Last month I got the opportunity to speak with composer Sergio Ronchetti about his work on the recently released video game Eldest Souls. London-based, Spanish & Italian composer and sound designer Sergio Ronchetti boldly crafts scores dwelling within realms of dusky depth, mercurial mood, and aggressive execution, drawing upon his background in heavy metal and combining his lyrical tastes with more traditional, orchestral compositional techniques for a truly singular signature style.
Sergio’s debut score for the 2021 pixel-art, boss-rush, “Souls-like” video game Eldest Souls captures the lonely and desolate melancholy of the game world while also providing vigorous, combative battle music matching the intensity of the challenging gameplay and capturing the personality and essence of each iconic boss fight. He cites artists like Trivium, Machine Head, and Gojira as direct references to his Eldest Souls score – even if his instrumentations are far removed from theirs.
I hope you enjoy our conversation about Ronchetti’s work on Eldest Souls!
How did you get started as a composer?
I left high-school with the sole intention of joining a metal band and becoming a touring musician: which is what i did! I had been playing in bands ever since i was 15, using every spare minute at school to jam with friends in the music rooms. I guess during this time i picked up a lot of DAW production skills without knowing, which gave me a little head start when i decided to pursue media composing after about 4 years of touring. University was then the best place for me to learn exactly what kind of composer/musician i wanted to be, but I learned how to compose behind a computer around my degree. I took short course, extra classes and spoke to as many of my lecturers as possible to understand how to get my career started during my studies, not after. Combine this with saying yes to every opportunity that came my way and everything slowly built up from there.
How did you get involved with Eldest Souls?
I met Jon and Francesco at a free workshop in London hosted by Intel. They were showcasing a super early version of the game whilst taking a gap year during their studies to work on it. Initially they just wanted music for a trailer they were putting out. I sent them a track i thought could work and to my amazement they loved it! Pretty clear from then on that I was a good fit for their project, which is important when collaborating. I don’t think I was anything special, especially back then, but both parties were in the perfect position in terms of experience and skills to work together.
Were you given any specific directions by the game’s creators when working on the score?
The stylistic decisions were made very early on. This meant that I had a direction right from the get go, in terms of style, placement in the game and the scope of the game. The best part as that Jon and Francesco created a very stress-free and flexible workflow, which gave us all the chance to fail and learn moving forward. Sometimes they had reference tracks that they really wanted to hear in the game, other times i just asked for 3-4 words describing the mood, setting and emotions they wanted out of each boss fight.
A related question: was there a lot of collaboration with the game’s director/creators on the score?
As an indie studio, there’s often a lot of crossover within our individual roles. With the music and more so the sound design, we worked very closely and generated as much feedback and testing as possible to get the ideal work out of me. Similarly, I’d always offer to help out at conventions and managing other areas like the socials and marketing, so it really was a collaborative effort from all of us. And I loved every minute of it! We’ve all grown an attachment to this project and we’re all the more happy to see it finally out there for people to enjoy.
I’ve heard Eldest Souls described as “Souls-like” which I assume means it’s similar to the Dark Souls series of games. Is the music for Eldest Souls similar in any way to Dark Souls or did you take a different approach with the music?
In terms of gameplay you could say so. We limited the music to the combat sequences in the game, which left ambience and sound design to govern the travelling in-between. Really this was to reinforce the narrative of the game which is my sole purpose as a game audio professional. I am constantly asking myself “what story am I telling here?” before designing any sounds or music. So when the music hits, you know it’s go time, and everything springs into action. When it’s over, you’re left with the residual consequences of your action adding to the already desolate environment. But in terms of musical sound I wouldn’t say my music is anywhere close to DS or Bloodborne. We felt that overtly gothic and dark style was perhaps a little overkill for the art-style and pace of Eldest Souls. But I love those soundtracks and getting familiar with them during development was super inspiring.
In general, how did you approach scoring Eldest Souls? Were you able to play through early builds of the game or at least observe early gameplay footage for inspiration?
