Like any great film, a video game is often only as strong as the sum of its parts. Music can be just as important as gameplay or visuals to making or breaking a game. In his new column Audio Play, Deadshirt Video Games Editor Kyle Herr showcases some of his favorite composers from the past and present.
I’m a big fan of video game soundtracks, which I’m sure is starting to show by now, but I’m also a huge fan of horror games. Really, the whole genre of horror is a passion of mine. There’s nothing like coming face to face with the creeping sensation of dread and the fear of the unknown, but handled in a contained, safe environment. One series in particular, Silent Hill, has long satisfied both of these loves in one psychologically frightening package. So it only makes sense that I take the opportunity in this most spooky of months to unveil the Audio Play: Silent Hilloween Special. Over the course of four weekly installments I will take you on a trip through my favorite cursed mountain town on a musical journey into the mind of longtime series composer Akira Yamaoka. Now turn down the lights, plug in you headphones, and relax… for now.
Silent Hill 3
So last time I may have said that Silent Hill 2 was my favorite installment in the series, and that’s technically not a lie, but I think I should clarify. While I do think that Silent Hill 2 tells the best story and maybe features the best monster design (due to how tightly those designs are tied to the plot), I think that Silent Hill 3 tops it in terms of music, atmosphere, sound design, a likable protagonist who isn’t made of plastic, and really just about everything else.
One of the biggest reasons that I prefer this game just slightly more is that it holds the distinction of having the only female protagonist in the series, Heather. Heather is also the youngest protagonist in the series, which is probably why her behavior and the actions that she takes as she descends into her waking nightmare resonated with me more than the earlier leads when I first played this game.
Before I delve further into the plot, you may have noticed from the intro movie above that this is the first game in the series to include a lead vocal track in its main theme. “You’re Not Here” is performed by Akira Yamaoka, like you would expect, and features vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, a collaborator who sings on many more songs in this game as well as in later installments. It’s also the most blatantly rock-inspired opening to date. This is fitting though, as this soundtrack features quite a few rock songs, including the upbeat “End of Small Sanctuary.”
This is not to say that the soundtrack is completely dominated by poppy, guitar-driven tunes. There are still plenty of classic dissonant tracks on this soundtrack. Take for example “Flower Crown of Poppy” (which I’m not just mentioning because I used the word “poppy” in the last sentence). This track is reminiscent of some of the more industrial background music in the original game. Why could this be? Well, I’ll let you in on a little spoiler about this game…
I won’t reveal how, but it is actually a direct sequel to the original Silent Hill rather than another standalone game. I apologize if you wanted to find that out on your own, but it’s pretty important seeing as there are several motifs in this game that I wouldn’t be able to touch on without discussing the first game.
Other than the clanking, clattering, found sounds of the original game, there are lyrical motifs aplenty. Obviously I’m not talking about lyrics shared between games, as the first was all instrumental (with an exception in the end credits), but rather allusions to events in the first game. “I Want Love” is another standout vocal track that harkens to the relationship between a character from Silent Hill 3 and one from the original game.
These motifs come to a climax once the major tie between the two games is revealed. A travel scene commences after a pivotal moment is reached, and not only does the scene bear a major resemblance to the opening of Silent Hill, but the song “Hometown” plays for the duration. The song itself begins as the main theme from the first game, but it quickly diverges from this familiar territory and becomes a much stranger beast. This song is also the only vocal track in the game that doesn’t feature McGlynn, instead featuring Joe Romersa, doing what sounds like his best impression of Nick Cave.
The links between the first and third games really do permeate this soundtrack. Recall the track “Not Tomorrow” from the first part of this special. I mentioned that it was played during a particularly tragic moment that I found to be the most heart-wrenching in the game. In Silent Hill 3 there is another scene that strikes that same chord, perhaps moreso because not only is it a major reveal, but also moment of loss. “Never Forgive Me, Never Forget Me,” may not sound identical to “Not Tomorrow,” but it does share the same tone of regret.
Of course, what would a Silent Hill game be without a terrifying and unnerving final boss theme? Don’t worry, the picture attached to this isn’t a spoiler (for the game at least, it’s from the end of the not-so-great movie), it’s just the only track that I could find that wasn’t a strange unreleased version filled with animal growls. This is the version of “Flames and Tears” that plays during the final boss fight. What I love about this track is that it’s just an overpowering fugue that assaults your senses as you fight an otherworldly being that I will let you witness on your own.
I think that about does it for our look at Silent Hill 3, and while I can’t leave you with the joke ending from this game due to some somewhat important spoilers, I can leave you with a clip from one of the bonus items that you get from completing the game. The item is a magical jeweled rod, which does what anyone would expect from such an object. See you next week for the finale!
Next week: Silent Hilloween concludes with a look at the best musical moments from the rest of the series!