Crypt of the Necrodancer

An innovative experience with a kickass soundtrack

Crypt of the Necrodancer may be one of the best games I’ve played in a long time.

It’s a fairly simple concept. It’s a roguelike dungeon crawler, except all game mechanics are rhythm-based: movement, combat, item usage, etc. You’re rewarded for continuous movement and staying on the beat, and you’re punished for being off-tempo or off-time.

It is through this singular gameplay mechanic that the game’s charm comes through. Right off the bat, it teaches you to identify and memorize enemies’ patterns; you have to, because the turn-based real time (for lack of a better phrase) is not conducive to random enemies like one might find in Call of Duty or any other sort of reaction-based game.

However, these patterns don’t necessarily slow down the game’s pacing; rather, in a way it actually intensifies the experience. Theoretically, you could clear a room of enemies, find a safe corner, and take your hands off the keyboard. The track continues regardless of your actions, and though enemies will still take their actions not many are actually able to break through walls. When the track ends, you’re dropped to the next level, albeit without your coin multiplier. In other words, you don’t actually need to take the risks to find the stairs; staying still is a surefire way of getting to the next level without really making any mistakes.

That being said, the game rewards you greatly for taking risks. There are secret shops on every floor (as far as I remember), and you receive many benefits for going out and exploring the unmapped areas: potentially beneficial shrines, item chests, or good stock in the shop. Killing enemies without taking damage and travelling without missing a beat continues your coin multiplier, which can help you buy the more powerful items from the shops. Considering that every zone ends in a boss, it’s not a bad idea to spend the three sub-levels stocking up and gearing up.

Those who know me know my fascination with music – particularly when part of a video game (though I’m certainly not limited to such). Previously, I’ve looked at soundtracks to a visual novel and two anime productions, but in all cases the music served as an enhancement of the experience; that is to say, while it made its respective media better it was in no way the foreground. In Crypt, that is obviously not the case. The music is not only the driving force; it also simultaneously guides and follows the story. Every zone’s music has some sort of rough theme to it, and every subsequent track increases slightly in tempo, adhering to the story while making the game progressively harder. I particularly like the Necrodancer’s battle and how the music switches for his second phase, adding a sense of desperation and chaos in the last fight.

In summary, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a refreshing dungeon crawling title. The music, while catchy on its own, is also effective in driving the pace and forcing the player to think quickly even in a turn-based setting. It’s an easy game to pick up, but a fairly difficult game to master. Its pattern-based enemies means that the game is mostly skill-based, with randomness appearing only in enemy and floor composition.

I am far from done with this game; at the time of writing, I have only finished Cadence’s and Melody’s lines, and I am kicking my own ass at trying to beat Zone 4 with Aria. If you’re looking for an enjoyable challenge, I highly recommend this game.

Kindred Spirits on the Roof: a soundtrack analysis

How music enhances the interactive experience.

As promised, I have done a full musical and emotional analysis (more or less) of the soundtrack to Kindred Spirits on the Roof. Windows’ File Explorer helpfully informs me that my first file was created on September 19, 2016 at 11:24 PM, which means I’ve been working on this project for just under a month now.

There were a few times I was worried I bit off more than I could chew. Many times I thought about forgoing the Reddit deadline to give myself a bit more breathing room, but in my stubborn nature and my acceptance of any challenge I steadfastly refused. Probably not a good idea, because now it’s 1:23 AM on a Friday/Saturday and I’ve been putting finishing touches on this thing for the last three hours or so.

Basically, my process was:

  1. Do harmonic reductions on every track (which means quite a bit of transcribing)
  2. Do pencil-on-paper analyses
  3. Type up results

Step 3 took far more time than anticipated. I had gone into this project prepared to write a lot, but I was legitimately enjoying myself going through all of these analyses. I really am quite exhausted right now, so I’ll finish by just pasting the introduction to my paper:

Kindred Spirits on the Roof is, in its own words, Steam’s “first uncensored sex game.” While technically true, such a description does not do it justice. I, for one, first started reading it based solely on that description, only expecting to have some fun with it while bored during a summer stint in California. However, I soon found it to be a very captivating story about friendship and love, about sadness and joy, and a commentary on life in general. I found myself inexplicably drawn to the title’s multifaceted, deep – visceral – characters, and ended up coming back to it two more times.

Soon, I started thinking about what made this visual novel so effective in eliciting such a powerful emotional response. The answer, in a nutshell, is everything. That is to say, the relatable situations that protagonist Yuna is thrown into (minus the supernatural shenanigans, of course), the careful development of each character and their significant others, the art style itself, and, simultaneously the most and least important thing, the music.

For music, when done well, is inexplicably subtle, especially in a visual novel setting where the entire story is told primarily through boxes of text (hence the name visual novel). In KSotR, the music, in my opinion, fits the game’s various settings perfectly, and on multiple different levels (that we’ll talk about later). That’s a difficult goal to reach. In my experience and in my opinion, music tends to be one of the more divergent things about a video game, either because of budget problems or because the composer fails to capture emotion. Music is also all about creating and releasing tension, and the very setting of Kindred Spirits on the Roof allows such music to flourish.

The point of this document…essay…thing…is to dissect the music of Kindred Spirits on the Roof and see what about each of the tracks makes it fit so well in the overall scope of the game and in each of its particular styles of scenes. In particular, I will be looking at each track first from a theoretical perspective, then moving on to how each technique highlights specific emotions and why they fit with their respective scenes.

You can read my paper here.

Featured image: me right now (now it’s 1:32 AM).