It’s that time of year again! Halloween is upon us, and with it inevitably comes the horror genre. Whether it’s movies, games, music, or an overall aesthetic, Halloween is one of the most festive holidays of the year.
Two horror franchises that have seen their share of iterations in film, literature, and gaming are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Friday the 13th. Both made waves in the gaming industry (for better or worse) in the late 1980s with ill-received releases on the Nintendo Entertainment System. These games are widely considered to be overly difficult and poorly designed, and have garnered a plethora of reviews skewering all aspects of their terribleness.
The soundtracks of these two monsters, however, couldn’t be more different. Let’s take a closer look at the music that propels these terrifying (in more ways than one!) games straight to the bottom of many a gamer’s “must-play” list.
“Friday the 13th”
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Disclaimer: Composed by Hirohiko Takayama, Friday the 13th‘s score gives us a LOT less to work with than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s a massive amount of looping the same tracks during the game, which is pretty scary in itself…but here we go. You’ve been warned.
“Character Select/Room Theme”
We’ll start with the good one. Of only (apparently) four tracks in the game, this one actually has a melody that keeps a player interested. There’s a pretty rudimentary bass line underneath too, but that’s nothing to write home from Camp Crystal Lake about. It’s not unpleasant, which is nice in a game about trying to murder a serial killer before he can do the same to your friends at camp. Doesn’t exactly set the tone, but that’s what these other abominations are for…
Okay. Let’s put this in perspective: Friday the 13th wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, overly hard on the Nintendo Entertainment System’s processor. It wasn’t the ugliest game (visually), but it could have been better. Suffice it to say the graphics likely didn’t take up the whole cartridge. Long story short, there could have been so much more to the main theme of the game than a mere four bars of “music” that loops near-endlessly until a player either dies, fights Jason Voorhees, or wisely shuts off the console and finds a better game to play. It’s hard to listen to this one, but just wait until you hear the boss music!
There’s not much to be said about this track — certainly nothing positive. It’s grating the first time, and it only gets worse. Thankfully (spoiler alert!) a player only has to defeat Jason three times to complete the game. Granted, that doesn’t mean only fighting him three times, unless he’s defeated on the first try each time. In the best-case scenario, we get to move on to the final piece of music as soon as humanly possible and don’t have to listen to this any more than we have to.
Well, it’s finally over…or is it? Friday the 13th ends with this tune, and a cliffhanger. “Jason Defeated” isn’t much more complex than the previous two tracks, being just a short piece looping over and over. But like “Character Select/Room Theme”, it’s significantly nicer to listen to.
“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
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Since this game has nearly five times as many tracks, it’s worth speaking about more broadly. A few of the entries here are just extended sound effects and not really full-fledged soundtrack pieces, so I’ll highlight some of the better tunes.
This one really sets the old-school horror vibe, but ends in a way that nicely illustrates the dichotomy between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That might sound ambitious for such a limited sound chip, but the latter half of the track sort of shifts upward into a happier, more hopeful melody — and it’s a nice touch, particularly for some of the first sounds a player is likely to hear.
Hear me out on this one. Yes, we’ve got the same sort of repetition that we heard in Friday the 13th. But this one actually serves to set the scene for the game! The frantic pace of this melody excites a player and puts them on edge…and the best part? You don’t have to listen to it repeat several hundred times in a row!
This…thing (?) stands out due to its sheer dissonance. It’s not good, per se, but it’s strange enough to unnerve a player and create a general feeling of unease — which would be great if the gameplay stood up to the quality of the audio (Narrator: “It doesn’t.”)
“Mr. Hyde Stage”
It’s subtle and sinister without resorting to clashing notes or loud effects. The minor key, of course, evokes a wistful feeling that settles in nicely with the overall aesthetic and theme of the game.
Again, spoilers ahead: Upon finishing the game as Dr. Jekyll (reaching the church where he is to be married before Mr. Hyde can do the same), a traditional wedding processional will play. It’s nothing the player likely hasn’t heard, but it’s nice to finish the game with a happy ending. Note: This is apparently the “bad ending”, or at least, not the best one. For the sake of a complete picture, both endings can be seen below
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It should be pretty apparent by this point that the winner of this showdown is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In addition to being a somewhat deeper game, the breadth of its soundtrack just sets up a horror atmosphere much better than that of Friday the 13th. Not only that, but half of the tracks on the latter are barely even music, looping almost endlessly and chipping away at a player’s sanity. Friday the 13th never even had a chance.