After discovering Hollow Knight a few months ago, it quickly became one of my absolute favorite games of the this generation. Heck, it might even land somewhere in my top 15 of all time. I absolutely love this game for so many reasons: its satisfying combat, its unique art direction, its platforming and exploration elements, and the bountiful lore behind it all.
However, I think what’s really made it stick with me is its music. Hollow Knight is filled to the brim with wonderful musical tracks running the gambit from peaceful, to tense, and even hauntingly beautiful. One track embodies that last quality perfectly, never failing to enthrall and always inspiring a feeling of distant sadness. It epitomizes the tone of the game and is something everyone should hear. So, for your listening pleasure I hereby present: City of Tears.
Hollow Knight isn’t a game about a glorious hero come to save a besieged kingdom from destruction. Rather, it’s about an outsider exploring the remains of a kingdom already lost. Not recently lost either. By all indications, the Kingdom of Hallownest succumbed to its fate a long, long time ago by the time The Knight (you) arrive on the scene. This is made clear by the shabby state of the above-ground village and the decrepit/overgrown areas found in the opening hours of the game. The music in these areas ranges from somber and strange to oddly peaceful; all of it gives off a vibe of a wild place that could have had some settlements in it, but nothing that could be called a magnificent kingdom.
*Light Spoilers Lie Beyond This Point*
That all changes upon entering the City of Tears though. As the first structures come into frame and this music slowly fades in, that’s when the true significance of Hallownest and its fate is laid bare before the player. Even in this sad and deteriorated state, the city is a truly thing of beauty. It’s loss (as well as that of the rest of the kingdom) really is a tragic thing and not something that’s just plain unfortunate. This is established by the visuals and the atmosphere created by the constant rain and fog effects, but it’s the city’s theme that really drives it home.
City of Tears has more than just a couple of emotions packed into it. So many in fact that I can still hardly believe that composer Christopher Larkin pulled it off so well. Listening to this track dredges of feelings of loss, emptiness, sadness and tragedy; all of which fit the tone of Hollow Knight to a tee, but aren’t enough to elevate this piece to the master-craft that is by themselves. There’s more here: grandeur, faded splendor, majesty and the idea of something monolithic and powerful, perhaps even possessing overwhelming authority. All of these could be applied to Hallownests’ ruler, The Pale King, so it’s not too much of a stretch to apply them to the seat of their government.
Outside of the game, City of Tears just has a haunting quality to it, I think. I find it coming to mind whenever I’m feeling down or feel as though something important has been lost. It’s sad and tragic, but also comforting in a way. Those tones of majesty and authority, to me, speak also of endurance and growth out of loss. Were those ideas intended? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is an absolutely beautiful piece that every gamer deserves to hear at least once, even if they never get around to playing Hollow Knight.
What do you think about City of Tears? What themes do you hear in it? What do you think about Hollow Knight as a whole?
Lede image is an official promotional screenshot.