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Hit pause to play: 9 great songs from video games’ idle moments

Gameologerinos, we’ve compiled this Inventory into a YouTube playlist, and we encourage readers to nominate your candidates to the list in the comments (with a YouTube link if you can find it, please). We’ll choose our favorite nominations, add them to the YouTube playlist, and present the final collaborative compilation in the Keyboard Geniuses column at the end of the week. The theme this time is “songs from idle moments”—music from pause screens, save points, and safe havens.

1. “Out Of Phase,” Parasite Eve

Parasite Eve’s New York City is an unpleasant place. That town is never as dead as it is when Aya Brea is on the case. The empty streets are extra freaky when said case involves hunting down a mutated opera singer who’s the speaker for mitochondria, which are revolting against human cells and setting people on fire, disintegrating them into orange goo, and generally turning all life into monsters. Precinct 17, Aya’s home base, should be a site of profound stress. Instead, it’s a safe place to convalesce after seeing some horrific business out in the desolate town. The relief is thanks in no small part to Yoko Shimomura’s jam “Out Of Phase.” The pulsing synthesized bass line focuses, the underlying minor key drone soothes, and the snare drum drives, creating the sound of competence and confidence in the face of grim odds. When the delicate piano refrain comes in, it feels like you’ve taken a deep breath, counted to 10, and gotten back to work. [AJA]


2. “Aria Of The Soul,” Persona 4

Perhaps it’s only fitting that an inter-dimensional limousine ride should be scored so ethereally. Still, an aria comes in marked contrast to the upbeat J-Pop that crowds the soundtrack elsewhere, adding to the sense that your time in Igor’s mysterious company is the game world’s only real reprieve. There’s good reason this track recurs, with only minor variation, throughout the Persona series: It’s become a mainstay precisely for how reliably it conjures the celestial and otherworldly. [CM]

3. Town theme, Dragon’s Crown

In Dragon’s Crown, as in life, 95 percent of your time is spent slashing zombies, setting witches on fire, and running as fast as you can toward adventure. All that frantic action can get a bit exhausting, though, which is why it’s so important that the other 5 percent spent lounging around town is as relaxing as possible. The town’s theme, a gentle mélange of staccato strings and soft woodwinds, is soothing and peaceful, a welcome vacation away from the throbbing bass and squealing brass that scores much of the adventure. This theme makes it easy to understand why a band of swashbucklers might want to settle down and plant its roots in a town like this. [DS]


4. “The Ballad Of Gay Tony Theme (Downtempo Mix),” Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad Of Gay Tony

Gay Tony himself is a shady nightclub owner. It’s only appropriate that his theme song evoke the swaggering confidence of a sharp-dressed man strutting his way to the dance floor. But when you pause The Ballad Of Gay Tony, a post-release add-on to Grand Theft Auto IV, you hear this quiet remix of the theme. It’s a welcome escape from the blood-and-machismo-drenched world of Grand Theft Auto, filtering out the original’s drums and obnoxious Saturday Night Fever lead guitar. What’s left behind is a relaxing mix of choral coos with the occasional interjection of bass, soft Nile Rodgers-style guitar, and a bass drum mimicking the lub-dub of the human heart. If the original theme is the confident grand entrance, the “Downtempo Mix” is the sleepy, euphoric retirement, the walk away from the club and hazy look back at the dancers still going hard. [MG]


5. “Intermission,” You Don’t Know Jack (2011)

The You Don’t Know Jack series of trivia games is known for being among the most consistently funny video games in history, largely thanks to its clever writing (which has previously been the subject of a Gameological interview) and the acerbic performance of frequent host Cookie Masterson. In proper game show fashion, the game affords an intermission between rounds of questions, a brief respite for players to breathe and unwind before going back to screwing one another. Yet even here the game doesn’t waste an opportunity for a solid gag. With its intermission music, You Don’t Know Jack is winking and nodding as hard as it possibly can. It’s the musical equivalent of saving an awful joke by following it up with a desperate “Get it? Get it?” [DS]


6. “Heal,” Ico

Ico is, for the most part, a peaceful game that plays out in almost total silence. Its soundtrack, though, paints a different and more frightening picture, featuring track after track of echoing, droning, ambient noise that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Silent Hill game. The most striking exception is “Heal,” the song that plays when main characters Ico and Yorda take a break on one of the benches that act as save points. “Heal” is a gentle, comforting lullaby that cuts through the tension and isolation that permeates the game’s abandoned castle setting, and its simple melody makes it the only song in the game that can really be whistled. Most of Ico’s soundtrack emphasizes the game’s sense of loneliness, but “Heal” highlights the sweet friendship between the two leads and reminds Ico—and the player—that they aren’t alone. [PL]


7. “Majula,” Dark Souls II

The Souls series uses its music sparingly. In most areas, the only soundtrack is the shuffling of enemies in the distance and whatever sound your paranoia makes. So when you first enter the twilight-soaked town of Majula in Dark Souls 2, the sparse song that begins playing is a sign that you’ve stumbled into somewhere important. The “Majula” theme is somber and repetitive, a musical idea more than a full-fledged song, just a few notes repeating back to you over and over again like a memory you can’t quite get out of your head. As the backing to the game’s main hub area, its off-major tones and simmering, intermittent strings don’t exactly communicate safety. But in Drangleic, they’re the closest you’re going to get. [JM]


8. “Also Sprach Brooks,” Catherine

Early in the game, Catherine’s main character, Vincent, is chased up a seemingly insurmountable stone wall in his underwear, pursued by a giant demonic butt who wants to swallow you up inside of her. This is the type of constant abject horror the dream world of Catherine is subject to, scored by tense and unsettling remixes of Bach, Chopin, and Beethoven. During the game’s waking hours, though, Vincent lounges around a dank, low-key dive bar with this funky jazz-trio jam spinning on the jukebox. The deep round bass is comforting, the keys are nonchalant, and the drums convey a complex ambivalence that says, “Tonight’s worries are tomorrow’s concern, so pour another whiskey sour.” [DS]


9. Castle theme, Super Mario 64

The castle theme from Super Mario 64 is the blast of air-conditioned coolness you receive when walking indoors on a sweltering day. A chirpy, sweet orchestration that sounds like a synthesizer preset to “art opening,” the castle theme is upbeat and positive, but not forceful. It attains the ideal balance of being buoyant enough to encourage exploration of every blocky little nook of the palace, and languid enough to not feel urgent or pushy. It’s perfect for trying to decide if it’s a good idea to leap face-first, shouting into a 10-foot tall oil painting of an anthropomorphic bomb. [NW]


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