I actually started with this post back on Wednesday November 9th as a MIDI Week Singles article, but then it ballooned into what it is right now. I first thought that unless you used a song from an RPG, the death theme was only going to last a couple of seconds, mainly to get the player back into the action, but I was wrong on that count. And then there might be a slight difference between the sound effect when you die and the music that plays when your game is officially over (as in the Castlevania series). And then in games like Mega Man, Castlevania III or Willow, when you died, you did not just to a Game Over screen, but instead were taken to the password screen, which probably should not have depressing dirges to remind people of their failures, as the game needed the music to be peppy enough for the players to write down the password and eventually continue; I think we'll cover Password music in an upcoming Game Scores because they seem to be their own beast now that I really think about it all.
There is probably a lot more psychology going on in the end and death themes for early video games than I am either able to come up with or give the designers credit for, so we will just stick with a couple of tracks from NES era games that I both really like and feel that I can talk a bit about.
Batman: The Video Game - "Game Over."
Composers: Naoki Kodaka & Nobuyuki Hara
What I like about this music is that it connects with the rest of the music in the game, in that by itself, it could actually just be background music for a regular level and not just a Game Over screen. It seems like a lot of NES era games took cues from the arcade scene and had some combination of short death music cue and a short ditty, but in Batman: The Video Game, you get a full on song, and a good one at that.
Dr. Mario - "Game Over."
Composer: Hirokazu Tanaka
While I have never been a fan of games making fun of you for losing (looking at you Duck Hunt), what I actually like about the Game Over music in Dr. Mario is that the high pitch tones I feel like are the various viruses singing that they both won and that the player lost. Almost like a victory song for them, even though they are unable to sing. If anything, the reason to continue playing after "dying" is to stop the viruses from their incessant laughing at your failure.
Final Fantasy - "Dead Music."
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
What I find interesting with Final Fantasy, is that when your party is killed, you are not taken to a separate "Game Over" or "You are Dead" screen, but you are left on the battlefield with whomever killed you and the simple epitaph of "Slain. [Name of First Person in Party] party perished" while a dirge of sorts plays until you press any button, are taken back to the title screen where you start from the last town you saved at. And as Nobuo Uematsu usually does, even the music for being dead is a beautiful composition.
The Legend of Zelda - "Game Over."
Composer: Koji Kondo
What strikes me about this song is that it is a single instrument, which sounds somewhat reminiscent of a xylophone; or maybe that is just me. Along with this song, the defeated player is also greeted with the screen that offers either "Continue - Save - Retry" as well as the infamous "Hold In Reset Button As You Turn Power Off" which is something that I did even up through Game Cube games. But I digress. What I really like is just the simplicity of the melody and while still somewhat somber in tone, it does not necessarily have to be a sad song overall.
Shadowgate - "Dead."
Composer: Hiroyuki Masuno
Something must've happened during the video making process.
For me, this is pretty close to the quintessential "dead" music, which is convenient considering that it is the title of the song. And considering too that the entire 46 second song is just a repeat and variations of the first 3.5 seconds is pretty amazing, and at least for me, the song does not get old. I guess all I can really say about this song is that it is a great song from a great game with a great soundtrack.
So that about wraps it up for this NES Edition of Game Scores, which I did not initially set out to do. And now that I have covered a handful of NES games, I may just have to come back and do another article with music specifically from other platforms as well, or just more NES games because Odin knows that I had to limit myself to five or this article would have been overrun and taken way too long to put together.
'Cause You Killed A Guy