“Dreaming Mary” is a tricky little VX Ace Lite game billed sarcastically as “story about a girl who opens doors and a man who’s very passionate about agriculture” by its creator. “Mary” recently sprung to popularity (though, of course, no where near to the extent of a certain foul-mouthed Pomeranian who must NOT BE NAMED) and has been praised for its lavish art style, deep and obvious symbolism, vocals, and story.
I love games which poorly attempt to disguise their hidden horror content as much as the next fat person, but since it’s already been reviewed copiously, I thought I’d offer instead a brief musical analysis on what I felt effectively emphasized the narrative, visuals, or gameplay.
This commentary is, of course, intended for those who are familiar with the game. SPOILERS HO!
That established, there are also a few links to the hidden bonus content on their website unlocked after obtaining all four endings, since I reference them at times. Links to hidden pages will be indicated by their very subtle alt text.
Primarily this is a discussion of my favorite piece:
Ah, yes, BADDAD, the jolting slap in the face administered courtesy of the dev team once the player realizes both the veracity of that written warning and that their dad is bad. One might even say this song is a bit of a rude awakening (many rimshots).
Here begins the truly terrifyingly stark contrast to any previous unassuming background music, which can be appreciated on a superficial level (e.g. by screaming and hitting the keyboard very fast) and a technical one:
As composer Trass reveals in the music development notes, the theme for the chase sequences where Mary runs from her father follows the chord progression B-A-D-D-A-D repeatedly. He admits this is hard to pick up on initially “unless you do music yourself,” but if the results of my attempt to transcribe the piece are any testament, without some auxiliary, these chords are nigh imperceptible unless you for whatever reason choose to pay strict attention to the bass notes. What carries through the loudest however is not these roots, of course, but the misleading top line, which would make up a diminished 5th, a 4th, and the 2nd of the top three chords respectively. If you managed to deduce an intentional message spelled out by the lowest notes, congratulations, you have the shrewd acumen of a god.
Of course this is only to be expected as standard-issue block chords couldn’t result in anything nearly as unsettling as the final result. To the left is a recreation of the three chords as they would be most easily detected by experienced musicians as a hidden message, first in root-position minor, then diminished, then augmented. Major chords were omitted for obvious reasons, since as far as I know, despite appearances this game was not a contender for Most Ironically Comforting Horror Soundtrack of the Year.
If you take a listen it is fairly evident that none of these quite pack the same emotional wallop as the actual chords. It’s 2014 and minor triads no longer scare anybody, and hearing diminished chords, for all their reputation as devilishly underscoring suspense, I tend to mentally supplement the root note that would turn them into a cheerful dominant seventh. Augmented chords seem to be the most reliable alternative contender for a track like BADDAD, but sound comparatively hollow against, say, a D-no-fifth-no-seventh-add-nine for example. If our protagonist is going to be sexually harassed, then she’s going to get a lot of accidentals while she’s at it! Execution aside, the intention of a hidden message is admirable for a few reasons, namely:
- that it adds a level of complexity and contributes towards the quasi-interactive role the game’s audio fulfills in the story
- that it is the first time in recorded history any message has been produced by means of grade school musical notation mnemonics, both of a level of unprecedented significance and not involving the use of FACE, CAB, EBB, AGED, or EGG. My only gripe with the end result is that they opted for the words BADDAD over EGAD, DAD!
What gives this piece its luster, however, is the series of whispered sentences Accha chose to overlay the piano track with. Accha has the remarkable ability to unabashedly pinpoint exactly whence she gleans artistic inspiration, which most creators can probably sympathize with, albeit not as explicitly. In this case the source is the Chzo Mythos series’ infamous whisper gimmick, though hers is more intelligible and invokes the use of panning to slightly distinguish the different speakers:
- [Mari] weeping, slightly right
- The same [Boaris] calling that can be heard at the end of the “True” Ending when Mary is reaching out the door, left channel (which is interesting considering the black figure emerges from the right)
- Warnings [from Mother] echoing in the right channel
- One final “Get out of here” slightly left
Time does not allow for a potentially very lengthy review of the possible implied meanings accidentally evoked by these stereo choices, but it’s worth consideration.
The final result is a delightful tangle of clashing sounds which perfectly echoes the scribbley madness to which the nightmare realm descends. This is, of course, something to which few players will pay intense scrutiny, mostly because when given the nightmare world warning to “always run” far in advance, you are going to bolt like a rabbit the moment something goes amiss. If you stayed in the room and enjoyed the scenery, good on you, since I don’t think Father spawns until you reach the middle of the hall anyway. That being said, a general good first impression from this piece is pivotal, as the opening bars are your first indication that a chase sequence has begun, and, as horror fans well know, the “enemy approaching” audio cue is one of the most hallmark of a game’s soundtrack. In this vein Dreaming Mary certainly achieves its aim.
Speaking of widely accepted gospels of horror, it is a well-known fact that if you want to strike fear in the hearts of your enemies, the fastest way to do so is through indescribable ethereal vocals.
Whereas BADDAD remains absent from the soundtrack’s Bandcamp release, this chant doesn’t even merit the grace of being the music folder. Instead it is classified as a “background sound,” and suddenly replaces the music for everyone’s rooms as soon as you get the last seed. The track consists of a voice slowly singing Mari’s name somewhat tonelessly to the hesitant beat of a drum.
From my general experience, being assigned a number of increasingly difficult, meaningless tasks by a sortie of adorable critters until they vanish with a startling smile, leaving only black and white flickering images of maimed or dying people in their wake and an astounding silence, one encounters a sense of tremendous and profound anxiety to find sole consolation in the quiet entrance of this theme.
And by that I mean holy shit.
If there’s any other spooky music you found worth considering, drop a comment!