Game That Tune

Game That Tune: Silent Hill 3

Fear Of Music

A rock song from Silent Hill 3 betrays the game’s despondent atmosphere…or does it?

By Derrick Sanskrit • October 10, 2013

Game music has the power to earworm its way into your heart long after you put the controller down. Each week in Game That Tune, we highlight a great tune from a great game (or a great tune from a just-okay game).

For the first decade of the new millennium, the undisputed master of interactive horror fiction was Konami’s Silent Hill series. Silent Hill’s terrors weren’t just another variation on your typical monster horror. The protagonists weren’t heroic officers or soldiers. They were ordinary people blindsided by forces beyond comprehension. The “monsters,” as they appeared, were manifestations of the thoughts and fears of the people in the suburban town of Silent Hill. And the greatest threat was the unknown, as the town was enshrouded in a thick fog that made it impossible to know what was around any corner. Atmosphere is everything in an experience like this, which is perhaps why it was so surprising when the third game in the series featured a catchy original rock song, “You’re Not Here.”

This song is post-garage ’90s brood-rock perfection. It’s the type of thing you might expect to find on a mixtape sandwiched between Soundgarden and Collective Soul—aflutter with atmospheric guitar echoes and the comforting chim-chim of a well-worn hi-hat cymbal. This seems contrary to everything we know about modern horror, though. Surely we’d be better served by atonal orchestral swells and industrial metal thrashing. Melody? Rhythm? These are far too comforting and familiar pop standards for a piece of media so focused on fear of the unknown! This is exactly where “You’re Not Here” stands apart from the crowd and shines all the more brightly. Everything about this song, from the sparse and distant lead guitar to the defeated and pained-breath vocals scream out “We are so very alone!” It’s music for hiding behind your own shaggy hair—hunched over and faceless like the creatures that inhabit the game’s otherworldly nightmares. This isolation, this desperate need to break away, this hopeless plea to undo what has been done—this is fear.

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45 Responses to “Fear Of Music”

  1. PaganPoet says:

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I’ve actually always preferred Silent Hill 3 over the others in the series. (I’ll admit, 2’s ending was spoiled for me before I played it, so it probably didn’t have the same impact on me as it did others). I also enjoy the cult-themed games moreso than the psychological thriller games, as I find the similarity/homage to Jacob’s Ladder just a little too obvious there. SH3 was also the only SH game that I found to be outright gross. The little scene in the hospital room with the mirror is one part that actually made me feel physically nauseous.

    Oddly enough, this track reminds me of Shakira. Not modern day Shakira, mind you, but mid-to-late-nineties Shakira, when she was still singing slightly grunge-flavored Spanish pop-rock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7JFt1tYkcs The vocalist also has a similar timbre to Shakira.

    • Chum Joely says:

      “I was into Shakira before she was popular.” Great Internet moment, or GREATEST Internet moment?

      (Just pullin’ your chain, Pagan ;)

      • PaganPoet says:

        Oh, she was incredibly popular, just not in the US. :P I remember hearing “Estoy Aqui” on the radio and then begging my parents for the CD.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Coincidentally, this is when you came out to your parents as well.

        • PaganPoet says:

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Eh. If my requesting Madonna’s Bedtime Stories or Kylie Minogue’s self-titled album the year before didn’t tip them off, Shakira wasn’t going to either.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Hah! Touche’.

        • Pun-Expected Dave says:

          I remember my Dad being quite alarmed that I liked Madonna when I was a kid. I didn’t understand why until years later.

    • Raging Bear says:

      3 is my favorite as well. For my money, it has the most imaginatively outre imagery of the entire series, which also makes it the frontrunner in all of gaming for sheer weirdness.

      It defies the conventional horror genre wisdom that states that things are less scary after you get a good look at them by having monsters (and landscapes, and textures, and images on the wall) that are quite clearly visible and only get creepier the closer you examine them.

    • Chalkdust says:

      I have a strong love of 3 as well, because its Otherworld feels the most… icky.  That wandering corruption effect that gets painted over everything as the game progresses is the most visceral the series has ever gone, and it features a few of my favorite freak-outs (mirror room, anyone?).

      • PaganPoet says:

        Ugh, that effect made my skin crawl.

