Game Music, Reviews

King’s Quest Lives! The Silver Lining OST Volume 1 (Review)

January 31, 2011 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook King’s Quest Lives! The Silver Lining OST Volume 1 (Review)on Twitter

Fan projects based on commercial games rarely see the light of day. The mighty “Cease and Desist” letter, with pending threats of litigation, is usually enough to stop a fan project dead in the water.

But, somehow, the fans of the King’s Quest series beat the odds, making it through the mess of legal red tape. The last official game in this series was King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity (KQ8), released in 1998. For the last decade, a variety of people have formed various teams to develop a fan-based sequel since Sierra (and Vivendi, which absorbed Sierra) seemingly had no intention to continue the series. This “fan” team, Phoenix Online Studios, worked hard to create professional-quality games with basically no budget.

Having received and resolved two separate cease and desist letters (one from Vivendi, and another from Activision), it’s amazing that this project really happened. But happen it did, with 3 of the 5 episodes in this episodic game already out. For more details on the game, just read this. It’s worth noting that the game was renamed to not include the King’s Quest name anywhere, per their agreement with the rights-holders so that the game could be released.

We at OSV received a limited edition soundtrack for The Silver Lining. The two disc set was labeled as “volume 1,” and from what we can tell, it covers two of the five episodes. The digital version of this soundtrack is available to download, for free, at this site. For our take on the fan-made music for this fan-made game, you’ll want to keep reading. It all comes after the jump.

Composer Austin Haynes, whose most prominent work to date is this very soundtrack, wrote in a blurb about this work that he sees music as the “heart and soul” of the game. If that’s the case, Haynes must have felt a heavy burden in developing this score, especially considering his youth and inexperience (to date, this is probably the largest undertaking Haynes has done).

And I must commend Haynes for what he’s done. This isn’t “E for effort” praise I’m offering. Haynes is a legitimate composer with a knack for catchy sounds using both real and synth equivalents of traditional Western European instruments. But before I dole out any more compliments, I simply must get something out of the way.

I loathe the vocal theme, “The Day You Were Gone.”

The song appears twice; once as an “acoustic” version, and again as a “pop” version. The backing instrumentation makes no difference to me. The song itself is campy, cheesy, and yucky. It reeks of “fanmade” in the worst sense of the word. Lyrically, there are some parts I can stomach and some I cannot. But the vocal performance, by Amy Kurylo, irritate me to no end. It’s not that Kurylo is a bad vocalist (a quick search for her live performances on YouTube reveals she’s quite talented). But Kurylo, who also provides some narration and character voice acting for The Silver Lining, incorporated a strange and unpleasant mixture of styles to the track. At some points she goes for straight-up jazz improvisation. At other times, she sounds like a country singer.

And, sadly, one can easily detect the occasional sharp or flat pitch compared to the fully-synthesized keyboard. I respect any vocalist and mixer who wishes to resist the urge to autotune, even lightly (it’s the “air-brushing” of vocal performance), but if the other performers on the track include computer-generated sounds, you may do well to try and match the voice to that and go for slightly more accurate tonality. I can’t believe I’m recommending a pass through autotune. But in this case, it would’ve helped a great deal.

To demonstrate that this is really the only thing I dislike about the OST, I’d direct listeners to the track “Remembering Yesterday” on the second disc. This track is an instrumental version of “The Day You Were Gone,” and it is a gem. Yes, the composition, particularly the chord progression, may come off as sophomoric (believe me, it’s hard to make a good vocal theme and retain your sense of integrity). But for the most part, the melody is quite good, and Haynes chose the right “voices” (piano and strings) to pull off this instrumental version. I really like it.

There’s a lot of really good music on this OST, though a lot of it is built around pianos and strings (both bowed and plucked). My absolute favorite track from the set is the opening to the second disc (and, I assume, the second episode): “The Thousand Years Prophecy.” It is simply beautiful. The long-form style of the piece, including a great overall rise and fall (with mini-rises and mini-falls throughout), serves to make it a memorable piece of music. And at over four minutes, it’s a great piece to use for a period of relaxation or meditation.

I generally favored Haynes’ minor-key compositions over the overtly happy, major-key stuff. For example, “Checkmate!” is a neo-classic style waltz with synth strings and a pretty traditional tonality and structure. Think “British high tea in the palace,” and you get the idea. I’m not really into simple emulations of period pieces. Either do the original work (almost always copyright-free), or mix it up a little. In this case, it’s less emulation and more imitation. (Edit: We’ve been informed that this particular piece was written by one of the supporting composers, Nicholas Boland.)

The opening to disc (episode) 1, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” also provides that eerie minor feel very well.

Throughout the soundtrack, I detected repeated melodies and motifs from those two openings. Rarely were they second-for-second, note-for-note transcriptions. Some variation is brought to the table, either to suit the game or at least to give the listener something new and different.

In any case, for a project early in what could be a very long career, Austin Haynes has done a great job and helped add legitimacy to this “fan” project.

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