Tag Archives: spooky game music

Undertale – Spider Dance

There are certain songs and sounds that call to mind terrifying experiences.  Classic horror movie themes rely on specific melodies to conjure uncomfortable and haunting memories to the mind of the viewer.  In the case of video games, a repeated theme or visceral noise can be used to emphasize the power of a specific scene.

Very early in Undertale, the player may find a pair of spider webs surrounding a sign that reads, “Spider Bake Sale. All proceeds go to real spiders.”  The player is presented with an option to purchase a Spider Donut or a Spider Cider, payment made by leaving money stuck to one of the webs.

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As a devout arachnophobe, this little scene made my skin crawl.  I pictured the spindly legs of spiders stirring donut batter and pouring cups of cider for horrifying local bake sales. With limited funds (and a fear of eight-legged bakers), I decided not to leave any sort of monetary gains for these little monsters.  Little did I know that by supporting the efforts of the spider-kin of Undertale, I would avoid battling their leader, Muffet.

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Later in the game, as I made my way through a room filled with cobwebs, I was ensnared by the leader of the Spider Bake Sale.  For not supporting her efforts to liberate her arachnid comrades from the cold of the Ruins, Muffet lashes out at the player; attacking with unique spider-themed strikes.

The music for Muffet’s battle (appropriately called Spider Dance) calls to mind the spindly movements of a spider.  A frantic melody launches from the start of the song; calling to mind the feeling of first laying eyes on a spider that has invaded your space.  This gives way to a minimalist string sample, which simulates the actions of a spider spinning a web to capture their prey.  The whole song is intense, engaging, and appropriate for the frantic battle with Muffet.

As with so many of the themes in Undertale, composer Toby Fox uses leit motifs across tracks to emphasize a certain theme.  In the case of Spider Dance, this song shares its melody with equally haunting tracks like Ghost Fight, Pathetic House, and Dummy!  Each of these songs centers around otherworldly encounters; where the player is faced with haunting moments that could scare them into submission.

Of course, any frightening situation can be overcome with enough… DETERMINATION.

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Grim Fandango- Manny and Meche

During the 1990s, there seemed to be a glut of spooky romance across various media platforms.  Movies like The Addams Family and Nightmare Before Christmas shared eerie love stories on the big screen, while authors like Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton provided supernatural intimacy on the printed page.  At record stores, there was no shortage of music with themes of Gothic adoration, and video games were starting to come into their own with telling stories of otherworldly love.

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While I would hardly consider Grim Fandango to be a horror game, its story and subject matter certainly revolve around death.  Our intrepid hero Manuel “Manny” Calavera is a travel agent for recently departed souls entering the Land of the Dead.  As he begins to uncover a plot of crime and corruption within his employer, the Department of Death, Manny meets a virtuous soul named Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.

At first, Manny merely thinks of Meche as his ticket out of his dead end job.  If Manny can score a client with an honorable life such as Meche’s, he believes this will work off his debt so he can move onto a true afterlife of rest.  But when Meche’s chance at a golden ticket to the Ninth Underworld is stolen from her, Manny begins a quest that will ultimately lead him to fall in love with Meche.

Over the course of the game, a certain piece of music pops up as Manny and Meche begin to show feelings for each other.  The exact instrumentation varies in each scenario, but the basic melody calls to mind a haunting dance between two souls.  Soft strings resonate feelings of love and sorrow; the struggles of a romance that has been tested by difficult circumstances.

Composer Peter McConnell created a beautiful piece of music to encapsulate the feelings between Manny and Meche, and the remastered performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is both heartwarming and haunting at the same time.  There is a sense of sad uncertainty to the music; as if the dancing couple may not get to enjoy each other’s company once the song is complete.  But just as Manuel Calavera said, “Nobody knows what’s going to happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”

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Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/Dracula X – Opposing Bloodlines

In the past, we used the Prelude track from Castlevania III to highlight the differences in audio and sound chips between the Famicom and the Nintendo Entertainment System. This year, we will take a look at another song from the Castlevania series that made its debut in two very different versions of a particular title.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was released on the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System in Japan in October of 1993.  This game was a massive upgrade from previous entries in the series; featuring anime-style cutscenes, hidden and branching level pathways, multiple endings, and an unlockable second character.  In addition to the changes in gameplay, Rondo of Blood was the first Castlevania title to make use of Red Book Audio.  This meant that the game’s soundtrack could feature CD-level sampling along with the PC Engine’s onboard soundchip, leading to higher musical quality in songs like Opposing Bloodlines:

Two years later, Konami would release an alternate version of Rondo of Blood to the Super Nintendo.  Titled Castlevania: Dracula X, this game featured similar graphics and level design to Rondo, but technological differences between the PC Engine and the Super Nintendo led to some drastic changes between the games.  Levels were redesigned, certain pathways were altered, cutscenes were removed, and the unlockable second character became a non-playable character to be rescued.

