Editorial, Game Music

Game Soundtracks for Your Soul - Castlevania 30th Anniversary Edition

Game Soundtracks for Your Soul – Castlevania 30th Anniversary Edition

October 1, 2016 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Game Soundtracks for Your Soul – Castlevania 30th Anniversary Editionon Twitter

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This past Monday was the 30th anniversary of Castlevania, a franchise that has been a cornerstone of video gaming for so many of us since our childhoods. On September 26th, 1986, Akumajo Dracula, or Demon Castle Dracula as it translates, was released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, and the legendary feud between the Belmont clan and Count Dracula was born.

For me, Castlevania was not only an indulgence of my childhood love of vampire stories and movie monsters, but the music of the series became the baseline for which I rated so many game soundtracks through my life. Granted, I loved my Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe as a Genesis kid, but the soundtracks from the Castlevania series stuck with me, and impacted a lot of how I perceived game music from childhood to adult hood. If I played it at 8 or 28, the series soundtracks are hands down my favorite of any game franchise.

Thus, in a bit of self-indulgence and as a tribute to 30 years of whip-cracking, wall meat-finding, vampire-slaying goodness, I’ve made a list of my favorite music from each game in Castlevania‘s lifetime; from the very first game all the way through to Lords of Shadow. (I’m omitting the Pachislot games as they’re basically all re-used music and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate since I never played it) Granted, OSV has covered the music of Castlevania several times before, but consider this a brief perusing through of the history of the franchise’s music in all its iterations.

Be ye warned; here there be fangirling.

  • “Heart of Fire” – Castlevania

The iconic first game composed by Kinuyo Yamashita and Satoe Terashima. While “Vampire Killer” may be the most remembered of the game’s soundtrack, this track to me always drove home the idea that you were knee-deep in monster territory with no turning back and just to valiantly push on towards big daddy Drac.

  • “Monster Dance” – Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

“Monster Dance” is an odd tune within Simon’s Quest, as it truly is something more groovy than the rest of the game’s music, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. It sticks out, not like a sore thumb, but as this little silly reprieve from trekking all over creation and back collecting Dracula’s body parts. Satoe Terashima returned to the sequel game, as well as Kenichi Matsubara (Crisis Force) and crafted an enjoyable soundtrack to help placate us in our exhaustive journey across Transylvania.

  • “Basement Melodies” – Haunted Castle

If you’re not familiar with Haunted Castle‘s soundtrack, it’s not surprising. The arcade game was scarce in North America and it was only accessible through emulation for the longest time. You likely have heard the game’s musical influence through future Castlevania games, though. “Basement Melodies”, an eerie, dissonant tune played in the clock tower stage, is reused in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. It’s nice to know Kenichi Matsubara’s work could be resurrected for a new generation of players who missed out.

  • “Battle of the Holy” – Castlevania: The Adventure

The first of the Gameboy Castlevanias didn’t have much going for it with its clunky controls and frustrating gamplay, but what it did have was a solid soundtrack by Hidehiro Funauchi. “Battle of the Holy”, the stage 1 BGM was a great song to listen to over and over again as you attempt (sometimes fruitlessly) to get the hang of the game’s lackluster gameplay.

  • “Overture” – Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Probably one of my favorite Dracula boss fight themes of the series, “Overture” nails the same foreboding feeling that CV1’s “Nothing to Lose” had when ascending the stairs to the final fight. In fact, to me it expands upon that feeling but gives it more energy, much as Dracula’s Curse did in regards to Castlevania as a whole game. It cykes you up but also instills a bit of dread, which to me makes for a perfect boss battle.

  • “Forest of Monsters” – Super Castlevania IV

As I said in my previous GSFYS which featured Super Castlevania IV‘s music as a whole, “Forest of Monsters” is my favorite track of a game filled with amazing music, and I can say it’s one of my favorite Castlevania pieces of the series. Something about it truly epitomizes the feeling of the entire franchise, be that the subtle melody or the heavy bass or the horn chorus. It’s upbeat yet smooth, energizing but low-key and I can never get tired of listening to it.

  • “Psycho Warrior” – Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

Belmont’s Revenge improved on everything from Adventure. What happens when the game already had good music? You get one of the best soundtracks on the Gamboy. Hidehiro Funauchi pulled out all of the stops with composing for this game, and every track is complex and unique, and traveling through the Rock Castle while listening to “Psycho Warrior” was one of the most memorable for me.

  • “Cemetery” – Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/ Dracula X

This is where I’ll start emphasizing how difficult it is to pick just one track from so many Castlevania soundtracks as my favorite. For as much as I love “Picture of a Ghost Ship”, it’s “Cemetery” that wins my vote. Rondo of Blood‘s music is a step sideways in terms of Castlevania music with its jazzy-pop beats. I believe “Cemetery” is the track that tries to keep any kind of a foreboding feel to it, which is apt given the environment of the stage. It has a bit of a creep-factor to it that reminds you you’re actually fighting monsters and the undead and not practicing for a dance tournament.

  • “Etude for the Killer” – Akumajo Dracula X68000/Castlevania Chronicles

The soundtrack to the Sharp X68000 Castlevania I liken to the soundtrack for Haunted Castle. They are on the edges of the series and almost experimental with a lot of their compositions. “Etude for the Killer” is not a tune I would attribute to a dungeon area like other games in the series. Rather, I attribute it to the explainable horrors of Dracula’s Castle, casting an odd melodic tone that’s almost a bit jarring, but appropriate when you walk through the upper part of the dungeon and past a giant painting with people half-stuck in it. Let that concept of surreal torture come to mind when you listen to “Etude…”, as it makes for a chilling compliment to just how evil Count Dracula could be with his victims.

  • “Theme of Simon” – Castlevania Bloodlines

Castlevania Bloodlines was actually the debut of series-mainstay composer Michiru Yamane, before she became more widely known after Symphony of the Night and beyond. You can hear the precursors to her future works here and there within Bloodlines and the soundtrack overall proved that Yamane was worthy to take on the talk of composing future Castlevania games. My pick however isn’t one of her originals, but her spin on the classic Super Castlevania IV “Theme of Simon”. While the original version was a slow opener to the SNES game, this arranged version marks the final trek before facing Dracula, cyking the player up with a invigorating twist on the nostalgic tone.

  • “Crystal Teardrops” – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

I am in firm belief that Michiru Yamane just has a knack for composing water-stage themes. You’ll see many of them in my list of favorites through the series, but in my opinion, she’s never quite gotten a piece close to the vibe given by “Crystal Teardrops”. I couldn’t tell you what it is about jazzy bass and intricate piano that makes this piece so appropriate for its environment, but it does so in a way that beats out any of her future works. Kind of the same could be said for what makes rocking guitars appropriate for a clock tower theme; it just works.

  • “Endless Motion” – Castlevania Legends

The music of Castlevania Legends I feel is a bit overlooked due to the fact it was a lackluster game after Belmont’s Revenge, and that it came late in the Gameboy’s tenure. Still, it has some fantastic tunes. “Endless Motion” has a beat to it that is catchy and does take some simple melodic cues from the previous two Gameboy Castlevanias, which is present in many of the game’s tracks. Everything about the soundtrack is energized, including a fun arrangement of “Bloody Tears”.

  • “Intro” – Castlevania 64

In truth, I don’t think the soundtrack for Castlevania 64 had a lot going for it, but it did a wonderfully somber arrangement of “Bloodlines” from Rondo of Blood. It’s simple, elegant and makes for a good opener to an otherwise arduous game.

  • “Sinking Old Sanctuary” – Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness

Thank you, Legacy of Darkness, for giving me a chance to praise this tune outside of Castlevania Bloodlines. While the Bloodlines iteration was the original classic, and it’s reappearance in Circle of the Moon translated it well to the Gameboy Advance, there’s a simplicity to Legacy’s version of this Yamane tune that helps give the game some life without being overshadowed.

  • “Proof of Blood” – Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Speaking of Circle of the Moon, the first GBA Castlevania game acts like a tribute to past Castlevanias, with so much of its music coming from previous games in the series. “Proof of Blood” steps away from that as a powerful theme during the second phase of your fight with Dracula. (Spoilers, he’s got more than one. Imagine that.) Sotaro Tojima’s original piece comes in with strong percussion that pairs well with the apex battle.

  • “Chapel of Dissonance” – Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

I had a hard time liking a lot of the music from Harmony of Dissonance because the music was largely, well, dissonant and the quality of the soundtrack was questionable to say the least. However some gems shined through with protagonist Juste’s “Successor of Fate” and “Offense and Defense”. I have to give the crown to “Chapel of Dissonance”, because despite it’s name, it’s melodies compliment each other well, with a dreamy opening and solemn whimsy about it.

