A lot of people were surprised to see Motoi Sakuraba take the helm of the Dark Souls series after Shinsuke Kida’s powerful score to Demon’s Souls. Would he take the franchise in a more progressive rock direction that he is known for, or stay true to the epic orchestral stylings that Kida established in Demon’s Souls?
I was personally surprised and delighted to see him take the latter approach. The Dark Souls soundtrack had a lot of standout music, and I was wondering if he could pull off a repeat with Dark Souls II.
The soundtrack album was included with limited edition versions of the game, so fortunately it’s pretty easy to find out!
Staying true to the series, music only plays during boss battles and a few key areas of the game. For this reason, the music has a lot of impact. Most of the themes are split between dark atmospheres and bombastic orchestral tunes to accompany the boss battles, but there are a few exceptions, several of which come as my favorites. There’s the introductory “Fire Keepers” with its slow and contemplative melody, then the omnipresent “Majula,” which plays in the central hub of the game. The glassy bells and desperate string notes highlight the desolation of Majula quite perfectly, as we know this was once a thriving outpost. As the piece develops, a powerful organ offers a strong foundation before it once again drifts off into glassy bells. Later, “Milfanito” comes as a surprise with its solo female choral work that is beautiful and unsettling at the same time.
Getting into the battle themes, a number of them stand out. The minimalistic and distorted “Flexile Sentry” is a perfect accompaniment to a battle taking place on a flood ghost ship, while “Ruin Sentinel” (the piece I heard most often in the game as I died countless times in this battle) features choir, brass, and is simply explosive. I love the tragic “Mytha, The Baneful Queen,” which hints at the character’s history, which isn’t directly alluded to in the game, and is a great way to tell her story, and “The Rotten,” which sports regal harpsichord sections that contrast with festering strings. Another track I heard a lot, “Velstadt, The Royal Aegis,” is ominous and oppressive with its huge strings and choir, matching perfectly with the massive hammer that Velstadt wields.
My favorite track on the album, however, and I warn you to not read this paragraph if you’re trying to avoid spoilers, is “King Vendrick.” A lot of events in the game lead up to this encounter with the former king of Drangleic, and the shocking discovery that he has turned completely hollow and is wandering aimlessly in circles is profoundly tragic. This is your hero, the king you’ve sought out for so much of the game, and here he is in a state where he no longer remembers who he is, reduced to a mindless hollow. The music tells this tale perfectly, opening with unsettling piano and harp and dark whispers that hint at Vendrick’s descent into madness before a somber string section comes in. A chamber ensemble is used towards the end with a distorted bass that seems to mock the former monarch. I love this piece of music, as it speaks volumes about the fate of this character without a single word.
In all, there’s not a single piece here that’s bad. I didn’t mention a lot of the music, but there’s a lot to enjoy. I highly recommend checking out Sakuraba’s latest, as Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (a new version with updates, DLC, and upgraded visuals for current-gen consoles) is right around the corner. Grab it now!