In addition to the gameplay and design changes in Dracula X, the audio had to be configured to make use of the Super Nintendo’s sound hardware.  Without Red Book Audio for sampling purposes, many songs had to be reworked to exclusively utilize the inherent samples and instrumentation of the Super Nintendo.  This led to new versions of every song on the soundtrack, including the aforementioned Opposing Bloodlines:

While I ultimately enjoy the experience of playing Rondo of Blood over Dracula X, I can still appreciate the music from the Super Nintendo version.  The sharper guitar sounds from Dracula X call to mind countless afternoons spent playing the game as a rental from our local video store; desperately trying to make my way through this particularly difficult game.

Rondo of Blood was re-released once more in 2007 as the Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PlayStation Portable.  This version of the game featured a 2.5D remake of Rondo, along with the original PC Engine version, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on a single disc. Despite porting nearly every other PSP game to a major home console, Konami has let this penultimate version of a Castlevania classic languish on the now defunct handheld.

So as we imagine a world where all versions of Rondo of Blood are freely available for us to enjoy, please have a listen to a final version of Opposing Bloodlines from Dracula X Chronicles:

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Bloodborne- Witch of Hemwick

Of the many horror stories I ingested as a child, the ones that linger in my memory featured an unexpected turn of events.  Tales where the main character believes they understand the entire scope of a situation, only to discover the true nature of a threatening scenario is right behind them.

As I traversed the Hemwick Charnel Lane area of Bloodborne, I was regularly accosted by a unique enemy- old crones brandishing crude weaponry.  Appropriately called the Hemwick Grave Women, these hags were often found celebrating around the numerous decrepit tombstones of the Charnel Lane.  Whenever I would try to sneak by their gruesome revelry, these shrews would attack in a mob; lashing out with dagger, scythe, and even a bloodied sledgehammer.

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These coordinated strikes implied that the Grave Women must have some sort of leader guiding their movements.  After seeing the mutilated faces and bestial proportions of this flock, I could only imagine how monstrous their shepherd must be.

At the top of a hill, I found the well-worn remains of an old farm manor that seemed to be a place of status within this massive graveyard.  I entered the building and descended into a large basement storeroom, where a lone creature stood on the opposite side.  This thing was nearly twice my height, with long skeletal limbs and skin that resembled aged leather. Thick matted hair grew from its head to cover most of its upper body, and two glowing eyes gazed out from this mess of decay.  As this beast brandished a sickle and lumbered towards me, I knew this must be the leader, the Witch of Hemwick.

The game identified her as such, displaying a health meter at the bottom of the screen with her title.  I took this as my opportunity to launch my first attack at the ancient witch; repeatedly striking her with my threaded cane.  Despite the fury of my blows, the witch made little attempt to defend herself.  This gaunt creature quickly fell to my assault, but this victory seemed hollow.  Then I noticed: throughout this short melee, the Witch’s health meter remained untouched.

Something was wrong.  Why did my attacks deal no damage to the Witch?  The room was now empty, but the sense of dread was stronger than ever.  The music in this area matched my emotions perfectly.  What started with soft and haunting strings had swelled into a menacing chorus of otherworldly chanting.  The once beguiling sound of a single violin became a threatening symphony of brass and percussion.  With the music reaching a violent crescendo, I knew something must be stalking me.  I frantically searched the room, but to no avail.  The room seemed devoid of such a predator.

It was only when I stopped to take a breath that I noticed her.  Lurking just behind me, close enough to reach out with her dagger caked in blood, stood the true Witch of Hemwick.  A ragged little crone, hunched over from a life of horrors, wearing a cloak with all manner of eyes sewn into the patchwork fabric.  It was she who had summoned the gaunt monster from before.  She would be the real threat on this day.

bloodbornetruewitchSo far, the Witch of Hemwick has been my favorite boss encounter, and perhaps my favorite moment, in Bloodborne.  It subverted my expectations, just like the preferred horror stories from my youth.  The music particularly contributed to the foreboding atmosphere of this encounter.  The team of composers for Bloodborne (Ryan Amon, Tsukasa Saitoh, Yuka Kitamura, Nobuyoshi Suzuki, Cris Velasco, and Michael Wandmacher) did an amazing job crafting a song that would match the emotional course of the player; from a lulled sense of security, to heightened foreboding, and finally, the feeling of being threatened by an unexpected otherworldly menace.