  • “Clock Tower” – Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Remember how I said rock guitars and clock towers somehow mix? Aria of Sorrow decided to take a page from big brother Symphony of the Night with it’s clock tower music which features the same instrumentation and composition as “Tragic Prince” exhibited. This of course makes for a tune that grabs your attention with its melody while also having a beat that has a “tick-tock” quality to it, reminding you that, yes, you’re in a giant clock tower about to fight Death; start your headbanging.

  • “Dark Palace of Waterfalls” – Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

Sources say that when Yamane as composing Lament of Innocence‘s  soundtrack, she deliberately leaned away from more modern instruments in favor of classical instrumentation in order to be more reflective of the time period of the game. Despite the fact pianos weren’t invented until the 1800s and Lament is during the turn of the last millennium, it’s forgivable with gorgeous pieces like this. “Dark Palace of Waterfalls”. It’s a slow, calm tune with a bit of melancholy that crests into a more powerful, haunting piece reminding you of your quest. I think it’s the most indicative piece of the soundtrack of it’s surroundings, given the level is a water prison for a lonely vampire.

  • “Subterranean Hell” – Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Like I said, Yamane grabs me with her water level music. While it’s predecessor Aria’s “Underground Reservoir” was grim and somber, “Subterranean Hell” is far more upbeat despite it’s name. Granted, you’re underground with a bunch of monsters and skeletons all trying to kill you, but that’s no reason you can have a fun tune to listen to while going through it.

  • “Balijhet Mountains” – Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

I almost went for the water level trifecta in naming “Mortiva Aqueducts” my favorite for Curse of Darkness, but I couldn’t. “Balijhet Mountains” was a song that instantly grabbed me when I entered the level, with its Arabic-style opening and it’s beautiful yet driven crystal-like melody, and helped me tolerate an otherwise repetitive and grueling area. This is a track that exemplifies my boast that even mediocre Castlevania games have fantastic music.

  • “The Gears Go Awry” – Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Yuzo Koshiro’s (Streets of Rage, Actraiser) inclusion in Portrait of Ruin is most definitely felt in this tune. The subtle guitars leading to the climbing organ towards the apex of the tune really drives home the chaos of the stage, and Koshiro’s usual energy translated into the Castlevania realm nicely with the track.

  • “Moon Fight” – Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles

As a bit of history, “Moon Fight” was originally a tunes from the X68000/Chronicles game, arranged and put in place of Rondo’s “The Den” for Dracula X Chronicles. Why the change was made, I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that our of all the arrangements on the game, it’s oddly enough the non-Rondo tune that is my favorite and I believe improves greatly on the original. The rock n’ roll coating that was put over all of the music for the 2.5D re-creation works the best for bringing out the tune’s true potential.

  • “Resting Again” – Castlevania: Order of Shadows

Oh Order of Shadows; the little Castlevania mobile that couldn’t. To be fair, the game did what it could for its time, and the same goes for it’s music. Vincent Diamante, who would later go on to assist Michiru Yamane on composing Skullgirls, did what he could. “Resting Again” is probably the only track to come out that didn’t sound completely generic or bland, and that’s not a jab at Diamante as his future work fared much better. We’ll chalk everything up to “Castlevania probably shouldn’t be a pre-smartphone game.”

  • “Sorrow’s Distortion” – Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

The unique fight with “rival” Albus in Ecclesia has some of the most story-appropriate music given to it. It’s driven, it’s energized and fast, but it has this underlying sadness in the melody that drives home the elements of the game’s plot (Which was more developed than previous CV games, in my opinion.) Considering it’s followed by “Rituals”, which is probably the saddest Castlevania tune in the series, the former just ends up being more tragically epic in it’s scope and composition.

  • “Darkness of Fear” – Castlevania Judgement

Okay, so, Castlevania Judgement was a horribly-executed Castlevania game and a mediocre at best fighting game. Most people can agree on that. I will say that it’s music is probably the only good takeaway from the whole mess. The rock and metal arrangements of so many past songs were done well, even if the rest of the game was a flop. I enjoyed the game’s opening “Darkness of Fear” the most, as it was new and had the same energy given to the rest of the game’s music. It certainly couldn’t save the game, but it at least put a pleasing element in an otherwise turd of a game.

