405 Video Games: Top 10 Horror Video Game Music Themes
Whether you love or loathe the latest generation of horror games, we can all agree that the genre lays claim to some of the most atmospheric and genuinely adrenaline-rushing soundtracks.
I decided to list a Top 10 of horror video games that I felt reflected the genre in its truest, frightening and most haunting form. It's based on personal opinion, so I expect everyone who reads this to contribute their own Top 10 and/or their thoughts on the choices!
DISCLAIMER: There were FAR too many good songs and soundtracks out there and I was in danger of simply filling my Top 10 with multiple songs from one video game series if I wasn't careful. With that in mind I've decided to make the most varied Top 10 I can without repeating tracks from the same soundtrack and/or game series!
Hope you enjoy it! LET'S START THE COUNTDOWN!!!
Resident Evil 2 was fantastic for its time. It had a classic "eerie" horror feel, and relied on subtlety in the form of exploration, not knowing when the enemies would appear and cleverly positioned camera angles to amplify the tension.
Other elements were the "jump-out scares", or the up-tempo fighting elements designed to ignite and expel the pent up energy you'd built whilst exploring.
The developers cleverly designed their "Save Room" to be a middle ground, or purgatory, between these elements of horror - a place for the player to rest. However, the music used, despite being calming, was connotative of a certain level of sorrow that made the player question if they were really safe from their predicament? Only time will tell!
Fatal Frame 2's soundtrack is practically a concept album.
"The Twins Return" reflects factors of the storyline, with the most obvious point of reference being the instrumentation; although subtle, it conveys the premise of the story being based in a Japanese village/backdrop through the use of minimalistic instruments found in several East Asian Cultures (not exclusive to Japan).
Furthermore, it gives off a religious or ancient connotation. Without spoiling the storyline, I felt this song summed up all the elements of the story completely, whilst making me nervously and continuously clean my PlayStation 2's controller due to the constant sweat produced from my palms during this fear inducing game!
This entry is a special one. Written to sound like the intro music to "Patriot Games"/"Call of Duty Modern Warfare", the middle-eastern tones in this theme tune encapsulates perfectly the imagery of shady terrorism, or CIA agents up to no good, in the game's first visceral and disturbing cinematic.
The word "Epic" comes to mind when I hear the strings growing and evolving as the music progresses, its overall sound leaving the player with a sense of sadness and hopelessness.
The atmosphere and notes eventually evolve into a more sinister, dissonant and horror tinged sound. We can also hear something beyond the music...is that breathing we hear at the end?
It's subtle touches like this in game music that turns them into "Triple A" titles.
Hitchcock Horror is what comes to mind when I listen to this. It's pretty much classical and, in a way, this game is too. It wasn't really a polished game per se', but it was brazen enough to try and have an atmosphere and vibe on par with the "old" horror and thriller classics. It conjures it up nicely in this one! Sadly, not enough games have that much appreciation of character and experimentation.
Oh and who can forget the real-time intro movie for this game - I miss the days when developers put in effort like this!
Music like this deserves to be featured in a movie and in a way Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow surpasses that medium altogether. Its music brought back a factor that is lacking in today's video games, or one could argue the entertainment industry as a whole.
It really reminds me of a Tim Burton movie from the 90s: Edward Scissorhands or a great Fantasy Gothic classic tale.
The running theme in Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow was undoubtedly sadness/regret. Capturing that element was no problem for composer Óscar Araujo, but I didn't expect to be quite so blown away with how epic he made this soundtrack sound while still retaining the element of fantasy gothic horror.
While I appreciate those medieval/power metal themes from the classic Castlevania games (which are legendary in my opinion), the soundtrack to Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow really helped catapult this game's story and atmosphere over and above its peers and influences, and has set a new standard for other games to aspire to.
When I first heard this track, I was a little surprised. It had a lot of strong elements borrowed from Angelo Badalamenti (see David Lynch's movies to hear examples of his work – they are long time collaborators). Sweeping sombre strings, but with strong ethereal/dream-like overtones.