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GIMMGP Spooky Games Month VI: Big Bag of Treats

Good evening, faithful readers!  We are moments away from the midnight hour that rings in our favorite month of the year.  Over the last several autumns, Laura and I have filled the scary season of October with piles of posts on horror games and their ilk.  This year, we’ve got a grab bag full of tricks and treats for your reading pleasure!

Each week in October, a wide variety of spooky posts will shamble forth from GIMMGP Headquarters to your computers and mobile devices. Mondays will highlight new grisly game music articles, continuing the fiendish experiment from last year. Wednesdays will feature articles from the past; resurrected from the grave and updated for a proper haunting. And on the menu for Saturdays: fresh pairings of ghoulish games and batty brews, cross-posted from my new blog, Digital Draughts!

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As we prepare for the sixth spooky season here at GIMMGP, I am reminded of a tradition from my childhood.  Around this time of year, my family would watch a recorded copy of Disney’s DTV Monster Hits.  This little special combined haunting hit tracks with spooky vintage Disney animation.  Outside of the vignettes of Mickey Mouse hunting ghosts and various evil queens plotting destruction, I have vivid memories of skeletons dancing in the moonlight to rock music.

Despite their creepy cavorting, I found these bony brutes absolutely delightful.  In celebration of these musical monsters, I’ve crafted a list of my favorite video game skeletons for your enjoyment!

Yorick – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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I can’t help but smirk at this poor soul’s predicament.  After fighting all sorts of threatening monsters on my way to vanquish Dracula, it caught me off guard to find a skeleton kicking his own skull along the ground.  Honestly, I wish I could help Yorick reattach his head, but any attempt I made resulted in the immediate destruction of his fragile skull.  Alas.

Papyrus – Undertale

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As my favorite game of 2015, Undertale featured a wealth of lovable characters.  However, there was a certain skeleton that stood bony head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Papyrus is such a lovable goof. Despite his attempts to be a ruthless member of the Royal Guard, Papyrus simply cannot bring himself to subdue and capture the main character. His dopey enthusiasm is infectious throughout Undertale, and his battle theme is super catchy to boot.  Also, Papyrus is the first skeleton to ever take me out on a date, which makes him an extra special boy.

The Sanbone Trio – Gitaroo Man

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Speaking of catchy music, the somewhat obscure rhythm game Gitaroo Man features a fantastic group of skeletons known as the Sanbone Trio.  Armed with devilish maracas made from their own bones, this group of intergalactic warriors challenges the player to a Latin-flavored music battle (appropriately titled, Born to be Bone).  In spite of the challenge presented by these skeletal brothers, I managed to find my rhythm and take them down with relative ease (but not on Master Play, that’s just absurd).

Skeleton Biker – Castlevania 64

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Let’s be frank at the commencement: I did not enjoy Castlevania 64.  It paled in comparison to the two-dimensional versions of the beloved series; featuring poor camera work, frustrating platforming, and half-finished ideas.  However, this bemoaned sequel did feature skeletons riding motorcycles.  So I guess it did contribute a small piece of awesome to the Castlevania series as a whole.

Manuel Calavera – Grim Fandango

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I have written plenty in the past about my love for Grim Fandango and its protagonist, Manny Calavera.  This down-on-his-luck grim reaper sits not only at the top of my favorite video game skeletons list, but also in my favorite game characters of all time.  His bone-dry wit, clever quips, and earnest demeanor make him such an engaging character.  If you haven’t enjoyed Grim Fandango Remastered yet, please take the time to do so.

Dry Bowser – New Super Mario Bros.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of Laura’s preferred skeletal characters on this list.  As Dry Bowser is truly Laura’s favorite video game skeleton, I will let her words speak for this adorable monster:

I inadvertently picked Dry Bowser the first time we played the DLC for Mario Kart 8. What started out as an accident turned out to be a beautiful moment of serendipity. Do you know the feeling of finding a character in a game that truly understands you? Sure, he isn’t particularly fast, but this goes deeper than that. We are soul mates. The way he bullies the other players on the track. The way he breathes fire when excited or angry. How ridiculous he looks riding tiny motorcycles. Truly, we were made for each other.