  • “Theme of Simon” – Castlevania: The Arcade

I normally wouldn’t have put the same song twice on a list like this, but “Theme of Simon” from Castlevania: The Arcade was just the best of the OST to me. If you ever wanted a pure rock version of a classic CV tune without filler or twists on it (Like with the Dracula Battle rendition), then this is it. It translated well to the fast pace of the game and is the perfect balance of old and new without anything special thrown in. We all have our favorite versions of the songs that have been done to death in the series, and this is mine.

  • “Final Battle” – Castlevania the Adventure: Rebirth

I wasn’t thrilled with the fact Castlevania the Adventure: Rebirth had none of the original game’s music in the actual game. (“Battle of the Holy” was an extra that was left out.) The game instead took bits and pieces from all over the series and threw them together, likely for the sake of nostalgia given the demand for updates to old CV games. Some songs do better than others in the transition, but I’m happy that “Final Battle” from Haunted Castle made a return. It’s short but intense and the update given to it for Rebirth was a nice touch for the Dracula battle, though I do lament the fact it’s only used for one short phase.

  • “Phantom of Fear” – Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

Oh boy, another game that’s just an amalgamation of previous Castlevania games with a soundtrack that follows suit, right? To be fair, the game and soundtrack both are fun in a mindless way, and you do get heavy updates of tunes not seen elsewhere beyond their original iterations. “Phantom of Fear” however is one of the lone original songs in the game, played during the stage featuring Menace from Dawn of Sorrow as the boss. To be honest, I wish this song had been the boss battle theme for Dawn instead, as “Piercing Battle Fury” always struck me as an odd song for a final boss battle.

  • “Final Confrontation” – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

I can say that, while I never thought of the Lords of Shadow games as true Castlevanias, they did hit a few key elements from the series’ past that allowed some of that old nostalgia to shine through. I pick on composer Oscar Araujo more than I should, for as mediocre as I thought the game’s soundtrack was, you can find those glints of Castlevania gold hidden away in some places within his music. “Waterfalls of Agharta” channels Super Castlevania IV for sure, but it’s “Final Confrontation” that really manages to put that grand, “epic” spin on the next-gen game. The track’s build up to the game’s last battle has more feeling to it than a lot of the other tracks in the game, and when I get to the apex and can clearly hear Castlevania III‘s “Beginning” sampled within, that’s when I can nod my head and say “Yeah, there it is.”

  • “Dracula’s Theme” – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Lords of Shadow 2 impressed me even less than the first Lords of Shadow game in many areas, which included music. I don’t think I can fault Oscar Araujo for it either, as rumors have suggested he was given dictation as to how the game’s music direction was to go. Still, it wasn’t horrible – just generic. I did enjoy the somber “Dracula’s Theme”, however. The elements of a hero’s fall to darkness and the tragic circumstances surrounding it really do translate well in this track in a simple yet powerful way. While the music has less ties to oldschool CV music than its predecessor, this track to me had a bit of a Symphony of the Night/Lament of Innocence feel to it that I can appreciate.

  • “Hop and Step Above the Clouds” – Kid Dracula/Akumajou Special: Dracula Boku-kun

I’ll wrap my rundown on an uplifting note by including a track from the Castlevania spinoff game, Kid Dracula. The game had very loose ties to the main Castlevania games, but just enough to qualify it as a relative, and that counts in the music too. While Stage 1’s castle theme is actually a cutesy arrangement of “Beginning” from Dracula’s Curse, I enjoyed Stage 2’s “Hop and Step Above the Clouds” as an original track. The catchy, upbeat tune made me feel more like I was in a Kirby or Mario game than a Castlevania, but that’s the fun of Kid Dracula; it makes fun of itself and has a good time doing so.

And there you have my complete (and exhaustive) rundown of 30 years-worth of Castlevania music. Granted, the chosen tracks are only my personal choices, and it was exceedingly hard to choose with a lot of them when you have an entire series with some of the best music in gaming to pick from. Although Konami doesn’t seem intent on continuing the tradition, or the series much beyond lewd pachislot games, we thankfully can count on spiritual successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night to pick up the baton in 2018.

Thanks to SilentWeaponsIII and Mr.P’s Castlevania Realm for the videos and MP3s.

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