Review — Faster Than Light

Alright. I’m reviewing this game because, while it’s been some time since I’ve played it extensively, it deserves my articulated thoughts. In fact, I actually thought I had reviewed it. Dungeon of the Endless reminded me of the game in terms of music, and I brought it up in my review of that game. I intended to put a link to my FTL review on that post, only to find that I had no FTL review to link. So here it is. Plus, now’s a good time, because their newest game, Into the Breach just came out, and buying it gives you a free copy of this game, too.

What is Faster Than Light? Simply put, it’s a rogue-like strategy game where you’re piloting a spaceship escaping from the evil Rebel fleet. There are two core aspects to the game: Game dialogue and combat. Game dialogue consists of what is probably a majority of the game. You jump to a star, and a text box opens up telling you what’s going on at this star. It’ll say something like “A pirate ship is attacking a civilian cargo ship! What do you do?” (paraphrasing here), and you can choose to attack the pirates or ignore it. (There might also be a third option to attack the civilians, too, it’s hard to remember the specifics of each event.) If you choose to attack the ship, a combat will happen. They might surrender and give you items, and you can accept or refuse it. If you kill them, the civilians will thank you, and you can still choose to steal from them. Basically, this game is largely dictated by choice.

Not everything happens the same way every time. Choices you make can help or hinder you pretty much regardless, because the repercussions of them are also randomly generated. (It’s worth noting that it’s not all random. Playing over and over again will give you knowledge of what can happen and how likely events are to be good or bad). This basically allows the game to be infinitely replayable, because if each choice always yielded the same result, you could just look it up on a wiki and win every time (as long as you weren’t bad at combat). As a side note, the combat is the only thing in the game that is real-time, but you can pause as often as you like while issuing commands to your units and guns, so if you’re bad at doing things quick, don’t worry about it.

Is the game good? Well, let me start by saying it’s hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve only beaten the final boss once. I’m not positive because my computer blue-screened while I was playing it today and deleted all my stats. (My unlocked ships are still fine, strangely enough). But it also has three difficulties, and of the dozens of playthroughs I’ve tried, I’ve beaten it once. On easy. Maybe I’m just really bad, but it is certainly not a walk in the park.

I love rogue-like games, and the single most important thing about it is replayability. FTL has a bunch of different ways to play, because there are lots of different kinds of weapons, races, ships, etc. The idea is once you beat the game with one method, you should try a different method. I’ve found that the Halberd Beam is just easy-mode. 3 Damage per room it and you can hit five or six rooms per shot? That’s insane!

Another thing this game does right is the music. Not only does it have a different soundtrack for each alien-controlled sector you’re flying in, but it also has a combat layer that seamlessly adds onto the music currently playing once you enter a combat (usually this means drums or other more percussive tools). It’s beautifully done.

So, this game does require reading. Not a lot, but you can’t just make choices willy-nilly until you start seeing the same events repeat themselves, and even then going too fast can mess you up big time. Overall, anyone who likes small, casual strategy-related games will love Faster Than Light. And though I haven’t played it yet, you’ll probably also like their new game, Into the Breach, as well.

Learning! — Background Music

It goes without saying that lots of music that is attached to TV shows, movies, or video games is often meant to supplement the visual aspect to whatever media we are presented with in our daily lives. If we’re watching a movie, the things that we’re hearing occupy roughly half of our attention (if we are to base that entirely off of the common five senses), and we obviously won’t want to be hearing dialogue or clothes shuffling the whole time, so music plays a critical role in a lot of what we see and do.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as throwing in your favorite rap album to a sitcom, because music plays with our emotions and subconscious a lot–meaning any thing we’re watching would have to also have music that helps us get into the mood we’re meant to be feeling at that given moment. A sad song to help us feel sad when a character experiences the same emotion. An intense battle hymn to accompany the climax to our favorite action movie. Whatever will help bring out the emotion that scene is meant to give us.

With video games, soundtracks often do their best to supply a bold theme, as well. Many good soundtracks are capable of evoking the feeling of the game just by listening to that music. An action game will typically have much higher tempo music than a story driven game simply by virtue of how it is meant to be played. Journey, a short and extremely simple yet abstract game, focuses entirely on exploration and the beautiful landscapes and art style. It has lots of slow, drawn out melodies played by violins and soft woodwinds. As far as I can recall, there is very little percussion throughout the entire soundtrack (timpani, usually, which itself adds a soft beat of its own). This makes the audience relax as they view for the game for what it really is. Journey is not a game to be won, but a story to experience.

Contrast this with my favorite game ever, Dragon Quest VIII, and you’ve got the blaring brass in the overture that screams “buckle your pants, we’re going on an adventure!” You’ve got cymbals slamming and drums pounding. Basically, the common elements of this soundtrack involve all the instruments one would associate with a classic Arthurian knight’s tale. Everything is loud and big, but not fast. This game has plenty of action, but really it’s about the world and seeing loads of different monsters and places. Lots of the music in this game is very “open”, with ascending notes that give the impression that a door is opening into a different world. It has plenty of strings, but here the strings play a harmony, for often it’s the brass that gets the forefront in these pieces.

With music that isn’t meant to be actively listened to, there are two super important things that are necessary to help subliminally tell the audience what mood they should be in. Those things are tempo and instruments. The tempo translates directly to how fast you want your audience’s heart to be racing. With Journey, there isn’t a whole lot that will scare you. You might as well be reading a book on a quiet rainy evening. With Dragon Quest VIII, the tempo is often quick, but it gives the impression of a brisk walk down the country side or playing tag with some friends. With something more horror or action based, you want their heart to be pounding, as in “Oh no this demon is going to get me if I don’t run faster” sort of pace. If you set the tempo at that pace, your job is already halfway done.

The next time you’re binging Netflix or simply out at the movies, try to listen to the film score. Pick out the instruments being used. Think about how different that song would be if it was an electric guitar, or xylophone, or tuba playing that melody. It would feel out of place, sure, but chances are that sort of switch would work just fine in a different movie with a different theme.