There are so many fantastic scores to games that can be classified as horrific in some way, largely because the score of any horror product is going to heavily factor into the actual atmosphere of the experience. Plenty of horror-themed games, across the decades, have had memorable songs and soundtracks, from Shadowgate and Uninvited and their MIDI glory all the way to more recent products like Deadspace and Rule of Rose, but there are, I think, a few franchises/games whose soundtracks stick out as being exceptional in some form or fashion. Since I’ve got a whole column to work with here, let’s see what we can do to show you some really good examples.
1.) The Silent Hill franchise has, without question, had some of the greatest music in any game series, ever, thanks in no small part to producer Akira Yamaoka. The man is a masterful producer, at least as far as this franchise is concerned, and has easily produced some of the greatest single songs ever made, period. It’s not at all unreasonable to say that his compositions have had a hand in making the series as popular as it’s become; with a more generic, less interesting soundtrack to rely on, the experience would not feel as strong as it does, and in large part, this would seriously hurt the presentation of the games. If you’ve somehow managed to miss the franchise and the six games in it, here’s “Melancholy Requiem”Â from Silent Hill 4: The Room:
2.) The Shin Megami Tensei series of games, at least the ones that have come to the US (I’ve not had the time to try and play the SNES games, sorry), while not horror games per say, feature a significantly large amount of horror elements that most players can pick up on easily enough; demons, black magic, the end of the world, the whole bit. Anyone who’s played various games from these franchises would be hard-pressed to deny that the games are at least vaguely horror themed, if not outright that way. The soundtracks from these games often feature tunes that actively exploit this thing, from the haunting orchestral melodies of the Velvet Room to the industrial grinding of some of the battle tracks and beyond, and while many of the tunes in the games don’t entirely make the attempt to be spooky at all, the contrast between the haunting and spooky tracks and the light, upbeat tunes makes the experience all the better for it. While this isn’t the exact version I was looking for, all the same, here’s “Poem of Everyone’s Soul”Â from Persona 3:
3.) The Resident Evil save room music across most of the games is often absolutely perfect, as it appropriately contrasts the feeling of dread and terror one feels while out in the world trying to avoid dying with the peaceful calm one feels in the save room itself, where nothing can come and kill you… most of the time. Granted, many of the other songs are also quite stirring, emotionally speaking, but the save room tracks specifically highlight the contrast in the games nicely, and serve to heighten the tension involved in being anywhere BUT the save room. As a perfect example, here’s the save room theme from Resident Evil 2:
4.) Baroque, while not classified as a horror game per say, certainly retains enough horror elements to make it something that qualifies for this list, and as such, it bears noting that this game has the best techno-industrial soundtrack ever made, and if you were to play it during your Halloween party this year, it would completely fit the mood and compliment the party nicely. Frankly, the entire soundtrack is amazing across the board, and as “horror themed game soundtracks”Â go, it would be a sin (hur hur) to leave this off of the list. For a perfect example, here’s “Groan of Metal”Â:
5.) Shadowgate, as mentioned above, has some appropriately creepy music at various points in the game, but no single track is more memorable to those who have played it than the tune that signals the entrance of the Grim Reaper (most likely because that’s the one we’ve heard the most). Aside from being a beautiful (for a MIDI) tune, it’s also incredibly appropriate, in that it sounds like a song that would accompany the end of one’s quest… albeit not in the way we had expected. The following video plays the tune at 0:17 in, and also has the distinction of showing one of the more interesting ways to die in the game: falling to your death and being caught by the Reaper at the bottom:
6.) The House of the Dead franchise, while it’s less spooky and more shooting zombies in the face, is undoubtedly one of the greatest horror franchises of all time, simply because it’s incredibly fun to shoot zombies in the face, and not nearly enough games let you do this. The fine folks at Sega often put as much work into the soundtracks for these games as they do the games themselves, and by combining rock, industrial, and the odd jazz tunes together, they almost always turn out a soundtrack that, while not always creepy, is almost certainly always entertaining to listen to, especially while (say it with me) shooting zombies in the face. Here’s the Curien’s Mansion theme from… well, at least two of the games:
