In 2010, Konami amazed consumers when they announced plans to commemorate their legendary Castlevania series with a 19 disc box set. The box set features the original scores for 29 games in the series, spanning from 1987's Castlevania by Kinuyo Yamashita to 2008's Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia by Michiru Yamane, all of them featuring distinctive sounds yet conserved features. While most of the music featured on this box set has been previously released on various soundtracks and compilations, there are a number of exclusives here, including two Game Boy scores, the newly released Castlevania: The Arcade, an autobiographical album, and a commemorative DVD. Yet while the box set has much to offer, there are many omissions and problems that mean that the final result isn't as definitive or satisfying as intended.
The box set fittingly appropriately opens with the soundtrack of Castlevania (aka Akumajo Dracula), regarded as a classic for good reason. Iconic tracks "Vampire Killer" and "Wicked Child" captivate listeners with their upbeat melodies and infectious rhythms while adding to the adventurous nature of the gameplay. Kinuyo Yamashita also manages to evoke plenty of emotions in the boss theme "Poison Mind" and the ending track "Voyager" despite the limited synth. The box set interestingly presents the scores for the NES adaptation and MSX original in succession on the first disc. The former features much fuller arrangements and richer synthesis, though suffers from bizarre interruptions; the decision to retain sound effects on "Walking on the Edge" is the first of numerous poor production mistakes featured on the set.
The music for Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (aka Dracula II: The Cursed Seal) wasn't a major progression on its predecessor, but still developed the series' musical identity with darker cues, rocking anthems, and gothic influences. Its defining cue is "Bloody Tears" that, even when stipped down to just a 30 second chiptune loop here, still conveys the mood of the game perfectly while being supremely addictive on a stand-alone level. The ten minute score for the Arcade's Haunted Castle (aka Akumajo Dracula) thereafter blends reprises from Castlevania II with some original tracks. The highlight tracks are the gothic rock anthem "Cross Your Heart" or the conflicted two-tiered theme for the basement and clock tower, whereas many others are too short and generic to be of interest.
The music for the NES' Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (aka Akumajo Densetsu) dominates much of the second disc. This soundtrack offered major improvements on its predecessor, with longer compositions, richer synth, and sophisticated stylings. This is evident on "Clockwork" with its rich contrapuntal writing, "Beginning" with its hard rock edge, and "Riddle" with its fierce intensifications. While one of the most impressive scores of the series, it's presentation is atrocious on the box set. In one of the laziest decisions on the production, the original sound medleys from the Akumajo Dracula Best are carried over on the box set, when individual tracks were required. Unforgivably, several crucial tracks, including the ending themes, are also completely omitted.
One of two kid-targeted Castlevania games, the original score for the NES' Akumajo Special: Boku Dracula-kun is also featured on the third disc, in the place of the omitted tracks. "Castle de Go Go" is a fun parody of the series' music, blending the lyrical melodies of "Vampire Killer" with a lively jazz style inspired by Super Mario Bros. The music for the second and fourth stages also maintain this upbeat chiptune quality, whereas the third and fifth stage themes are more ambient and experimental. Aside a couple of repetitive stinkers, the music is usually quite effective in the game and can be enjoyable as a transient stand-alone listen too. That said, the presentation could be better, as the tracks were taken directly from the original sound medleys on Konami Famicom Music Memorial Best Vol. 3.
Interspersed between the various NES soundtracks are two Game Boy scores. The music for Castlevania: The Adventure (aka The Legend of Dracula) features more of the same: simple and upbeat chiptune melodies inspired by pop and rock movements. There are a few decent stage themes here, such as "Battle of the Holy" and "Darkness", but most of the score is somewhat bland. More effort was put into the score for Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (aka The Legend of Dracula II), which offers longer compositions and enhanced synth. Among the highlights, "New Messiah" motivates gamers with some of the most frantic chiptune rock out there, "Praying Hands" conveys a castle in the clouds with its experimental synth work, and "Chromatische Phantasie" is a monophonic yet intricate synth organ solo.
