By Jeriaska . May 31, 2008 . 8:22am
Those who have "knocked on the door" of Echochrome are accustomed to its minimalistic style. Players guide a mannequin avatar across beams, onto catapults and up staircases, all of which obey the physical laws of a two-dimensional universe. The innovative puzzle game by Sony called Mugen Kairou or "Infinite Corridor" in Japanese-language regions includes a score by the composer Hideki Sakamoto, a member of the videogame music studio Noisycroak. The original soundtrack has recently been published by Team Entertainment. Choosing to forgo the use of electronic effects in a game whose visual style is patterned after the logic-defying sketches of M.C. Escher is a strategy that works largely to the advantage of the overall design. The album's duration is kept short and eschews looping to keep the live recordings feeling fresh, clocking in at under forty minutes. A good degree of variation is exercised by the set of four instruments: a duo of violins, a viola, and cello. Few videogames have so authentically adapted classical music to their in-game environment.
Sakamoto's previous projects include the Wii puzzle game Super Monkey Ball. Here, the music of Echochrome complements the striking visual style and cerebral gameplay through the use of refined compositions. In game, the songs do not loop, playing semi-randomly and moving from one to the next mid-stage without repeating. Because there is no narrative to speak of, the aesthetics of the album tend toward the abstract rather than the emotional. Nevertheless, there is some pathos and euphoria perceivable in the live recordings. Tracks are named after prime numbers, in keeping with the theme of abstract reasoning, running from "prime #2" to "prime #9973."
"Prime #2", "Prime #3", "prime #9973" involve arias sung by vocalist Rumiko Kitazono, which serve as an effective thematic bookend to the game world. The operatic flourish that plays prior to the tutorial can be sampled in its entirety on the soundtrack's webpage. The tone of songs "prime #19" and "prime #61" are notable for their buoyant lightness. Led by a cheerful tune played on the violins, the tracks help make diving into the game's perspective-shifting puzzles a pleasant act of discovery. As pleasing as the selections are, were the entire score as airy in tone, the project as a whole might have suffered.
Where the title departs from most puzzle gaming soundtracks is in its emotionally weighty moments. "Prime #5" is a somber piece foregrounding the viola, whose slow and methodical pace lends a mysterious air of pathos to the game experience. While music designed to hurry along the player is not a new phenomenon to puzzle games, the anxious pace of "prime #919" is instilled nonetheless artfully through the rising intensity of the string instruments. The violins repeatedly sound the same themes but with greater emphasis, reinforcing the insistent mood. The same sense of urgency returns in "prime #313," though this time the cello is placed in the foreground, the heavier instrument conveying a brooding intensity. "Prime #457" starts off with a complex admixture of sawing strings that abruptly eases into a calm, suspenseful interlude. Here are instruments evoking subtle emotions in an abstract world of revolving planes and white backgrounds. When the game's narrator says there is mystery to the world of Echochrome, the haunting musical cues go some way toward further establishing that statement. Such details make mastering the puzzles of the game world a discovery both of vision and of sound.
Image courtesy of Team Entertainment. Every song on the soundtrack can be sampled on the album website.
[Revised on June 8, 2008]