Every part of a video game is designed to evoke specific responses from players. The user interface, the level design, and—most importantly—the soundtrack all impact your emotional state while playing. While that can be great for immersion, high-intensity music elevates the player’s sense of tension, making difficult sections of a game even harder.
Conversely, turning off the music can make games easier—or, at the very least, less overwhelming.
The first time I ever tried this strategy was while playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. As a FromSoftware-developed game, Sekiro features difficult combat encounters, especially its numerous boss battles. One particular boss, the two-part sword fight against Genichiro Ashina, proved to be a major roadblock for me.
After dozens of failed attempts, I searched online for tutorials on the most effective attack combos and other strategies to take him down, and I noticed several comments recommending struggling players turn off the in-game music. I’d never tried this before, but it made sense. As with other FromSoft games, Sekiro’s boss music can be bombastic, even oppressive. I figured the lack of an orchestral barrage would make the fight easier, too, akin to how audiences can laugh at horror movies without background music to signal something is supposed to be scary.
So I took their advice and popped into Sekiro’s settings menu and disabled the music.
Did turning down the music make Genichiro any easier? Actually, yes.
Sure, it took a few more tries—and of course, drilling the fight over and over helped me learn Genichiro’s patterns—but it was easier to concentrate on the attack and parry timings without my adrenaline surging to Yuka Kitamura’s epic soundtrack. I’ve used this trick for other difficult sections in games since then, like facing Malenia in Elden Ring, the Nemesis boss in Returnal, or most online Tetris 99 matches (look—the Tetris theme goes too hard, man).
Muting the music is also a sound strategy for making scary games less tense. For example, try turning down the music in the recent Dead Space remake if you’re struggling to stay cool while facing down mobs of necromorphs.
It’s important to note this is different than just muting the game entirely. Instead, you’re turning down the music while leaving the rest of the game’s audio unchanged. That way, you can still keep track of any important in-game audio cues. In fact, they might even be easier to hear without the background music blaring. It’s pretty easy to do, too; just about every game out there has separate sliders for music, sound effects, and voices in the options menu, so you can turn down the music without muting all the audio.
It might not be a sure-fire strategy every time, and it’s certainly not a cheat code, but turning down the music might make difficult or frightening parts of a video game less intimidating. If nothing else, it might make it easier to listen to something else in the background while you play.