zophar53's Blog

Posted on Nov 3rd 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Spooky Plays, RF Jamz, Halloween

I decided I would take a different spin on my Halloween post this year and resurrect a dormant RF Generation topic that looks at the wonderful world of video game music. As we all know, music can play a vital role in setting the tone and atmosphere of a game, just as with movies and TV shows. And few genres are more enhanced by a quality soundscape than horror.

That said, as I was compiling the list of games below, I started to realize that most horror-themed games have soundtracks that are more orchestral and ambient in nature (Dead Space, Alien: Isolation, and Resident Evil VII are three recent examples that come to mind). Interestingly, a lot of the tracks I consider effectively creepy are from games that aren't particularly focused on being scary. But that doesn't mean they can't have a similar effect. Take a look at my list below, and let me know if there are any scary tracks from games that come to mind for you.

The Legend of Zelda - Dungeon theme

We all know this one. Zelda was one of the first epic, semi-directionless quests many of us went on as kids. It didn't take us long to find the first dungeon, but when we did, we were faced with an underground lair and music that gave us chills. It got under your skin in a way that created tension and unease, especially as the dungeons got increasingly larger and more complex. It's a simple tune that still works to this day, even more so with the many community remixes that have expanded on its scope and orchestration. The clip below is one such example. It's still haunting, but gives the track a beautifully dark and fantastical element that makes me think it'd be right at home in a Tim Burton movie.

Fester's Quest - Sewer theme and Building theme

Yeah, I know, everyone hates this game. But the quality of its soundtrack is a hill on which I will forever die. If you can detach the music from the game it's chained to, it definitely has some creepy qualities. Dripping with that hard-hitting, trademark Sunsoft base, the sewer theme effectively invokes a dark, dank underground filled with rats and waste. The mysterious building theme may not be as unnerving as it was for me when I was 10, but I would argue that it still has a mysterious and other-worldly quality about it that works for wandering around the hallway mazes, not knowing when you'll stumble on the alien boss at the end. That boss music, by the way, is a certifiable jam on par with the best you'll ever find on the NES.

Friday the 13th - Cabin theme

While I will unapologetically admit to being a Fester's Quest defender, this is a game who's quality I will not dispute. Like much of LJN's NES output, Friday the 13th isn't even hot garbage. It's wet, stinky, filthy garbage you shouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Literally the only good thing about it is this track. It's unsettling as all get out, and deserves to be in a much better game. It invokes the game's namesake film, and is just the kind of tone that brings to mind wandering around Camp Crystal Lake at night with a hockey mask-laden, machete-carrying killer on the loose.

Super Castlevania IV - Prologue theme

There are so many Castlevania tracks I could've put on this list. Bloody Tears and Vampire Killer are the big favorites, and those are indeed fantastic tunes. But for me, seeing this game as one of my first experiences with the then-new SNES, elevated this franchise in a way I was totally unprepared for. The opening crawl slows things down with a cemetary, sweeping fog, and a song that not only showcased the SNES' superior sound chip, but set an eerie ambiance for the adventure to follow. Bloody Tears is possibly my favorite Castlevania track, but no other song from this series fills me with dread like this one.

Super Metroid soundtrack

I tried to narrow this selection down to one track, but I just couldn't. Another early example of the SNES totally eclipsing the abilities of its predecessor, this game took Metroid and elevated it in every conceivable way. From the very first moment, the soundtrack is haunting. It starts with horror movie-esque tones without a melody, and as Samus' visor comes into frame to give us the prologue, a tension-building melody is joined by choral elements. Something has gone very wrong, and we're not exactly sure what. It reminds me of the vibe I got from Aliens as they land on LV-426 with no signs of life, human or otherwise. It's the fear of the unknown, not knowing when the moment you know is coming will actually drop. While a few tracks present more as the adventures of a brave soldier, the themes of intrigue coupled with mystery and tension continue throughout the entire soundtrack as you slowly delve deeper into the world of Zebes.

