Gather ‘round, video game music nerds—I’m not going to let you sleep on what I’m calling right now as my favorite video game score of the year: the Owlboy OST.
After a lengthy development process, D-Pad Studios released Owlboy earlier this month to wildly positive reviews. I sat down to play the game the literal minute I got home from work, and was instantly enraptured—not because the gameplay blew me away, but because of the sheer beauty of the score.
“Title Screen” – Owlboy OST (Jonathan Geer)
As even the title of the game implies, the Owlboy soundtrack is soaring, majestic, and even wise with its smart composition choices. Jonathan Geer, the game’s composer, uses a lot of woodwinds in the score—which might sound obvious for a game about wind and air. But just hearing woodwinds exposed for so long as you’ll hear in the game is a refreshing change of pace from the soundtracks that go in heavy on string ostinatos and war drum hits. His choice of woodwinds adds expressive character to the game’s sound—and his choice to include live players mixed in with the virtual instruments adds even greater richness to the already gorgeous score.
“You’re Both to Blame” – Owlboy OST (Jonathan Geer)
Another refreshing aspect to the score is his use of harmony. Though Geer says he wasn’t consciously influenced by any specific composers, you still hear bits and snatches of his contemporaries in film, and also of 20th century composers in general.
Owlboy took nearly a decade to realize—and Geer, who joined the project at its conception, says he was working hard right up until the game’s release on perfecting the score. That dedication and care shows. When I asked Geer for his favorite track from the OST, he was hard-pressed to think of one. I’m having the same kind of trouble, but I’ll share a couple of my personal favorites.
“Advent Under Attack” – Owlboy OST (Jonathan Geer)
During the game, the capital of your homeland is besieged by sky pirates. As a prelude to the onslaught, we are treated to a section of music that honestly could have been lifted from a 20th-century symphony or film score. Low reeds whisper in strange unison, giving warning to the looming attack. An ominous string ostinato hovers overhead. It’s a brilliant beginning to one of the game’s first high-stakes missions.
After about 30 seconds, the track gives way to more traditional (albeit well done!) “stealthy video game music”, but it’s the beginning section that makes the entire track for me.
Onto another favorite of mine. As you ascend in the world of Owlboy, the air grows thin, and your character’s previously undaunted flight falters and becomes tired from fatigue. The place you find yourself in is Mesos—a world closer to space than even your hometown in the clouds.
In the score, the bright, warm woodwinds and lush strings are stripped away. What remains are airy, thin strings and cold mallets. But this too is someone’s home; a low flute solo breathes comfort into a somber, distant world. God, I love this track. And every track in the OST for that matter. If you love soundtrack music at all, do yourself a favor and spend an evening listening to Geer’s Owlboy.
If you already love and enjoy the soundtrack, you should know Geer still has a few tracks he’s keeping under his sleeves. He plans to release a number of tracks that didn’t make it into the final game sometime next year in a deluxe edition of the soundtrack. But you don’t hold off on buying the current edition—Geer says anyone who’s already purchased the soundtrack will get a discount when his deluxe edition is released.
Mr. Hassan DuRant is a composer out of North Carolina and a guest writer for OSV.Tags: D-Pad Studio, Game Music, Indie Game Music, Jonathan Geer, Original Game Soundtrack, Owlboy, Reviews