Why the Music in Death Stranding Is Genius

Mood, Simplicity, and Instrumentation. Read one community writer/composer's take on the haunting music underlying the Death Stranding trailers.

Ever since the announcement of Hideo Kojima’s new game, Death Stranding, I have been keeping a close eye on all the new trailers and rumors surrounding this mysterious title. Hideo Kojima is a legend among the gaming community for his incorporation of filmmaking techniques into masterful storytelling, as with the Metal Gear Solid franchise. The music of Kazuki Muraoka, Nobuko Toda, and Harry Gregson-Williams, among many others, really captured the essence of the MGS franchise. From uptempo and futuristic melodies to emotional orchestral suites, the music was like a roller coaster. I think the same can be said about Death Stranding just based off these trailers and teasers that have been released over the past two years.

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The music in the reveal trailer at E3 2016 shows exactly how music can carry a vision or a theme. The song is “I’ll Keep Coming” by Low Roar, which goes along with the theme of rebirth and reincarnation. This is a constant motif we see throughout all three trailers. The mix of the digital synth and live instrumentation balances the sci-fi theme and down-to-Earth cinematics. The entire trailer is a giant crescendo, with unsettling sound effects and deep roars. The climax comes when you first see the five monoliths floating in the sky and hear “I’ll Keep Coming” continuously. The music really carries this trailer and conveys a melancholy but hopeful message.

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The second trailer, which was shown at the Game Awards in 2016, is my favorite trailer out of all of those released. It really highlights Kojima’s horror background and has an amazing soundtrack composed by Ludvig Forssell, who worked on MGS 4. The genius of this composition is in the simplicity. The same six notes are played repeatedly but layered with different instruments and sound effects. In the same vein as the previous trailer, this composition plays out as a lengthy crescendo, with the introduction of Mads Mikkelsen’s character being the climax. The ominous strings and digital distortions perfectly match the introduction of this villainous and mysterious individual. The music of this trailer has even spawned remixes and covers on YouTube.

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The Game Awards 2017 trailer is the lengthiest trailer and doesn’t have much music until the very end. When the music does play, it really adds a whole new level to the thematic elements. Similarly to the last trailer, there are the repetitive digital keys, which give a sense of urgency. It even sounds like a siren, with a high note playing on every downbeat at the beginning of each measure. It has striking similarities to the haunting Stranger Things main theme.

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As a composer, I always strive to match my music to visuals and moods, and Death Stranding executes these elements to perfection. The mix of live and digital instrumentation fits the life and death themes by creating a paradoxical atmosphere that is complex and simplistic at the same time. It’s cold and sophisticated, but also shows that there is still hope in this dreary universe that Hideo Kojima has created for us. It’s truly genius.

Published May. 29th 2018

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