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Hollow Knight’s Music Still Surpasses Every Expectation

Video game music is a varied art. From the 8-bit era of beats and synth to the modern… well, still beats and synth I suppose. The point is, the variety of music composed for games has expanded exponentially, and it’s not slowing down any time soon. I could mention some of the best soundtracks of all time, such as Red Dead Redemption 2, Sayonara Wild Hearts, or anything from Darren Korb and Ashley Barrett. However, Hollow Knight uses music to a new extent, beyond anything I could have imagined.

I first played Hollow Knight in 2017, and I was completely enamoured with it immediately. Of course, the world is incredible, the hand-drawn graphics are gorgeous, and the gameplay makes it hard to put down – but the music is where it shines through more than ever. The masterfully orchestrated soundtrack is something I was not prepared for in the slightest.

Anyone unfamiliar could look at Hollow Knight on a surface level and see a cute, cartoony-looking platformer and not think much else – the depth of the lore and the world is something to be discovered and experienced, so those elements aren’t presented conspicuously. If someone unfamiliar with the game heard the music on its own, however – well, then they would probably think it was an epic and melancholy score that had been finely crafted by a world-renowned composer. Well, Christopher Larkin may not be world-renowned just yet, but otherwise, the conclusion would be spot on – but it’s for a video game.

The soundtrack stands out with a quality far above your expectations for an indie game like this – or even most triple-A games, for that matter. Not only that, the range of sounds, instruments, and moods conveyed throughout each and every piece also speaks to the expertise of the composer, and just why it remains distinct in such a growing and densely packed industry of music. Many games go for an orchestra to build up intensity or present somber moments, but few demonstrate such an impact behind it.

The main track and theme for the game, Hollow Knight, is what you’ll hear on the main menu. Throughout the duration of the song, the piano and violin utilises this initial moment to imbue you with sadness, a tense edge, and then some kind of hopefulness in the end that leaves you entirely unsure of whether to be happier or worried. It sums up the game and the world of Hollownest perfectly, and prepares you for the feeling of delving into it for the first time.

The shining star of the whole soundtrack is Sealed Vessel. This song plays on the not-so-final boss and brings together an entire journey in the space of just under six minutes. The song travels a path of its own, and turns in ways that make other composers surprised by the methods it uses, and their expectations subverted. Davi Vasc, another video game composer, has a video showcasing his own reaction to this score, and it’s a fascinating dive into the power of the music.

The start of the song builds into an intense battle theme quickly, as you would expect, yet uses some more melancholic chords throughout in the background. It then adapts as the fight progresses, expressing harsher and more desperate sounds in the moment, before drifting into a slow, violin-focused section that feels like any hope slipping away – but hope for who? At this moment, you have this overwhelming feeling that you shouldn’t be killing this figure before you, and that they don’t wish to kill you.

From here it builds again, but rather than explode, it drops into almost silence and a soft piano that echoes the main theme of Hollow Knight, once again repeating this expression of a grey area between happiness and concern. Something that follows through as the boss fight ends, leading you to feel confused and partially regretful of your victory. The whole song conveys a narrative, not only of the battle itself, but of everything leading up to it. It also reveals these feelings that you didn’t think would be there, these doubts and hesitations that you weren’t prepared for in such a climactic battle.

Few games have handled music in such a way, and none so that stand out to me more than Hollow Knight. This small game made by a small team has every right to shine, but to shine as much as it does is exceptional – in every aspect, of course, but the music carries it to new heights. The work Christopher Larkin provides for this project is unparalleled, and to see it synergise with every other part of this experience makes for something truly special.

Now, we await Silksong, and with a couple of tracks already released from the upcoming sequel, we can only expect the same level of weight behind the music, if not so much more.

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