Little Big Adventure Soundtrack, Philippe Vachey, 1994
Little Big Adventure is probably one of the most fondly-remembered PC games of the 1990s. A resounding commercial success, Little Big Adventure maintains a steadfastly loyal fan base decades after its release. That has a lot to do with the sheer amount of charm and personality that developer Adeline Software managed to fill Little Big Adventure with. Other innovations like the game’s open-ended world and novel 3d perspective helped turn this action adventure into a genre classic.
Just as fondly remembered as the game is the Little Big Adventure soundtrack, and for good reason. In short, after Wing Commander and Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2 – Martian Dreams, Little Big Adventure was the next big step forward for Western orchestral game music. It came from a somewhat unexpected source. Self-taught composer Philippe Vachey had only worked on a few French computer game scores before Little Big Adventure. His most notable score was Alone in the Dark, even if the music was less effective outside of the game.
However, on the Little Big Adventure soundtrack, Vashey quickly establishes proof of his masterful handling of orchestral forces. “Opening for Lba” convinces right from the start with its beautifully layered and colourful orchestrations, flawless development, and enchanting melodies and countermelodies. While “Opening for Lba” establishes the sunny, upbeat mood that characterises most of the score, the composition doesn’t lack drama. Starting with a lyrical, yet majestic melody for oboe with brass backing, “Opening for Lba” seamlessly develops and moves through a multitude of textures and moods with the confidence and breadth of a grand fantasy score composition. And thus, the Little Big Adventure soundtrack establishes its dual nature. It’s a light-hearted, charming fantasy score that still builds a world and quest of immense
Vachey described in interviews how much the vibrant world of Little Big Adventure inspired him. Indeed, his joy of scoring such a vivid universe is felt in every piece. It helps that due to technological advancements, Vachey is in a position to use Red Book audio and thus live performers. The instrument sounds’ greater authenticity over previous Western orchestral scores is a crucial aspect of Little Big Adventure’s immense appeal.
Things continue in equally delightful fashion with “The Quest” and “The Rebels”. The former starts with an immediately memorable, shamelessly optimistic trumpet ostinato. An energising double bass figure and rising brass chords all contribute to a wonderful build up. It’s as if the composition is trembling with the giddy anticipation of finally embarking on an adventure, unable to wait until the quest finally begins – and when a cathartic orchestral flourish finally bursts out with youthful abandon, it raises the curtain on a gorgeous, sun-lit scenery. Remarkably enough, Vachey’s carefully crafted melodies and orchestrations – particularly a passage for flute, harp and pizzicato strings in “The Quest”’s second half – foreshadow Hitoshi Sakimoto’s trademark heroic fantasy stylings heard a few years later.
Clocking in at only 25 minutes, there’s not necessarily much of an album arc to the Little Big Adventure soundtrack. After its relatively uniform opening, Little Big Adventure takes off into a series of vignettes, all realised with utmost skill. Almost each composition is a score highlight, spearheaded by “Desert”, a greatly original take on the standard desert theme. Vachey takes the sounds of a harp and electronically manipulates its notes to thicken them, allowing them to fill the soundscape while retaining the solo instrument’s sparseness – all to evoke a vast, empty space. Initially “Desert” soothes with its gentle New Age-tinge. But after 1:35, its melodies develop into something more chromatic and ambiguous. Seamlessly, the previously calmly welcoming mood turns intriguingly uncertain.
“The Temple” isn’t quite as original, but atmospherically just as potent. As expected, its textures and melodies are powerfully solemn and static to denote caution and awe. However, conflict brews and ultimately erupts when a struggle between the solo flute and the orchestral backdrop – backed by busy piano lines – breaks out.
Finally, “Hamalayi” matches the opening trio’s orchestral splendour and serves as another example of Vachey’s orchestral mastery. Not surprisingly, “Hamalayi” relies heavily on arpeggios and ostinati to evoke its wintry location. But Vachey clads these musical building blocks in different orchestral colours to create two very distinct moods: calm wonder and restless agitation, as the constant musical motion becomes a menacing grind.
In interviews, Vachey elaborated on his diverse musical background and how he was influenced by pop and classical composers. On most of the Little Big Adventure soundtrack, it’s clearly the orchestral elements that dominate. However, closing track “Lba’s Theme (1994 Version)” mixes the worlds of orchestral and pop music to absolute perfection. Its central melody is a fantastic creation for woodwinds, cheery but tinged with just a bit of wistfulness at the fact that the adventure is over. Vachey interweaves melodies and builds the track towards an immensely fulfilling finish with the hand of an expert orchestral composer. At the same time, “Lba’s Theme (1994 Version)” is as addictive and immediate as any great pop song, easily exceeding Vachey’s already promising work on the FM Towns version of Advantage Tennis. There couldn’t be a more memorable finish to a score that raised the bar so considerably.
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This playlist is a curated selection of music from the soundtrack album.
- 01 - Opening for Lba Philippe Vachey 3:10
- 02 - The Quest Philippe Vachey 2:57
- 03 - The Rebels Philippe Vachey 2:29
- 04 - Desert Philippe Vachey 2:46
- 05 - In the Temple Philippe Vachey 2:45
- 06 - Village Philippe Vachey 1:36
- 07 - Hamalayi Philippe Vachey 3:39
- 08 - Lba's Theme (1994 Version) Philippe Vachey 3:50