Dear Esther is a unique game in many ways and the audio experience of the game is no exception. From music to the voice to environmental sound, Dear Esther is close to perfect.
The game takes place on an unnamed deserted Hebridean island. The island itself is just the beginning of the mystery, which is at the heart of the game. The player traverses the landscape and gradually triggers various voiceovers of an unnamed male protagonist (voiced flawlessly by Nigel Carrington). The particular voiceover triggered at each point is selected from a relevant subset at random by the game during each playthrough. This adds yet more complexity to the density of meaning and myriad of possible conclusions the player might come to regarding the events transpiring before and during the game.
Composer Jessica Curry’s sublime orchestrations are truly a defining feature in Dear Esther. Indeed, since some music was composed at the very beginning of game development it is no stretch to say that the environment and the music are literally made for one another. The soundtrack is a mesmerising mix of heady orchestral elements that makes occasional use of the human voice as an instrument, too. The result is an atmosphere that toes the ever blurrier line between heavenly and uncanny as the game progresses.
The natural environment of the island is extremely windy and this is commonly a noticeable attribute in the game’s audio. However, rather than detracting from the experience, the sound of the aggressive wind only emphasises the emotional content of the game. Similarly, the echoes of the waterfalls and rivers found in the caves further on in the game emphasise the desolate quality of not only of the landscape, but of the very soul of our unnamed protagonist as the voiceovers become increasingly affected by his emotional, mental, and physical deterioration.
While the game’s landscape is undeniably visually stunning in its decay, it is truly the sound elements that make the experience of Dear Esther one to remember. It is these elements that portray so profoundly the strongest point of the game: its emotional impact.