This game falls roughly between the lines of post-apocalyptic and horror. While it shares genre similarities to the Fallout series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl follows more of a mystery/fear element to drive the characters in the game. They aren't fully aware of the effects of the radiation fallout in the zone, so all their stories are but rumours soaked in folklore, therefore it falls more into a horror category due to its focus on the effects of the zone and what horrors it has produced within beasts and men alike.
To that end, the music really backs up this story's backdrop, and sets the tone for things to come. A mystery in an empty, lifeless, death-ridden zone of horrors.
Proving you don't need a million dollars and a massive team to make a great horror game, Amnesia: Dark Descent oozes frightening horror from every pore of its audiovisual design.
The music is probably the most frightening you'll hear in a first-person video. It always keeps you on edge, and it feels like there's little to no respite - you certainly never hear the almost soothing equivalent of Resident Evil's "Save Room Theme" music at any point!
This is frightening on every level. All your senses are in for a ride.
Static imagery? D-level voice acting and hammer-horror styled story? "So, how will this be scary?”, I asked myself.
The strength of this game's horror lies in its atmosphere. Even though this word has been thrown about enough already in this article, it's extremely prevalent in this game's narrative and soundtrack.
The static imagery becomes even more eerie and haunting the more you explore it. The soundtrack was far so menacing that I never once felt welcome in the house you stay in in this game.
The soullessness and isolation of the house is almost overpowering and because of that, I was forced to read books/diaries/newspaper articles littered about the game to explain the events that surrounded me - it was the only way to retain my sanity …with the music as my only companion...and the scratches that followed at night.
I constantly question myself when I hear this song; "What's more haunting? The game or this song?"
Music like this is not just masterfully crafted in how it’s composed, but also in how it’s performed. The vocal performance on this track is unbelievably haunting. It's almost like a cry and a chant in one form. In that respect, the title of "Lament" fits it perfectly.
The music itself, I feel, is heavily influenced by Angelo Badalamenti (particularly if you listen to the "Love Theme" on the Mulholland Drive soundtrack).
Sadness, regret, anger, torment...all these emotions wrapped into one mystical vocal performance. I haven't since heard anything this powerful or emotional in video game music and it will be hard, if not impossible to replicate.
Dark, disturbing, frightening, haunting, chilling, surreal, ominous, terrifying… This game is far too scary for words (or a thesaurus) to describe!
Among horror fans Silent Hill 2 is legendary. The series has far too many good musical pieces to mention; however the one I chose here will give you a basic idea of what this game is all about and how dark it can get.
It really comes down to personality and experimentation in this music. Akira Yamaoka, who composed the game's series from SH1 to SH5 (and the spin-offs on the PSP and Wii), really put a bit of his own personality in there. He always came over as more of a musician than a "hired in-house" composer and therefore always put his "trademark" into the gaming series music, so he never used conventional instrumentation like a hired orchestra to scare you, but instead created literally his own sounds to frighten you (he even performs all the guitar work on the albums!).
As the Silent Hill series' quality descended in a downward spiral faster than Silent Hill 2's protagonist could jump down dark holes (or put his hands in other people's toilets), the music always retained the same amount of quality, with fans consoling themselves with: "...well, at least the music will still be good!" However with his recent departure from the series, you have to admit that the series may be finally laid to rest now, at least musically.
Fluidity is something that is lacking from many a game's music, which is why this series alone is sitting at the No.1 spot in my opinion - the fluidity of each composed piece of music bleeds into each other nicely, successfully conveying its story and atmosphere.
Silent Hill's music is a narrative within itself, guiding the player's emotions and re-telling events both past and present in their respectful emotional light.
A magnum opus and masterpiece of videogame music, we have yet to see the same level of quality and consistency from another series.
The Mystery Special Mention Track:
The creator of the following Horror/Mystery game called the music a little (quoting him) - "へたくそ" ("Hetakuso" - It basically means “it's crap”).
We can all agree with this statement, to an extent, but we accept the game's charm for...well...what it is! It's kind of *special* how it was made, and within the horror genre itself this game is pretty …***special***!
Have you guessed what it is yet?
Love it or hate it...I sure hope you know how to whistle!