When Dead Cells came on stage in early access (May 10, 2017) it might have been just another rogue game rising on the trend’s wave and destined to drown soon with a little chance for rebirth. But it was nothing of the sort. In fact, by that time, it had already died and reborn on its own. So when “death is just a beginning” (following the game’s trailer), everyone in a developer team needs to put extra effort equally in making it worth starting anew. First for themselves and then for players.
The soundtrack is as the game is – you know you’re gonna listen to it once again, and again, and again.
Initially, Dead Cells was based around the tower defence concept, but then a twist came. Motion Twin’s team members were taking part in annual Game Jams – events where creators make games in a very limited time. It brought Motion Twin not only a composer, Yoann Laulan who collaborated with them and eventually joined the French studio in 2014, but also dozens of fresh ideas. In 2015 Dead Cells project went into a coma, but when it woke up, it was never the same again. It turned into a pixel art, adventure fairy tale of an island, a prison and a kingdom.
Actually, Game Jam feeling didn’t leave Dead Cells for a long time. And it also applies to its soundtrack as the tracks have been gradually added along with developing the game, way after the early access. The same goes for the gameplay. Each level has its own themes so when you progress you hear more and more music, but when you die, you go back to the first song. Risky, but brave. To not make the loop boring Laulan gave the most catchy yet complex tracks to the initial levels (like Prisoner’s Awakening).
With a game like this, one may expect rushing distorted guitars mixed with electronic instruments to keep the rhythm of slashing and jumping all over the place. One may also expect some 8bit vibes to bring memories of arcade games like the graphics does. Indeed, Joann Laulan takes a long look at Castlevania, Dark Souls and, on the other hand, Diablo 2 (in one of his interviews Laulan admired the guitar in Wilderness) and he goes along with them, but he adds his own style. This is where visual art comes in handy. As a fan of Alice In Wonderland and painters who create a bit morbid, doll-like characters Laulan goes for a fantasy.
There’s a group of things we can find every here and there in Dead Cells: chants that make the whole thing elevated (Conjunctivitis, Black Bridge), acoustic guitar played by Laulan, often sounded mediaeval (main theme, The Merchant), and percussion grooves most often playing tom beats (Prison Rooftop, The Village). The drums are usually in a contrast to long passages of strings and electronics making a depth between the layers. The soundtrack is as the game is – you know you’re gonna listen to it once again, and again, and again, but there’s something unpredictable and new each and every time.