I live in an interesting time – video games are able to become pieces of art and the artistry of a virtually unknown composer puts such the latest work by household names like Hans Zimmer to shame. Gareth Coker appeared similarly as Ori and the Blind Forest, almost out of nowhere, and to much delight.
The game tells the story of Ori, a small creature inhabiting a forest with his big friend. They lead an idyllic existence among the lush green and the wealth of fruit lets them idle their days away without worry. Unfortunately, the evil bird Kuro steals the light from the Ginso tree and our protagonists die from hunger. Only five minutes in and I wipe a lone tear off my cheek. What is this?! It’s only a platformer and here I’m experiencing emotions as with some Studio Ghibli films! Here I will stop describing the rest of the gameplay, since it’s nigh-impossible to do without spoiling the plot. It should be enough to say that the game mechanics borrow from the best platform games, and the futher into the game we are, the more demanding towards the player it gets.
The main theme leaves a lasting impression and appears frequently in most tracks on the soundtrack, played on various instruments. One can distinctly hear the influence of Asian music.
How is the music? Impressive! The music ideally fits the artwork and plot. One can see that Gareth really took inspiration from the concept art and the script. The whole product immediately brings to mind such movies as My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke. It’s very fairytale-like, with a sense of depth. Light and shadow are important elements not only for the eyes, but also ears. The inspiration by Joe Hisaishi’s music is obvious, but Gareth does much more. The main theme leaves a lasting impression and appears frequently in most tracks on the soundtrack, played on various instruments. One can distinctly hear the influence of Asian music, even though it’s very European. On the 32 tracks we can hear interestingly tuned drums, wind instruments and bowed string instruments typical for film music. The ambience is brilliantly synthesized and sounds very organic, perfectly blending in with the plethora of instruments.
In his interview for gamemusic.pl Gareth mentioned that he repeatedly tested the gameplay and adjusted to music to the events on screen. By doing this he achieved a musical picture inseparable from the game, thanks to which the music perfectly fits the in-game atmosphere. One can hear the attention to detail in every part of it and the precision with which each composition depicts the atmosphere of its respective scene and Ori’s internal struggle. What we can find here are joy, grief, fear, regret, uneasiness, pathos and most importantly – magic. Choosing full orchestration was a very fortunate decision, which makes the music come alive, while giving it a more personal sound. It is also a pleasure to listen to outside the game.
I absolutely adore the tracks with Rachel Mellis on the flute oraz those with Tom Boyd on the clarinet, and naturally all compositions bolstered by the vocals of Aeralie Brighton. The Spirit Tree, Completing the Circle or Up the Caverns Walls are entrancing tracks which show-case the composer’s artistry in conveying several emotions within the same story. Every track is brimming with “epicness”, though a bit differently in each case. The music cannot be accused of being even the least bit cliche. The material is mature in every way, complete, with each part of the soundtrack being able to hold its own separately from the game.
The four years of intense work and attention to the finest details is evident. I’m constantly discovering new elements to the compositions, which is always a pleasant surprise.
The four years of intense work and attention to the finest details is evident. I’m constantly discovering new elements to the compositions, which is always a pleasant surprise. Not even a bar of music is redundant – be it in the galloping Racing the Lava, the experimental Lost in the Misty Woods or the leisurely Climbing the Ginso Tree.
To recapitulate, the work by the British composer should serve as a text-book example on how video game music should be done: treating each element with piety and equal attention; constantly testing how it fits the rest of the title, so that the narrative, the audio and visuals become inseparable, while ensuring that the music is excellent on its own. It is this process which lasted several years and the composer’s commitment to drawing personal inspiration from the game gives reason to believe this is not the last time we will hear Gareth Coker’s name.