Final Fantasy VI – Phantom Forest

The music of the Final Fantasy series covers a wide range of emotions and scenarios.  Each game has a variety of themes to suit epic battles, soulful departures, and boundless exploration.  Some of the strongest melodies composed by Nobuo Uematsu are the ethereal tunes that match mysterious settings like the Phantom Forest.

As one would expect, the Phantom Forest is filled with all manner of spirits.  Many of these spectres are vengeful creatures, bent on attacking the player through random battles.  But some of these ghosts are merely waiting for the arrival of the Phantom Train to take them to their eternal resting place.


The song mirrors the experience of each otherworldly encounter, using haunting sound samples to create a comforting and delicate melody.  For a great cover of this track, along with several other wonderful acoustic renditions of Final Fantasy music, be sure to check out the music of Eiko Ishiwata Nichols.

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Zombies Ate My Neighbors – Evening of the Undead

There is a joy to be found in uncovering mysteries about beloved music.  Interviews with composers and songwriters can reveal new information on long-enjoyed tracks, such as the meaning of lyrics or the creation of certain melodies.  In my research for today’s spooky track, my mind was blown to discover the truth behind the guttural moans featured in Evening of the Undead.

For years, my brother and I assumed the sound effect that pops up again and again in this song were meant to be the groaning of undead horrors, making their way through suburbia.  With the amount of monsters present in Zombies Ate My Neighbors, this theory made sense to us.  But as I read details from composer Joe McDermott, I learned that this seemingly incoherent uttering is actually a voice sample, asking the question, “Is there anyone outside?”


So the sound I assumed was the zombies trying to find their latest prey was actually the victims themselves, looking for other survivors.  Mystery solved.

For a great cover of this track (along with many other fantastic spooky game music covers), be sure to check out the album Songs for the Recently Deceased by The OneUps.

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Mega Man 7 – Shade Man’s Theme

While Mega Man 7 is not my favorite game from this beloved series, it does feature my favorite elements from the Mega Man world.  It has a level filled with robotic dinosaurs, a hidden fighting game mode, and a giant pumpkin for a mid-boss.  This game also features my favorite robot master of the entire series, Shade Man.


After six installments where I had to settle for dopey Bubble Bat as my preferred mechanical menace, Mega Man 7 finally delivered a robot who could inspire an entire stage of horror trappings. As an awesome robotic vampire (SHHH! I know how silly it sounds), Shade Man had to have an appropriately spooky level to match.  His stage (aptly named Horror Fortress) is a gothic castle filled with mechanical terrors made to resemble zombies, werewolves, and haunted suits of armor.  The theme of the Horror Fortress is also quite spooky.

The opening of the song starts with rising tones, meant to match the full moon’s rise at the start of the stage.  These tones give way to a rolling melody that sits comfortably in the Mega Man musical tradition.

Composers Yuko Takehara, Toshihiko Horiyama, and Makoto Tomozawa also hid a bonus song in Shade Man’s stage; a classic track from one of Capcom’s spookier series:

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EarthBound – Threed, Zombie Central

In the past, I have bemoaned the overbearing presence of zombies in video games.  So many games that feature the living dead boil down to bland shooters with brooding plots about managing to survive in a ruined world.  If a game is going to use shambling corpses as a threat, then I want to see some interesting and innovative ways to deal with them, like using bottle rockets and fly paper to thwart the undead hordes.


When main characters Ness and Paula arrive in the third town of EarthBound (aptly named Threed), the heroes find the community is plagued by zombies.  The townsfolk are in a panic, huddled in makeshift tents for safety, desperately trying to come up with plans to deal with this menace.  Unlike the second town in the game (aptly named Twoson), Threed is shrouded in darkness and ghouls roam the streets.  The soundtrack matches the grim state of emergency:

Composers Keiichi Suzuki, Hiroshi Kanazu, and Hirokazu Tanaka make great use of sound effects to heighten the mood of this track.  The noise of warning sirens is a solid compliment to the otherworldly tones of the song, making the player’s time in Threed even more ominous.