It was very hands on. Again, all praise to the boys from Rome for allowing me to be as involved as I was. I could quite literally jump into the game, test and mix my audio live using Fmod. Then once i was fairly happy, i’d send it over to them for review. It saved a lot of time and effort in the long-run. Being able to experience the gameplay first-hand is invaluable. It’s like scoring a film and getting to play the main character as you do.
Given how important the game’s boss fights are, how did you specifically go about creating music for those moments? Since each “Old God” encounter is different, I can only assume that would affect the music for each fight. Was there any extra pressure to get the music “just right”?
Really, since this was the first project for all of us, there was no pressure at all! Haha. We just wanted to do the best we could, and learn from the process. That being said, some boss fights came together very quickly, others needed more revisions. It was all about focusing on anticipating player emotions and the mini-narratives within each fight: was it fast-paced? How intimidating was it? What are the boss’ unique characteristics? Questions like that. I also often asked Jon and Franco for just 3-4 words describing the scene, and went from there. Each boss had its own personality that needed matching and enhancing with my music.
Did you make specific musical themes for the main character and the Old Gods? Or other aspects of the game?
Eldest Souls had 2 messages which needed conveying: the brutal combat and the idea of loneliness and hope. The former was expressed by each fight being narrated by a unique boss theme to match the style and personality of each God and beast you encounter. The latter is portrayed via the Main Theme. This title track was my way of tying the whole soundtrack together. Since each boss fight was so different, re-working one theme throughout didn’t end up making much sense from a gameplay experience perspective. It also gave me a chance to write in a totally different genre with my post-minimalist interests coming through with the repeating live vocals and haunting solo cello recordings. It was a lot of fun writing that track and for that reason it holds a special interest to me.
What was your process for deciding which instruments to use in the game’s score?
Keeping with the Souls-like vibe, i took a touch of inspiration from the From Software games. I remember a few years back going to a video games exhibit at the V&A museum here in London. There was a fabulous insight into the Bloodborne music and even previews of the score they used during recordings! The likes of Cris Velasco and Yuka Kitamura decided to cut out any typically high frequency or bright instruments, like trumpets or high violin lines. All with the intention of keeping it as dark sounding as possible. Aside from that, I still take great inspiration from my days of writing and playing heavy metal music which is hugely reliant on rhythmic ideas. For that reason the percussion in my tracks is always front and foremost. Metal drummers like Mario Duplantier and Joey Jordison are huge inspirations to me, even when i’m writing for melodic instruments.
How much time did you have to score Eldest Souls?
The project was initially meant to be a 13 month stint. But through the process we picked up a lot of momentum from wishlists and conventions that we ended up scaling the scope of the game up as we went to about 3 years of development. For that reason I had the opportunity to go back and re-write some of the initial tracks that weren’t quite up to scratch by the end of it. You can improve a lot as a composer in the space of just a year, so after 3 I was at a totally different level. However, I’m not a fan of going back and constantly re-writing and improving work. I’d rather just finish a project and move on to the next. Being prolific is the only way to progress as an artist.
Are there any musical details in the game you hope players notice?
If there are, they are VERY well hidden haha. But for example, towards the end of the project I started to lean into my metal roots even more. I even exercised taking my favourite metal songs and re-arranging the rhythms and melodies. It might be most obvious in The Imperator, if there are any fans of Machine Head out there. Also the intro to that track was super fun to write too. I often like taking classical and romantic pieces of music and re-orchestrating and arranging them. It’s a great way to use existing material and create something totally new by the end of it. The final boss intro had to be epic, so I used epic material. In my opinion it doesn’t get much bigger and grander than Carl Orff’s, O Fortuna.
Do you have a favorite musical theme in the game?
I’m quite partial to ‘Ov Fire and Water’ which I think came out great. Equally ‘Main Theme’ and ‘Lunar Descending’ are still some of my favourites.
I want to say a big thank you to Sergio Ronchetti for taking the time to speak with me about his work on Eldest Souls.
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