Back in the early to mid-1990’s, re-compositions or different renditions of game-based music was still a relatively new concept. Composing remixes of game music through the use of live instruments or orchestras and not through the limitations of sound cards and board synths was a whole new idea that was gaining steam and was considered a rare treat for any fans of the particular series that were being given the honor. These were the days before game music was considered it’s own genre, and therefore wasn’t given the symphonic treatments we’d begin seeing a decade later with things like Video Games Live or Play!, and thus it was up to independent musicians with a dedicated enough love of game music to shower the fandoms with their own renditions of popular game tunes in a grandiose fashion.
Enter Naoto Shibata and his posse, Naoto Shibata PROJECT in 1994.
By 1994, many of what can be considered the “Classic” game series by today’s standard were enjoying their glory days, not the least of which was Konami’s whip-toting action sidescroller – Castlevania.
The franchise had over half a dozen titles under it’s belt with several of them being hits for their respective consoles by the mid-90’s, and it was a fantastic opportunity for an independent musician to capitalize on the success of the series, whilst also giving the music of the games the proper due they deserved. Naoto Shibata, of the Japanese metal band Anthem, gathered a bunch of fellow musicians together to tackle such an endevour, and created the Naoto Shibata PROJECT with the intent of composing the most kickass Castlevania metal album they could muster.
Dracula Battle: Perfect Selection was released the same year Naoto Shibata PROJECT came together, in later 1994. The titles chosen for the first album not only took many of well-known staples of the NES games and Gameboy titles, but being based in Japan gave the artists access to the Japanese-only release in the TurboGrafx-CD Akumajo Dracula: Chi no Rondo or Rondo of Blood title that never made it to North American or European shores. Thus, the selection was carefully and meticulously chosen for the differences in tunes and what could be produced with the best results.
The “Original Trio”, that consist of the cornerstone songs of the first three Castlevania games – “Vampire Killer”, “Bloody Tears“, and “Beginning” – have all gotten hard rock makeovers.”Vampire Killer” has gotten a pretty straight-forward rearranging, blaring guitars and a wicked organ solo not withstanding. (Because when you think big ol’ pipe-organ, Castlevania best be one of the things you first think of) It’s not flashy, it’s not a grand orchestration. It’s just one of the most iconic of gaming tunes done-up epically and with no-nonsense flair. “Bloody Tears” is a bit more flamboyant, however. You’re treated to the previously-stated iconic organ playing the oh-so familiar beginning rift of the original source tune, but then traipses into sirens and guitar-work that guides you into the meat of the tune, done up with the flair that was left out of it’s predecessor tune of VK. (Interesting tidbit: this version of Bloody Tears was mistakenly labeled my many early file-sharing sources as being credit to metal bank Cradle of Filth; a rumor that was squashed pretty quickly by the fandom) “Beginning” is somewhere between the aforementioned two in terms of arrangement-flair and original source, and fans of Dracula’s Curse will probably get a slight chill-up-the-spine when the guitar and chimes kick in together and imagine themselves hunting through the town of Wallachia and whipping baddies in the face in all-manner of badassedness.
What’s great about this album is it doesn’t stop at just straight-up rock and metal arrangements. It does rock ballads, too, and on this album they come in two flavors – both from the only Sega Genesis title of the family, Castlevania: Bloodlines. “Calling From Heaven” plays the rock ballad angle in a very tragic light, which is a pretty stark difference from the empowering feel of the original tune. The powerful guitar work is emphasized with a fade out to a foreboding organ and string ensemble, complete with and end on a somber choir’s note. Opposed to this, however, is “Requiem for the Nameless Souls”, which was originally an empowering-yet-tragic tune that plays during the credits of Bloodlines and is one of the more powerful ending tunes in the Castlevania music repertoire. However here, it’s a far more uplifting and emotional re-telling of the game’s conclusion, and I give the PROJECT boys credit for the fantastic guitar work that actually serves as one of the few pieces that can consistently bring tears to my eyes. ( +1 Tears of AWESOME, mind you)
From Rondo of Blood, we have” March of the Holy Man” and “Slash” (No, not” Op.13″) – both of which aren’t anything incredibly special other than being almost straight source-tune rips done up in rock and metal fashion. “Cross of Fear” has a bit more finesse and power behind it without being overpowering, especially when you hit the main melody done-up with fancy guitars. (I can’t say enough good things about the guitar work on this album, really.)
“Don’t Wait Until Night” from Haunted Castle arcade game may take at least one listen-through to pick out where the source music comes in, so liberties are taken that don’t necessarily take a terrible amount away from enjoying the tune. In fact, you may enjoy the originality thrown into the mix itself, as it is done pretty damn well. “Ripe Seeds” from the Gameboy title Belmont’s Revenge is probably my least favored of the album, due to the uplifting spin put on the tune taking away from the haunting-yet-empowering quality of it’s original tune that encompassed the music of that entire game.
Dracula Battle: Perfect Selection was an incredibly popular album amongst North American Castlevania fans who loved the hard rock twist on their favored tunes, and along with a few of the other arranged album Konami produced for Castlevania and other series, more than likely helped contribute to arrangement artists being bitten by the remixing bug early-on. Sadly for most, the album went out of print before too long and became prized possessions for any Castlevania fan’s collection or gaming music collection overall. However, thankfully, it wouldn’t be the last of it’s kind.Tags: Akumajo Dracula, Arranged Album, Castlevania, Castlevania Week, Dracula Battle Perfect Selection, Konami, Naoto Shibata