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OST Case Study: Transistor

[Caution! What you are about to read contains story spoilers about Transistor, so if you want to keep it fresh, go finish the game and come back later. Seriously, you'll be kicking yourself if you read this before you play the game.]

The first OST Case Study I ever wrote was on Supergiant's 2011 release, Bastion. Here we are nearly 4 months later with Supergiant's latest work, Transistor. Once again, Darren Korb has managed to work his magic on this game as his signature sound rings throughout. The city of Cloudbank is paired with memorable and unique sounds and music which match the cyberpunk tone of the game very well.  Not only that, but it also aids in presenting the Noir-esque story to the player, setting solemn moods and developing to greatly reflect the story. Once again, Korb and Supergiant have created a game in which the music is deeply entwined with the setting and story and allows the game to be taken to new heights. 

When I first hear about Transistor, I was intrigued as to how Darren Korb's music would fit with the overall setting and style of the game. Bastion was set in a country like setting post calamity, and the guitars and heavy percussion used in the game seemed to reflect those two aspects of the setting very well.   I wasn't sure how the music would adapt to this new, more sci-fi setting. But the truth is, the music still remains similar to Bastion, but still fits extremely well. The electronic percussion instead of representing the destruction of the world, now symbolises  the city of Cloudbank, and the strong emphasis of guitar is attached to the human element of Red and the other characters who still remain in the city. Strangely enough, the complete 180° turn in setting has allowed the music to remain very much in the style of Korb (two games might not be much to base a "style" off but hey let's just go with it). This makes me very curious about what we might see next from Supergiant and Korb. Will it be a complete departure from what we're used to? or will we see a further evolution on their signature style.  But given Transistor was only released a month ago, it might be a little early for thoughts such as these. 

The story of Transistor revolves around the main protagonist, Red. A former singer who had her voice stolen from her who is determined to stop the robotic "Process" form taking over Cloudbank.  Red's former occupation as a popular performer in Cloudbank has some interesting implications on the game's music. For one, the player can press a button at any point in the game to make Red stand still and hum along to the music, providing both the character and the player some respite form the hostile environment they are traversing through. In addition to this, there are various Backdoors in Cloudbank which lead to the Sandbox, a small island with doors which lead to various challenge rooms. This island provides a larger rest point for the player as it's challenge rooms are purely player driven challenge. One of the more interesting aspects of the Sandbox are the Hammock and the Duke box. Upon completing a challenge, the Duke box will have a piece of music added to it's library, and the Hammock provides a place for players to sit and listen to the music or the characters reflections on the current situation in Cloudbank. It's certainly nice to have a quiet place to listen to the game's music, but it's the game's songs which really add that extra layer of depth onto the game's music. 

Red, being until recently a very popular musical performer in Cloudbank has a special connection with the city. Throughout the game, the player can see posters of Red plastered on walls, and Red even visits the stage she used to perform on. This reinforces Red's musical background to the player as they play the game.  However, it is clear to the player that Red is incapable of signing as they play so the yearning to hear her voice, and it's not long until they hear a performance from Red. But as it is abundantly clear that Red cannot sing in her current state, these must be flashbacks to her previous performances. These song flashbacks play during some boss battles and other key moments throughout the course of the game. These songs reinforce the current situation Red is in as the lyrics often reflect Red's feelings towards the situation at hand. Along with strengthening the mood and tone of a given scene, these songs also provide a strong addition to the game's lore, letting the player in on what Cloudbank was like before the Process outbreak. All of this world and character building ultimately leads up to the game's ending, when Red impales herself with the Transistor in order to regain her voice and be united with her deceased lover. The ending sequence is overflowing with emotion and it is all amplified by the song that plays during this final sequence. The great realisation dawns on the player that they are not hearing a memory of a performance but Red's first performance within the timeline of the game. Accompanied by a series of vignettes depicting Red and her partner living on happily within the Transistor. 

Transistor and it's score are a polishing and a refinement on what was presented in Bastion. Korb's musical signatures are still very much present in the soundtrack, despite it's distinct shift in setting.  It's strong association with the game's world and story make it a crucial part of the game, and allow it to tell the player a lot of information through music. Once again, Korb and Supergiant have created a great example of integration of music into video games and have definitely pushed the boundaries of how deeply entrenched music can be in a video game.
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About Oscarnoone of us since 5:23 AM on 02.25.2014

Hello I am Oscarno and welcome to a rad Video Game Music blog on Destructoid!

I'm way into Video Game Music, and with these blog posts, I hope to provide an investigation into and discussion about Video Game Music and how music affects video games as a creative medium.

I write weekly, usually posting on Thursdays. Most weeks will be OST Case Studies, looking a the music of a particular game and pulling it apart to find why it works so well. Sometimes, however, I'll just post a shorter opinion post or perhaps an article looking into other areas of Video Game Music.

If you wanna talk to me or follow me on Twitter ,you can.(but tbh it's pretty boring)

Also you can check out some of the music I make on my Soundcloud!