One of the box's most significant exclusives is the original score for the Castlevania Legends (aka Akumajo Dracula: Dark Night Prelude), a non-canon title released in the Game Boy's old age. Much of the music for this title has a retro tone, whether the classic arrangement for the first stage theme or the rocking chiptunes for the castle's summit. Kaoru Okada's attempts at more mature compositions, such as the neo-classical waltz "Inside the Castle" or the dark gothic soundscape "Underground Watercourse", fall somewhat flat on the Game Boy's bright synth. Perhaps the most enjoyable tracks the battle themes, particularly the deliciously dark "Count Dracula Battle", the gothic rock anthem "Alucard Battle", the abstract final battle arrangement of "Vampire Killer". Overall, a decent but inconsistent score.
The score for the Game Boy's Kid Dracula is actually another exclusive featured on the fifth disc. This soundtrack retains the same childish tone and retro synth as the NES' Akumajo Special: Boku Dracula-kun, and some tracks such as "Castle de Go Go" are actually carried over. There are numerous endearing tracks here, such as the lively ragtime piece "Strange Rumors of Great Monkeys" and the rock-tinged battle anthem "Don't Move! Galamoth". However, sometimes the score labours the pre-existing formula too much, resulting in a sound that is as grating as it is superficial. The most novel aspect is the introduction of some Latin dances, such as "Tan Tan Tango", "Boisterous Samba", and "Hot, Hot, Hooooot!!". Otherwise the score doesn't bring much that wasn't already explored on the NES.
Moving to the 16-bit scores for the series, the third disc of the box set is completely dedicated to the music of Super Castlevania IV (aka Akumajo Dracula) by Masanori Adachi and Taro Kudo. Released early in the Super Nintendo's lifespan during 1991, the score was regarded innovative for its time for its more ambient and cinematic direction than most other game music released back then. Dracula is portrayed with immersive ambient soundscapes dominated by swelling strings for the opener and final stage theme. In contrast, the hero Simon Belmont shifts from sections featuring mature soundscaping to those with a rock organ melody. While not all the tracks are accessible, most are effective and fascinating. The score's presentation is complete on this box, though some sound effects and medley tracks are incorporated.
The fourth disc features one of the most significant scores in the series, the Genesis' Castlevania: Bloodlines (aka Vampire Killer). As Michiru Yamane's first score in the series, it features a shift from upbeat pop sounds towards more dramatic classical pieces. Two particularly ambitious compositions are "The Sinking Old Sanctuary", with its beautiful lead and mystical soundscaping, and "The Discolored Wall", a highly dissonant piece channeling influences from expressionist composers. Nevertheless, there are still some homages to the classic Castlevania sound, both with arrangements of series' staples and originals such as "Iron Blue Intention". While not Yamane's best, it's an impressive score that makes the most out of its limited sound chip. Thankfully, the box set version of the score is identical to its original release.
The other half of the fourth disc is dedicated to the music of the TurboGrafx-16's Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (aka Akumajo Dracula X: Rondo of Blood). It's one of the last scores in the series that put the emphasis on 80s-influenced anthemic rock parts with tracks such as the now-legendary "Bloodlines". There is nevertheless plenty of diversity within, ranging from the funky keyboard licks of "Cross a Heart" to the almighty gothic climax of "Illusionary Dance", though the score retains a strong melodic emphasis and upbeat vibe. This rendition of the score is essentially a translation of the first disc of the album Akumajo Dracula X, except without name entry theme. It omits most of the additional music featured on the more recent edition of the game's soundtrack, though only one of these tracks is significant.
One of box's later discs features the complete rearranged score for Castlevania: Rondo of Blood featured in the PSP's Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (aka Akumajo Dracula X Chronicle). For the most part, the arrangements are upgrades rather than transformations of the original, featuring more polished scoring and improved synthesis. Tracks such as "Bloodlines", "Cross a Fear", and "Bloody Tears" do feature an enhanced rock-orchestral palette, but are essentially carried by their original melodies. There are some more ambitious arrangements, such as "Illusionary Dance", and originals, such as "Red Dawn", but these are a small part of an otherwise conservative score. Note that the music for the Super Nintendo adaptation of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Castlevania: Dracula X, is omitted from the box set.
The second half of the eighth disc of the box set features arrangement of the music from the X68000's Akumajo Dracula for its PlayStation remake Castlevania Chronicles (aka Akumajo Chronicles: Akumajo Dracula). Bemani's Sota Fujimori did an excellent job modernising the original score with dramatic orchestrations such as "Etude for the Killer", straightforward revamps such as "The Tower of Gears", and pumping electronic remixes such as "The Tower of Dolls". His treatment of series' mainstays "Vampire Killer" and "Theme for Simon" is especially enjoyable here. Peculiarly, the actual original music from the X68000 game is completely omitted here, even though it is an excellent score written in the spirit of the series' classics. Many Japanese consumers, especially, will be disappointed by this prominent absence.
The series' other score for the PlayStation is, of course, Michiru Yamane's magnum opus Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (aka Akumajo Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight). With the transition to 3D action-adventure gameplay and PlayStation's hardware, Yamane took the series' music in a new direction with a diverse pieces, ranging from dark cinematic overtures (e.g. "Metamorphosis No. 1"), to neo-classical waltzes (e.g. "Dance of Pearls"), to the occasional rock anthem (e.g. "Dracula's Castle"). Its presentation on the sixth disc is similar to the soundtrack release, though the atrocious ballad was omitted and a few tracks from the Saturn version were included, namely two generic compositions and renditions of "Beginning" and "Bloody Tears". The two new tracks for its PSP version are sadly not included.
The seventh disc features the score for Castlevania 64 (aka Akumajo Dracula Apocalypse). Masahiko Kimura decided to take the series in an even darker direction with this soundtrack, resulting in moody cinematic cues like "Prologue", ambient setting themes such as "Quiet Madness", and dissonant action tracks including "Dancing in Phantasmic Hell". Though a lot of these tracks are serviceable in context, most are too repetitive and heavy-handed to appeal on a stand-alone level. The are a few emotional tracks on this score, such as "Invisible Sorrow", but they are too few to make the score worthwhile. While all the original music from Castlevania 64 is featured on the box, unfortunately the new music created for the related Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness is unfortunately completely omitted.
The series' scores for the Game Boy Advance are mostly disappointing. The music for Castlevania: Circle of the Moon at the start of the eighth disc (alongside Castlevania Chronicles) is almost completely comprised of arrangements. These range from classics such as "Vampire Killer" and "The Sinking Old Sanctuary" to relative obscurities from Castlevania III and Castlevania 64. While the arrangements are generally suitable for portraying a range of game contexts, particularly the darker orchestrations, they are rarely elaborate or developed enough to be of much stand-alone interest. The original compositions, especially "Awake" and "Faith to Despair", are solid but too few in number. The box set version is a relatively faithful reprint of the soundtrack version, though awkwardly omits the opening track.
Featured on the ninth disc, the original score for Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (aka Akumajo Dracula: Concerto of the Midnight Sun) is probably the least impressive in the series. The score has a rather dissonant sound throughout, though this is largely due to amateurish composition and atrocious implementation. For example, Soshiro Hokkai attempted to create a dark ambient soundscape on "Prologue", but only alienates rather than immerses listeners with its clumsy polyphonic writing and blaring Game Boy Advance synth. Whether the nonsensical hero's theme, repetitious dungeon themes, or ear-piercing boss tracks, essentially all the original tracks disappoint. While the full soundtrack release featured a few redeeming arranged versions, only one made it into the slightly condensed box set.
With the return of Michiru Yamane to the lead composing role, the music for Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (aka Castlevania: Minuet of Dawn) on the other half of the ninth disc redeems the Game Boy Advance scores. The heroic guitar melody and adventurous rock rhythms of "Ruined Castle Corridor" rival the best that is offered on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, while Baroque-influenced tracks such as "Chapel" and ambient setting themes such as "Sacred Cave" are exquisite in composition and synthesis. There are a few dull event themes and oppressive battle themes, but the majority of the score is excellent. Despite spanning some 51 minutes, the box set version of the soundtrack omits six tracks, including the crucial name entry and final battle themes, in one of the biggest disappointments of the entire product.
