Game Music, Reviews

Die. Learn. Listen. Dead Cells Original Soundtrack (Review)

August 3, 2018 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Die. Learn. Listen. Dead Cells Original Soundtrack (Review)on Twitter


There’s only a handful of games that I have gone out of my way to purchase while they’re still in earl access on Steam. One of them was Crypt of the Necrodancer, which played to my tastes in both cute macabre games and games with good soundtracks. While I originally took the loose risk of purchasing indie game Dead Cells because of it’s metroidvania offerings and promises of Dark Souls-like challenge, I was happy to find much like Crypt, it took sported a compelling soundtrack to it.

Unlike Crypt, however, Dead Cells features a far different type of soundtrack than the upbeat catchy rhythm of the former.

Dead Cells is very much akin to Salt and Sanctuary in both feel and its soundtrack. Both games adhere to similar gameplay mechanics as Dark Souls games, and also to music that plays to the environments and atmosphere. There are different levels you must traverse to progress along in your undead quest, each with their own themes. The challenge is that if you die, regardless of where you progressed to, you get thrown back to the beginning of the game. This means you get very familiar with early stage music, which French composer Yoann Laulan seemed to have taken into account when he created the soundtrack, as the first few levels feature memorable melodies that borrow easily into your brain with subtle yet catchy acoustic guitar. The track “Prisoner’s Awakening” exemplifies this.

The balance between the rhythm of the drums, the chants of the chorus and the energy of the guitar creates a track that I would imagine would be perfect in a D&D setting, which given the rouge-lite elements of Dead Cells is pretty fitting. It’s a good track to be able to listen to over and over, since attempting to learn your way through the game and inevitably being thrown back to the first stage will make you very familiar with this piece.

The game’s soundtrack as a whole lends itself to a blend of styles, which paint a picture as you progress through the game. While emphasis on heavy drum percussion and acoustic guitar is evident throughout the soundtrack, some tracks feel like they are purposefully invoking a cultural shade to things. “Promenade of the Condemned” for example, plays up the chanting chorus to sound more ethnically-enfluenced. This is featured in other tracks across the album, and can work to great effect with the setting of particular stages, though sometimes can be a bit overpowering in places.

In other places, the music leans more towards the morbid, which ones would hope for in a game featuring the slaughter of the undead and playing as a perpetually-resurrected revenant. “The Crypt” tones down the emphasis on chanting and guitar work and plays up the choir-work and introduces some strings in a way that brings out the ghoulish nature of much of the game’s body of work.

Tracks like “The Clocktower” bring back heavy guitar melody and even a bit of synth elements which I will say I loved. I think this is where Laulan’s ability really shines through in crafting a ear-catching tune using elements sparingly used in the first half of the soundtrack. “The Castle” also breaks away from the subtler pieces of the soundtrack and introduces a sense of the building climax of the game with more dynamic melody that grabs the listener and drives home the morbid energy the game likes to throw at you.

Overall, I enjoy the music of Dead Cells as a whole album. Some tracks do get a bit bogged down with a bit of over-saturation of singular percussion and overuse of chanting in some areas, but it’s permissible in my opinion. Yoann Laulan does a admirable job of blending different genres and instrumentation together into a memorable soundtrack that can best be described as Dark Souls meets Diablo 2 but with it’s own spectral charm. Granted, this album is only labeled as “Part 1” and whether we’ll see more music from the game released from Laulan can only be speculated upon. Dead Cells only actually opens out of Early Access on Steam next week, so additions to the game could mean future soundtrack offerings. In the meantime, you can purchase the Dead Cells – Soundtrack Part 1 on Bandcamp now and judge for yourself.

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