It’s hard not to praise Cave Story. Whether it’s the polished gameplay or the various endings or the history and development, there’s always something to say. Today, I want to talk about the music…but not just about how great it is. There’s something different about the music of Cave Story.
Alright, I do want to talk a bit about how great it is. Seriously, it has a great range of style and emotion, and every track suits the section where you hear it. More than 10 years after my first playthrough of the then-untranslated Doukutsu Monogatari, I still go back and play from time to time. More often than that, though, I really just want to listen to the music.
And it’s not just that the soundtrack is great listening. In some ways, it really kind of…isn’t. It wasn’t quite so obvious when the game first came out, but after more than a decade of playing retro-style indie games, it doesn’t quite fit the trends that have popped up.
You’ve got music based on the NES or Game Boy sound chips. You’ve got heavily arpeggiated chiptunes reminiscent of old Commodore systems or the demoscene sound. Sometimes you might get more straight synth stuff, like what you hear from Disasterpeace in Fez and Hyper Light Drifter. Play more than a few retro games and you’ll get used to hearing these categories.
But, Cave Story has a whole sound of its own—literally. The developer created the sound system, “Organya”, from scratch. And rather than going for a more pure sound with the basic waveforms we’re familiar with—your square, sine, and saw waves that you see in most “retro” digital music—he went in a very unique direction.
The soundtrack has a lot of heart and the composition is excellent, so after playing the game for so many years, I stopped really thinking about how the instruments themselves sound. It was only recently when a friend asked me for suggestions on game soundtracks that I had to stop and consider it.
“Why did you include Cave Story? Some of the songs are alright, but it sounds really…rough. It was a little difficult to listen to at times.”
And it’s true. Tastes have changed, and with the vast selection of games both new and old to choose from, there are times when Cave Story‘s unique instrumentation might hold it back a bit.
But for me, that’s also why I keep coming back. There are times when I want to hear that sound. If I want to remember the NES days, I can take my pick from the original classics, or I can listen to something with a similar feel composed by basically anyone who downloaded FamiTracker. But if I want the feeling I get from the Cave Story soundtrack, there’s a very limited Organya fanbase out there, so the original source is about my only option.
It can be an acquired taste, but I really enjoy this one, and I’m glad the developer decided to do something a little different. We would have still enjoyed the game, and we would still enjoy the soundtrack, but it wouldn’t stand out quite the way it does if it didn’t have that one-of-a-kind sound.