Loop Hero Soundtrack, Aleksandr Goreslavets, 2021
2021’s first indie game smash hit was undoubtedly Loop Hero. First presented at the 2019 Ludum Dare Jam, Loop Hero was nurtured by Russian development team Four Quarters into an engrossing exercise in world-building whose gameplay was as repetitive as it was addictive. Based on a simple idea – the protagonist completes the same loop over and over again, even without player input – Loop Hero folds unusual elements into its rogue-like structure. For example, players can change each loop’s outcome by placing cards onto the game board. And this is where Loop Hero’s narrative ambitions come into play. The game’s post-apocalyptic setting sees players rebuilding a vanished world, one card at a time – its protagonist the only survivor to remember the universe the way it was before its downfall.
It’s an unusual setting that resonated with gamers, as Loop Hero sold more than 500,000 copies in its first week alone. Another intriguing statistic was that the Loop Hero soundtrack was major indie publisher Devolver’s fastest-selling score ever at the time – and more than one reviewer pointed out how Loop Hero’s music amplified the game’s atmosphere. Such a close relationship between music and game was no coincidence – composer Aleksandr Goreslavets (aka blinch) was also one of Loop Hero’s co-creators and designers. With few game credits under his belt, Goreslavets nonetheless had been active as a composer for several years, with his earliest Bandcamp album dating back to 2012. Describing his approach to composing for Loop Hero, Goreslavets underlined that he “didn’t try to reflect the loop”, since the protagonist’s world is constantly changing around him – and that the music’s melancholy mood was the logical result of the world’s collapse.
Indeed, if one adjective first comes to mind listening to the Loop Hero soundtrack, it’s ‘melancholic’. Opening track “Lich is Unbreakable” sets the scene with rare authority and establishes the game’s immense atmospheric pull within seconds. Forlorn chiptune arpeggios echo in the deep, perfectly underlining both the game’s cosmic setting and its downcast atmosphere. A constant rhythm pushes the music inexorably forward, capturing the hero’s seemingly never-ending quest from which he can’t escape. Goreslavets uses this moody backdrop to set up a finely calibrated interaction between repetition and change. He finds the perfect balance between melodic development and hypnotic recurrence (mainly in the drum rhythms and chiptune ostinati that also provide counterpoint). This is music that manages to harness its repetition, weaving a mesmerising spell while never turning monotonous, thanks to new melody hooks Goreslavets introduces at just the right time.
The result is music that is both highly atmospheric, yet at the same time prioritises clear melody lines – capturing the game’s forsaken ambience while making it melodically attractive and, most importantly, moving. Loop Hero’s narrative ambitions are plain to see – each enemy will provide their backstory before a fight – and the game’s soundtrack supports this world-building effort with music whose scale comes from its immovable ostinati and gloomily emotional melodies. At first, it’s tempting to see the Loop Hero soundtrack as an example of chiptune minimalism. However, while the score does consciously build its effect on repetitive figures, the soundtrack brings these together in comparatively lush arrangements – there are usually at least three or four melody and rhythm lines running in parallel.
As such, Loop Hero instead recalls an RPG score with an unusually mythical bend, due to its habit of boiling the music down to its essential ingredients – a suitable way to underscore the game’s surreal end-of-the-world scenario. Goreslavets’ sense of melodic development also ensures that the Loop Hero soundtrack’s drifting atmosphere remains spell-binding instead of turning aimless. For much of the score, Goreslavets then presents variations on the formula introduced on “Lich is Unbreakable” – and it’s a testament to his compositional skills that he finds several ways to subtly tweak his template.
“PathLoot Crusaders” slowly and methodically advances through the darkness with unceasing determination propping up its weariness, its melodies more burnt out and fuzzier than on “Lich is Unbreakable”. “Loop Blues” and “Road Chariot” stretch Goreslavets’ particular approach with ease past the five-minute mark, amplifying the effect of the score’s trademark trance-inducing rhythms – they maintain their mechanical, yet never alienating quality. Meanwhile, “Road Chariot” ’s minimalist mid-section – its lead melody nothing but a simple unrelenting pulse – is the score’s most downtrodden yet focused moment. “Anamnesis of the World’s Sin” surprises with a ringing guitar melody and lighter percussion than usually – a sense of hope that the distorted, increasingly blurred guitar notes quietly undermine. The hauntingly world-weary “Entropic Rhapsody” fully earns its name – any musical element that might emerge from the amorphous nothingness turns distorted and recedes out of view again.
Such descriptions might make the Loop Hero soundtrack sound like an abstract, heady experience. However, Goreslavets’ melodies always pull in listeners and make the hero’s struggle to bring light to a deceased world a relatable, poignant tale. Listeners will find some reprieve on those cues that underscore pauses from the relentless loop runs – “The Grateful Afterlife” and “Singularity’s Dream”. Both are wistful rather than melancholic, moribund but with glimpses of optimism. “The Grateful Afterlife” glides through the ether on a dreamy ostinato and wispy lead notes that zigzag like pulses of electricity through the void, while a bass drone in the background reminds listeners that danger is ever-present. “Singularity’s Dream” is equally an oasis of calm, with shades of vintage Vangelis in its swelling and ebbing synth chords – all surprisingly gentle and free of distortion.
The opposite rings true for the Loop Hero soundtrack’s battle cues. Convincingly switching from the stupor of the level cues to the required high-intensity setting of the boss fights is no small feat, but it’s a challenge Goreslavets mostly handles with aplomb. The music maintains its single-minded focus on persistent rhythms, which surprisingly seamlessly switch from brooding to muscular and anthemic, with stomping drums backing simple, declamatory synth melodies. What helps to anchor these adrenaline-charged cues in the score’s overall sound world is the dissonant, ghostly nature of their lead motifs – pained rather than heroic, with an otherworldly feel that is wholly appropriate for the game’s setting. Such bracing harmonies also give these compositions an edge that shapes their constant in-your-face energy into something more captivating.
Final boss track “Universe’s Storm (Omega Bossfight)” breaks the mould a bit with a greater emphasis on powerful bass grooves and more straightforward leads. In the process, it loses some of the intrigue of earlier battle cues, but also delivers a more empowering experience in time for the final push to save the world from oblivion. It’s a fittingly spectacular close to a chiptune score that dares to paint its image of a desolate universe on a large canvas and with sombre grandeur.
- 01 - Lich is Unbreakable (Expedition 1) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:32
- 02 - PathLoot Crusaders (Expedition 2) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:38
- 03 - The Grateful Afterlife (Camp Chapter 2) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 2:50
- 04 - Loop Blues (Expedition 4) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 6:28
- 05 - Road Chariot (Expedition 5) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 5:36
- 06 - Anamnesis of the World's Sin (Expedition 7) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:44
- 07 - Entropic Rhapsody (Expedition 9) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:40
- 08 - Cosmic Temperance (Lich Portal) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:04
- 09 - Dark Matter Moon (Expedition 8) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:02
- 10 - Wheel of Faith (Prist Portal) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:11
- 11 - Star Judgment (Omega Portal) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:46
- 12 - Singularity's Dream (Camp Chapter 3) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 3:24
- 13 - Universe's Storm (Omega Bossfight) Goreslavets, Aleksandr 4:00