I’ll tell you all a little secret – I don’t really like Halloween. It’s not the ‘scary’ part I dislike, it’s everything else. I like sugar as much as the next guy but the gluttonous amounts of it that the young and not so young demand from home dwellers is just too much. Then there’s the costumes; I hate dressing up at the best of times and the added pressure that comes with Halloween, where each and every costume is scrutinised for its effort and/or humour value like some form of social 99p X-Factor.
Conversely, I love films and games with a spooky, dark or even downright sinister tone – everything from the ghost houses in Super Mario World right up to films like Ring and games like Silent Hill 2. I love the variety found within this theme, particularly in the music which aids you in experiencing anything from comic creepiness to psychological dread and beyond, so I’ve gathered together some of my favourite pieces from all ends of the spectrum for this edition of VGM playlist.
Let’s start at the more cheerful side of the theme – I’ve said before that I don’t really like the traditions of Halloween, but I’ll challenge anyone not to feel charmed by Costume Quest. The game itself captures the mood of the 31st October better than any other piece of media, maybe even more so than Hocus Pocus and Pete McConnell’s score, while occasionally blending into the background, is both eerie and cheerful at its best. Perhaps the other most famous child-friendly ‘scary’ game is Luigi’s Mansion – when this came out in 2001 I was just glad that finally Luigi would be getting his time in the spotlight (or torchlight in this instance). The game’s main theme is probably the most well-known piece from the soundtrack, which plays while Luigi is exploring the eponymous mansion; hearing the other Mario brother hum along with the double bass in terror really brings the atmosphere of the game alive and gives more character to a Mario series character than Nintendo had managed before and since.
Just because a game isn’t scary or based on Halloween in of itself doesn’t mean there can’t be scary sections. The most famous instance comes from Pokemon’s brilliantly creepy Lavender Town which has had many a word written about it on the internet, but there are other examples. The Legend of Zelda series has a number of occasions where the tone dramatically shifts and leans towards a more uncomfortable setting; this is most prominently on show during Majora’s Mask, where the tone of the setting and music alters as you progress through to the third day of each cycle. Suddenly that very sinister looking moon is right above you and previously up-tempo town music changes into something a lot darker. Other games use this trick for certain sections too, such as the graveyard in Fez, and the first time you go to the world map in the World of Ruin in Final Fantasy VI. Other times, games have creepy music ahead of big boss battles, a great example being the music which plays as you swim in the lake above the Hydra in Shadow of the Colossus, as if it’s daring you to dive under water to grab hold and slay the beast.
And then there are games that are just plain terrifying, with a soundtrack to boot. Silent Hill 2 remains to this day one of my favourite games ever (the less said about the HD collection the better), and one of the main reasons is Akira Yamaoka’s almost suffocation industrial soundtrack, interspersed with moments of hope which ultimately fly by very quickly. Elsewhere, the soundtrack to Bloodborne, encapsulates the Gothic terror of its game world throughout, even with the number of different composers working on the soundtracks, while Jason Graves Dead Space soundtrack lends itself to the isolation and intrinsic horror of the situation you find yourself in. And it’s not just big budget games that can provide terror on a plate; Jessica Curry’s deep score and choral work for Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Daniel Olsén’s disturbing and atmospheric pieces on Year Walk add innumerously to the worlds they score and the games wouldn’t be the same without them.
As usual, if you have any suggestions of your own, please leave a comment!