Known as Demento in Japan, Haunting Ground is an especially surreal and twisted survival horror game by Capcom. It focuses on the remarkable character Fiona and her dog Hewie as they attempt to escape from a large castle. Crafted by Seiko Kobuchi, its soundtrack disturbs listeners with setting, action, and event themes featuring use of sound effects, electronic distortion, and voice samples. A lot of effort was put into ensuring the fitted and enhanced the game, though the music often sounds random on a stand-alone basis, if it classifies as music at all. Given its tendency to alienate, it was audacious for Suleputer to decide to release an official soundtrack. Yet, while not necessarily likeable, it is certainly fascinating...
The opening movie is underscored with the two-tiered "Endless... DEMENTO". The first minute of the cue features a repeated tubular bell motif, assembly of sound effects, and distorted female wails that together enhance the bloody depictions and religious symbolism of the movie. It soon develops into a spine-tingling action theme featuring a mixture of electronic and ethnic beats together with bizarre sound effects. While those listening to the theme outside the game might find it superficial or clichéd, it works perfectly in context to subtly enhance the mood and imagery. The dynamic and realistic soundscapes of "Captured Maiden" capture the horror of the butcher's table and Fiona's entrapment at the start of the game. The end of the theme features some ethnically influenced new age grooves to form an iconic portrayal of Fiona's first steps to eventually escape the castle. The first gameplay theme "Twisted Eyes" portrays the castle gardens with dark ambient noise broken up by occasional low piano chords and fleeting treble features. Also effective at setting the scene is "Stalking Insanity", which makes gamers paranoid about an ominous presence with its sporadic sound and voice samples.
There is an experimental aura exhibited in even the more conventional pieces of this score. The comfort provided by Fiona's dog is explored with a sentimental melody in "Precious Hewie". However, the focus on a music box and eventual addition of a tragic chorus emphasises the loneliness and direness of the character's situation nevertheless. Typical musical formats are manipulated further in "Lunatic Piano", where a famous romantic piano piece is gradually consumed by dissonance, and "W-R Carousel", where already disturbing circus music becomes progressively out-of-tune. Probably the most experimental theme of all, "No Completion" is very changeable during its three minute playtime and features warped electronic noises excessively to amazing effect within the game. Fortunately, the short cues used during cutscenes are actually grouped together in five "Special Scenes" tracks so don't otherwise clutter the soundtrack. Of all the material in the album, these tracks are most worth skipping, since they temperamentally vary between creating subtle moods with sound effects and suddenly springing into action.
Talking of which, the first action theme "Closed Mind" creates a frenzied atmosphere with its random electronic runs and distorted percussive samples. The theme is also very psychologically affecting given it gradually incorporates more malevolent voice samples and Fiona's gasps for breath. "Something Lacking" and "Sly Hunter" are interesting battle themes, characterised by unpredictable tempo changes and bizarre electronic and vocal effects. "Innocent Freak" and "Warped Obsession", on the other hand, emulate the rhythms of a clock and a cladded man walking to provide an unsettling backdrop for all sorts of characteristically bizarre effects to appear from. "Last Debilitas", "Last Daniella", and "Last Riccardo" are compelling accompaniments to boss battles with their hard beats, dissonant choir, and organ passages. Each is similarly constructed but there are subtle changes to make the harder bosses more challenging. Moving towards the climax, "Final Lorenzo" is different from its predecessors creating an epic tone with the subtle intensification of beats and chorus while "Ultimate DEMENTO" returns to suitably bizarro territory with more random noise.
The game is resolved with a refreshingly balanced celestial chorale, "His Repentance". As the credits roll, "Endless Zero" provides perhaps the most unusual vocal theme in a video game to date. Cold, fragmented, and sometimes whispering vocals appear against surreal, aseptic, perhaps industrial-inspired beats. It's difficult to provide a description to do it justice as there is probably nothing out there quite like it. Afterwards, solitary bells, a nostalgic reprise of Liszt, and a dog howling dance round off the original section of the album appropriately weirdly. Moving to the fun if sometimes superficial bonus remixes, Shinya Okada's "Precious Hewie ~ Neverland Mix" springs to action after an ambient start with gentle blend of piano melodies and trance infusions (plus a fragment from Michael Jackson's "Thriller"). Veteran sound designer Hideaki Utsumi subsequently combines monster noises, other sound effects, and ethnic beats in a mix that again tests the definition of music. After the disappointingly brief and generic remix of "Sly Hunter", Seiko Kobuchi reflects on her vocal theme in a slightly more expressive arrangement featuring piano, cello, and eventually even drum kit. It's a lovely way to conclude the soundtrack.
What sets the Demento Original Soundtrack apart from other video game horror soundtracks is the way it really exploits the technological capacity of its console. Distorted noise, sound effects, voice samples, and silence are the most important aural components for setting the tones of the game. More conventional music is only used sparingly but complements the ambient sound design and adds to the colour and personality of the game. Given the sparse musical components and the fact that everything so experimental, the soundtrack is very difficult to appreciate without playing the game and is one of the less accessible stand-alone soundtracks of the already notorious horror genre. It is nevertheless cautiously recommended for those who found the music interesting within the game.