Metal Gear’s sound design is an interesting mix of imitating real world sound effects and recreating spy movie-style musical cues in 8-bit. It manages to find that great balance between serious and lighthearted that’s been a series hallmark ever since!
Or transceiver, or radio. It’ll always be the codec to me.
D-Ab-C would suggest a D half-diminished 7th, which is fairly attention-grabbing, but it’s made even more unusual-sounding by detuning the Ab a quarter tone. That odd flat symbol means “three-quarters flat,” indicating a pitch halfway between Ab and G.
The high range and extremely rapid repeated figure are common in ringtones, and it uses a quarter pulse width square wave to approximate a phone’s thin sound.
The Alert sting that plays when you’re discovered takes up both square waves and the triangle wave, and just to be absolutely certain that you’re good and alerted, it uses a tense diminished 7th arpeggio that tears through 2 octaves.
(Note on the MIDI file – Channels 1 and 2 are the quarter pulse width square waves, and channel 3 is the triangle wave)
The first sound you hear in the game is a quick G major arpeggio with a couple of neat tricks. First is the part in parentheses, which is a MIDI imitation of echo or delay. And second, both square channels play the sound at a quarter pulse width, but one is detuned very slightly, creating something like chorus or flange. Both of these techniques help to make the sound bigger and more impressive.
This C major broken chord is a fairly standard approach to a retro pause sound, and that’s always bugged me. The rest of the game’s sounds are thoughtful and appropriate to the tone of the game, but the pause would be more at home in Bubble Bobble than in a sneaky spy game.
Perhaps that contrast is intentional, functioning as a transition from playing the game to doing whatever you paused it for. If the goal was to break immersion, it works. But could you imagine something like this in any of the Metal Gear Solid games? It’s just…weird.
(Since writing this I’ve realized that this sound is used for the pause in most, if not all, of Konami’s NES games! It’s a little audio logo to connect their works. My original thoughts still apply, though.)