8-Bit Mondays – Castlevania III – “Prayer” and “Beginning” (Hidenori Maezawa)January 5, 2010
Here is one of the all-time classic videogame tunes, “Beginning”, the Stage 1 theme from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (known as Legend of Demon Castle in Japan), composed by the legendary Hidenori Maezawa. It is one of the most popular and recognizable videogame tunes, appearing in nearly a dozen games and remixed dozens more. This version of the song is from the Famicom version of the game (1990). It’s possible that “Beginning” is the most popular Castlevania song ever composed. I think later games in the series have better tunes, but this one still stands up with that classic ‘Konami Sound’.
“Beginning” is yet another example of a perfect Stage 1 theme – the strong, hummable melody is here with a rousing beat and multiple audio layers. The synthesized harpsichord adds a strong gothic feel to the track with the bassline giving a sense of danger while simultaneously driving the player forward towards the goal.
Note that there is also a difference between the Famicom version of the theme and that played in the US on the Nintendo Entertainment System. This is because the FDS was able to use better sound chips (the FC7) which allowed the composers to use sampled drums for much better sound as well as provide two more instruments than the NES’s four. A comparison of the two versions highlights some interesting differences, mainly that the NES version seems slower and less vibrant than the FDS version, but also that the sound team subtly altered the composition in order to better fill out the audio.
The track is usually associated with “Prayer”, a short tune that plays in an introductory cutscene where Trevor Belmont is kneeling before the altar of a ruined church. The tune is a short prayer for victory against the forces of evil lead by Count Dracula, and is simultaneously reassuring and strengthening. It perfectly sets the tone and feel of “Beginning”, and so I associate the two together. The song is only 10 seconds long, but it was developed into an amazing 2:01 piece, “Vengeance” in Goat’s Unchosen Paths.
“Beginning” is one of the ‘holy trinity’ of Castlevania tunes, the others being “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears”, and as such the tune has been remixed dozens of times, with the best versions including a spectacular rock version in Perfect Selection Dracula Battle (1994) to the majestic classical arrangement in Dracula New Classic (1992) to dixieland jazz in Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight (Sega Saturn, 1998). Interesting enough, there is one exceptional rock mix of this tune on Akumajo Dracula X Chronicle for the PSP (2007) entitled “Dreams of Triumph“. This is an interesting title change and reflects the name of the stage. There is a fantastic guitar used in this version, with a slightly slower beat reflecting its mid-game appearance and slower pacing. A version of the Dracula New Classic piece plays in the Video Games Live concerts. In addition, the entire Castlevania III soundtrack was remixed with rock guitars by Goat in the amazing album Unchosen Paths, a project that took him three years to complete.