Here’s a question: what music has come out of Poland that is worth acknowledging? Well, there’s Chopin, and a handful of other classical composers, particularly Henryk Gorecki, composer of “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.”
As for Polish game music? There isn’t much of which we can speak. As far as VGM is concerned, one might say “all’s quiet on the Eastern (European) front.” But today, I present to you the soundtrack for the CD Projekt-developed game “The Witcher.” The soundtrack, like the game itself, comes from Poland. Two composers, with surnames Blaszcak and Skorupa, have put together a delightful orchestral album that combines live instruments and the highest quality synth to date. It rivals some of the best in popular film score, and is a landmark achievement as far as European game music goes.
The fantasy-European world in which “The Witcher” takes place is something that the composers had to capture in their music. And they did an excellent job, collaborating the various sounds of the medieval and renaissance eras. The music’s “cultural” scope, in terms of instrument selection, spans the entirety of Europe, the whole way out to Ireland. For example, this soundtrack features the uilleann pipes (it’s a bagpipe, but without the bag). I honestly haven’t heard a well-played set of uilleann pipes in a game since Xenogears, and I hardly expected to find it on this soundtrack. But the performance on track 3, “River of Life,” shocked me. I knew from that point on that this would be a soundtrack worth remembering.
Other wind instruments take the center stage throughout the soundtrack, including other Celtic-centric flutes, recorders, and tin whistles. But these instruments don’t always hold to their traditional role of painting a scenic landscape with a good view of the sea. On track 26, “A Matter of Conscience,” we see these instruments lead the charge as percussion and brass announce the coming of battle.
Blaszczak and Skorupa were also fond of using the human voice, without lyrics. Both male and female recorded performances appear, almost at random, throughout the soundtrack. Very rarely does the human voice “lead” the song; instead, these voices are used to give the song a literally “human” touch, as though there were people weeping, or shouting, or peacefully sighing, in the image found in our minds when we listen to the music.
With all this talk of image-painting, you may think that I’m describing music that is, ultimately, very drab in its ambiance. Know that you couldn’t be further from the truth. Almost every track on this album has a distinct melody, and though the music does certainly serve its purpose of accompanying the action of a game, it also happens to stand just fine on its own.
Listen to the samples yourself, and make your decision. It is my belief, however, that this soundtrack holds much significance to VGM fans, particularly those who have held out hope for the black sheep in the market (soundtracks for PC titles). This score rivals some of the better works of famed composer Jeremy Soule. If you want to hear something new, refreshing, substantial, and (perhaps most importantly) dynamic, do whatever you can to get this soundtrack. As far as we at RPGFan know, the game’s “limited edition” is the only venue for legally purchasing the soundtrack. I’d suggest getting the whole bundle. But if you already own the game, and want the soundtrack separately, let’s just hope the good folks at Atari (or CD Projekt) release this soundtrack for individual purchase.