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Chip Music, Featured, Game Music

Soundtrack of the Month 02/2011: Tower of Heaven

Soundtrack of the Month 02/2011: Tower of Heaven

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Within the same day, I had one friend demand I play “this crazy-hard Flash platformer,” and another friend tell me I had to pick up this “crazy-awesome soundtrack.” Both friends were referring to Tower of Heaven.

The game itself is indeed quite challenging. I recommend you play it (at Newgrounds or Kongregate). It fully fits the “Game Boy” feel, all the way down to the color palette (green-ish and black) and the chiptune-centric soundtrack.

The whole soundtrack runs at under 20 minutes and is available for a mere one US Dollar on bandcamp. The OSV staff thought it was über enough to win an award for Indie Game OST in our recent OSVOSTOTY 2010 post. We acknowledge the album’s brevity, which is why it’s getting SotM for the shortest month of the year, February.

After the jump, a detailed report of this addictive little soundtrack, and what makes it so addictive, awaits.

The composer for Tower of Heaven, who goes by the moniker “flashygoodness,” claims that this 11-track OST is based entirely off of one melody. That melody was originally a piano solo improvisation (found as track 7, “Atop the World”). Now, personally, I detect three distinct melodies that formed out of this improvisation. Those three melodies serve as the three major stage themes for the game. From there, everything else is definitely “variation on a theme.” But whether one or three, the point is that repetition of key motifs helps keep the soundtrack cohesive.

I think the chip-heavy sound helps quite a bit in making the soundtrack as awesome as it is. In trying to promote the Tower of Heaven soundtrack among friends, one acquaintance said of the soundtrack: “the soundscape is so magical, but also so fresh; it can’t just be nostalgia.” And when enjoying a chiptunes release that doesn’t necessarily innovate, it’s easy to say “well it’s nostalgia from playing the system when we were kids.” But that’s simply not the case. My wife, who never played videogames with hardware-generated sounds, also found this soundtrack to be very enjoyable.

So, much like the composers of old, I think what it comes down to is this: these sounds are great when strung together to create a powerful melody and use varied, bouncy square waves to add the beat and structure to the piece, something wonderful inevitably happens. It’s a great formula, and flashygoodness made full use of the formula with this soundtrack. Let’s explore in further detail…

The first stage theme, “Stairway to Revelation,” is a gem of a track. In context of the game, it gets you ready for some challenging platforming action. Outside that context, it’s just a great “get up and go” kind of track. Straddling IV (major 4) and vi (minor 6) chords is perhaps an overused technique in modern contemporary music, but it works perfectly during this song’s B section. Outside that, the melody seems to float where it wants regardless of the chord progression. Catchy, catchy, catchy.

Track 4, “Indignant Divinity,” is the second stage theme. Imagine the world’s best never-before-heard Mega Man stage theme, and you basically have it. This song is amazing. The simple melody continues to repeat, but the decoration and rhythm around it shuffles in and out in different layers. It simply doesn’t get old.

The final stage theme, “Luna Ascension,” is like an epic push toward freedom. In the context of the game, anyway, that’s what it is. It’s a final push, through a super-hard platforming stage. And though it’s the shortest of the stage themes, you’ll not forget it after only two or three loops.

And then, as you reach the top of the tower, “Luna Ascension” transitions into “Atop the World,” which starts in its 8-bit chiptune emulation and then transitions to a reverb-heavy piano. You can feel the world coming to life. For many individuals I spoke to, this sudden change from all-chiptunes to a live instrument is an unexpected and pleasant surprise. I love it.

The longest track on this soundtrack is the end credits music, “Eternal Sanctity.” The tempo is slow, but the decorative high-pitched stuff in the background runs in 16th-note and 32nd-note syncopated patterns. It’s a great track to help you come down from the musical high brought on by the other tracks.

Another track I really appreciate is the music played as BGM for the level creation tool. “Pillars of Creation” combines all the themes from the three stages in a mid-tempo variation of its own. Amazing what all flashygoodness can do with these simple melodies.

The last two tracks, “bonus tracks” as it were, are a real-ish synth version of Atop the Tower (think Sakimoto-style slow synth orchestra), followed by a 4-second jingle played for finding secret treasure chests. Finding all three chests allows players to see the “secret” ending, which is just a beautiful still image of the valley where the tower once stood in a watercolor style. That secret ending has track 10′s music, and the treasures leading to it have track 11′s music. So these bonus tracks are quite related.

For such a short album, I am still blown away by what a powerful punch it packs. For only $1 (although you can pay more if you like, and should), you’d be crazy not to pick it up. Listen to the player below to preview the album and hit the bandcamp link to pick it up.

Buy: Tower of Heaven OST (MP3/FLAC/more)

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