Game Music, Reviews

Valdis Story: Abyssal City OST (Review)

January 14, 2014 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook Valdis Story: Abyssal City OST (Review)on Twitter

One of the game genres that I’ve sorely missed from the Triple-A game industry has been Metroidvania style games. With Konami abandoning their usual Castlevania formula and Nintendo being unable to produce a decent Metroid game in recent years, it’s a genre I’ve wanted to see re-emerge. As if to answer my wishes, the indie development team Endlessfluff has released a game titled Valdis Story: Abyssal City. Originally funded on Kickstarter, the game is an action/platformer in the vein of the Metroidvania style Castlevania games. Sadly, since I’m one of those terrible Mac users, I may have to wait for a port to play a copy of the game. The game’s soundtrack by Zack Parrish has been turning a few heads, often receiving special mention in reviews of the game. While I may not be able to play through the game yet, I will certainly offer up my critique of the game’s soundtrack.

Valdis Story: Abyssal City has been praised for it’s polish and engaging gameplay. It’s a well crafted game and the soundtrack is no different. From the very beginning, the music helps build up a sense of mystery and grand scale in the game’s world. Parrish utilizes elements of orchestral, rock, and synth genres to create something original yet familiar. Though a bulk of the music is built from an orchestral library, electric guitar and synth elements are present in almost every track. The rock elements become especially more prominent during the battle music, but are still built on top of an already intense orchestral score. Throughout the album you can hear a fair amount of inspiration from the Castlevania and Metroid soundtracks, in least in terms of style and arrangement. The battle themes in particular draw on a similar spirit of fast paced and energetic music similar to that heard in the Castlevania series. The more relaxed pieces in contrast maintain a tranquil and mysterious quality, similar to music from the Metroid series. This shouldn’t be that surprising, considering Valdis Story‘s gameplay is very reminiscent of those titles. This is not a comparison that I make lightly. Whether he was directly inspired or not, Parrish has done an excellent job of creating original music that emulates the sound and spirit of a Metroidvania game. 

For a majority of the soundtrack, Parrish makes heavy use of a main theme which he introduces in the opening track “In the Wake of Valdis.” The following track, “The Ocean” presents a haunting piano solo version of the same material. During the run of the album, the tracks alternate between calm or ambient pieces and more bombastic battle pieces. In the former the soundtrack relies on a small ensemble of instruments, usually including a few subtle electronic instruments. In the latter the electronic, rock, and orchestral instruments all combine to build a massive sound-scape and intense listening experience.

One track that really shows off the range of instruments and Parrish’s orchestration talents is “Ultimatum.” A full range of orchestral instruments, rock guitar, drums, electronic leads, and even a choir are combined to produce an energetic and climactic sounding piece. Even with all of these different instruments present on one track, not a single one gets lost in the large pallet of instruments. Each instrument in the arrangement can be heard and never overpowers or gets overpowered by other instruments in the mix. Like many other tracks on this album, the main theme is used in some capacity. In this instance it’s briefly taken up by the strings and electric guitar and later restated with the horns joining in. Like many of the other battle themes, it all makes for some very intense and exciting music.

Another track that really caught my attention is “Whispers in the Dark.” The piece uses exclusively voice and choir effects to create an incredibly erie yet beautiful sound-scape. The combination of dissonant vocals and whispering effects generates an atmosphere that makes this particular track stand out from the others. The piece’s slow, eerie, and suspenseful progression is  mesmerizing and at the same time slightly haunting. It’s the only track of its kind on the album, so it definitely requires mentioning. Having not played through the game yet, I’m not sure at what point this track is featured in the game, but it’s something that I’m look forward to hearing in context.

One feature that surprised me about this album is its length. The album clocks in at around 3.5 hours, a massive run time. There are over 40 tracks, most of which loop the music. This brings some pieces like “Ultimatum” to a full run time of over 14 minutes. I’m always in favor of having music loop on soundtracks, as it give us a second run through of the material, but it does significantly lengthen an album’s run time. I wouldn’t say it works in any way against the album’s favor, but you should be prepared for a long listening session if you plan on playing the entire album in one sitting.

The Valdis Story: Abyssal City OST is an impressive work. It’s certainly one of this past year’s biggest surprises for me from the indie game world. Parrish’s blend of orchestral, rock, and electronic instrumentation makes for an engaging and fascinating soundtrack that actually has me excited about playing the game itself. This is a feat that not many game soundtracks can claim. There are elements that often remind me of the Castlevania and Metroid series, yet at the same time the music sounds fresh and original. This is definitely a soundtrack that will make my personal list for top original soundtracks of 2013. Even if you aren’t familiar with the game, this is a soundtrack you should really grab. This is especially true if you are a fan of intense battle themes or ambient/atmospheric music. The Valdis Story: Abyssal City OST can be purchased on Bandcamp, Loudr, and iTunes.

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