During my time with Hollow Knight before bed last night, I had a couple more realizations about what makes this game so good. Here comes some more gushing…
In all of the articles I’ve read about HK so far (including the links in this thread—thanks for those!), I’ve seen a lot of talk about the soundtrack. And indeed, it’s an incredible piece of work. Being someone whose livelihood is based around music, I’m what you might call hypercritical about what I listen to, especially if I’m going to be sitting with a game for hours. I feel like game music has only grown exponentially better over the years, but there’s still plenty of bad, or what I might call lazy, soundtracks out there. Christopher Larkin’s score for Hollow Knight isn’t just great in and of itself, it’s great because it perfectly FITS the game and it flows seamlessly from scene to scene. You can literally hear the music transition without interruption as you trek between worlds. He scored special tracks just for the single rooms that separates two zones, making sure the music synced to your experience.
While playing last night, I got this sensation of playing inside of an old animated film, complete with the soundtrack composed for my every move. I’ve seen this thrown around for other games before, but I think Hollow Knight is the closest I’ve felt to actually living inside a Studio Ghibli universe. From the character designs, to the adorable voices, to the vibrant music, to the classic animation style, it’s all so whimsical, otherworldly, and dynamic.
But what stands out to me perhaps even more than the soundtrack, and what I haven’t yet seen talked about, is the game’s incredible sound design. I think this is what really brings the world of Hollow Knight alive. This hit me once I made it into the zone called Fungal Wastes. That place is just brimming with handmade sound effects! There’s the burbling background noises in every room, the squeak of each mushroom as you walk by them, the rubbery boing of the bouncy plants, the light hiss of spores being released into the atmosphere, the satisfying crunch of you cutting down the scenery, and of course each creature’s own special sounds. I was reminded of Botanicula by Amanita Design, largely in the way each sound seemed to be created in simple ways yet sounded so alien.
The sound design isn’t just set dressing, though. Much like Dark Souls, it’s also there to warn you of certain enemies or encounters. (Spoiler-ish story ahead.) While in the Fungal Wastes I entered a room that had a large snoring sound coming from somewhere. Having already encountered some powerful enemies that I awoke with my presence, and not being ready for a big fight at the time, I went back the way I came and looked for a different path. Later on, I reentered the room and steeled myself for a big fight. Out of the ground a big ol’ bug with a club popped up and I immediately started swiping at it with my weapon. He didn’t fight back. It was a friendly NPC and we had a little chat, ending with him wishing me well and hoping we’ll see each other later on my journey. Now, I don’t know if this was intentional, but it felt like a nice little joke from the devs. They had taught me that sleeping creatures were going to be big enemy encounters, and then used that expectation to psych me out and subvert my ideas about the game world. This was all done with the sound of snoring. Precise, intentional sound design—yet another reason to love Hollow Knight.