Dark Souls is my choice for the best game of 2011. Everything about the game is top notch, including the music. While most of the music featured in Game Music Jukebox so far has been classic video game music, with a signature chiptune sound, this is a fully orchestrated soundtrack (featuring a performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus) that effectively conveys the intensity and dark foreboding of the game.
One of Dark Souls' main highlights is it's boss fights. Earlier this week, I praised Batman: Arkham City for having a particularly cool and interesting boss encounter, and I stand by that. But if one were to select a game that overall features the best boss fights, then Dark Souls wins, hands down. Almost every boss fight in Dark Souls is a seemingly impossible encounter, until you are finally able to devise (and execute) an effective strategy.
This article is about music, so why am I talking about the bosses so much? Well, of the 23 tracks on the game's original soundtrack, 18 of them are boss themes. The soundtrack itself acts as proof of the importance of the game's bosses.
The soundtrack was primarily composed by Motoi Sakuraba. Looking over his past works, you can see a strong background in JRPG's (Star Ocean, the Tales series and Valkyrie Profile). The soundtrack was made available digitally to those who pre-ordered the Collector's Edition version of Dark Souls (which I definitely did!).
Let's start off light. This is one of the only area themes that you'll hear in the game. As this is the theme for the game's central hub area, Firelink Shrine, you'll hear it often. The safest area in the game, this is where you'll frequently come to rest and seek respite from the hoards of undead demons that seek to kill you at every step.
While not an intense theme, by any means, it is hardly relaxing. You can feel the despair, especially as you look around and see characters huddled around the bonfire, failed adventurers beaten by the dark world around them. This is where the desperate and downtrodden gather.
Also, my wife swears that she hears a little bit of Final Fantasy VII in this track.
The Taurus Demon is the first real boss of the game (technically, there is a boss before during the tutorial level that you can stubbornly choose to fight without aid, if you so choose). This is likely the first true "wall" that players will encounter. If you're careful, and experienced, you may be able to get through the game's first area, Undead Burg, without any real difficulty. But then, you'll face the Taurus Demon.
The Taurus Demon introduces itself by leaping over a castle wall and charging straight at you. The Taurus Demon (like most every other boss in the game) is massive, and will likely make short work of you when you first meet it. Which is a shame, because you won't even get a chance to properly hear this beautiful and intense music.
At a certain part of the game, you enter the Abyss... a lifeless void shrouded in complete darkness. There you meet the Four Kings. Once proud leaders, they gave in to the darkness and protect the Great Soul that gives them their power. Each of the Four Kings is a massive phantom of a warrior king that strikes at you from within the darkness of pitch black void.
This is one of the most intense battles in the game. If you are not efficient, not quick enough, you will have to face all Four Kings simultaneously. Each of the Four Kings arrives one-by-one at a timed interval, so it's as much a race against time as it is a fight against an opponent. The high energy and intensity of this theme effectively conveys the desperation and struggle.
Ornstein & Smough:
If the boss fights are a key feature of Dark Souls. Then the fight against Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough is the MAIN EVENT! This folks, is a battle for the ages!
Taking place in the grand hall of the great castle of Anor Londo, this battles puts you up against two of the deadliest warriors in the entire game. I won't go into the specifics of the fight, too much. But this is a battle against two royal guards, which the music effectively communicates. It's also great that the music doesn't hold back the epicness either. A very fitting theme for the greatest battle that you'll (hopefully eventually) overcome in Dark Souls.
One of the most interesting things about the Dark Souls soundtrack is that, while it is an excellent soundtrack, I did not have any recollection of hearing the music during the game. The boss encounters are so intense and so engrossing, that at the time, I wasn't even properly experiencing the music. To really "hear" the music, I've had to sit back and listen to it outside of the context of the game. I did find, however, that on my second (and third) playthrough, I was much more comfortable and familiar with the dangers, and therefore could take in the music more easily.
Honestly, I'm not even sure if that's a good or a bad thing.