It might seem rather quaint, in an age of multimillion dollar blockbuster video game titles with Hollywood production values, to produce a retail game with no dialogue, no human or animal characters, and a story that is completely about tone rather than narrative. But that’s just what Thatgamecompany did in 2009 with Flower, the follow-up to their first retail title Flow. Structured as the dream of a flower in an urban pot, Flower entranced critics and Playstation 3 players alike with its colorful worlds and simple use of motion controls, becoming a surprise hit and one of the PS3’s more compelling exclusives.
For Flow, Thatgamecompany had contracted outside composer Austin Wintory to provide a meditative, choral-tinged score, and they would return to Wintory for their follow-up, Journey. But for Flower, which was a clear spiritual successor to Cloud, Thatgamecompany audio director and composer Vincent Diamante returned to scoring for the project. A member of the original seven-student USC development team that had produced Cloud, Diamante had produced an appropriately airy and stunningly realized score for that title on a shoestring budget. Flower would allow a much broader canvas, with Diamante’s music procedurally recombined during gameplay in a way that integrated music an images to an unprecedented extent.
As with Cloud, the music of Flower is entirely synthesized in Cakewalk Sonar, Miroslav Mini, and Synful, but the sample libraries that Diamante had built up once again meant that the sound had incredible clarity for a synthesized orchestra. The synthesized nature of the score also allowed Diamante to play with instrument dynamics; while elements like pianos, strings, and acoustic guitars are in their natural range, a significant portion of the music involves instruments like bass flutes and bassoons pushed to higher registers in what Diamante described as a process akin to the earthbound flowers taking flight.
There is a main melody in the score, a short and lilting idea that’s a close cousin to the theme from Cloud, if somewhat more deconstructed and subtle. It’s featured in hints on piano at its first expression in “Life As A Flower,” in woodwinds in “Splash of Color,” and and finally merging both woodwind and piano performances with full orchestral accompaniment in “Sailing on the Wind.” Diamante’s theme is given its most extensive workout in the bright “Purification of the City,” the album’s highlight and longest track, where it weaves in and out of the song, passing from instrument to instrument in the orchestral mix.
Mirroring the development of the Flower theme, the songs on the album take a sonic journey from the more minimalist and new age sections, where the music is pared down to a guitar and small ensemble, to the album’s highlights which feature a much fuller sound. This means that at times the mix is at times somewhat thinner than Cloud. Part of the album’s progression does lead into greyer territory, though. The lengthy “Solitary Wasteland” track is rather desolate and minimalist even in comparison to the other tracks, and its minor-key mode and great length (11 minutes) make it stand out somewhat, especially coming between the pared-down “Nighttime Excursion” and the joyous “Purification.” It’s also worth noting that the meaty length of Flower‘s tracks, of which five are over seven minutes long and two are over ten minutes apiece, may serve to exacerbate the album’s weaknesses for some listeners.
Flower‘s close fusion of music and gameplay led to immediate calls for a soundtrack, but the music’s conception as being procedurally generated layers and instruments made the process more difficult than it might otherwise have been. An 8-track digital score was eventually released in 2010, but like the game itself it was a Playstation Network exclusive, meaning that non-console-owners had no recourse for purchase. This was eventually remedied by La-La Land in 2014 with the release of a limited-edition CD soundtrack containing two tracks not on the initial release. Flower winds up being somewhat less accessible than Cloud due to its more subtle use of its overall theme and its much lengthier tracks, but lovers of simple and colorful video game music will nevertheless find much to appreciate, and fans of Cloud will be delighted to hear more music from the same sonic world.