Trine Original Soundtrack :: Review by Rimo
Frozenbyte's newest game is Trine, a platformer featuring puzzle elements released on PC and soon-to-be on the PlayStation Network. Returning composer Ari Pulkkinen is behind the soundtrack. After having crafted dark industrial scores for the Shadowgrounds series and a mix of electronica and bombastic orchestral pieces for Super Stardust HD, his latest work on Trine could be described as medieval fantasy. A digital album was recently released by Pulkkinen (in both MP3 and FLAC), featuring the 16 level themes as well as the main and trailer themes.
Trine tells the story of three different characters, a mage, a thief, and a knight, bound together in a quest to restore the land from evil. The kingdom is mostly devastated, twisted by skeletons and other sinister creatures. It is a platform game with plenty of hack'n'slashing, yet it also requires some brain work to find out how to get through the levels' puzzles. Some have compared it to The Lost Vikings, in terms of game mechanics. To capture the magical fantasy set in a dark but hopeful situation, Pulkkinen used an assortment of acoustic instruments, ranging from orchestral to folk. An early concept of the game was that the world was contained in a musical box, which was later scraped, yet it stayed to a certain degree musically. This is remarked by the often minimalist approach, peaceful and reflective melodies, and the musical box and miniature bells sounds. In fact, the majority of the tracks are soft, giving off a contemplative mood. Some compositions are livelier than others, but none are the kind of happy celtic dance tunes that can be found in usual medieval scores. Similarly, certain tracks are of the darker type, yet there are no war-like themes that can often be wearing; those in Trine are instead gloomy and desolating. Albeit these few slight changes in mood, the listening experience is consistent and there is enough variety between and inside the compositions for it to be enjoyable. In terms of inspirations, Pulkkinen drew from his Finnish folk roots and film scores like Corpse Bride and Conan the Barbarian. VGM-wise, it is not too far from Age of Wonders II.
The main theme, along with the almost identical trailer theme, feature a warm and lyrical melody played live by Benjamin Hirschovits-Gerz on the violin and Daniel Shaul on the oboe. The modern percussion elements are also noteworthy, giving it more impact and polish. They are the shortest pair on the album at under two minutes, while most other tracks have an average length of four. The adventure starts in the "Astral Academy" with two of the most "musical box" inspired themes. Light and innocent atmosphere, they capture the fairytale aspect perfectly with a lot of quirky moments thanks mainly to the pizzicato strings. The second half of "Academy Hallways" introduces a less childish and more grandiose interpretation of the theme with a violin lead plus the rest of a small string ensemble, together with choir pads; an indication that the party is heading out for their grand adventure.
Down in the "Wolvercote Catacombs", it is a slow and difficult start. A melancholic, intermittent viola line set the tone, later relayed by a flute and accompanied by distant, brooding percussion hits. The grey mood is later replaced by one of the most epic themes of the album, although restrained in magnitude compared to full-orchestra epic pieces. "Dragon Graveyard" is indeed one of the best offerings, with a prominent harpsichord and abundant flutes and strings alterning on the main melody, and an uplifting climax when all elements come together. Although the kingdom is still dark and in danger, the music adds optimism in the game. Followed by "Crystal Caverns", beauty is again at rendezvous yet in the most minimalist way with an ethereal background created by a celesta and soft strings overlayed by a touching piano. The two following tracks, "Crypt of The Damned" and "Forsaken Dungeons", are similar in mood and execution, switching between light melancholia and the beauty of hope. Although not the most remarkable compositions, they are good nonetheless and go along nicely in the playlist and with their in-game levels.
The harpsichord and pizzicato strings return in the quirky opening of "Throne of The Lost King", playing a disturbing and unholy melody. It contrasts with the other parts of the track which try to express the king's nobility before his fall with a majestic violin and a choir. A definite castle theme. The next themes are based on forest locations. "Fangle Forest" has a very playful melody that could be described as magical and enchanting. It is similar in mood to the Academy themes, but more dynamic in pace and a little livelier; another of the great ones! "Shadowthorn Thicket" continues the forest thematic, yet dimmer and more mysterious. The double bass rhythm is almost jazzy, which recycle the playful attribute of the first forest theme, but in a more relaxed fashion. Next in the playlist is a breathtaking theme of sheer beauty, "Ruins of The Perished". A peaceful flute melody, punctuated by an harp and pizzicato strings, and female choir pads giving it a celtic new age vibe. It is no wonder such an excellent piece was used in the latest game trailer. An alternate take on it is found next, appropriately titled "Walt of The Perished". More subdued with strings alone creating the waltz rhythm, it is relaxing and contemplative.
After the quirky and reflective moments of the last few tracks, the atmosphere drops dead in "Heartland Mines". Perhaps the least interesting track of all, it is an ambient piece which focuses on percussion to generate an appropriate mine theme. The metallic clashes are particularly effective and the simple cello ostinato enhances the anemic musicality of the piece. Although forgettable, it is a fine ambient composition and adds some variety to the album. Depending highly on the pizzicato technique, "Bramblestoke Village" is another very quirky and rather playful theme in the vein of "Fangle Forest", yet a little darker and less heavy on the musical box aspect. "Iron Forge" is another castle theme, simple in execution with a dignified melody, sorrowful and optimist at the same time. Hammers hitting anvils are heard in the background, fortifying the forge ambiance. It is another contemplative theme, beautiful and tranquil; the last moment of respite before entering the "Tower of Sarek". Relentlessly perilous, this tower is the final level of the game where the heroes will face the ultimate enemy. This situation is reflected in the music by an intense pace and French horns and heavy percussion creating a big, ominous sound. However, it is not heavy all-around; there are melodic moments featuring a violin, an harpsichord and choir pads that are driving, yet not stressful. This track is actually reminiscent of some Warcraft II and Gauntlet Legends themes.
Even on first listen, it is hard to deny the beauty of the Trine soundtrack. Ari Pulkkinen created one of the most graceful fantasy scores for a video game. With eyes closed, one can actually see the medieval land, overshadowed and troubled by unholy forces, but also feel the innocent, hopeful resolution of the heroes, a light in the darkness. The music accompany the game quite well, adding to the atmosphere without distracting the player with its rather calm and unobtrusive nature. This is a good point since completing the levels can take some time and an upbeat or pompous soundtrack could have gotten on the nerves fast.
There is some variety to be found in the themes, but the soundtrack is mostly cohesive, often centered around the same instrumentation (strings, flutes, musical box, choir) and either reflective or playful in mood. For a standalone listen, a little more diversity wouldn't have hurt though, yet the overall tranquility is ideal for relaxation or bed music. Also, each level has a unique theme and the majority are melodic, but not all are highly memorable. Criticized in his earlier works, Pulkkinen's synthetic orchestra is now much better sounding, more realistic. Still not identical to the real thing, notably the violins and choirs, this imperfection however gives off a certain "game" feel, which is welcome. Trine is a must for all fantasy music lovers, and a strong recommendation for VGM fans in general. His fifth game work being so dazzling, Ari Pulkkinen is undoubtedly a composer with a shiny future, a name that any serious game music enthusiast will want to follow.
Overall Score: 9/10