Music for a Plague

In a dazed fury the other day I saw that A Plague Tale: Requiem came out and so many folks were saying so many good things about it that I decided to pick up the first game in the series called A Plague Tale: Innocence and see what the fuss was all about.

I was cynically expecting an indie hit with a half-baked story about a big sister and her younger brother with very annoying controls. But I am an idiot! My opinions are mostly wrong! Happily, I’m embarrassed to admit that I have never been so wrong about a game before: Innocence is a slow, spiraling descent into madness and I loved every moment of it.

The music though! Of all the jigsaw pieces that went into making this fabulous game, the music is what elevates it into something else entirely. This might also stand out because I had just embarrassingly finished Modern Warfare II which barely has any music in it at all. Throughout the whole game you’re in these big firefights with nothing in the soundtrack to indicate how you should feel. Am I at the end of a mission? Is this the beginning of a stressful scene? Is this bad guy the real bad guy? Give me feelings! Give me songs!

With Innocence that’s always clear: the music drags you towards one emotion or the other and by just listening to the soundtrack you can tell what you’re supposed to feel at any given moment in the story. It’s almost as if the game was written for the soundtrack alone: the music is inspired by the game’s time period, set in 14th century France during the Hundred Years’ War. There are soft mandolin stringed instruments that a court jester might play with a wink and then, when the crazy shit kicks off, everything descends into a pounding orchestral screaming. In songs like Inquisition, the music is a swarming tempest of anxiety but then you rush towards safety, things calm down, you hold your brother’s hand. A sweet thing like Big Sister will play in the background, reminding you that you’re now happy and warm. A moment passes in a dark corridor or in an open field at night and the screeching violins of The Killing rush towards you. Something terrible this way comes.

All this reminds me that 90% of any story is explained by the soundtrack. And Innocence might not have the best story ever told but, accompanied with the best soundtrack ever put in in a video game, and you have a story that is now foreboding, nightmarish, unforgettable.