Originally published on Pixelitis.net on October 9, 2012.
(Editor’s note: From Parasite Eve to Silent Hill, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. Enter Liner Notes: a Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame soundtracks.)
When it comes to horror games, music creates an interesting duality. On one hand, it can be one of the most essential parts in enhancing the game’s atmosphere, while in other titles (likeClock Tower), it’s the lack of background music that heightens the tension.
In the 1998 survival horror classic Resident Evil 2, the score is rife with the the sort of horrific ambiance you’d expect to hear in a horror title while also taking into account the more adrenaline-induced, Hollywood-style moments that the game entailed.
RE2’s soundtrack was composed by the trio of Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama and Syun Nishigaki, with a small contribution by Naoshi Mizuta.
Ueda, who also worked on the first entry of the series, served as lead composer, churning out many of the motifs found throughout the game. Then-newcomer Uchiyama covered the horror movie-esque music that was found in the cinematic and investigative sequences, while Nishigaki covered many of the darker, creepier aspects of the music.
The unpleasantness that dissonance brings is a staple of any horror-themed score. The harsher it is, the more likely it’ll freak the daylights out of a player. Resident Evil 2 pulls this off without a hitch, and it doesn’t take very long from the moment you gain control of Claire or Leon to realize this.
Within a few moments after attempting to leave the gun shop, the player is subjected to the gruesome mauling of its owner, Robert Kendo and the terrifying sustained, high-pitched note of “Falling Victim to Ex-Neighbors.” Upon exiting the shop, that feeling of truly being alone in a cesspit of monstrous terror is conveyed strikingly with “Left Alone,” which enhances the desolate atmosphere of Raccoon City’s streets.
“Screaming Target” is another freakish, maniacal track that always plays during the game’s sudden scares, like the crows bursting through the hallway windows and Marvin turning into a zombie. I nearly had a heart attack when I had heard this play for the first time.
“The First Floor”
After being greeted by the chilling chimes of “The Front Hall,” a very subtle track plays while exploring the first floor of the Raccoon City Police Department’s headquarters. I enjoy the air of uncertainty it possesses, with its trailing piano and haunting string section that is suddenly interrupted by a loud BANG! sound that is bound to startle the crap out of anyone playing the game for the first time.
The player hears a whole lot of cacophonous noise during gameplay, so it’s very interesting how Uchiyama was able to incorporate that sort of thing into the music to keep you on your toes.
One of the hallmarks of the Resident Evil games is having a track that a player yearns to hear after initiating a door-opening sequence. “Secure Place” acts as the game’s “save room” music, a place where there is nary a zombie or towering Mr. X to fear. Even though the track is one of the game’s most hopeful-sounding, it still feels a bit somber.
Resident Evil equally likes to contain tracks that players dread to hear. Such is the case with “The Basement of Station” and the association I have of it with Lickers and rabid zombie dogs. The first time I heard this track, I couldn’t even make my character move at a normal pace, in fear of what would lie around the corner. “T-A,” which plays whenever the tyrant stalker known as Mr. X makes his presence known to you (be it by suddenly crashing through a wall or just suddenly appearing in a tight corridor) is equally terrifying, albeit more in-your-face, with a heart-stopping string intro that is followed by an operatic and poignant female soprano.
“The Second Malformation of G”
When fighting the mutated G-Virus version of William Birkin for the second time, a dramatically intense orchestral track plays that remains one of my favorites from the game. It’s so dramatic that I’m surprised it wasn’t used as the music for the final battle with Birkin. This, along with other fast-paced ones like “Escape From Laboratory” show off the Hollywood-style side of Resident Evil 2’s soundtrack.
Imagine my disappointment when I realized that the track was nowhere to be found within the CGI flick Resident Evil: Degeneration , even though it was prominently featured in one of itstrailers.
Ada Wong’s theme music is played when Leon tends to her wounds in Umbrella’s secret laboratory. The lone flute here is very pretty, and the contrast that’s featured here with the burst of piano throughout works as an interesting reflection on her split between working as a spy and showing affection for Leon.
Following this track is “The Underground Laboratory.” It’s the only track Naoshi Mizuta contributed to the score, but I love it for its cold and moody nature. The industrial-sounding, high-pitched effects quietly build up to something. It’s almost as if the game is telling the player that there’s one more hurdle to go through.
“Credit Line of Whole Staff”
Given the seriousness of the rest of the game’s music, it’s quite humorous that Leon and Claire’s second scenarios end with an incredibly out-of-place 80s-style hard rock song. Is the guitar-wailing and harmony cheesy? Absolutely, but that didn’t stop me from smiling (and headbanging) as the credits rolled. After being subjected to so much darkness and terror, an upbeat track is just what I needed.
Resident Evil 2‘s music was wonderfully crafted. Its tracks are overflowing but the composers did such a wonderful job of making it fit within the setting of the game. It’s easily one of the best and most memorable soundtracks from the series.
The 1998 release of Biohazard 2 Original Soundtrack didn’t include every track from the game, but an additional soundtrack entitled Biohazard 2 Complete Track was released several months after which gives you everything else.
Top Five Tracks: