The Musical Box #08: Painful memories

The Musical Box features 30 articles focusing on game music production and implementation. Edition #8: Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain is an action/thriller game released exclusively for the PlayStation 3 in 2010. What distinguishes this adventure from most modern games is its gameplay and amazing storytelling. You can actually control almost all of the character’s movements, including cradling a baby, brushing your teeth and even getting food from the refrigerator. These mechanics are supported by an incredibly engaging and compelling story.

On this edition of The Musical Box, we're going to explore an effective and elegant technique of musical composition: the use of leitmotif, musical themes associated with certain characters, places or ideas. First, let's see what this game is about.

Game: Heavy Rain
Released: 2010
Platform: PS3
Developer: Quantic Dream
Composer: Normand Corbeil

The Set-Up

One of the characters in the game is Ethan Mars, a typical father and husband. After spending some quality time with his family in a mall, he loses track of his child. Soon after, Mars passes through a series of life-changing events that turn him into a solitary and devastated man. He soon receives a box full of origami containing enigmas. He must then face incredibly difficult moral decisions in order to rescue his son from a criminal known as the "origami killer."

As mentioned before, the music in this game uses a technique called leitmotif. The themes, brilliantly crafted by Canadian composer Normand Corbeil, are connected to several characters in the game. The music is therefore used to enhance cohesion and reinforce the character’s personality. The use of leitmotif greatly enhances immersion and storytelling in a game.

But leitmotifs are not just tied to characters. They can also be related to ideas, as we can see below.

The Moment

"Painful memories" is exactly what the title describes. This beautiful theme, played solely on piano, is attached to the moments of Mars’ life prior to the disaster. There is a certain melancholy and simplicity in this melody that represents the loneliness, nostalgia and sadness of a troubled man, deeply scarred by his mistakes and uncertainty in life.

A version of this piece is played during the very first moments of the game, when Mars wakes up, and then starts walking through his beautiful house, awaiting the arrival of his family. These initial events form the "special" moment of the game, when everything is good and happy. When Quantic Dream chose this moment as the first moment for this music, they were reinforcing the following idea: “this is a good moment, remember it, because soon it will only be a memory.”



The Impact

“Painful memories” is a subtle, but extremely meaningful, song. You'll hear this song many times during the game and the fact that it plays during such memorable moments really proves that both Normand Corbeil and Quantic Dream knew exactly what they were doing. They crafted a product that is incredibly coherent and moving. Heavy Rain's soundtrack is further proof that the right music, at the right time, can greatly enhance the quality of a game.

Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, Sandro Tomasetti, and Rafael Martins (Sommastudio).

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