Hyper Light Drifter has an awful lot going for it: a fantastical world full of bizarre creatures, cryptic-yet-fascinating lore, and some truly inspired artwork and animation that channels Hayao Miyazaki through a retro 16-bit aesthetic. It even has a cool-sounding name. Not surprisingly, the game has received considerable acclaim following both its monumental Kickstarter campaign and its actual release.
As wonderful as those elements are, there is one other aspect of Hyper Light Drifter that I find particularly moving, if not absolutely critical to its success: Disasterpeace’s evocative soundtrack, which is reason enough to play the game.
To be honest, when I watched the game’s trailer, it was the soft, subtle piano melodies and Vangelis-like synth-work that first caught my attention. Whereas many game trailers do their best to blow you away with “intensity,” “awesomeness,” and mere spectacle, the trailer’s song (which is titled “Vignette: Panacea”) promised a much different, more sublime experience. Which is something that the rest of the soundtrack bears out.
In Hyper Light Drifter, you play a nameless warrior trying to decipher what ruined the world so long ago, and how to make everything right again. You travel through diverse lands filled with remnants of once-glorious civilizations, and Disasterpeace’s music communicates the melancholy of their passing, as well as just how alien and ominous your surroundings have become in the ensuing years.
On “Vignette: Visions,” wavering synth tones coalesce and grow increasingly ominous and foreboding — which is appropriate given that this song plays while your character receives a nightmarish vision of the world’s corruption. Appropriately deep tones reverberate through “Gaol of the Deep” while distorted beats and sonar-like pings imply perilous exploration and discovery.
“The Winding Ridge” weaves somber melodies and bell-like tones into one of the soundtrack’s most moving moments; meanwhile, softer melodies make “A Chorus of Tongues” a bittersweet respite from the rest of the soundtrack’s ominous atmosphere. Clocking in at over sixteen minutes, the aptly titled “The Gauntlet” is a slowburning piece that plays like the lead-up to some epic confrontation; the intense calm before the storm, if you will. Finally, “Panacea” expands upon the aforementioned “Vignette: Panacea,” resulting in a truly beautiful and contemplative piano piece that stands in stark contrast to the soundtrack’s prevailing synthesizer tones.
Earlier, I’d mentioned Hayao Miyazaki, and not surprisingly, a close contemporary to Disasterpeace’s music here would be Miyazaki’s frequent musical collaborator, Joe Hisaishi. Like Hisaishi, Disasterpeace — who has also composed acclaimed soundtracks for It Follows and Fez — conjures a multitude of images through his music that are just as integral to firing your imagination as any of the world-building that you see on the screen.
Regarding Hyper Light Drifter itself, I recently posted a piece on Christ and Pop Culture that discusses the game’s surprisingly theological content.