Originally published on Pixelitis.net on August 14, 2012.
(Editor’s note: From Super Mario Bros. to Metal Gear Solid, everyone’s got at least one videogame tune stuck in their heads. Enter Liner Notes: a Pixelitis feature in which our writers discuss their favorite videogame soundtracks.)
There are certain soundtracks that any self-respecting game audiophile pretty much has to love. Whether it’s the same composer over a number of titles or a one-shot that stands out, there’s usually something that catches the ear.
Take the Castlevania series, for example. Since its beginnings in the 8-bit realm it has provided exceptional music. Loving it usually comes with the territory; it’s just too good. With the 16-bit era, the gothic series entered with the loud crack of a whip.
Super Castlevania IV was one of Konami’s first offerings for the Super Nintendo. The game was a vast improvement on its predecessors and then some. Not only did the series get a much needed facelift, it brought along a more flexible Simon Belmont (that could freakingmoonwalk up stairs), varied level design, and a stupendous boost in the audio department.
Composing duties were handed to Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudou, whose names have taken various spellings throughout the years. The duo crafted a masterpiece of a score that took the series’ music to a whole new level. It’s astounding that a game with such innovative music was released only four months after the SNES hit the North American market.
Atmosphere is really key in Super Castlevania IV’s soundtrack. While some tracks have a certain dissonant tone that creates a tense, unsettling sensation, others feature a cascade of gloomy ambience, giving the game a very cinematic feel.
Just think back to how creepy the music was during the game’s introduction, starting with the low-note vibe of the title screen intro, all the way to the pure dread that encompasses “Dracula’s Theme.” It was all incredibly reminiscent of an old-school horror movie.
“Prologue” kicks off the moment the player is given control of the much-beloved Simon Belmont. It’s an atmospheric tune that successfully works as a sort of “calm before the storm” prior to Simon’s entrance into the dangerous world of Transylvania.
“Simon Belmont’s Theme (Stage 1-2 BGM)”
In my opinion, there’s no better way for a player to begin their skeleton-whipping journey than with the hero’s theme song. “Simon Belmont’s Theme” features great dynamics, starting with a haunting organ and then followed by a synth that builds things up. It then suddenly kicks into an upbeat, rock-meets-organ tune that’s not only heroic but awesomely catchy.
Adachi and Kudou continued a trend that previous Castlevanias had: a catchy first-level tune that instilled the drive in players to seek out Dracula and whip his ugly mug.
“Limestone Cavern ~ Waterfall ~ Submerged City (Stage 3 BGM)”
In the game’s third level, the music goes through three movements that could easily sell the entire soundtrack on their own. The trio begins with “Limestone Cavern,” which is easily one of the most atmospheric tracks in the game. The light, simplistic piano, coupled with a lone flute that’s eventually joined by a bit of brass hammers home the quiet and wet cave setting.
Once out of the caverns, “Waterfall” kicks in, a track as moody as it is calm. The highs and lows of the piano along with the somber string and woodwind sections would later be musically referenced to great effect in Lords of Shadow.
“Submerged City” rounds off the trio with a surprisingly complex jazz fusion number. If you can forgive the cheesiness of the organ intro in the beginning (which admittedly took a while for me), it’s a really neat track with a bunch of rock organ and flute solos, while the addition of the upright bass gives it a bit of class.
“The Trick Manor (Stage 4 BGM)”
With this next track, we go from atmospheric, moody music to a percussive drumming tour-de-force. The blast-beats in “The Trick Manor” have a progressive edge, with an organ section that eventually evokes the feeling of being in a haunted mansion.
The second portion of the track carries the same motif but adds a bit more urgency to it, introducing a dramatic section, rift with odd-time signatures that accentuate the fast and hectic stone/spike traps that this part of the level throws at the player.
“Banquet Hall (Stage 6 BGM)”
For me, “Banquet Hall” was the first bit of game music that I thought would be amazing to hear live. It’s a baroque piece injected with a bit of craziness thanks to the bombastic use of strings. I always dug the heavily-involved piano.
A bevy of great tracks follow this one, with one of my favorites being the memorable and bold-sounding “Treasure Room.”
Once Simon finally reaches the last batch of stages, the game begins to give a wondrous nod to the NES Castlevania trilogy. I can’t even begin to describe the sort of chills I got when I heard the fully SNES-remixed version of “Bloody Tears.”
I’m always a sucker for games that musically stroke my nostalgia.
During the mind-numbingly difficult series of boss fights with Slogra, Gaibon, and Death, the nutty “The Attendants’ Rooms” plays, perfectly representing the chaos and despair that only a dozen in-game deaths can instill.
“Dracula’s Room (Final Stage BGM)”
When it’s almost all said and done, a reprise to the game’s intro music plays, reminding you that there’s one more hurdle to surpass. At the same time though, it’s being grandiose, urging the player to walk up those iconic stairs and take down the Prince of Darkness.
It’s an amazing way to egg the player on to deal the final blow. But not before grabbing all of those secret powerups. Thanks, Konami!
Once Dracula is vanquished, we’re treated to a retrospective of Simon’s quest, along with a moving ending theme that’s filled with as much resolve as there is sadness, knowing that a fantastic journey has been brought to its conclusion.
Super Castlevania IV ‘s musical legacy would live on in later games in the franchise. “Simon’s Theme” would join the ranks of “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears” as one of the most memorable Castlevania tunes, being reused in Bloodlines, Chronicles, and Portrait of Ruin.
The folks at Konami would also take a specific liking to “The Trick Manor,” bringing it back as a remix entitled “Clockwork Mansion” in the GBA’s Castlevania: Circle of the Moon.
Thankfully, unlike other specific Konami titles, there was an official soundtrack release for Super Castlevania IV, called “Akumajo Dracula Best 2.” It also contains the music to both Castlevania Adventure titles, which happen to have fantastic songs of their own.
Adachi and Kudou pushed the SNES sound chip to do incredible things before the SNES even had a quarter of its extensive triple-A library. Though Super Castlevania IV has its fair share of catchy tunes like the previous NES titles in the series, it covers new ground with its varied soundtrack.
Top Five Tracks: