. It’s the acoustic recording that leaves all instruments crude and raw for a game that carries that spirit. A spirit of a broken tune of what’s here and what’s not. Play the game and after a few struggles, and why not a victory, Landsick turns into a very relatable song. You’d even expect strangers you cross in-game to have written these tracks and that helps The Flame In The Flood’s story to transcend out of its gameplay, turning this indie soundtrack into a special pick.
That’s it for this selection! Luckily there’s plenty of amazing indie soundtracks to remember, with many more coming this year in titles like Cuphead and the already launched Night in the Woods. As a fanatic, you’ll know it’s always hard to pick, so discover these and share with us your picks in the comments!