Music has always been a very integral part of almost any media. The idea of musical accompaniment to plays dates back thousands of years. In video games, the interactivity means players will precede at their own pace, so the music is often more “full” than in movies. Tracks are often used to signify places, events, or characters in games to set certain tones.
Naturally, one of these tones set is the element of fear. Most of the time, we don’t stop to think about the music used for these sequences. There are some tracks that people will listen to in their spare time for their own enjoyment; these are not those tracks. These are instead songs that, upon hearing them, will leave the listener uneasy and jarred through both their sound and their in game use.
I feel it is important to specify that this is NOT about “scary” video game songs, or about songs that are unpleasant to listen to (otherwise the Crazy Bus theme would make it), but rather just how jilting and uncomfortable they make one feel. I do understand that there can be some confusion and that the two will overlap, so I will just try to say that being “disturbing” is usually much more subtle than being “scary.” “Scary” songs are often far more melodic or harmonic, while “disturbing” songs tend to get under your skin and mostly serve an atmospheric purpose. The two can overlap, but being more melodic or pleasant to listen to will ensure a lower ranking on this list.
When I created my original “Most Disturbing Video Game Songs” countdown, I said at the end that I had enough material for two more lists. I still stand by that, but I still decided to go looking for more just to find ones that can compete with the major entries on the previous ones, and boy did I find them. There were even more brilliant tracks that I wanted to include but just didn’t make the cut. As such, I am not including any of the ones on my previous list just for variety’s sake, and I’m not going to specify where each of these rank in comparison to the previous 10. Furthermore, determining the placement of each of these was difficult considering how slim the margin was, and a lot of stuff I thought would be higher on the list ended up lower than I expected.
No the fucking Lavander Town theme is not on the list, and neither is “River Twygz Bed”. I don’t care much for either of them.
25: “Another Moon” (Final Fantasy IV)
This one is a bit more on the melodic side, especially in the second half, but this song gives off such a surreal and otherworldly feeling that I can’t just leave it off this list. Final Fantasy was always a series with imaginative settings that are completely alien from our own, and it is also a series known for amazing music. One of the greatest things about the older Final Fantasy titles was how strong each individual piece was, and how well they conveyed their appropriate settings. Among the many pieces hat accomplish this “Another Moon” is one that plays on the overworld of the moon. Compared to the upbeat “Lunar Whale” theme that plays beforehand, and all the previous overworld themes, “Another Moon” sounds intimidating and oppressive.
Those odd sounding trumpet noises emphasize a bizarre foreign setting while the loud drums emit a feeling of intimidation. The violins, evoke a fear of the unknown, not knowing what strange extraterrestrial creatures may be around the corner. The second half becomes more harmonic to also show off the beauty of the landscape, but you’re not likely to hear that part due to Final Fantasy IV’s encounter rate so it was always the first part that stuck out to me. It is always surprising how well music can cause the player to feeling like the entire universe is at their disposal, to realizing just how small you really are in this vast universe, and how little we are truly aware of.
24: “Silence” (Metroid)
This one may seem like an odd choice given that it is an 8 second loop with only a few notes, but I highly suggest listening to this in the dark at night with no one else around. You will hear how well it captures the feelings of isolation and loneliness. In context, it gives off the feeling of being alone on a distant planet, far away from any other human contact. There is nothing but you and the and the strange lifeforms present on planet Zebes.
The limitations of the NES sound hardware also worked to Hirokazu Tanaka’s benefit. The absence of any other layers other than a 10 note melody and a barely prevelent chord emphasize a feeling of emptiness that was not nearly as prevalent in Super Metroid’s arrangement, or if you even replicated the song as is with higher quality instruments. Metroid’s soundtrack was known for taking a much more atmospheric direction than the mostly upbeat and harmonic tunes of other NES titles, and this piece is a strong indicator of that tone.
23: “Top Floor” (Sweet Home)
Sweet Home doesn’t have much in terms of subtle and disturbing tracks despite being one of the first horror games. The lobby theme you hear when you first start up the game is ominous but also a bit too on the melodic side to be seriously unsettling, and most of the music goes more for “scary” or “tense” rather than disturbing, albeit invoking enough of both feelings. The “Lobby theme” that plays when you first start the game is ominous, but it almost feels cartoonishly so using whistley hi notes the stretch out; almost stereotypical.
In contrast, the “Top Floor” theme that you hear when entering the game’s second area sounds far more serious and tense. You have a a repeating chord that resembles an alarm siren signifying a constant sense of danger. It is fitting since you are inside a possessed house filled with demons and supernatural beings, and there are no phoenix downs in Sweet Home; death is permanent. Sweet Home is often cited as one of the first survival horror games and as the spiritual predecessor to the first Resident Evil. While it may be lacking in actual legit scares, it is no slouch in the atmosphere department with songs like this.
