Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s ongoing hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-ass sounds they make. Today, let’s listen to the soundtrack for one of last year’s best games: Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the ethereal platformer from Moon Studios.
Plenty of games have terrific music. (See: Exhibits A through 1,000.) It’s somewhat more rare to find a game where the music is expertly interwoven—where you can hear the plot beats with every melody and in every key change. That’s exactly what you get with Gareth Coker’s tremendous soundtrack for Ori and the Will of the Wisps (playlist / longplay / VGMdb / Bandcamp), which is anchored by this ageless main theme:
Yes, it’s as beautiful as it is haunting. But the thing to gawk at here isn’t just the melody itself. Rather, it’s in how many different ways Coker can rework it without hitting a point where it starts to feel stale.
For instance, he brings it back in “Shriek and Ori,” sandwiched between orchestral strings and a cavernous percussion section. You don’t need to play the game to know that some seriously stressful shit is going down. (For those who must have context: giant monster.) The theme reflects that. At around 3:45, you can hear it kick in again, except with triplets in the melody. And then, a minute later, the theme comes back—with all its glorious full notes—before pivoting back to a different set of stressful triplets.
The leitmotif shows up again in “Seir,” all somber and serious for one of the game’s pivotal moments. “Escape with the Memory of the Forest” features a sped-up version for a chase sequence. “Ori, Embracing the Light,” the album’s final song and an auditory capstone to the game’s gut-kick of an ending, also features the theme in the final measures with a take on it that’s so forceful you’d think you’re hearing it while sitting in a movie theater. (You know those moments where you roll credits on something and didn’t realize you were quietly sobbing? Ori and the Will of the Wisps hit that mark for me, something I’ll credit, in part, to the final song.)
But none, in my mind, top the iteration of it in “Dashing and Bashing,” arguably the most complex composition on the album. Seriously, listen to this:
It starts out with eight bars of dueling harmonies, both of which would suggest “magical forest” individually but, together, convey that sense so well that you’d know what type of setting Ori has without even looking. Then, at 0:20, you hear the theme. Only it’s not quite the theme. Instead, Coker dismantled it into spare parts, then rebuilt it as a staccato piano lick. It’s a new song. But to those who’ve stuck with Ori since the beginning, it’s also immediately recognizable.
Coker, who also scored 2015’s equally stunning Ori and the Blind Forest, will provide music for Halo Infinite (playlist), an upcoming entry in a series saddled with arguably one of the most famous theme songs in video games. Last summer, Microsoft officially showed off gameplay for Halo Infinite (which looks amazing, by the way). If you watched, you heard this song, “Set a Fire in Your Heart,” play in the background:
343 Industries / HALO (YouTube)
At first, it doesn’t sound much different than any other orchestral piece of video game music. Then, at the 1:20 mark, there it is! The Halo theme! Except...it’s not quite the theme. It’s a new song. But to those who’ve stuck with Master Chief since the beginning, it’s also immediately recognizable. Coker knows what he’s doing—he knows which strings of nostalgia to pull on, what notes of memory to hit—and I, for one, cannot wait to see what he does with the full soundtrack.
And that’s it for today’s Morning Music! On a scale from 1 to infinity, how pumped were you when you learned Gareth Coker would score Halo Infinite? What else has you excited? This week has just 19 more days left—any big plans? Catch you Friday.