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Silent Hill – Intro

There are some sounds that can instantly strike fear into our hearts.  The creaking of floorboards, the hiss of an agitated animal, or the low moan of some otherworldly creature are all noises that register on the list of stressful sounds.  For me, the certain strumming of a mandolin causes immediate anxiety.

Right from the start of Silent Hill, the sound is off-putting.  A mandolin is not your typical stringed instrument and hearing it filtered in such a way makes the entire experience feel ancient and uncomfortable.

A breezy guitar theme soon enters, hopefully to soften the blow, but the entire song seems strange; like the sort of thing that would play from an old record that has been warped over time.  Without the mandolin creeping in and out of the track, this would be a pleasant soft-rock ballad, but maybe that is exactly what composer Akira Yamaoka was trying to portray.  A town that had the potential to be wholesome and normal, but horrors on the fringes kept creeping in and twisting the entire world.

For many of my friends, other uncomfortable sounds are the trademarks of the Silent Hill series- the scraping of metal on concrete or the moist steps of bare flesh against stained tile.  But for me, the noise of that cursed town will always be the telltale strum of a mandolin.

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WarioWare: Touched! – Ashley’s Song

A great theme song can immediately endear a character to players.  That’s certainly what made Ashley stand out from the wacky cast of WarioWare.  While other character themes from this oddball series were composed to sound like pop songs or funky disco, Ashley’s Song sounds directly inspired by shows like The Addams Family and The Munsters.

The lilting melody and creepy tone made this track stand out from other songs on the WarioWare: Touched! soundtrack.  The gloomy lyrics are just goofy enough to match the lighthearted tone of the game, and they certainly get stuck in your head quickly.  My sister and I would often sing Ashley’s Song and Mona’s Theme to each other, even years after playing WarioWare.


Composer Masaru Tajima would return to this track for the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii.  He recorded a fresh take on Ashley’s Song, that sounds more like a big band hit than a spooky song from the sixties.

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Super Mario Land 2 – Graveyard (Pumpkin Zone)

The soundtracks of the Mario series are full of themes and variations.  Longtime series composer Koji Kondo would often compose a main theme for a particular game and use several variations of this melody to create a full and impressive soundtrack.  The soundtrack to Super Mario World is a great example of this method, where themes established in the Overworld and Castle are used in variation for the Underwater and Ghost House respectively.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that other composers who work on Mario games have used a similar technique.

The soundtrack for Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins was composed by Kazumi Totaka.  Best known as the inspiration for K.K. Slider in Animal Crossing, this composer has an impressive body of work that includes games like Wii Sports, Luigi’s Mansion, and of course, Animal Crossing.  For Super Mario Land 2, Totaka establishes a very catchy Athletic theme that is used in early stages.  This theme has a rolling beat and a solid melody that urges players to speed through the wide open levels.


Over the course of the game, this theme reappears in several different variations, including a particularly foreboding track featured in the aptly spooky Pumpkin Zone.

For this song, Totaka slows down the Athletic theme to a dreadful crawl.  The added sound effects in between each measure of the melody bring to mind spiders creeping along and the bones of a skeleton rattling in the background.  It is impressive to see how a single theme can inspire such different emotions through well-executed variation.

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Monster Party – Stage 1 (World of Horror)

The early days of Nintendo were some strange times indeed.  Despite several strong censorship policies, Nintendo of America still released many dark and potentially frightening games for the NES.  Horror movie franchises like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street had licensed releases on the console, while hit series like Castlevania featured monsters from Universal movies and gothic literature.

Monster Party Story

One particularly odd title was Monster Party.  Released in 1989 by Bandai, the game featured a young boy named Mark being enlisted to save an alien planet from evil monsters.  The opening of the game is pretty goofy, as Mark is asked to aid in battle as he is walking home from a baseball game.  A purple gargoyle named Bert insists that Mark’s great weapon (a baseball bat) will be the perfect tool to fight off the evil oppressors.  This lighthearted tone continues into the first level, where pastel pink, purple, and green decorate a whimsical world.  A silly looking tree stands at the half-way point through the stage, covered in smiling faces and lush leaves.  But the moment Mark crosses this adorable monolith, everything goes wrong.


