Unsettling Themes In RPGs – Personal Favorites
Music is an integral part of any game. While pieces that truly complement their environment are often capable of stirring emotions and conveying a story without the use of words, dull, uninspiring themes can go completely under the radar.
The list below is a compilation of some of my personal favorite “unsettling” themes in RPGs. In this list, I have attempted to provide an eclectic mix of tracks from a variety of RPGs throughout the years. As such, it shouldn’t be considered an all-encompassing list – instead, I’d love to hear some of your own picks in the comments below!
Mary Skelter: Nightmares – Lullabies for Tombstones
The Graveyard is the second dungeon Jack and Alice visit, and it is drastically different from the sadistically jolly first dungeon. This is not only conveyed through the macabre environments – it has human-sized, twitching garden gnomes for Pete’s sake – but also through this eerily simple track.
Lagoon – Desperate Dreams
Lagoon is not an unsettling game – it’s a rather simple Ys-like experience complete with a soundtrack full of bangers. But the technology restraints at the time combined with this particular track are what made a very specific scene (shown in the thumbnail) so terrifying to five-year-old me. Although this track is actually used for some boss battles, I’ll never remember it for anything but making this scene creepy.
Parasite Eve – Gloom and Doom
Back in the day, Parasite Eve made learning about mitochondria a bone-chilling endeavor. By way of a crazy premise, bleak environments, a haunting soundtrack, and the Resident Evil fixed camera approach, it really helped paint a horrifying picture of a seriously troubled New York City. Still waiting on this one to be remade and released on modern consoles, so long as they handle it in a similar manner to the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes.
Secret of Mana – Ceremony
While Lagoon’s Desperate Dreams may technically be more unsettling due to experiencing it earlier in my youth, Ceremony would be a close second from the SNES era. When you come to the town and discover that its residents are more or less being mind controlled in a cultish manner, the uneasiness sets in once you step foot into their local temple.
Pokemon Red – Silph Co
While you might expect Lavender Town’s theme to be chosen here based on its legendary creepypasta alone, I’ve always found the Silph Co theme to be way more menacing. The tempo/time change halfway through the piece alone really solidifies an already unsettling theme even more.
Final Fantasy VII – Trail of Blood
I’ve always had a fascination with prerendered backgrounds, as its inherent graininess can leave you “guessing the details.” While that may be a detriment in many contexts, I’ve always thought that this uncertainty made games like Resident Evil and Parasite Eve far more unnerving than they actually were.
While not synonymous with unsettling, Final Fantasy VII has its share of disturbing subject matter and events, and one of the earliest examples is the incident at Shinra Headquarters. The aptly named “Trail of Blood” pairs perfectly with the liberal spatterings of blood left in a certain villain’s wake.
That’s it for this list! What did you think about my picks, and what are some of your own favorites?