Indie games are small miracles when you think about it. Passion projects put together by a small collective of dedicated designers, they’re an art form that rely on style and substance to rise above the glut of bigger-budgeted games that clog up the marketplace. While a strong visual art style may sell a game, nothing creates a lasting legacy better than a soundtrack that perfectly encapsulates what an indie game is all about.
Maybe you have some of them on your Spotify playlist, maybe you’ve gone and actually bought a limited edition LP to help support developers. It’s safe to say though, that over the last couple of years that indie games have been responsible for some of the best video game soundtracks around. No longer content to pump out generic jams, but rather scores of albums which create auditory magic across a wide variety of themes and genres.
Here’s a look then, at ten soundtracks that deserve to be left on shuffle.
Hollow Knight by Christopher Larkin
There’s a dark sophistication at play within Hollow Knight’s audio offerings, a collection of orchestral arrangements that feel ominous and brooding within their construction. From the chill-inducing themes of Greenpath through to the contemplative notes of Reflection and the climactic endgame of tracks such as White Palace, Christopher Larkin’s score does an incredible job at filling the titular Hollow Knight with true substance.
Here is a soundtrack whose moody arrangements elevate it towards blockbuster status, making for a game that feels not just the equal of anything else that big budget studios can throw at it, but easily superior in comparison with its medley of world-building genius.
Katana Zero by various artists
Fast-paced and violent, Katana Zero’s soundtrack still manages to boast a level of precision and craft that makes it a standout favourite. It complements the game perfectly, creating an atmosphere that’s thick with tension and fast-paced assaults on your ear. Even with that frantic pace, Katana Zero manages to create an environment that can only be described as a thoughtful collection of techno, house and several other niche EDM genres.
Nex Machina by Ari Pulkkinen, Tuomas Nikkinen and Harry Krueger
We’re in synth territory now! Housemarque’s Nex Machina is one of the tightest action games around, a terrific balancing act of speed and rhythm whose soundtrack perfectly captures those themes with tense beats and pulse-pushing showdowns. It’s the kind of soundtrack that you could run a marathon while listening to, every beat of the drum propelling you forward and creating a swampy mess in your armpits.
There’s a retro energy at play in Nex Machina’s sound, the score of a hero that throws auditory odds at your ears and that makes you feel triumphant in the end.
Stardew Valley by ConcernedApe
One of the breakout indie games of recent memory, Stardew Valley is (at first) not exactly a complex game. It’s an experience that doesn’t push you towards fleeting happiness, but rather longterm satisfaction. Its soundtrack by ConcernedApe reflects this idea, creating an audio environment that feels peaceful and simple.
Just because there’s an emphasis on simplicity, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some clever complexity lurking in the background if you’re prepared to listen. Taken at face-level though and treated as soothing background music? Stardew Valley’s score is an absolute treat that weaves together the changing of seasons and emotions to create something special.
Ori and the Blind Forest by Gareth Coker
How do you even sum up a soundtrack as monumental as what Ori and the Blind Forest gave to fans, in a few sentences? What this OST is, is a gift. An entire 90 minutes of heaven that’ll pull at every emotion you have within your being and then some. Ori and the Blind Forest’s soundtrack will make your heart feel heavy, it’ll lift you up and it’ll energise you within a few tracks, creating an experience that perfectly matches the game itself.
Which in both audio and visual breakdowns, means a masterfully crafted odyssey that creates a tale as epic as a hundred years of cinema. Only a handful of video game soundtracks can lay claim to truly being epic works of art, and even amongst that handful of gems Ori and the Blind Forest still manages to rise to the top.
Hyper Light Drifter by Disasterpiece
From the sombre chorus of The Winding Ridge to synthtastic overtures of tracks like Vignette: Visions, Hyperlight Drifter is another brilliant example of how creativity can lead to not only unexpected surprises, but pure genius as well.
Transistor by Darren Korb
moody collection of jazz and melodic humming, Transistor is brilliant in just how it tells the story of chanteuse Red as she embarks on a journey to recover her stolen voice. It’s sad and dark, desperate and energetic content that’ll have you tapping your foot to the beat and boasting a fluid structure that is unequalled in the industry today.
With so many games looking to define their identity through visuals, this particular slice of audio delight manages to pull you into its world with relative ease and builds an entire city out of the smoothest jams around. Transistor’s soundtrack is also a fantastic reminder that even without a voice, Red has a power and a drive that matches the soundtrack for this gem of an indie game, perfectly.
Undertale by Toby Fox
Every time you hear eight bits of audio chirp or the beep of a retro sound, you can’t help but feel nostalgic with Undertale’s album. It instantly evokes memories of yesteryear, simpler times of a bygone era, but it does so with a flexibility that quickly evolves the sound into more contemporary arrangements at the same time.
It’s a score that moves you, that sets the tone for Undertale’s iconic gameplay and hides so so many layers within its composition. Undertale may be one of this generation’s greatest indie success stories, but it’s hard to imagine just how far it would have gotten without Toby Fox’s masterpiece of audio design.
Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture by Jessica Curry
It’s utterly amazing how a video game that is purposefully devoid of any life whatsoever, can feel so populated thanks to its soundtrack. Not the hustle and bustle of civilian traffic in the conventional sense, but rather a haunting feeling created by the ghosts of the past. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’s score is that, a spiritual collection of tracks that is sublime in its elegance and uses its choir to paint a picture of isolation in all its beauty, staying with you long after the end credits have rolled.
Florence by Kevin Penkin
Indie game soundtracks have the potential to create massive setpieces, titanic explosions of audio bliss which paint a grand picture that defies the odds. But Kevin Penkin’s beautifully constructed score for Florence? It’s the inverse of that, an intimate and emotional journey across life’s ups and downs. It’s an album that focuses on love, the one emotion that binds humanity together.
That search for a connection, the joy of discovery and the heartbreak of losing that tether. It runs a gamut of emotions, casting listeners into a world that feels all too real and allows them to connect to the story of one of 2018’s best video games. It has moments of triumph and torment, of happiness and soundtrack. But more importantly, Florence’s sound weaves together a story that no matter how dark life may become, there is a hope that lies beyond and urges you to keep moving forward with your head held up high.
Last Updated: June 27, 2019