The sound of crashing thunder rumbles from the television speakers, colors begin to shift, and this magical environment turns sinister.  The candy colored stones become scowling corpses.  The mossy grass and leaves melt into gelatinous ooze.  The once friendly looking tree has become a towering monster, looming down at Mark.  All of these jarring visuals are matched by a change in the soundtrack.  The once calm melody is replaced by a dismal tune that echoes a haunting, unsafe mood.

This particularly gruesome imagery is mostly isolated to level 1, but other scary stuff pops up over the course of play.  How so much potentially frightening content made it past Nintendo’s censors is unknown, but the release of a game prototype in the early 2000s revealed a much darker game in the original concept.  All of the differences between the American release and the Japanese prototype have been detailed at The Cutting Room Floor, a site dedicated to researching and showcasing unused and cut content from video games.  Take a look, if you dare!

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Super Mario 64 – Big Boo’s Haunt

Dread is an emotion that I would not typically assign to playing Super Mario 64.  When the game arrived at our home in 1996, my brother and I spent weeks filled with wonder and joy.  This new three-dimensional world was filled with bright colors, adorable enemies, and inviting locales.  The soundtrack was equally upbeat, featuring gorgeous melodies and bouncy tunes to match the gameplay.  Yes, everything was consistent with the fantastic journeys from Mario’s past… save for one dark stage.

After nearly a month of play, I thought we had explored every nook of Princess Peach’s castle.  My brother successfully unlocked the basement, while I cleared the way to the upper floors.  One day while we were making our way through the castle, a single ghost appeared in a familiar hallway.  This was unexpected; there wasn’t a ghost there before.  It leered at us, goading us to follow it down the hallway, laughing the entire way.  As we passed through the door to the royal fountain, we were shocked to see it corrupted by dozens of ghosts.

We punched our way through the spectres, watching them drop coins as they dissipated.  We efficiently exorcized the courtyard, until a particular ghost dropped a birdcage instead of gold.  As we crept up to investigate this item, Mario was swept up and shrunk down my a mysterious force.  The new stage screen appeared, signaling that we had discovered Big Boo’s Mansion.

Mario’s enthusiastic cheer of, “Let’s-a-go” was the last joyful sound before a dissonant dirge blasted out of our television speakers.

This was the first time we had been so unsettled by music from the Mario series.  In the past, long-time series composer Koji Kondo had managed to keep things light-hearted and uplifting.  Even in the previous encounters with ghosts, his music had a sort of winking quality, like players were a part of a spooky-but-goofy moment.  In Big Boo’s Mansion, the mirth was gone, replaced with the sound of dark chanting and ominous notes.  The stage matched the soundtrack.  The mansion was large and foreboding.  Washed-out walls and rotted wooden floors held man-eating monsters and cackling ghosts.

Mario64ghostsdontdieThanks to Koji Kondo’s composition and an equally ominous environment, I was legitimately frightened while playing a Mario game.

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GIMMGP Spooky Games Month V: Spooktacular Video Game Music

Good evening, faithful readers!  We are moments away from the midnight hour that rings in our favorite month of the year.  Over the last four years, Laura and I have filled the scary season of October with piles of posts on horror games and their ilk.  For the fifth year of the GIMMGP Spooky Games Month, we have a particularly eerie experiment for you.

For the next 31 days, we will feature daily posts highlighting ghoulishly great game music.  Each day in October will spotlight a spooky song from a different title, along with a bit of background on the music and our experiences with the related game.  We will be covering a wide scope of video game history, sharing a variety of tunes across several console generations.

So be sure to tune in to GIMMGP every day in October for a freshly unearthed song for your spooky seasonal soundtrack!

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