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Soundtrack review: The banner saga (Austin Wintory – 2013)

Game scores

Soundtrack review: The banner saga (Austin Wintory – 2013)


“The Banner Saga” is a Viking-themed tactical role-playing video game developed by Stoic, a trio of indie game developers formerly of BioWare, and published by Versus Evil. It was released as a single-player campaign, The Banner Saga – the first game of a projected trilogy – on 14 January 2014, as well as a separate free-to-play online multiplayer game, The Banner Saga: Factions, in February 2013. The core of the game is a single-player campaign of turn-based combat engagements inspired by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Shining Force, with the player controlling and being able to build up a party of characters with complementing abilities. The score was written by Austin Wintory and I don’t need another name to get excited about a game score.

The first clear feeling I get from this score is that it tells me a story. It tells me an beautiful and ancient story and I want to hear it all. Regardless of the gameplay or characters, the music itself is deep and engaging enough to create its own world. Somehow the way the music develops doesn’t make me think of separate scenes but of a continuous flow, of a path. The game itself is about journey and different elements coming together to form a consistent whole for a common purpose and the composer treated his various motifs, instruments and sounds as if they were those characters coming together as a team. I like the use of strings to suggest the Viking settings. I like the chants that feel like prayers to the gods sung in the native tongue. The score makes me feel as if I was right there in the snow, surrounded by my journey companions, with a clear mind and the conscience of what I have to do. Even if I am surrounded somehow the music makes me feel lonely. I maybe be a part of something but my path is one of solitude.

My knowledge and impression of the Viking age and their way of life fits with Austin Wintory’s vision. You won’t find loud or epic cues on “The banner saga”; you will find cues of few instruments but sharp and determined sound. A thousand years ago distances where huge, territories unknown and journey extremely long. Men had simple and clear beliefs which were never doubted.  If somehow the technology existed back then I imagine a composition like this one would have been the perfect companion for the journeys of those times. I think no cue title expresses my feelings for this score better than “A long walk stills our hearts”.

If you’ve read my reviews you know that I am particularly fond of atmospheric and reflective music and I get exactly what I need from “The banner saga”: a beautiful composition that stirs my imagination and helps me reflect and get my thoughts together. There’s also that musical connection between this renaissance sound and my beloved Celtic sound which makes my connection with this score even stronger. I am listening to this score on a beautiful dark rainy day and I can’t think of a more appropriate weather for it.

I can see myself being immersed in a game with music like this. I am already immersed in this cold and grey atmosphere even without the game. The musical tapestry that Austin Wintory created was right up my alley and I will keep this one close. I haven’t mentioned any separate cues as highlights because the entire score was a gorgeous and unitary listening experience. You will find my favorites below. I do however feel the need to mention some of the superb cue titles; I am a sucker for a nice cue name and titles like “Long past he last sigh”, “Our heels bleed for the bites of wolves” or “Weary the weight of the sun” are among my favorites. Can’t wait to listen to the next one.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 33 / 71

Album excellence: 47%


How did it come to This?

No Tree Grows to the Sky

Cut with a Keen-Edged Sword

Huddled in the Shadows

Teach us Luck

No Life Goes Forever Unbroken

An Unblinking Eye

A Long Walk Stills Our Hearts

Three Days to Cross

Walls no Man has Seen

Weary the Weight of the Sun

From the Table to the Axe

Long Past that Last Sigh

We are all Guests upon the Land

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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