With October imminent, I ask you faithful readers: who are your favorite video game skeletons? Let us know in the comments!

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Video Game Music Roundup and Podcast Recommendations

Over the 31 days of October, we featured daily posts highlighting ghoulishly great game music.  These spooky songs covered a wide variety of musical styles from several different consoles.  Some of these tracks are classic themes, beloved by fans worldwide.  Other tunes are very obscure and experimental, using the unique technology of a console to create a haunting or ominous mood.  Altogether, these songs showcase the power behind video game music to engage players and instill strong emotions in listeners.

As a final treat for GIMMGP’s Spooky Games Month, we have collected all of the music featured in October into a YouTube playlist for your listening pleasure.  Please enjoy these 46 spectacular and spooky video game songs with the embed below:

Just as there is a wonderful variety of video game music to be enjoyed, there are several excellent podcasts dedicated to the review and reverence of the medium.  We covered a handful of worthwhile series during October, which have been collected below, also for your listening pleasure:

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A relatively new series, Pixelated Audio highlights video game music as, “an attempt to bring music, history, awareness and some of the gaming culture to people that share a similar passion.”  Hosts Bryan and James cover a wide variety of game music, including some particularly obscure and underrated tracks.  Each episode is filled with interesting information on the game/topic being covered, along with each host’s obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm for great music.  Also, their website features tons of excellent original artwork based on the games and topics.  Episodes of note: a retrospective on the entire Punch-Out!! series, a showcase of the Pokémon Snap soundtrack and the sound technology of the Nintendo 64, and an exclusive interview with composer Peter McConnell about his work on Grim Fandango.

SuperMarcato

The Super Marcato Bros. (composers Karl and Will Brueggemann) discuss compositional and technical aspects of game music from all generations.  So far, they have recorded over 180 episodes covering a variety of games, composers, and genres.  These brothers bring a positive demeanor, interesting analysis, and a great selection of music to their podcast.  Some episodes of note: an exclusive interview with Donkey Kong Country composer David Wisea collection of excellent game music remixes, and a showcase of the variety of music from a particularly strong year in video game history, 1991.

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VGMpire is a fantastic tribute to video game music of all kinds.  In each episode, host Brett Elston features tons of music from a single title, series, or topic in the wide world of video games.  Joined by a team of hilarious co-hosts, these video game industry veterans bring a fun and informative mood to every episode.  Some episodes of note: a double-header of Parappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy, a retrospective on the music from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video games, and a showcase of composer Masafumi Takada’s work, which includes Killer 7, God Hand, and Danganronpa.

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Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – Bloody Tears

The time has come, faithful readers of GIMMGP!  That magical day is upon us.  Time to celebrate the spooky holiday of Halloween!

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Over the last 30 days, I have shared some fantastically creepy and impressive video game music.  It has all been leading up to this track.  As Halloween is a time to enjoy delicious treats, today’s song is pure indulgence for me.  Not only is this track from an appropriately spooky game, but it is also my favorite music across the whole of video games.  It is none other than Bloody Tears from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the NES.

This fantastic song was composed by Kenichi Matsubara, who would go on to write the music for the arcade version of Castlevania, titled Haunted Castle.  In the context of Castlevania II, this rousing theme plays the moment our hero Simon Belmont leaves the safety of a town.  As the first rolling notes of Bloody Tears hit, the player is immediately accosted by reanimated skeletons, bloodthirsty werewolves, and maniacal mermen.  The song is a perfect match for the macabre action encountered in the forests and swamps of this classic game.

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Like so many beloved themes from the NES-era, Bloody Tears became a recurring track in its parent series.  Over the course of the Castlevania lineage, Bloody Tears has been featured in 19 different games.  This song is also considered in the pantheon of excellent NES music, and has been covered in a variety of musical styles, including hard rock, soft jazz, and acapella.

For the final day of our Spooktacular Video Game Music month, I leave you with a showcase of covers and reimaginings of this rousing and spooky track.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Banjo-Kazooie – Mad Monster Mansion

Halloween means different things to different age groups.  For older adults, it is a season of decoration and preparation.  Entire neighborhood communities work together to cover their homes in increasingly scary items and fill their candy bowls with all sorts of treats.  For young adults and teenagers, this is a time to wildly celebrate and consume piles of horror media.  House parties full of costumed patrons overindulge in autumn drinks and scary movies.  And for kids, Halloween means costumes, candy, and trick or treating.  The holiday is certainly spooky, but there is a sense of goofiness just behind the scenes.  All of the ghouls and ghosts take on a playful demeanor, as kids dress up and make believe.

