Game soundtrack: Myst III – Exile (Jack Wall)

Retro game vibes with heart…

The Myst franchise, though not as earth-shattering as other series, revolutionized gaming as the industry tried to reach new heights of technology and imagination. Myst completely ignored several major trends of the day. There were very few characters to interact with (no threat of death and no violence whatsoever, at least in the first few installments). The vibe was sci-fi yet largely timeless. Today, only the graphics therein look truly dated; the story could be set in the near future or in several thousand years.  There are, in fact, so many details in the programming that the games were actually regarded as a major proponent of the CD-ROM concept. Though frequently criticized for its excessively difficult puzzles and mini-games (it does take many hours – I’ve tried!), the series was universally praised for two things: its open-world nature and its music.

Exile was somewhat bold in that it broke away from the series’ synthy, programmed, and occasionally bizarre music by hiring on Jack Wall and introducing a much more cinematic mood. Some game fans berated this choice, but I’m not one of them. This music is 16 years old and still sounds pretty darn good considering it’s a hybrid of orchestral, vocal, and electronic music. 

These tracks are often ambient (as befits the vague and alien mystery in the games), but they have tinges of acute emotions and slick instrumentations. This makes them not only more memorable but also more enjoyable. Pair this with some decent choral touches and the occasional ethnic instrument (notably the duduk or something quite similar to it) and you have an interesting and moody album on your hands.

Some songs are beat-driven (“Theme from Voltaic” and “Theme from Edanna”) while others are purely orchestrated (“He Sees Hope” and “The Tide Has Turned”). Weirdly, these differences usually make sense as a whole. Quite a lot of tracks were at least partially recorded with live instruments (this was probably noteworthy for the era), including the orchestral portions. Thank goodness, because very little music software of 2001 could make listenable sounds (I suspect but can’t prove that this was part of the reason for using catchy jingles and cues so often in early games).

Though this soundtrack has fairly diverse emotions throughout, there’s nothing truly mundane or depressing here (although I strongly recommend skipping the title song, which is a bit of a hot mess). It ought to get you focused without actually being over-critical of your work.

This album is available via download and CD.