Archive for March, 2010

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Castlevania Chronicles – “Simon’s Theme” (arr. Sota Fujimori)

March 31, 2010

It’s hard for me to pick my favorite version of “Simon’s Theme”. This has to be my favorite track in the entire Castlevania series, even beating out some of Michiru Yamane’s work. The song really strikes a chord for me: it has a very strong melody, a deep gothic feel, and intense action. Regardless of how Simon Belmont looks in that silly leather kilt of his, there’s one thing that stands clear: he has the best damn theme of all the characters in the series. The original was composed for Super Castlevania IV (1991) by Masanori Oodachi and Soutarou Tojima (Metal Gear Solid 4, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness) as a launch title for the Super Nintendo. Though the instruments aren’t as high quality as some of Konami’s later work on the system, the compositions are absolutely amazing and definitely the most gothic in the series. Here is the “Prologue” that plays before the original version of the theme, off the Dracula Best 2 (1994). The minimalism of the introductory area provides the perfect atmospheric setup for “Simon’s Theme”, with its excellent organ, flute, and strings that ooze an amazing Halloween gothicness. The track plays at both the introductory level and in the final showdown with Dracula.

Castlevania Chronicles – “Simon’s Theme” (arr. Sota Fujimori)

Even though the arranged version in Castlevania Chronicles (2001) does not have the great gothic organs found in the original, it places stronger emphasis on the trumpets. Rock guitars are used for support and atmosphere, but the main melody is played out on these trumpets, which provide a wonderful sense of power and mastery – not only of the hero but also of his ability to overcome these terrible obstacles before him. The excellent drumset used here drives the theme forward in heart-pounding action. Unlike the original version, “Simon’s Theme” plays in the final stage of the Castlevania Chronicles, and so it is the most difficult level, with intense battles with sword-wielding skeletons and trap candelabras that fall from the ceiling to set the room ablaze.

A good deal of the power behind “Simon’s Theme” comes from the very strong set of core notes: long, bold melody that quickly imprints in your memory and fires the imagination. The melody also continually reverts back to those twelve main notes, maintaining a rock-solid center that breathes confidence. This is hero music through and through, and the Castlevania 4 guys knew this when they composed it.

“Simon’s Theme” has reappeared in several other games, with limited effect. This makes it difficult to find the ‘ideal’ version of the theme. Read the rest of this entry ?

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8-Bit Mondays: Castlevania – “Wicked Child” (Kuniyo Yamashita)

March 30, 2010

“Wicked Child” is probably the best track from the original Castlevania (1986). While not as widely known as “Vampire Killer”, “Wicked Child” has a much more complex and superior composition than to any other piece in the album. Not only does it have a 22-second opening (a rarity for games at the time), but it also has a 40-second loop. The melody is composed like a pop song, with vibrant, billowing notes and a timbre triangle wave that reflect the leaps and jumps of the hunchbacks, the swooping crows, and the tricky platforming players need to perform on the crumbling, moonlit castle walls. It’s no wonder then that composer Kuniyo Yamashita picked this song as her favorite piece from the game.

8-Bit Mondays: Castlevania – “Wicked Child” (Kuniyo Yamashita)

“Wicked Child” has been remixed several times, though surprisingly not as frequently in the games themselves. The Castlevania Chronicles version is pretty weak, but Akumajo Dracula: The Arcade (2009) has a wicked-cool orchestral 80s rock with excellent drums. Sadly, the album is only available in the Akumajo Dracula Best Collections BOX, which will set you back about $240 after shipping. The collection is kind of a toss-up, especially for someone like me who already owns most of the albums. It’s a shame Konami didn’t make the album more complete or release individual soundtracks separately, as I really think The Arcade is one of the best CV soundtracks to come out in awhile. Anyway, the game also looks really cool and I wish they’d bring it over to the Wii, as this looks like the perfect game for it (or at least the States…).

Dracula New Classic (1992) has a nice medley of “Vampire Killer” and “Wicked Child” that feels slightly like a dance or waltz (dancing goblins, maybe?). Nice castanets, too. Part of this song is played at Video Games Live. Scott Peeples did an absolutely amazing orchestral/break beat mix of this song back in 2000 (has it really been that long?) that still stands up well to this day. Anyway, there are so many other mixes of this it’s impossible to say which is the best, particularly since there are so many styles. However, I currently think the Arcade version is my favorite.

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Dracula X: Rondo of Blood – “Bloodlines” (Konami Kukeiha Club)

March 29, 2010

“Bloodlines” is a pretty famous track. It’s gone through several names you might have heard: “Divine Bloodlines”, “Blood Relations between Heaven and Earth”… But it’s always the same track regardless of what you call it. I chose the more recognizable version. Now it’s hard for me to pick a favorite, but I think it’s a toss-up between the original Rondo of Blood version (1993) and the Dracula X Chronicles arrange by Masanori Akita (2008). I have to go with the original though, not only for the bass but also so I can add some new album art 🙂 Unfortunately, this version is pretty hard to find, but if you buy the Dracula X Chronicles soundtrack off iTunes for $9.99, you’ll get both versions for dirt cheap (plus, Chronicles had a much better recording than the original).

