When talking about Castlevania it’s easy to find yourself humming the classic tunes that came with the early games in the series: Bloody Tears, Vampire Killer, and Beginning. They’re amazing examples of the kind of catchy tunes that dominated the NES generation, giving rise to a legacy of remixes and variations. Shit, half of the tracklist for the Castlevania: Judgement soundtrack is remixes. They’re easily some of the best video game songs ever written.
Tony Ponce’s post over at Destructoid, listing the top ten songs from the series, got me thinking about all the songs that didn’t make the list, all the random tracks that a series as long and storied as Castlevania produces. For a series with a musical background that ranges from chamber music to speed metal, there’re just too many songs to select from when thinking about the best it has to offer.
In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of ten of the best songs from the Castlevania series that you’ve either never heard or have forgotten about after hearing yet another half-assed acoustic guitar version of the Clock Tower theme.
10. Belmont’s Theme –Lords of Shadow
This game takes a lot of flak from series faithful for being absolutely nothing like the rest of the series, but it shouldn’t be ignored as a fine game on its own. With a shift away from its Japanese roots, many of the iconic themes of the series were tossed out the window in favor of more sweeping and epic songs reminiscent of the game’s inspirations (namely God of War.) This led to some generic and forgettable songs, but a few really stand out as representative of the atmospheric nature of the series.
You’d be hard pressed to not find yourself scooting slightly closer to the TV when this song starts playing, its slow build pulling you in as the level unfolds before you. I lovingly refer to this song as SHIT GETS REAL: THE SONG and I can’t think of any better game for it to be used in.
9. Iron Blue Intention –Bloodlines
When two popular series (Castlevania and Contra) got their own versions on the Sega Genesis, kids were shocked. Not only were they the first forays outside of Nintendo’s grey box, but they were also radical departures from the rest of the series. Castlevania: Bloodlines discarded much of the game’s established mythology, choosing instead to infuse itself with aspects of vampire lore from the original novel Dracula, replacing the Belmont clan with the Yankee John Morris and his spear-toting buddy Eric Lecarde (Lecarde…Alucard…get it?)
Thanks to this we got an entirely new take on the music of the series, resulting in some of the most interesting and impressive tunes to carry the Castlevania name. This is easily the standout song of the game, taking place in an abandoned German munitions factory. It has since become one of the series staples, getting remixed in more than a few places.
8. Leon’s Theme –Lament of Innocence
Another bastard child of the 3D generation, Lament of Innocence was a hybrid action-RPG in the same vein as Symphony of the Night but played from the perspective of a third person brawler. You still were tasked with wandering around a map, unlocking doors and farming various monsters for rare drops, but now you did it in FULL 3D. Excitement.
I love this song because it presents a new take on the fast paced themes that Castlevania is known for, the gothic piano giving the entire thing a classy touch. Much like the Belmont family itself, the song keeps pushing forward, intent on fulfilling its destiny no matter the cost.
7. Calling From Heaven – Bloodlines
A blood red moon in the background, this soaring tune really captures the feeling of Castlevania. Both epic and ominous, it fortells both failure at success at the hands of forces far more powerful than yourself. It moves upward and then immediately downward, mirroring the constant vertical movement of the player as he starts outside before descending into the caves and then up into Dracula’s chamber. This song really represents the entire experience of playing a Castlevania game.
It’s also just a fucking great song.
6. The Cave – Super Castlevania IV
Super Castlevania was the first game in the series to really break away from the mold by including more atmospheric down-tempo songs like this. If any one game was an inspiration for Michiru Yamane’s amazing Symphony of the Night soundtrack, it was this one. The methodical and plodding strums and ethereal flute perfectly capture the desolation of the caves, the stage extending far out in the background beyond your view.
Interestingly enough, while Bloodlines was making headway with the more traditional arcade style of the series, the SNES games were changing things up with more cinematic songs, most likely a product of the SNES’s heightened audio capabilities.
5. Clock Tower – Aria of Sorrow
Alright, yes every game has a song for the clock tower and yes, they all kind of sound the same, but this one stands out in the way it tries to combine many of the different strands that the songs have included over the years. The shredding of The Tragic Prince from Symphony of the Night is there alongside the more mechanical piano that’s reminiscent of the original from Dracula’s Curse. If there’s any song on this list that represents both the future and past of Castlevania, this is it.
4. Opus 13 – Rondo of Blood
With the PC Engine, Konami was able to completely kick out the jams and take advantage of CD audio, bringing in the full range of instruments they always wanted to use. As a result, Rondo of Blood ends up having one of the series’ most schizophrenic soundtracks, jumping from smooth jazz to tribal beats to speed metal. Much of the faux saxophone used in Symphony of the Night can be traced to this song, which takes the spirit of the original chiptunes and puts a funky spin on it.
3. Dwelling of Doom – Simon’s Quest
While Simon’s Quest may have sucked overall, it did have some of the most memorable music and dialogue in the entire series. What a horrible night to have a curse indeed.
2. Final Toccata – Symphony of the Night
I’d love to see the numbers on people who never quite made it to the second half of Symphony of the Night and got a chance to hear this gem. Sure, it’s completely overplayed in the upside-down castle and, by the time you finish the game, you hate it with a passion, but it’s a surprisingly good song. You just need to put some time between playing the game and listening to it.
Much like the inverted castle itself, this song almost seems to exude a sepia soaked nightmare, never really bubbling past the surface yet fluttering about like a bird trapped in a room. The constant organ in the background, always there and never changing, relentlessly drives the piece forward. Despite everything in the castle being different, it’s all still the same.
1. An Empty Tome – Order of Ecclesia
Order of Ecclesia was a return to the series’ roots in more ways than one. While it was as bitterly difficult as Dracula’s Curse it still maintained the RPG stylings of the maddeningly popular Symphony of the Night without the simplified combat. It was also an attempt by Michiru Yamane, who composed the SOTN soundtrack, to capture the same variance of themes using a more traditionally Castlevania style. Songs like this and Tower of Dolls were the result: upbeat and melody driven tunes that remind me a lot of the iconic chiptune songs from the NES games. Of all the new GBA / NDS Castlevania games, it’s the songs from OoE that have the best chance of becoming timeless classics alongside Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears.
One song that didn’t quite make this list was Abandoned Castle from Curse of Darkness, the second PS2-era 3D brawler. While it’s a great track that has a serious old school monster movie feel to it, it was just too similar to the Lament of Innocence music to justify putting it on here.
I’m sure there were many other songs I’ve left off this list, so let me know what your favorite was and why…and before you ask, yes I did purposely try to avoid the majority of Symphony of the Night. I’ve already written a VGM Genesis about that one.