Composer: Akira Yamaoka
The Silent Hill games are rightfully known for their intense brand of horror, both visual and psychological. While the twisted monster designs and blood red, rust covered hell of the otherworld are enough to strike fear into those who witness it, like any effective piece of horror, a lot of the uneasiness comes from the soundtrack.
From the ominous static that screeches from the pocket radio signaling an impending demon, to the thick sound of a large metal blade being dragged toward you, none of it sticks with you quite as much as the melancholic music that orchestrates the purgatorial journey. Silent 1, 3 and even The Room, all have tracks that fit their experience, but I would easily say it’s Silent Hill 2 that has the most complementary scoring of them all. The music doesn’t simply set the tone for this game, it drives it just as much, if not more, than the narrative, characters and town itself do. This is apparent right from first time you hear “Theme of Laura”, which plays over the games intro video you’ll see from idling in the main menu.
This song perfectly illustrates the rollercoaster of emotions the game is determined to send you, and protagonist, James Sunderland on. Composer Akira Yamaoka said he created the piece by combining “a sad melody” with a “strong beat”, and this mixture is very evident throughout the track. The track starts as uplifting but gradually descends into something darker and mysterious, much like James who starts hopeful but progressively becomes more doubtful, sad and confused the further he delves into the abyss. (literally, at times)
James isn’t the only unlucky tourist to be wandering those foggy streets though, as on his journey he meets a few others with their own personal demons they’re out to conquer. Just as each of them have their own calling to the town, each meeting with them is given its own theme that often reflects their personality or struggle. One of them in particular is Angela, a woman who just might be having the darkest trip through Silent Hill that we only get a glimpse of. The second and final encounter with her provide some of the best scenes and music in the game.
While there may be others to occasionally meet in town, a big portion of the fear in these games come from the feeling of complete isolation. Most of your time will be spent wandering the streets and buildings alone, with usually nothing more than the ambient sounds of footsteps, shuffling monsters and the always foreboding air raid horn that ushers in hell itself. Every now and then though, some subtle but poignant melodies will arise to make the scene hit a little harder. Some aren’t as subtle or calming and are actually downright unnerving, such as “Black Fairy”, heard toward the last portion of the game.
Of course, I couldn’t talk about this game without bringing up the two most important people in the game, outside of James. One is Mary, his late wife who sparks his return to the haunted town, and Maria, an exotic dancer he meets during his current stay in Silent Hill. Both these ladies pull James in very different direction throughout the game that culminate in some of that most powerful scenes in gaming. The impact of these scenes can be gut-wrenching enough based solely on their context, but the additional musical score comes with enough emotional weight to smother a person.
The track True, and Betrayal especially, both come at hands down, the darkest points in the game. This is where the town reveals its real reason for calling James to it, and the revelation is devastating, to say the least. In most games, getting to the end is rewarding but in Silent Hill 2, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Truth is the key word here, because that’s exactly what you get, and after traversing through so much hell, it’s hard to finally see that the light through the fog was just a reflection of James’ guilt. While the game may end on a sour note, this feature doesn’t have to, so I’ll leave you with “Promise”, heard after one of the many endings for the game, and this quote.
“In my restless dreams,
I see that town.
You promised me you’d take me
there again someday.
But you never did.”
Ok, so the song is bittersweet at best and the quote is downright depressing. But, it’s Silent Hill, what did you expect?