Typically, it is the more lighthearted media of the Halloween season that transcends the age groups.  Campy horror movies, fun animated television specials, and spooky platforming video games can be fun for a broad audience.  The Nintendo 64 classic Banjo-Kazooie provides a great example of this with the Mad Monster Mansion.

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Mad Monster Mansion is full of traditional horror elements.  The world features spooky locations like a graveyard, a hedge maze, and a creepy old mansion.  The main enemies are ghosts, skeletons, and animated tombstones.  Banjo even gets in on the act, transforming into a little pumpkin to complete certain challenges.  This haunting area also features an appropriately fun track:

Composer Grant Kirkhope crafted a bouncing melody inspired by the film Beetlejuice, and included tons of campy sound effects to enhance the playful mood of the piece.  The track matches the goofy and spooky aesthetic of Mad Monster Mansion, creating an experience that is fun for all ages.

For an episode of their podcast, the Super Marcato Bros. featured an exclusive interview with Grant Kirkhope.  Their talk with the composer is fantastic, giving all sorts of insight on the history of developer Rare and the creative process behind the music of games like GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, and of course, Banjo-Kazooie.  If you are a fan of the glory days of the Nintendo 64, or just an enthusiast of game music and composition, I highly recommend listening to this episode!

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Final Fantasy VIII – Succession of Witches

It’s important for an antagonist to make a powerful entrance.  When a villain first appears on the scene, players should be immediately intimidated and impressed by their presentation.  A vivid costume and strong gait will often strike fear into the hearts of the men and women behind the controller.  The musical themes for such characters are typically just as bold as their appearance.  Heavy percussion, sharp string sections, and even a shrill choir performance are the perfect match for a forceful entrance.  However, an air of mystery can be just as effective when introducing a potential threat.

When Edea Kramer makes her debut in Final Fantasy VIII, she isn’t a conquering marauder or vengeful soldier bent on destruction.  She doesn’t enter with a bold monologue or maniacal laugh.  Edea simply… appears.

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Initially described as an ambassador, Edea is known only as The Sorceress when she shows up in the first act of Final Fantasy VIII.  She interrupts an attempt on a corrupt politician’s life, paralyzing the player’s characters with her magic while whisking away another character altogether.  The mood she presents is one of an alluring predator; the tone of a creature that is totally in control of a situation.  The music that accompanies her entrance is equally mysterious and powerful.

The notes of a harpsichord are the first sounds of Succession of Witches.  The sound is equal parts inviting and unsettling, matching the character of The Sorceress.  A soft and ominous melody follows, along with the vocal theme of Final Fantasy VIII.  The song seems so harmless at first, maybe even a bit comforting.  But a heavy bass soon enters, revealing the deadly nature of the theme and Edea at the same time.

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Resident Evil – Peace of Mind

The save rooms in Resident Evil cause a contradiction in player emotions.  On the one hand, these areas serve as a refuge from the monsters that would cause harm to protagonists Chris and Jill.  There is an unspoken rule that zombies cannot cross into these rooms, so the player has some time to collect their thoughts and plan ahead.  There is often ammunition or healing supplies located in the save rooms, as well as item boxes where one can stock up on necessary supplies.  A sort of calm exists in these spaces.

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However, Chris and Jill will eventually have to leave these peaceful zones in order to complete the game.  The momentary respite for the player is quickly replaced with the tension of preparing to depart.  It is very common to avoid killing any zombies in the mad dash to a save room, leaving these menacing creatures lurking just beyond the door.  Any tranquil thoughts have to be cleared away in order to psych yourself up for the next battle.

Aptly titled Peace of Mind, the theme for the save rooms in the first Resident Evil matches these conflicting emotions.

A soft string section tries to ease the player’s mind, while otherworldly tones instill a feeling of foreboding.  The music is just off-putting enough to keep folks from relaxing.

The save rooms and their related characteristics continued across most of the Resident Evil series, and each sequel included appropriate music to match.  A recent micro episode of Retronauts presents all of the save room themes in a seamless playback, providing listeners with a chance to hear the musical transition of this classic series in a single sitting.  Be sure to check it out, along with the other fantastic episodes of this retro-gaming podcast!

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