      • caspiancomic says:

         The mirror room works really well as a self-contained setpiece (especially on the harder difficulties, where you’ll take damage an eventually die if you don’t get out), but it also works really well as part of the story and character. When you get to Heather’s bedroom earlier in the game, she has her mirror covered, and examining it will result in some flavour text about how Heather hates seeing her reflection. This works really well as part of the character, feeding into the game’s themes about teenage insecurity and anxietiy, but it also plays with the central hook of the story, the idea that there are really two Heathers (Alessa and Cheryl) and that confronting and overcoming that is going to be painful and frightening for her. Spooky and smart- very emblematic of early Silent Hill.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Silent Hill 3 is in my top 25 games ever, my favorite in the series.  It’s gross, but so are the other games.  I’m more thrilled that it does horror comedy (1 of my favorite things) in Borely Mansion, its design and technology combined to make something truly stunning aesthetically (and its soundtrack is no slouch), and its puzzles/enemy design finally took the step from “speed bumps” to “roadblocks” that make games truly special to me.

      And, once again, Borely Haunted Mansion.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTT-2xYAKyE This is 1 of my 10 favorite levels in video games.

    • caspiancomic says:

       I’m one of the horde that holds SH2 as a favourite, but for me 3 is actually a really close second. I think Heather is a more compelling character than Harry or James, and she’s one of the few protagonists from the series that chooses to go to Silent Hill despite knowing what’s going to be waiting there for her. SH3 is also very thematically tight. SH2 gets a lot of the praise in this department, and not for no reason, but I think 3 might actually do the whole “symbolic storytelling” thing at least as well as, maybe even better than SH2. My only gripes with SH3, really, are that it’s a little cavalier with its weapons (a katana and a submachine gun? How am I supposed to be afraid if I’m this well armed?), and the fact that it has so few endings (three total, including a joke ending, and you automatically get the ‘good’ ending your first time through.) Other than that, though, I think SH3 is really terrific.

      Anyone know if the HD Collection is worth picking up for PS3?

      (Oh btw dood, sorry I missed your PSN message the other day! My sis and I are powering through some stuff on Netflix right now, but we should totally fire up a bit of ME3 again sometime!)

      • PaganPoet says:

        The HD Collection is very shoddily done. If you’re unable to play the PS2 versions, then sure, but otherwise, don’t waste your money.

        And no worries. I have a buddy who is new to ME3 multiplayer, so I was showing him the ropes and got rehooked again myself. I’ve yet to complete a platinum match.

      • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

        “Anyone know if the HD Collection is worth picking up for PS3?”

        NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

    • huge_jacked_man says:

      Heather is a better main character than James and SH3 is underrated I agree but the game is nowhere near as ambitious or innovative as SH2. 

  2. His_Space_Holiness says:

    Heh, I played this game for the first time a year or so ago (via the HD 2&3 package that people seem to hate for a reason I’m not clear on) and wound up playing through nearly the whole thing wearing the perfume that (as I only found out after I’d finished) attracted monsters to your character. D’oh. Made me feel like both a chump and kind of a badass.

    I also learned that haunted houses are way less scary when you have to go through them in their entirety three times because there’s no save point nearby when you come out.

    • huge_jacked_man says:

      Well the HD remakes were lazy and looked pretty shitty. The original SH2 was a particularly impressive game for the PS2 with art direction perfectly suited to SD TVs. 

      People also complained about the HD remakes featuring different voice actors from the original but to be honest the original cast did a godawful job.

      • Was it simply that the HD conversion was lazily executed, or did the games not play as well in high-def for whatever reason?

        • Mr_Matt_M says:

          The worst thing was in the PS3 conversion.  They didn’t do the fog effect (big deal for SH) right so you could see a lot further.  In places this allowed you to see the levels edges.   There were framerate issues as well.

          http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-what-went-wrong-with-silent-hill-hd

        • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

          it’s because they hired a group of retards who botched the execution terribly 

        • huge_jacked_man says:

          It was a lazy cash in but even if it weren’t the games would be hard to remake for HD: the art direction of the originals was specifically tailored for the PS2/CRT TV setup, the fog, texture resolution and image noise effect all combining to give that creepy, constantly moving quality to the image. HD makes things a bit too neat and the seams in those decade+ old games start showing. 

