The latest jewel in the crown of From Software was released recently. The game was highly anticipated by a lot of people, myself included, as one of the first major next-gen titles on the playstation 4 and as far as I’m concerned, it didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
But I’m not here to talk about the game itself, I’m here to talk about the music!
For people who have not yet finished the game, be aware that there are spoilers in this article! Certain tracks share their name with Bosses that will be encountered in the game and as such could give away part of the story. Read on at your own risk!
The Bloodborne soundtrack
The Bloodborne soundtrack was written by composers Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Michael Wandmacher, Yuka Kitamura, Cris Velasco and Nobuyoshi Suzuki and will be released April 21st. The exclusive Nightmare edition of the game also includes the soundtrack, and the music can be listened to on various media, for instance on YouTube.
The feel of the music is very dark and dramatic, as is fitting for the very dark and dramatic Bloodborne world. There are tracks that illustrate perfectly the high-adrenaline Boss fights in the game through big brass hits and percussion, while the overall bleak and desolate landscape of the game is illustrated by dissonant strings melodies and somber choral pieces.
In the entirety of the soundtrack there is a nice contrast between fast-paced, bombastic action tracks and slow, ethereal sounding tracks where soloists get the chance to shine, but throughout it all the feel and atmosphere of the Bloodborne world constantly bleeds through and that world is bleak and lonely and terrifying.
The music, as it presents itself in the game
The music, as it presents itself in the game, can mostly be heard in isolated environments or situations, such as the numerous Boss fights, the central hub where the player can rest and stock up on items, and during various moments in which the story progresses. When walking through the general areas throughout the game and fighting enemies there is no background music, which I feel was a great design decision, as it very much adds to the oppressive atmosphere of the game.
By way of contrast, it also adds to the weight of the aforementioned situations. When the silence breaks with an ominous chant or pulsing rhythm and you see that Boss lifebar fill up, you know you’re in for a ride. Alternatively, in the Hunter’s dream (the hub) the peaceful combination of an ethereal sounding choir and soothing melody of a single Cello make you feel like you’re in the only place where everything is not out to get you. This is a recurring theme in the Dark Souls series, where peaceful places like that are sparse. As such these places very much benefit from underscoring with music.
The game features a lot of current day horror influences and the music idiom is no different. The Bloodborne soundtrack is full of effects such as trills, Ligeti-esque string clusters and various crescendo and tremolo effects to give it that current day horror soundtrack vibe.
In my experience, the better horror games/movies feature a “less is more” mindset, where subtlety is usually more effective in building tension than big, epic musical scores are, though of course there is a time and place for everything.
Because what would a Souls game be, without an arsenal of boss fights, straight out of your nightmares?
The music accompanying the various boss fights
The music accompanying the various boss fights falls into the more Hollywood-esque action score category, with a bit of horror mixed in. The coloring of the music is beautiful and after careful listening, one can oftentimes hear subtle developments in the music which accompany the various stages these bosses go through. This effect is not lost on the player when playing the game and experiencing these boss fights, because the music intensifying during a boss fight is a clear sign that, although what you were doing to beat the boss thus far was apparently working, you have not won by any stretch of the imagination, and the boss is clearly done playing around. While the player might not be actively listening to the music as he or she is playing, this development in the music plays a clear part in the drama that is a Bloodborne boss fight.
My only point of critique with this particular soundtrack is that some of the music fits a bit too well into the Hollywood genre, and as a result can be thrown onto a giant heap of other big/epic action/horror scores. Where Bloodborne does such a great job of making each boss unique and look and sound and fight differently from other bosses, I would have liked to have seen this reflected in the Bloodborne soundtrack as well. It is a matter of balance where on one side you have the idiom you are working within (horror, action), which brings certain rules with it in order for it to be recognized as such, and on the other hand you have material that brings character and identity to the piece. I feel that some of the pieces have missed this balance and therefore sound somewhat generic, although they still work well enough within the playing experience.
Having said that, there are other tracks that do strike this balance. Tracks such as “Amygdala” and “Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos” stand out amongst the crowd because of their great use of thematic material, while still falling in the Horror/Action genre. The first having a beautiful string arrangement and theme that is sounded multiple times, really making the music recognizable as belonging to that particular character in Bloodborne. The latter features a beautiful choral theme and has a really nice form, ending in an extremely powerful crescendo. The style is reminiscent of a classical requiem, and as such fits nicely with the encounter and its background story. There are more of these tracks than just these two. “The Hunter“, “Cleric Beast“, “Hail the Nightmare“, “Micolash, the Nightmare Host“, and “The First Hunter” are all tracks that just do that little bit extra for me, and as such really stand out on the album.
Overall the soundtrack scores great on a number of very important key points. First and foremost, it does a great job accompanying and enriching the gaming experience. It has great uniformity and the style fits perfectly with the rest of the artwork in Bloodborne. One minor point of critique that I found was that some of the music is lacking in thematic material and runs the risk of sounding generic. Other than that though, I’d give it a 9 out of 10!
Let me know what you think!
I will take a more indepth look into a number of these pieces in my upcoming Bloodborne analysis series! Stay tuned!
Disclaimer: All images are copyright From Software.