Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania-style adventure game set in the forgotten underground kingdom of Hallownest. The kingdom fell to ruin after a viral blight infected its citizens, transforming them into mindless husks. As a knight in the form of a small beetle wielding a nail, you venture below the surface through a secret entrance in an old well to challenge the mysteries of Hallownest.
The old underground roads are long abandoned, and there are no helpful signs to guide the player through the maze of passages. The necessity of careful exploration as you find your own path forward is one of the primary appeals of Hollow Knight, but it’s easy to lose your way and fall victim to the undead husks or become trapped in the dilapidated infrastructure.
The tiny protagonist’s journey through Hallownest is lonely, but the ruins of the old kingdom are far from empty. Where there were once cities and markets and train stations, dense vegetation now breaks through the paving stones and covers crumbling structures in blankets of flowering plants. Nowhere is this postapocalyptic explosion of nature more apparent than an area called Greenpath, where small birdlike creatures flutter through the underbrush while giant dragonflies glide in lazy circles above bubbling pools of acid water.
Hollow Knight’s soundtrack, written and digitally performed by the Australian composer Christopher Larkin, captures both the loneliness and wonder of the kingdom of Hallownest. I find the background music for Greenpath especially atmospheric and evocative. It begins with bright and gentle strings that suggest the twinkling of fresh dew and the whisper of wind over moss. Soft and airy notes from a flute and xylophone join the song to create a melody reminiscent of the rustling of leaves as you scuttle through the bushes.
The environmental music in Hollow Knight is adaptive, meaning that it changes according to gameplay. Some of the more challenging sections of Greenpath necessitate precisely timed jumps over deadly beds of tangled thorns, and the song crescendos into string chords as staccato as your character’s footsteps as you rush through the beautiful yet menacing jungle. You feel as though you’re truly exploring overgrown ruins, brushing aside vines as you navigate the twisting stone corridors.
The quietly elegiac environmental songs of the Hollow Knight soundtrack are oddly relaxing and make excellent ambient background music. If you’re in the mood for something more upbeat, the boss fight battle songs are fantastic as well. You can listen to the complete album on Spotify and YouTube, and (this link) will take you directly to the song “Greenpath” on Bandcamp.
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This essay was published in the “Playlist” issue of the West Philly Dog Bowl Zine, which debuted at the Philly Comics Expo this past weekend. You can download a free digital version of the zine via their Linktree site (here).