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

      “via the HD 2&3 package that people seem to hate for a reason I’m not clear on”

      because it’s a fucking abomination 

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wya4XhTPMcc

  3. WorldCivilizations says:

    A remix of this song was in DDR Extreme on ps2 (yes I played DDR for a long time and I am proud of it). I did not like it, but mostly because DDR songs should not fall outside the domain of Japanese pop or generic techno.

  4. caspiancomic says:

    Sanskriiiiiiiiit! I’m whipping up a Silent Hill article at the moment, and I was planning on including a little aside about the series’ music, which would/will prominently feature a mention of this particular song. Because I agree with you totally- this song is absolutely perfect for not only horror generally, but is particularly perfect for this game’s horror. The horror of being a grouchy, misunderstood teenage girl who is literally completely alone, who doesn’t just feel that way because of a passing cloud of hormonal anxiety.

    Last week we talked a bit about the unusual but rewarding choices of Castlevania SOTN’s soundtrack- a horror themed platformer that featured jazz, funk, metal, waltz, classical, and gothic style music (BTW, is there going to be an ongoing ‘horror’ theme in Game That Tune for October? Nice touch.) I think Yamaoka is working on the same level here. Not just hitting the really obvious ‘horrory’ notes, like musical stings or ominous chanting or heavy reliance on pipe organs or whatever. For Yamaoka, horror could mean rickety mandolins or the squeaking of bed springs or something that emphasized loneliness and depression instead of just pulse-pounding “monster eating my face!” visceral fear. He knew that the music had to be in service of the characters and the atmosphere, and for him that meant discarding a lot of the really obvious tropes of horror music and creating his own sound.

    This song is perfect for that- it’s not a ‘horror’ song in the traditional sense. It doesn’t make me feel afraid. It makes me feel uncomfortable. The sour guitars, whispering drums, and Williamson’s croaking kill-me-now performance all serve the purpose not of frightening the listener, but connecting the listener to Heather, trying to get you to understand how she feels and thinks. And once you’ve gotten this intimately acquainted with the game’s lead character, once you’re that invested in her, it heightens the fear you feel during the game proper. It’s basically the ultimate use of music. Sort of like a horror down-payment: it’s not “scary” by itself, but it can amplify the fear of the rest of the game by connecting you to its hero.

    Plus, it’s just catchy as hell.

  5. Chalkdust says:

    Hooray for featuring one of Yamaoka’s rock tracks!  I particularly like this seven minute monster from Shadows of the Damned, “Take Me to Hell (Broken Dream)“.

  6. TheLivingTribunal says:

    Minor gripe: is Silent Hill really suburban?  I always thought of it as an isolated small town.

    • Citric says:

      A lot of Silent Hill 3 does take place in a mall, and it doesn’t really go to the town itself for a while.

    • huge_jacked_man says:

      You only go to Silent Hill proper halfway through the game iirc, you have to go through a mall and a subway station first.

  7. ShotgunVsShogun says:

    The woman who sings this was the voice of Julia for the English dub of Cowboy Bebop.

  8. Speaking of “industrial metal thrashing”, I recently read a couple of reviews calling out DOWNPOUR on its use of a Korn song. I never had a chance to play it, but it didn’t seem completely out-of-place (based on the trailer, at least). Was that the case, or did it spoil the mood? 

    • Chalkdust says:

      The song itself is fine, really.  From what I saw, backlash came from what was interpreted as ‘pandering’ with a big-name band, and the loss of Yamaoka on music.  However, Daniel Licht has done well on his two outings so far, bringing a different dynamic to the music (more organic and orchestral) while remaining true to the spirit, I think.  He’s even continued to work with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who’s sung on every previous Silent Hill game (and at least one Metal Gear Solid).  Book of Shadows also features Yamaoka on guitars for its ending song.

  9. STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM says:

    FACT: Silent Hill 3 is the most underrated game ever made 

  10. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    another beautiful illustration.   I love it.

  11. DJDeluxeSupreme says:

    Anyone else here love Silent Hill 4?  It’s no masterpiece by any stretch, but its so conceptually ambitious and full of great ideas.  The basic idea is genius, you’re just a guy trapped in his apartment, which is slowly being invaded by evil spirits, which you have to keep out with magic candles and such, and you’re only way out is to travel to silent hill by portal and solve a mystery involving your neighbor.  It’s a fantastic idea for a horror game, and filled with so many memorable freak outs.  Its totally unjust how much its been neglected.