Posts Tagged ‘Castlevania’


Castlevania: Harmony of Despair – “Ruined Castle Corridor”

November 27, 2010

I just discovered that in January Konamistyle is releasing the soundtrack to Harmony of Despair, the XBLA game that came out earlier this year which allowed you to play with up to three friends as one of Castlevania‘s heroes (and heroines!). What’s even cooler is there will be a bundle that includes this along with the Castlevania Tribute 1 and 2 albums (Tribute!? You steal men’s souls! And make them your slaves!). I’m hoping it won’t be a bunch of electronica… However, I’ve given the Harmony of Dissonance soundtrack a listen and was quite impressed. While it’s a selection from mostly newer games in the series (would have loved to hear some Castlevania IV and GameBoy arranges), Harmony of Dissonance has a truly rocking soundtrack with primarily new arranges. One of my favorites is “Ruined Castle Corridor”, the main castle theme from Aria of Sorrow.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – “Ruined Castle Corridor”

Konami’s heavy metal treatment of “Ruined Castle Corridor” is pretty intense, with live guitars and an excellent synth library. The track might be called Soma’s Theme, the young man who is cursed with becoming the next Dracula (though he must start out as a college kid with a penknife – how he learns to wield a 6-foot sword of demon slaying in six hours, don’t ask). Anyway, the piece has a slight tinge of sadness, of bearing the burden of fate. Ultimately, much better than the meatier metal of Rize’s “Soul of Axe Armor” (named after the blue Axe Knights who roam the castle).

Michiru Yamane composed the original version of this theme, but she also composed an arranged version for the Lament of Innocence soundtrack titled “Cross of Fate“. This fantastic piece has Mrs. Yamane’s trademark percussion line, mixing a standard drumbeat (well-defined here as usual) with weird synthetic whisperings (see also 2:40). The drums are particularly intense and mesh well with the string, piano, and trumpet-driven melody. The piece has some excellent organ work beginning 2:40, the type of intricate, virtuostic work Castlevania is known for. This ending section goes on for perhaps a little too long without variation though, but it is still a fantastic arrange and a far cry from the blurry audio of the Gameboy Advance.


What Makes it Memorable? – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – “The Warg” (Oscar Araujo)

November 19, 2010

A few months back, I had lamented about how Castlevania: Lords of Shadow had a high-quality soundtrack, but one with hardly any memorable melodies. In fact, most of the music seems to maintain a tonic note that, in conjunction with the track’s rhythm, produces a dominant atmosphere for the area in which it is played (slow and reflective for “Waterfalls of Agharta” or intense for “The Warg”). This observation still stands, but the more I have played the game, the more songs become immediately familiar. This highlights another aspect of what makes a song memorable: repeated listening and melodic texture. Here I would like to illustrate what has become for me the most memorable song in the game, “The Warg”.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – “The Warg” (Oscar Araujo)

“The Warg” is a battle theme that occurs first in a boss fight in the village in the game’s opening with a giant wolf (wargs have been in Castlevania before, and serve as mounts for orcs, lycenthropes, and other monsters; the name is derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). Anyway, the song also plays in other major confrontations, particularly towards the end with rushes of vampires. Dominated by brass, strings, and choir, along with a pounding drum, the track is perfect for building energy required for tough battles.

Earlier, I mentioned how music gains its memorability due to its connection with memories. While I think this is true of “The Warg” (recalling fragments of battles and the exhilaration of combat), there is also the fact that the song was repeated enough times to both a) coincide with moments that became memorable and b) find its way into the subconscious.

Of course, there are other elements here too than just the repetition. Read the rest of this entry ?


What Makes it Memorable? – Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – “Clock Tower” (arr. Jorge Fuentes)

November 17, 2010

Extra Credits raised a good point when he mentioned how the music of games on old systems was more memorable: composers were given fewer instruments to work with (two square wave channels, a triangle wave, and a noise channel on the NES for percussion) and as such they had to deal primarily with melody and make that the most important part of the song. Further, they would often use chords – series of notes played in tune with each other. Plus, chords are easier to sing as it consists of a single melody that is easy to hum. Incidentally, three instruments and percussion was also the structure of a four-piece band, meaning the NES sound chip was designed with this type of music in mind. Chords are more recognizable in a melody because they have greater impact. However, the use of strong melodies has taken a step back in recent years due to the large palette of instruments and options available to composers.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – “Clock Tower” (arr. Jorge Fuentes)

Michiru Yamane’s “Clock Tower” from Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (here arranged by Jorge Fuentes) provides an exception to this trend, featuring a strong melody common to the Castlevania series and its 8-bit roots that demonstrates this point about chords. Here, the melody is especially punctuated by the use of chords that gain further emphasis in that the last note in a bar is the chord, punctuating the end of the pattern and the beginning of the next. This is very important for the song as it syncs with the setting of the clock tower that keeps time to a steady rhythm. Additionally, the song has not one strong melody, but three layered together – one played on the piano, another on the guitar, and a third on the strings. If you note, there is also a smooth transition, first at 0:36 from piano to guitar with piano fading slowly to the background, then again at 0:45 when strings take over, but the piano can still be heard clearly, albeit in the background. At the 1:10 mark, chords are plainly audible in the strings, and those long notes further punctuate the melody, breaking it into short stops that create a clearly identifiable pattern.

Note one of the other key elements of a memorable tune: repetition. Here, I am not talking about the repetition of an entire melody through loops (particularly as applies to shorter, sub-30-second songs of the early days of videogames), but the repetition of smaller segments. We see this repetition used throughout the entire piece, from the very opening with the mournful piano ticking away time to the guitar’s intricate upward sweeps of eight notes. All of this is easier to see in the XG-MIDI visualization – the virtuosity required of the notes. Pay particular attention to the rising blue notes of the guitar that hit one note below the strings at 1:09.


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – “The Final Toccata” (Michiru Yamane)

November 9, 2010

Often when you look at a Castlevania soundtrack (or even the title), you will think, “What does this musical name mean? I mean, I’ve heard it but…” Of course, to say that a track such as “Sarabande of Healing” and say, “Well, this must be a sarabande!” would be right on the money, but it wouldn’t tell you much about what makes a sarabande a sarabande. That’s one of the ideas here – to identify what a toccata is using an example of a toccata from a game as well as a classic toccata.

We’ll begin with the classic: Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” played here, which is one of the most famous organ pieces out there and one of the best examples of the form. The video was produced using the Music Animation Machine and so this uses (rather high-quality) MIDI. If this bar graph visualization looks like something off the Atari, this works quite well: “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” has been used in numerous game music soundtracks, primarily early ones, but also newer ones such as Final Fantasy VI (1994) and as lately as Deathsmiles (2008).

“Toccata and Fugue in D minor” is a combination of toccata and fugue – a common occurrence in toccata actually. The first three minutes compose the toccata, which may be defined as a virtuostic piece usually played on a keyboard instrument or a plucked instrument. Basically, it is a piece that taxes the skills of the musician as well as demonstrates that skill – that virtuosity. Thus, a toccata is characterized by the rapid playing of notes, often multiple hands on the same instrument if it is a keyboard, as well as jumps between notes. Read the rest of this entry ?


Castlevania III – “Clockwork” (Hidenori Maezawa, et al)

November 8, 2010

This week I’m going to look at music appreciation through vgm. Essentially, this is to help increase familiarity with different musical styles through videogames.

First up is the Baroque period of music (1600-1760). While the layman often classifies anything that is played on the music station as “Classical”, these are actually broken up into individual styles based on particular musical periods. Works by Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel characterize this style. Baroque style is a dead giveaway through the use of a limited number and variety of instruments, primarily violin, harpsichord, and organ. Handel is noted for using brass, but most composers of the time did not; same goes for percussion, which is nearly absent, though the harpsichord was more often used to mark meter than it was for melody. The period serves as the foundation of modern music through the development of the suite and the refinement of musical instruments. The most famous work from this period was Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which demonstrated musical composition in each key (major and minor), demonstrating the flexibility of the keyboard.

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – “Clockwork” (Hidenori Maezawa, Yoshinori Sasaki, Jun Funahashi, Yukie Morimoto)

This brings us to today’s Daily, “Clockwork” from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989). “Clockwork” is one of the most easily-identifiable pieces from the Baroque style from a videogame.  Though on the Famicom’s 2A03 sound chip (using a VRC6 expansion programmed by Hidenori Maezawa), we can still plainly tell that the instruments used are harpsichord due to the high-pitched plinking. The harpsichord is essentially a primitive piano played with a keyboard where strings are plucked rather than struck (hence the higher pitch). Harpsichord has rarely been used outside the Baroque period. The harpsichord here lends itself well to the mechanical gears of the clocktower, keeping time as well as remaining intricate like the spokes on a gear and the multitude of gears in the giant clock tower the level is played in (clocktowers have since become a staple for the series, requiring complex jumping maneuvers). Couple this with the low bass (could be used to represent a cello, harpsichord, or even an organ) and the track has a distinct feel of danger. In fact, the track also lends itself well to the organ, as demonstrated in the Castlevania Concert (sample in the trailer).

Of course, just because the piece was originally composed as a Baroque work does not mean that is how it has to be arranged. Dwelling of Duels demonstrated this with their special competition in 2004, which resulted in such compositions as the Latin “La Hora es Tarde” by Housethegrate. “Clockwork” has made appearances in Circle of the Moon‘s clockwork stage as well as in Castlevania Judgment, both of which are excellent arranges.

Castlevania III was composed by Yoshinori Sasaki (Illusion of Gaia, Ys VI), Jun Funahashi (Lethal Enforcers, Lost in Blue, Ys VI), and Yukie Morimoto (Gradius II and III, Ganbare Goemon series). Though no specific composer is listed in the soundtrack, Mr. Funahashi is credited with Special Thanks in the PC rerelease, which could place him as a consultant.

“Woodcarving Partita” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is another fine example of Baroque. An accomplished pianist, composer Michiru Yamane has played this piece live at two separate concerts. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge for the Game Boy has another excellent selection of Baroque works, including Bach’s own “Chromatic Fantasy”. Clearly, the Castlevania series owes a lot of debt and inspiration to the composers of this period.


Castlevania: Curse of Darkness – “A Toccata into Blood Soaked Darkness” (Michiru Yamane)

October 30, 2010

Castlevania remains one of the best series for game music as well as one of the best to listen to for Halloween. Combining horror and gothic themes with a wide range of musical styles from baroque to jazz and even combining a few (symphonic rock, anyone?), the series demonstrates its creators’ love of music and the possibilities of its use in games. Though Michiru Yamane has left Konami and the Castlevania series, she remains the Queen of Castlevania, as it were. One of her most astounding soundtracks is Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005) for the PS2 and XBox. While the game is pretty shabby, the music is nothing short of top-notch and one of her best soundtracks to date. Here is my favorite piece, “A Toccata into Blood Soaked Darkness,” the theme of the first Dracula fight. This song, along with an abridged version of the original soundtrack, is available from iTunes.

The Dracula battle takes place in a circular arena in front of the throne at the top of Dracula’s Castle, shrouded in black mist. The fierce battle against the shape-shifting vampire (curse his teleportation!) is pitched as an fitting epic finale, with rising waves of choral and brass supported by floating strings and organs – organs that sometimes fly to the heavens), all driven by a pounding drum beat and bubbling synths. It is the most outstanding Dracula fight theme in the series (even better than the more widely known “Illusionary Dance”). The only thing that was really missing from this sequence I felt was a driving rainstorm to even further illustrate the desperation of the final battle.

The song has been shown in concert before at Leipzig and Play by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, but no official recordings have been made. Their song layout varies from performance to performance, but there will be two upcoming shows in Vancouver and Dayton, OH.


MusyX GBA Demo Song 1 (Chris Huelsbeck)

October 27, 2010

This piece is technically not vgm; rather, it is a song created to demonstrate the power of the MusyX system for the Gameboy Advance. Chris Huelsbeck created this demo and the MusyX system for Factor 5 in 1999, and it stands as one of the best examples of the capabilities of the GBA system (the song is still available on Factor 5’s website). I’ve remembered the song since its debut when hopes were high for Nintendo’s new system, the Gamecube, as well as the possibilities for the Gameboy Advance. And honestly, it sounds much better than a lot of GBA music produced. It also fits nicely into this Halloween time of year. As the demo sounds oddly similar to Castlevania, I have to wonder if Mr. Huelsbeck would ever produce a soundtrack for a vampire-slaying game! So what are you waiting for? Grab your whip, wooden stakes, holy water, and crucifix and turn up the speakers: it’s time to fight the undead!

MusyX GBA “Demo Song 1” (Chris Huelsbeck)

The demo opens with a ticking clock and atmospheric explosions of thunderclaps. One of the central instruments, the hair-raising strings, demonstrates the tool’s capacity for stereo fades and – coupled with the thunder – is sure to bring a smile to Castlevania fans in particular. A staple of cheesy horror, these grim strings are used throughout the song. Likewise, when the heroic trumpets are introduced 25 seconds into the piece, they are also used in heroic bursts at key points for excellent timing. The majority of the song is made up of an action beat, and it is here that the piece diverges from traditional Castlevania to Huelsbeck’s unique style. There’s a nice break halfway through to add the xylophone, demonstrating again the tool’s capacity to include a wide range of high-quality instruments and dynamic layering.


Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – “Silence of the Day” (Kenichi Matsubara)

October 25, 2010

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was the first Castlevania game I’d ever played. And once I did, I wished I’d played the game sooner, as I fell in love with it instantly. This was in the late 90s, so I was younger then, but even this – one of the poorer entries in the series – captivated me with the whip and jump action, as well as the power-up system. Today, the game is a bit tedious and so I enjoy other games in the series more, but it introduced a lot of elements that were later implemented into classics such as Symphony of the Night.

Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – “Silence of the Day” (Kenichi Matsubara)

“Silence of the Day” is probably the most easily-recognizable piece from the game. An easy track, the piece features a well-defined drum beat and a strong melody defined by long notes with short steps between. The track has a march-like quality, as Simon trolls the streets looking for clues to help him lift his curse. We can see the shops and shuttered houses as Simon walks past, aware that the curse of Dracula still lingers on the land…

It is interesting to compare the Famicom Disk version with the NES version. The NES version has more timbre to its sound, meaty square wavs that sound more like analog audio than replicating orchestral instruments. The Famicom Disk System sounds better, though is less familiar. We never knew what we were missing out on!

“Silence of the Day” has seen multiple arranges – probably the most out of Castlevania II save “Bloody Tears.” The best of these has to be from Akumajo Dracula MIDI Collection, mainly for the amazing opening with drums and bells that sound like the interior of a church bell tower. The last half of the track is a type of dance theme accentuated by the bells and piano. It’s not bad, but quite a departure from the first half. Nice use of trumpets here, too. The track ends with some Halloween-style pipes.

The second notable one is “What a Horrible Night” by virt (Jake Kaufman), which uses a fugue of about a dozen violins, each played and recorded by Kaufman. What results is a rough estimation of a violin concerto playing the piece (far better than Dracula New Classic). The piece also contains “Monster Dance“, the night theme. When night falls, the memorable line “What a horrible night to have a curse!” haunts the screen, and you know you’re in for trouble!

Composer Kenichi Matsubara (The Lone Ranger, Gradius IV) was responsible for both Castlevania II and Haunted Castle, both released the same year. As a result, he had to reuse some tunes, such as “Bloody Tears”. This probably explains why the soundtrack is a bit sub-par to the arcade game.


Castlevania – Lament of Innocence – “House of Sacred Remains” (Michru Yamane)

October 24, 2010

Castlevania – Lament of Innocence is one of the best soundtracks in the series. Michiru Yamane combines a wide range of musical styles in her games, from hard rock to dance to baroque, and often mixes them in the same song (“Resonance of Malevolent Souls” even used a digeridoo!). Lament of Innocence in many ways exemplifies this technique. Haunting baroque pieces such as “Ghostly Theater”, the strikingly haunting “House of Sacred Remains” and the jazzy battle themes such as “Traces of Malevolent Souls” are several of the outstanding pieces. It’s little wonder then that AOL Radio scored this the number oneCastlevania soundtrack andis definitely worth picking up off of iTunes if you haven’t already. My pick for the best track is a cross between “House of Sacred Remains” and “Ghostly Theater”, but I’ll go with the former for its unique approach (and more gothic fitting for the Halloween season).