22: “H Scene” (Monster Girl Quest!) (TW: Reference to rape)
This is another song that doesn’t sound like much at first. Similar to number 24, this track is an 8 second loop, and an even more simplistic one than the last. So some may be thinking, “what’s so disturbing about it?” Those people are the ones who never heard of Monster Girl Quest. This game is a hentai RPG where all of the enemies are anthropomorphic monster girls who want to seduce or rape the main character in order to gain his seed, and if they do it pretty much ensures the end of the world. This already gives a bizarre story twist in that the main character Luka is trying to avoid what most players are actively coming to this game for.
This track plays during the following scene after you lose a battle. Unlike most RPGs that end with a simple “game over” screen, Monster Girl Quest goes all out and shows a rape scene for just about every monster in the game, even regular enemies (although I could be mistaken as I surprisingly have not played this game). It should be noted that these scenes often focus on forcing Luka to ejaculate (again, at least from what I have seen), and this song captures the contradictory feelings that emerge; the “you say you don’t want it but your genitals say otherwise” feeling that is. It is even more potent if you are part of this game’s target audience, and thus recognize how difficult it is to resist your own body’s natural reaction. Your mind says one thing but your body says another. Even if you cannot take this premise seriously, there is something seriously fucked up about that kind of scenario if you think about it, and this track represents it perfectly by sounding both peaceful and stressful at once.
21: “Virage Embryo” (The Legend of Dragoon)
The most notable feature in this track is that flute like noise played over what otherwise sounds like your typical “spooky track.” It creates such a jarring feeling that it alone is what pushes this track onto the list, although the rest is still effective. The problem is that I find difficulty describing it. I can tell that the melody is played with strings, but listening closely, I am just now noticing that they tend to repeatedly drop their tone and raise it back up in a rhythmic pattern. There are also faint growling noises… or are they the sound of bodily activity?
This song plays most prominently in the final dungeon inside the Virage Embryo, a creature that exists to destroy the world and all who inhabit it. Of course it also plays during a few cutscenes and before some of the earlier boss battles against the Virage, so it may not make as much sense in those contexts, but considering the title of the track, it was probably made with the Virage Embryo in mind. Either way, this creates an unsettling piece meant to keep the player on edge, and it sounds menacing and atmospheric as a result.
20: “Old Chateau” (Pokemon Diamond & Pearl)
As a composition, this one sounds like a pretty typical “creepy” track. It embraces almost every haunted house music cliche there is such as long string notes and erratic piano chords. What sets this apart is the instrumentation. The Diamond and Pearl sound engine makes all of these noises sound alien discomforting. Like… whatever the hell that is at 40 seconds in, what the fuck is that noise? I haven’t played Gen 4 Pokemon so I don’t even know if this fits where it plays or if this creepy effect was intentional. I do know that it is unsettling as hell though.
19: “Ceremony” (Secret of Mana)
Another clarification, I haven’t played Secret of Mana either so I don’t know about the context of this track. Based on what I have heard, this track is ill fitting as hell playing in the Thanatos Ruins when it sounds like it could have fit as Pennywise’s theme. That ominous gong at the beginning being paired with circus like xylophone melody just sets this unnerving feeling that something is off. Ironically, the cheerier tone makes this song give off a more malevolent atmosphere, almost as if it is mocking you. As it is trying to invoke fear in you, to fatten you up before… fuck this song really DOES remind me of IT!
There is such a jarring feeling created by this song that it messes with one’s mind, and it manages to subvert childhood innocence without resorting to “creepy nursery rhymes” (I’m looking at you Dead Space). Most won’t look deep enough to know how much more disturbing this track is than if it was just a straight up “Boo Haunted House!” track. Secret of Mana was always known for its amazing music, and this brilliantly disturbing piece demonstrates why.
18: “Betrayal” (Silent Hill 2)
Silent Hill 2 is yet another classic I’ve yet to play but really want to. I already have had most major plot events spoiled and I know the game’s twist ending. If I recall correctly, I believe this plays during the final boss fight against the infamous Pyramid Head. Pyramid Head already is a notably disturbing monster in its unsettling design that invokes just as much sympathy for it as for its victim. Given that the Pyramid Head is the manifestation of James’s guilt over… what he did… it is entirely likely that underneath that massive Pyramid is James’s own face.
The track in question not only is unnerving due to the way it uses the sound of its giant blade scraping against the ground as percussion, but that soft choir creates such a jarring contrast that symbolizes the nature of the Pyramid Head perfectly. The name “Betrayal” could very well be reflecting James’s guilt over what he did, or the fact that he’s literally torturing himself over it. Either that or I could have got it all wrong due to not having played is.
17: “Tower” (The Beginner’s Guide)
Here is one that I DID play (finally). The background instrumentation to this one is ominous and horrifying. Just from hearing it alone, you get what comes across as a very hostile and malicious atmosphere; one that is angered by you even being there. You can hear what sounds like cries of anguish in the background, and that jilting siren destabilizes the listener. The chorus sounds peaceful but also ominous.
In context, this track fits perfectly with the scenario. Davey describes Coda’s final game “The Tower” as being very cold, angry, and disinviting, as if it is angry at the player for even playing it. There are many segments meant entirely to be as tedious and difficult as possible, and Davey needs to let the play skip past them. There is a very strong twist that reveals this atmosphere is intentional, but I do not want to spoil it. Anyone who has completed the game will know what I am talking about.
16: “Curse Zone” (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
And back to games I have not played but know the context of. This song is dire and chaotic all the way throughout. Giving one the feeling of absolute danger. It plays in a very surreal environment with lava on the ceiling and objects floating around. It sounds almost satanic, as if it is building up constantly to something horrifying. It is especially fitting since it plays in the section of the game containing the game’s super boss.”
That repeated violin chord sounds reminiscent of the infamous strikes used in the score fore Psycho, making it sound as if something horrible is happening all around you. There are also random off key chords and notes strewn about creating a sense of additional disorder and unease. An amazing way to create a truly demented track.
15: “Mushroom Road” (Tales of the Abyss)
This one is quite a bit different from the rest. While I have described a lot of tracks on this list as creepy or ominous, I do need to make note that this is still a list about disturbing or discomforting video game songs. The two may overlap a lot, but not always. Case in point, “Mushroom Road.” This song plays in only one side quest area in the game and as far as I know, there is no specific reason this is so odd. You just go here to find an ingredient to treat someone’s sickness, and I don’t think this place even has a boss.
This track is just… terrible. That repeated note pattern is enough to drive someone absolutely mad, and sound effects are strewn about throughout the track at random, almost all of them sounding just off. This is what sounds like would be playing in the head of someone on a VERY bad LSD trip that may cost them their life. Music is supposed to invoke strong feelings or emotions, but listening to this does the opposite and flat out assaults my senses. Not like high volume blasting that hurts your ear drums, but a more subtle method bound to make someone go insane if they listen to it long enough. The only reason this isn’t higher is due to the lack of atmospheric effect.
14: “Fried Calamari (Spooky’s Jumpscare Mansion)
Normally a song like this would be more on the “scary” or intimidating side of things than the disturbing due to its abrasiveness, but what still pushes it on is just how discomforting it is. This song basically screams, “YOU’RE FUCKED!!!” Those organ notes are chaotic and demonic,, and those erratic drumbeats and growls make this song not only intense, but extremely discomforting.
Spooky’s Jumpscare Mansion is certain a surreal game that tends to randomly shift between silly and tongue in cheek to out right demented. There are a lot of distressing and unsettling tracks in this game, but this final boss theme topples all of them by how utterly satanic and direct it is. It is fitting for when you’ve done nothing but run and hide and are now face to face with the most powerful specimen in the game and the only way to beat it is reflecting its own attacks back at it Ganon style. No, I have no idea what the fuck is up with that title.
13: “Chamber Below” (Skullgirls)
Back to having no clue about the context of the game where this song plays. I don’t know anything about Skullgirls except that it’s a fighting game and based on the title, I’d assume that it’s all girls, which is always a plus in my book. I also know that this plays in the “Gehenna” stage. Note: Gehenna is basically Hell, or at least the equivalent in some other mythological settings. I think that Hell was also used as a translation for Gehenna in some translations of The Bible as well, but that’s about as much as I am aware of being the blasphemous heathen I am.
As for this track, it definitely fits the location. There is a sense of fear and hopelessness present in this track. That repeating piano scale gives off the impression that you are small and weak, while you have loud and booming drums, strings, and choirs that overpower you, representing whatever supernatural forces are present. Also those weird laughing and mumbling noises makes it sound like they are laughing at how pitiable you are. Additionally, the song just gets more and more unstable and nightmarish as it goes along, providing a sense of escalating terror. Perhaps the most jarring of all is how this is a fighting game stage theme, it’s hard to imagine pwning someone to this.
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