Evergate’s narrative is a bit unique: it is actually two stories at the same time. It is both the story of Ki, the soul in the afterlife; and Ki, the young girl in the physical world. How can music tell this layered story, of Ki searching for her kindred spirit across the lives they lived together?
Let’s take a look at an example. The player first sees Ki and her kindred spirit in China some time in the 1700s. They’re young, wide-eyed children at play. We watch them sneak into a beautiful garden.
Or rather, that’s what the player will eventually see. Instead, the player actually experiences a very abstract depiction of this event where the imagery of the afterlife is inflected with elements of the memory, like giant koi swimming in the sky as if it were a pond in the garden:
There are a lot of layers to unpack in this moment. First, our protagonist Ki is a soul in the afterlife. This scene takes place entirely in the afterlife, but it’s colored by a forgotten memory of the life she lived. Her human sense of wonder while discovering the garden parallels her soul’s wonder reliving her memory. We need the player to understand these feelings; to place them in both the afterlife and China; and to immerse them in the children’s and Ki’s feelings of wonder and discovery. There’s no dialog here so the only narrative devices we have are the visuals, music and sound. How can we convey this story?
We start with the timbral colors of our afterlife: floating voices, shimmering harps and bells. These instruments all have roots in spirituality, heaven and religion in general. They are core elements of Evergate’s sonic palette throughout the game.
The track begins with trembling excitement as Ki and her kindred spirit move towards the garden, anticipating what lies within the walls. As the children enter the garden around 0:36, the music swells and opens up, emphasizing their wonder. A xiāo (bamboo flute) pulls us in and a liǔqín (lute-like instrument) creates some movement. These traditional Chinese instruments subtly anchor the listener in the physical setting of the memory. Short fragments of Ki’s lullaby, Evergate’s main theme, drift in and out, scattered like her own memories.
In a future post, I’ll dig deeper into how we build those moments and ensure that the visuals line up with the music every time. The timing is non-deterministic because the player is in control, so there are major technical challenges to overcome for both the music and the game.