“House of Sacred Remains” opens with a stark organ solo, a 26 second intro with a single, mournful organ that plays the track’s foundation melody of 21 notes. By doing so, Yamane firmly establishes the mood and setting of the piece – a giant abandoned cathedral that has been profaned by the undead, a stark, empty house of worship where the echoes of mass have long since been forgotten. The leaps between notes seem initially shocking and foreign, but quickly become the foundation of the piece. After this opening, the piece transitions into the main section, a choral segment that seems disembodied from human voice with its tremulous, hollow singing, electronica percussion and sonar echoes forming the base line of the melody. At the end of this section, the organ is again added to the mix as it moves to a masterful piano segment (1:36). Here, we have a sense of walking through the abandoned cathedral, finding secrets and exploring the mystery and decadent splendor of the place, even in decay – ribbed vaults rising to the ceiling, gothic tracery and overturned pews. At the end of the section, the organ returns again for a tremendous finale with some heavy drumwork (2:36), slowly building in intensity and finally adding the choral section. The piece loops at 3:08 for what is a truly astonishing opening to what for many is the first main level of the game.

Michiru Yamane arranged the album in the Castlevania Original Soundtrack – a title that is ill-named considering how Castlevania has always been the name of the series in the US. The piece “Christmas Carol ~From House of Sacred Remains” is a unique take on the theme, transforming it from a grim, somber chamber to a field of bright snow with an opening dominated by female choir and delicate triangle percussion. Past this, the overpowering male soloist takes over in place of the organ and the track transitions into and electronic dance that culminates in an organ finale. It’s an incredible roller-coaster, though ultimately one that lacks the core mastery present in the original work.


Castlevania Chronicles – “Etude for the Killer” (Sota Fujimori)

October 23, 2010

Death is one of the staple enemies from the Castlevania series, finding his way into practically every game. He is also fun to fight (albeit usually incredibly difficult). In Castlevania Chronicles (2001), a remake of Akumajo Dracula for the X68000 personal computer (in itself a remake of the original Castlevania), Death has a new lair, this time with pleading prisoners in the dungeons, hanging skeletons and mutilated corpses, a Frankenstein miniboss in the alchemical lab (in the first Castlevania, only philters and bottles were shown; Frank was the boss of the previous stage), and strangest of all, little babies that pop out of specimen jars (o_O). However, the coolest part of Death’s lair was the top floor, which contains what at first appears to be a scenic overlook of Transylvania which later crumbles, turning out to be an enchanted painting. The floor is filled with many of these, including one that contains writhing bodies embedded in the wall or trapped in the painting. An awesome stage, with a rather unique baroque-style etude for the background music.

Castlevania Chronicles – “Etude for the Killer” (Sota Fujimori)

“Etude for the Killer” is a sweeping, decadent homage to Death, who silently stalks the haunted halls of Dracula’s Castle. An incredibly complex piece like the title’s namesake, “Etude for the Killer” combines organs with strings, clarinet, flute, harpsichord, and haunted choir with rapid notes and quick transitions between instruments. There are some nice instrument techniques used here, such as plucking of the cellos, cymbal crashes into the waltzing second half. With a loop 1:18 in length, “Etude for the Killer” communicates a great sense of gloom and mystery, coupled with the sweeping movements of evil spirits and the mechanical movements of skeletons and ghost knights. It’s truly a dance with Death.

The original version from Akumajo Dracula (1993) used chip of the X68000 for an FM sound similar to that of the Sega Genesis. This version is far more frantic than that of the Chronicles version, particularly with the plucking sound in the first half, and overall excellent percussion. The grating hiss of the FM chip fits perfectly with the chaos of the composition and ends with a wonderful fade back to the main piece 1:05. However, outside of the funky instrument selection, amazing percussion, and similarity to Castlevania Bloodlines, the original version of “Etude for the Killer” honestly isn’t that stand-out from the original Akumajo Dracula soundtrack for the X68000. It doesn’t have quite the impact of say “Clockwork Mansion” from Super Castlevania IV, which both the level and the song owe some inspiration to.

Of course, the album release contained two other versions, one on the Roland CM-64, the other the Roland SC-55 (the same synthesizer used in the MIDI Power Pro series). The SC-55 version sounds closest to the X68000 FM synth while the CM-64 version is a slightly different arrange. Neither is very appealing to me.

Castlevania Chronicles was composed by Sota Fujimori (Contra: Shattered Soldiers, Beatmania). The original version was composed by Hiroshi Kobayashi (Contra III: The Alien Wars) and two aliases Shin Chan (Wild Guns, Spanky’s Quest) and Jigokuguruma Nakamura (Dracula X: Rondo of Blood).