Dracula X: Rondo of Blood – “Bloodlines” (Konami Kukeiha Club)

“Bloodlines” beings with a very dramatic intro with heavy bass and a clean, hip guitar. The song itself is a rondo, a form of music where the notes of the main melody are repeated multiple times with slight variations. In this regard, “Bloodlines” really is the “Rondo of Blood”. The main melody also has a feel of loss and revenge – after all, the level takes place in Richter’s hometown, which has been ravaged by Dracula’s minions and now lies in flames. Richter is a man on a mission, and he’s not going to let Dracula get away with this. The instrumentation in the piece is great, particularly the combination of string plus organ to create a sense of the divine. The bass here is also really intense, so crank that subwoofer and let ‘er rip!

Though the track is arranged to end rather than fade, the downside to this soundtrack is that the composers were still pretty much thinking in terms of looped music. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Castlevania Bloodlines – “Reincarnated Soul” (Michiru Yamane)

March 28, 2010

Day three of Castlevania week is the longtime favorite “Reincarnated Soul” from Castlevania Bloodlines (known as Vampire Killer in Japan) for the Sega Genesis (1994). This was Michiru Yamane’s first soundtrack for the Castlevania series, and boy was it an amazing debut. Yamane perfectly captured the series’ feel and atmosphere, bringing back a few classic tunes but going full-out with an almost entirely original composition. The soundtrack, released in 1993 along with the Dracula X PCE soundtrack, has only recently been reprinted (in full) on the Castlevania Best Collections BOXwhich is good considering how much a copy of the original album goes for. Bloodlines had a few other excellent tracks, including “The Sinking Old Sanctuary”, “Iron Blue Intention”, and “Calling from Heaven” as well as a wonderful arrangement of “Simon’s Theme”. While I’m not a big fan of the Genesis’ sound chip, I will say that Bloodlines stands as one of the best soundtracks for the system sound-wise. Oh yeah, I used the Japanese box art because it’s ten times cooler than the US version (even though Quincy Morris still looks like a fool).

Castlevania Bloodlines – “Reincarnated Soul” (Michiru Yamane)

“Reincarnated Soul” kind of resembles “Vampire Killer” in structure, beginning with an introductory jingle for entering the haunted castle that later gives way to the main melody. The bell-like piano and grating organ gives a nice sense of dilapidation and Halloween creepiness, illustrating danger and monster attacks. The drums in here have a wonderfully gothic feel, sounding like footsteps in the attic of a haunted mansion. The whole composition of the track feels remarkably similar in intent to “Vampire Killer”, which was meant as a catchy, active opening piece to establish a sense of creepiness and move the player into excitement. Because Michiru Yamane studied the composition of “Vampire Killer” and other early Castlevania pieces, it’s likely she therefore understood how the song composition and intent worked, making her debut Castlevania soundtrack perhaps a spiritual successor to Kuniyo Yamashita’s work, and likely a key to the soundtrack’s success. The title is, of course, a reference to Dracula’s constant resurrection.

Despite its popularity among Bloodlines fans, “Reincarnated Soul” has seen surprisingly few arrangements, the best of which is an absolutely astounding rock remix from Dracula Battle II (1995). Unlike other pieces in the Battle series, “Reincarnated Soul” is unique because it is a fairly straight-up arrangement of the original melody with a beginning, middle, and end – no loops to speak of. The track was also used as the Stage 1 theme for Castlevania Rebirth on the Wii Virtual Console – a surprise considering “Battle of the Holy” was actually a pretty good song. The sound effects and instrumentation in the game also seem inspired by Bloodlines, though the music feels more like it came from a 1988 Konami arcade machine, even including instruments from Kazuki Muraoka and Motoaki Furukawa’s Super Contra soundtrack (1988). Anyway, the album was recently released along with the BOX collection, though only through Konamistyle (lame!).

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Dracula X Chronicles – “Cross Your Heart” (arr. Masanori Akita)

March 27, 2010

Daily No. 2 for Castlevania Week is “Cross Your Heart”, the classic Stage 1 theme from the arcade game Haunted Castle (1988). This was essentially a cheap rendition of the original Castlevania, starring Simon Belmont with his big monkey arms, barbarian hair, and a slew of poorly drawn monstrosities. Still, the game had some really great concepts such as a lightning storm that sets the tall grass of the graveyard on fire, collapsing bridges, and stained glass windows that explode into shard monsters. The version here is from Dracula X Chronicles (2008), and it is essentially an arrangement of the version that appeared on the Dracula X (1993) album. Here is the original version for comparison. This version of the song was arranged by Masanori Akita (Time Hollow, Akumajo Dracula Pachislot). The original was composed by Kenichi Matsubara (Castlevania II, Gradius IV). Incidentally, you can buy this album now off of iTunes – the two-disc set is well worth it! (Heck, I thought it was worth it to import from Japan – and that was $30!)

