Thursday, September 01, 2016

Soundtrack September: Silent Hill 2

Game: Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Platform: PlayStation 2
Composer: Yamaoka Akira

I recognized Silent Hill in Soundtrack September 2014, comparing it to a "trip-hop act trapped in an off-kilter washing machine." Understanding that household appliances can only be scary for so long, Silent Hill 2 found a way to make the horror a lot more musical. (That's not to say it was any less scary. Silent Hill 2 still has the distinction of being one of the only games I haven't been able to finish by virtue of its sheer scariness, h/t Pyramid Head.)

Toning down the off-kilter washing machine means that Yamaoka's dreamlike, melancholy grooves come through crystal clear, capturing the on-again-off-again solitude of the game's titular setting. Players are placed squarely in the emotional space occupied by protagonist James Sunderland, who wanders into the nightmare town in search of his deceased wife, believing her to be alive after all, even while the player is pretty sure she isn't.

If I'm objective about it, this soundtrack really only has a couple of good tricks up its sleeve – moody chord samples, twangy guitars and plodding drum loops – and it repeats them. The songs that use these tricks are comfy like a slightly creepy living room. When Yamaoka cranks up the horror and begins to recall the non-musical machine sounds of SH1, it's a much more effective contrast this time around.

My opinion of the music may be biased due to what an experience Silent Hill 2 was for me. The game is cited by many critics as being one of the greatest horror games of all time, but let me add my own perspective: Silent Hill 2 was so scary, it scared my cat, Peanut.

I remember playing through the dark apartments section early in the game, and I had just turned a corner, revealing a mannequin monster about five meters away in the dusky hallway. I stopped moving the on-screen character, bound for a moment by a rare case of game-induced fear paralysis. Before I could start moving again, I looked at Peanut.

She was watching the screen wide-eyed, also apparently paralyzed.

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