Reverberating Crystals: On the Importance of Music in Child of Light

Close your eyes. Imagine the rustling of leaves, stray beams of sunlight peeking through branches as they sway and twitch ever so slightly, air flitting through them. Not the kind of sounds you are accustomed to. Imagine how they would sound as a piano, as a violin, a cello. As a voice that is there but is not heard—because while all songs have a voice, not all of them require a human manifestation of such.

When we talk about hearing an amazing song in a piece of media, chances are we heard it in a movie, not a video game. There are a few examples that disprove this, songs that have become modern-day classics for avid gamers, who will not only easily recognize but will likely hold tender feelings towards them. I myself have a couple such songs, like Utada Hikaru’s “Sanctuary”—a pulsing, hypnotic, and energizing rhythm laced with a touch of mystery, especially in the sections where Hikaru’s voice sings backwards—and the more recent cover of “Stand by Me” by Florence Welch from Final Fantasy XV, a song I am not ashamed to admit made me weep quietly on the couch when I finished the game late at night, acquiring a new meaning as it played during the credits, melancholy to the point of tears.

The music in video games is usually background noise, reaching the player in sudden bursts louder than the sound effects or voice actors that read character dialogue, but rarely gripping enough to make you want to extract it from the game, from all the other sounds around it, and listen to it alone. Usually music is drowned into a mellow hush that cannot be fully appreciated as it is coming out of the speakers or the television, sounding less intimate and warped, the auditory equivalent of looking at something through a gauzy curtain, failing to grasp all the intricate details.

There are few albums that I’ve listened to from beginning to end; I can count the number on my fingers, name off the top of my head those rare exceptions. Even rarer for me is to go seeking an album so that I can listen to it on repeat, staying awake several nights in a row just to revel in the sound—yet that is exactly what happened when I began playing Child of Light, a game about a young girl named Aurora in 1895 Austria who awakens on the magical continent of Lemuria and embarks on an adventure in the hopes of returning home to her own time. If I had to describe Coeur de Pirate’s soundtrack using words, the only fitting image is that of rolling blanket-like clouds that gradually envelop the listener. Sometimes, they’re fluffy white pillows with a bounce and comfort to them, but at other times they are grey bubbling masses, crackling with sharp lightning bursts. From the very beginning, when “Aurora’s Theme” began to play as the game menu appeared, I knew this game would leave me emotionally distraught and satisfied in one breath, all because of the music.

Coeur de Pirate creates a sonorous weather system with combinations of sound I didn’t realise I could enjoy so much, twinkling like rain across a piano one moment before turning into a low thunder-like rumbling the next. From the light bounce of “Bolmus Populi”, invoking the atmosphere of a warm spring day, to the determined and almost wise edge of “Down a Dusty Plain”, music plays a role in Child of Light that makes its audience reconsider its limitations—and, more importantly, the extent of what is possible for mere instruments to achieve emotionally and mentally. For me the soundtrack it reinforced the idea of how closely music is tied to memory. Listening to it now as I write these words, I don’t even need to look at the name of the track to tell you at what point in the game the song plays.

I have heard of synesthesia before but am not a synesthete myself. The music of Coeur de Pirate is probably the closest I have ever come to the experience, and not just because of how strongly it’s melded with the game’s visuals in my memory. One’s perception and engagement with Child of Light is indelibly shaped by the music. Music is the final bridge that you cross in the most emotional moments of the story, causing a slight trepidation inside its listener that gradually rises to the surface and bubbles over into an emotional response. The game’s soundtrack is full of life, constantly moving just as Aurora does through Lemuria in her ] search for a way home. There is a spatial aspect that makes my mind twirl and jump, rushing upwards at certain moments as I remember Aurora racing through treetops or flitting between waterfalls, narrowly avoiding spikes and gusts of wind. The music is an echo in a massive space, one the listener takes charge of constructing, the sound travelling through us like a gust of wind, unobstructed and uncontrollable. Free and full of life.

Having a well-known and beloved artist like Coeur de Pirate write a full album-length soundtrack for a video game suggests a welcome change in how seriously developers are taking video games, approaching them as art forms and not just entertainment. It is also a sign that the gamer themselves are being taken more seriously, their emotional experience and aesthetic reception taken into consideration. I lost track of how many times I stopped playing Child of Light, staying in one spot in the game and letting the music envelop me long after my Play Station 4 controller had turned off. Child of Light is a sensorial luxury, proving that care has gone into every aspect of its creation. It challenges the stereotype of gamers being loud and childish, imitating blasting noises or jumping up and down and yelling each time they score a victory in a battle. Coeur de Pirate’s soundtrack has become an intimate listening experience for me, one that I can slip into on a loud subway ride to school or on a family road trip, mentally recreating Aurora’s journey through sound as I leave footsteps of my own right next to hers.