One of my favourite games of the last several years is Facepalm Games’ The Swapper. I like it for a lot of reasons: It has this beautiful stop-motion clay art style, an immediately compelling hook in the titular Swapper, a gun that lets you clone yourself and zap your consciousness between those clones, and a disconcerting story.
But the primary reason The Swapper has long been a favourite is the Recreation area.
In The Swapper, you’re mostly alone in an empty research lab and the desert planet it is built on after an unexplained disaster. You spend the game trying to figure out what has gone wrong, and contemplating the existential dread that comes with using your weird gun that lets you clone yourself and zap your consciousness around. It’s an eerie, quiet game.
And then you get to the Recreation area, and you hear this music:
It’s immediately arresting. You hear this elegiac, bittersweet piano piece when you aren’t expecting it, in a space meant for people to enjoy themselves and be at ease, now abandoned.
When I first reached the Recreation area, I stayed there, doing nothing, for 10 minutes, letting the music loop. I’ve never forgotten this game, and I think about it all the time. And a big part of that is thanks to composer Carlo Castellano’s beautiful, tender composition.
Stopping and listening to the music is one of gaming’s quieter pleasures. Sitting around and taking in the score was the unquestionable highlight of Destiny’s early days, and it has consistently been one of the best things about Final Fantasy 14, a game that is just dripping with music that makes you want to stop and listen.
I have endlessly looped the menus of Final Fantasy 10-2 and Persona 3 FES, my colleagues have let the Final Fantasy 11 opening theme and the Threads of Fate score play over and over, and Kotaku video producer Paul Tamayo recalls being so enthralled by the opening to Chrono Cross that he looped a demo disc with no actual gameplay, just to listen and watch over and over.
The bigness of many games is sometimes intimidating, but more often I’ve found it to be a source of delight. Delight at the sheer possibility of what may be waiting for you in the next village, in the next room, and what sounds may greet you when you get there. I love the way they linger, letting my mind stay in this world even after I leave it to do something else.