“Cross Your Heart” Akumajo Dracula X (Konami Kukeiha Club)

“Cross Your Heart” has a great feeling of danger and disaster – Simon Belmont’s wife has just been kidnapped on the way from the chapel and he’s in a foul mood. He rushes out to save his beloved, tearing through an old graveyard on the way to the castle. The track has a great harpsichord opening that captures this sense of urgency and action through the rapidly rising and falling notes, but it also has a taste of the baroque. In some ways, the original was a bit over-intense – just like the game’s difficulty. There are some great guitars here for the main melody as well as a strong bass line. Halfway through the loop, at about 0:52, there is even some clapping, which was a nice touch in the original midi version. Looking back, I think it gives the piece a bit of an ethnic feel.

This track first appeared on Akumajo Dracula X (1993) as a midi remix. Now this piece is labeled “Unused Track”, which I assume means it was originally going to be included in the PCE version of Dracula X in the unused level. Or maybe it was just a demo piece.

The title “Cross Your Heart” has gone by numerous translations over the years. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Castlevania Judgment – “Vampire Killer” (Yasushi Asada)

March 26, 2010

This week, Konami released the Castlevania Best Music Collections BOX, a set of 18 (!) CDs and one DVD chronicling the musical history of the Castlevania series. Given this large collection, I am designating the next seven Dailies as Castlevania week where I will add another seven tracks from the series I haven’t covered already. Today’s is the most famous Castlevania song (aside from “Beginning”), “Vampire Killer”. “Vampire Killer” originated in the original Castlevania (1986) for the NES as well as the MSX game Vampire Killer (1986; loosely based off Castlevania). The original was composed by Kuniyo Yamashita (King Kong 2, Mega Man X3). The track has since appeared in nearly every other game in the series in some form or other (I lost count at ten arranges), but I happen to think the version from Castlevania Judgment (2009) to be the best. It was arranged by Yasushi Asada of Noisycroak. Here is the original for comparison.

Casltevania Judgment – “Vampire Killer” (Yasushi Asada)

While many people (including myself) disliked the new character designs and concept behind Judgment, Yasushi Asada’s (Tales of the Abyss) guitar arrange of the classic tune is probably the best version out there – and that’s saying quite a bit. The track is full of power and energy while remaining faithful to the source material. The flourishes of the guitar express pure joy of the melody and the attitude required to go out and hunt vampires for a living. The strings, organs, and choir used for the middle section communicate the grave dangers involved in exploring a haunted castle to slay the undead from zombies rising from the floor to pitfalls and man-eating cats. Though the original tune was only about 40 seconds in length, Asada’s new material at about 1:00 fits perfectly with the original melody, beefing up what would otherwise be a short tune. To learn more, check Mr. Asada’s excellent interview with Gamasutra about his work on the soundtrack.

Due to the song’s popularity, “Vampire Killer” has been remixed many times. Some excellent versions include: Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Ninja Warriors Again – “Opening” and “Title” (Hiroyuki Iwatsuki)

March 25, 2010

I actually had to wait a couple days to post this track. Game Music 4 All and Jeriaska just released a tribute album to Hiroyuki Iwatsuki (aka IWADON) they have been directing with over 20 artists from around the world. It’s a massive project with plenty of good stuff, so you should check it out. I was very excited about this album when I heard that Grant Henry (aka Stemage) of Metroid Metal fame had a track on the album. That track was the “Opening” and “Title” themes to The Ninja Warriors Again, a 1994 SNES beat ’em up loosely based off the original 1988 Taito arcade title, The Ninja Warriors. While this game had plenty of album releases, the SNES version never saw printing.

The Ninja Warriors Again – “Opening” and “Title” (Hiroyuki Iwatsuki)

Iwatsuki’s originals contain some incredibly cool sounds from the SNES sound chip, particularly the deep bass rumble the tracks open and end with. The “Opening” plays for the title video showing the story. Trumpets blare over a bass line to illustrate the desolation and horror that lies within the metropolis. The music is very cinematic, and produces a nice build that leads into the title theme. The title, though short, has a very catchy melody, a ray of hope cutting into the darkness – but one that is perhaps tinged with a bit of doubt (will the ninjas really stop afterward or will they turn into berzerkers?). The instruments are rock-solid. The fact that it plays over a logo that has little ninja people in the title makes it even better. Here is the video of the intro.

Grant Henry’s rendition of this is amazing. While I can’t share the mp3, the track is currently available for streaming from the official website (he’s track number 3). Henry’s guitars pick up on the brooding nature of the original, taking great care to punctuate the track with drum beats and guitar breaks. The transition into the “Title” segment is also done well, and there is plenty of variation and development of the original track to fill in the last 1:40 of the song.

Anyway, there are a couple really funny things about The Ninja Warriors (the 1988 arcade game). First, it’s got an absolutely hilarious ending screen (skip ahead to about 2:00).

Second, it’s incredibly racist, with lots of slaying of demon-eyed black people (though I suppose you also get to kill flying bat-ninjas, so Resident Evil 5 isn’t quite there). Finally, the Sega CD release had some incredibly crappy voiceovers for the intro. Thankfully, the SNES version is more of a remake, with superior gameplay, graphics, and music (though they censored the ninja chicks and blood for the US release).