Saturday, December 29, 2018

Castlevania music: chiptune on vinyl 2


This post has been the making for a long while, because I didn't want to write before having all the announced Castlevania titles in my hands (sorry, no Kid Dracula) and having a back to back listening experience. With the final release of Symphony of the Night, now is the time. All these releases come from Mondo.

Castlevania


Once you get over the stunning artwork on the front cover and the level layout gatefold (I don't care about the Medusa), the most noticeable aspect of this release is its shortness, it's awkward 10 inch size and its relative high price. Being generous, it feels like Mondo had to compromise here in some way for us to have the soundtrack at all. I appreciate having it, but it still an uncomfortable purchase even more than a year on. The music sounds fuller, coming out of a nice system than from the old TV speakers back then and from all the releases here, this one is the closest to the original intention of re-creating a monster movie vibe. I like the inclusion of the sound effects in Walking on Edge, but I believe that they overstay their welcome. I got the plain old black vinyl variant and despite all the color schemes of the rest I think it the most handsome looking.

Listen for: Poison Mind. My complaint is that it is too short. They could have added another extra loop for this one. Everything else sounds lovely as well.


Castlevania II


Simon's Quest presents us with the differing NES and famicom versions. The music from this game is the scariest-sounding from the whole series (not on Silent Hill level but still) and the famicom version enhances the experience with a richer texture. This title shares with Castlevania I both the great artwork and short running time/high price combo. When I ordered I had the opportunity of getting the night and day split and I still kick myself for not doing so. The center labels are also the best for the titles here.

Listen for: the famicom version.



Castlevania III


Dracula's Curse feels the most balanced of the Castlevania soundtracks with each song consistently keeping the momentum going and with no obvious throwaway tracks. If you put aside Simon's Quest for a moment, it is the first one that offers alternate routes and the track selection reflects that with alternating songs from the lower and upper routes which finally meet at the famous Castlevania hallway.

Unlike Simon's Quest, the NES version is way better than the famicom one, so I would recommend to play the latter first.

The orange splatter variant I got for this one is the second-best looking of the bunch. However, is noticeably crackly at parts. This is no problem for me because the music is so good. The inside of the gatefold could have been better, maybe like the one from Super Castlevania IV if they wanted to keep the level layout idea.

Listen for: Evergreen (probably the sweetest song from all the Castlevania canon) and the underground level, Nightmare on NES side (blown by the sound effects).



Super Castlevania IV


Super Castlevania IV represents a vibrant evolutionary path not taken both in game design and music. As such, the score is way out of the usual Castlevania fare, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Most of the music has been described already as weird jazz by others and it certainly fits that description.  The instrumentation is appealing and the bass is smooth all throughout.

Unlike Dracula's Curse, the included sound effects are spot-on. If there's is anything lacking, that  is the reprise of Simon's theme on the last battle which made the scene exciting in the first place. Oh, well. The grey vinyl is the least exciting of the group too.

Listen for: The Waterfall & the Sunken City. I hated this last one when I played the game, but now I've been won over by it as it really represents the soundtrack as a whole. I hear a clear connection between the tribalism of the Dungeon music to the Tower of Execution and main theme from Castlevania 64.



Rondo of Blood/ Dracula X


One of the best games I never played is Rondo of Blood. A friend lent me the Dracula X SNES version and it was such a letdown. The music, notwithstanding, was on par with the already impressive Castlevania track record. Mondo could have gotten away with just releasing Rondo, but the double album was an unexpected gift. With the benefit of side-to-side comparison I will hand preference to Rondo. The SNES version does make mighty efforts and comes real close in many of the songs, but Rondo is still better sounding and the better soundtrack. The added bonus of Haunted Castle decisively tilts the balance and ushers the whole package to the 5-star club. Oh, can't wait for a release of the Gameboy/DS games if that ever happens.

The inverted gatefold art covering both games, MCs & bosses is the best of the bunch.

Listen for: Den (for the mini-medley), Mary Samba (way to end the game! Not like the dour Richter end theme), & Cross Your Heart. I would throw in Cross a Fear as well from the PC Engine as a good theme that has been forgotten. The best remixes of Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears are the ones found here IMO.



Symphony of the Night


SOTN was certain to be a 5-star no matter what. However, the artwork, though reminiscent of the original, wastes all the available space in just 4 portraits. Mondo had released  a poster with better artwork some months prior. What happened? Why the change? A waste in my opinion.

Now too, the infamous side D is a treat that isn't. In the flurry of good news surrounding the release of Rondo and Symphony one extra bit was the inclusion of tracks from the Saturn version of SOTN. My elation soured immediately when I checked the track listings and found my hopes weren't realized with the absence of the Cursed Prison Saturn-exclusive theme Chaconne c moll. This one is not as immediately catchy as the rest of the soundtrack and its obscurity makes it fall between the cracks, but, in my opinion, it is the most accomplished composition of the game series. It follows closely the example set by Bach's passacaglia BWV 582 which is breathtaking. As far as I know it has never been recorded and it is a shame that it didn't make it into this release. Did we really need more versions of Bloody Tears, Vampire Killer & Beginning? If you have listened up to this point, they are already tired and do not add anything worthwhile (well, the last version of Beginning does get a passing mark on my book).

Finally, I've got to say that I Am the Wind is missing. I am happy for its absence, but it is an integral part of SOTN nevertheless.

Listen for:  all the little things going on the background on much of the music. I'd like to point out the obscure and tender Nocturne and Abandoned Pit, which sounds very spooky isolated now from gameplay sounds. Also check out the Librarian theme for its Arabian Nights feel.



There are no obvious drawbacks with the pressings presented here except the aforementioned CV III.

Recommendations


So, what to aim for? It's surprising, but all releases get high marks and maybe one's budget can't be stretched to cover them all. Here's what I recommend:

If you're a fan: get Symphony of the Night no question about it.

If you're a non-fan: get Super Castlevania IV. I too, didn't expect this, but I think it very interesting musically speaking and more apt to reach to a wider audience. It is far-out, but stems from a familiar base.

If you want to keep finding stuff on repeated listenings (replay value if you will): SOTN & SC IV.

If you are going after value: Rondo + Dracula X or Dracula's Curse. If you played only one of these, go for the nostalgia.

If you want cover art for display, get Simon's Quest.

If you want gatefold art, get Rondo of Blood.

If you don't care about the music at all and just want something to collect and maybe show around, get the original Castlevania.

What's in for the future? The standout absence is Bloodlines. There are three or four themes, foremost Iron Blue Intention and Requiem for the Nameless Victims (probably the best Castlevania ending after Evergreen/Flashback), that are interesting, but I'm on the fence on this one if it ever comes to light.

Now, the gameboy/DS titles from Circle of the Moon on, are another matter. These were given for the most part great themes and are an obvious way forward. I'm all on in on these and if it were up to me, I'd see for there release first.

There's also the parallel project Resurrection of the Night (Materia Collective) which is a funded Kickstarter release. This one is special because it uses real instruments and choir. Once It ships and I add it up to my collection (I backed for its realization and for the vinyl reward), I'll include it here.