7.) While a few of us (at the very least, Aaron and I) will agree that the game itself is absolute trash, you can’t deny that the story and music from Rule of Rose are absolutely fabulous. This is often the curse of the gaming industry, frankly: no matter how awesome the execution of your game is, no matter how amazing the visuals, the sound, the story, and everything else is, if it plays badly, you might as well just throw it into the street. Still, the soundtrack from the game was absolutely fabulous (so much so that I ended up buying the standalone soundtrack CD on Ebay for a dollar just to listen to it in the car), partially because the tunes are incredibly haunting and beautiful on their own, and partly because the music is good enough that it almost forgives the game of the fact that it’s borderline unplayable. Almost. Here’s “Backbiting”Â from that soundtrack:
8.) When most folks talk about Eternal Darkness, the things they talk about are, of course, the Lovecraft-inspired concepts and the awesome scary stuff the game will do to you (sometimes that’s all they talk about). The soundtrack to the game, however, deserves some praise in there, too, because it was also quite fantastic. Combining equal parts ambient effects, orchestral music, and spooky compositions into one huge musical symphony of awesome, the soundtrack of Eternal Darkness is honestly one of the more notable yet less noted things that made this game as undeniably horrific and terrifying as it was. In case you managed to miss the game, here’s “Black Rose”Â to show you what I mean:
9.) Of course, no list of awesome music from horror-themed games would EVER be complete without discussing the music of Castlevania. In fairness, Castlevania is about as scary as Charlie Brown in a sheet moaning “Boo”Â at you, but that’s hardly the point: Castlevania deserves its place on any horror list simply because it’s among the first notable “horror”Â games ever, and if you think of Dracula, odds are within about ten seconds, you’re going to think of one of the Castlevania games. Well, unless you don’t play video games, but then, if you don’t, why would you be reading this? Regardless, the series is rather well known for having awesome music as well as for having all sorts of huge monsters and someone with a whip in every game, but instead of picking the obvious choices (“Vampire Killer”Â and “Bloody Tears”Â), I figured I’d pick one of the slightly less obvious ones to illustrate that point. Here’s “The Tragic Prince”Â from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night:
10.) And now, to wrap this up, we come to a franchise that holds a special place in the hearts of several of the staffers here, for many reasons: Splatterhouse. Now, yeah, I know, we already devoted a whole day to it, so I’m not going to get into the whole “this game is awesome and here’s why”Â song and dance, but one thing we didn’t really discuss at that point is how awesome the soundtracks of all three of the games really were. Doing something awesome with MIDI was, as we’re aware, not impossible, but doing something SO AWESOME that it totally hyped you up for the game before the first moment you’d even played it was usually something only Yuzo Koshiro could pull off with any degree of consistency. Yet, despite all of the awesome tunes in the Splatterhouse games themselves, the tunes that most readily stuck in my mind were the intro tracks for the second and third games: they were exceptionally spooky, well composed, and immediately made it known exactly what you were getting yourself into in a way few games could accurately manage at that point. It’s obvious that not everyone will have had the chance to experience these games for themselves, especially since Splatterhouse 3 isn’t yet available on the Virtual Console, so as a double-decker showcase, here are the intros for the second and third games, for your viewing pleasure:
This doesn’t really even scratch the surface of how many awesome soundtracks there are across the horror gaming world, you understand, but for those of you out there who place as equal a value on your spooky tunes as you do your spooky sights, I hope this has been entertaining. Also, if anyone out there has any further suggestions, hey, feel free to share: we can never get enough creepy music here, I can assure you.
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Mark B. is the Senior Editor at Diehard GameFAN, mostly because he’s been on staff for a decade. He has previously written for 411Games, InsidePulse Games, Not a True Ending, Retrograding and Beyond the Threshold, and he maintains multiple infrequent columns, as well as a Hitbox stream on Saturdays. You can check out his archives and non-game related work over at markbwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter at MarkBWriting or Facebook at MarkBWriting. (Special thanks to J. Rose for the artwork.)