Axiom Verge - The first 7 tracks

Super Metroid may invoke the unknown, but anyone who'd played the original game had been to Zebes and dealt with metroids before. Axiom Verge took the Metroid formula and subverted our expectations in a way that said "this isn't just the unknown, it's the unknowable." The soundtrack plays into this heavily. The latter half of the album evolves as the story gets weirder and you start to get a grip on your surroundings, but the first third is pure magic. The songs combine mystery, weirdness, a little bit of fear, and wonderfully old-school melodies that will have you bobbing your head even as the game shows you things that upend what you expect from a Metroidvania.

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core - A Closed Off Village

One of the more forgotten games in the FF canon, Crisis Core doesn't have the most compelling gameplay, but what it does have is a great story and a great soundtrack. It does what a good prequel is supposed to do, shows you how things came to be in a way that's interesting even though you know where things are going to end up. This track isn't necessarily scary in a traditional sense, but it's always been one that invoked a different kind of terror, one of a downtrodden, oppressed society without much hope. The string sections in particular meander their way across the beat in a slow, melancholy way that I think a lot of slow-paced horror movies share. It's one of dread and eerie despair.

Final Fantasy VII - The Great North Cave

This is a more traditional track that brings to mind the heavy burden of having to enter the unknown. You know nothing good awaits you in there, only untold monsters and madness. Like A Closed Off Village, this track is laced with a kind of sadness that seems appropriate. You're a brave warrior who must do what must be done for the fate of the world, even though you're not sure you'll make it back alive. When the choral bits kick in it's foreboding as well as foreshadowing. By this point in the game, you know the battle with Sephiroth is at the end of the tunnel, but you don't yet know the chorus-rich One Winged-Angel will be there as you fight.

Diablo III soundtrack

Like Crisis Core, the soundtrack in Diablo's third installment isn't your normal horror game affair. The intro cutscene is orchestrally bombastic, but once you actually get into the game proper, what you're met with is a soundscape more in line with haunted woods and blighted townsfolk struggling to survive as life outside of the towns gets increasingly dangerous. Demonic hordes are swarming the land, laying waste to everything that crosses their path. For me, it gives me the vibe I felt wandering around the last few minutes of Halloween night as a kid. The crowds had thinned, the candy-givers had gone back inside and shut off the lights, and all that was left was the darkened decorations and abandoned streets, with increasingly bare trees and cold winds swirling the fallen leaves around my feet. The kind of setting that made me not want to walk by any cemeteries until the morning light returned.

Costume Quest soundtrack

Speaking of trick-or-treating, I didn't want to end on such a down note. I've praised this series here in the past, and I'm not the only one who's discovered its youthful charms. Like the games themselves, the Costume Quest soundtrack invokes the spirit of being a kid again while trying to be scary, but not trying too hard. Strange things are afoot and must be investigated, but all's going to be well in the end, and at the end of the day, candy, costumes, and friends are the real joys of the season.

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Some great stuff on this list! I really need to play through Crisis Core, at some point. "A Closed Off Village" is an updated version of one of the tunes in FF7, as I'm sure you know, and that's a neat take on it. In keeping with the Squaresoft theme, since I recently played through it again, I would say much of the Parasite Eve soundtrack could be on the list, but "Out Of Phase" works well, because it has that unsettled, melancholy feel to it that never quite resolves, since the track loops endlessly in game. I love that you included Axiom Verge - that's one of my favorites in recent years, and the soundtrack is mind-blowing, particularly when you realize it's one person who did that whole game, music included!
@MetalFRO: Yeah, I was a bit surprised to find out that Crisis Core tracked was a redone FF7 track. The better orchestration in the CC version made the song so much better imo. I never played a significant amount of Parasite Eve, so the soundtrack is a blank spot for me. I remember the opening cutscenes being really cool, though. I may have to revisit it some time.

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