Perhaps Michiru Yamane's most impressive score for the series is Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (aka Castlevania). To fit the more historic setting, Yamane rejected the series' typical rock and pop elements in favour of dark and mature themes. Particularly impressive are the extensive gothic orchestrations of "Ghostly Theatre", the infectious melodic development of "Leon's Theme", and the haunting soundscapes of "Dark Palace of Waterfalls". The box set version of the score on the tenth disc cuts much material from the two disc soundtrack, including the drab cinematic orchestrations and the extensive bonus content. This ensures a more consistent and entertaining listen, although the choice to open the disc with a dissonant battle theme "Traces of Malevolent Souls" was a clumsy one.
The soundtrack for Castlevania: Curse of Darkness on the twelve disc restores the series' upbeat vibe and rock focus. Stage themes such as "Abandoned Castle", "Mortvia Fountain", and "The Forest of Jigramunt" are particularly enjoyable with their uplifting melodies and pleasant soundscapes. These tracks don't inspire rich imagery or evoke deep emotions, and instead just entertain listeners using modern technology. These tracks are complemented more atmospheric and intense additions, including the esteemed final battle theme. This soundtrack is the most extensively cut on the box set, with nearly two thirds of the tracks being omitted. There are a few notable omissions that will disappoint collectors, such as the final dungeon theme and closing ballad, though the majority are unappealing event themes.
The eleventh disc of the box set is entirely dedicated to the original score for the DS' Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (aka Castlevania: Cross of the Blue Moon). Much of the score is a reminiscence to the series' musical legacy, including the rocking anthem for the first stage "Pitch Black Intrusion" and the reprises of series' staples such as "Bloody Tears" and "Vampire Killer". However, Masahiko Kimura and Michiru Yamane also explore the technological capacity of the DS with darker tracks such as "Subterranean Hell" and "Platinum Moonlight" that are on par with some of the best on the main console games. The box set version of the score is almost a track-to-track translation of its original soundtrack release, though the bonus track "Amber Scenery" is omitted. While not the series' best, it is certainly a great listen.
The thirteenth disc of the box set continues the DS series of titles with the complete score for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (aka Akumajo Dracula: Gallery of Labyrinth). Michiru Yamane maintains the series' sound with a familiar yet high quality assortment of stage, battle, and event themes, including the melancholic "Name Entry", infectious "Hail to the Past", and blistering "Bloodines" arrangement. However, the absolute highlights are the guest contributions by Yuzo Koshiro, including the unforgettable first stage theme "Invitation to a Crazed Moon". The box set version is based on the second disc of the original soundtrack release, featuring the various compositions before they were downgraded on to the DS' hardware, though omits the arrangement of "Theme for Simon".
The fifteenth disc concludes the trilogy of DS scores with the music from Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (aka Akumajo Dracula: The Stolen Seal). The score exudes a lighter aura throughout with pop-influenced stage themes like "Rhapsody of the Forsaken" and 80s rock battle themes such as "Ebony Wings". As Michiru Yamane's final score at Konami, the soundtrack nevertheless features a reflective vibe in places, particularly on the bittersweet ending theme "Requiem of Star-Crossed Nights". Of all the portable scores, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia suffers most from its presentation on the box set, since nearly half of the original score is omitted. While many of the absent tracks are drab event themes, the omission of tracks such as "Waltz of the Evening Moon" strips the soundtrack of much of its depth and beauty.
Coming towards the end of the box set, the music for Castlevania: Judgment (aka Akumajo Dracula Judgment) is featured on the sixteenth disc. As the game is a versus fighting title, the music is mostly written in a rock-orchestral style by Yasushi Asada. For the character-based stage themes, he injects series' favourites such as "Vampire Killer", "Iron Blue Intention", and "Clockwork" with enthralling guitar leads and action-packed orchestrations. These tracks all feature effective arrangements and stunning implementation, but suffer somewhat from their somewhat similar and formulaic approach. There are also a few excellent compositions on the disc, especially the opener and closer. The score would have benefited from more variety, but it's still bound to delight series' fans with its complete presentation here.
The final soundtrack on the disc is dedicated to Castlevania: The Arcade (aka Akumajo Dracula: The Arcade), featuring modern adaptations of Castlevania favourites. Masahiro Ikariko's team do a solid job revamping series' classics such as "Bloodlines", "Beginning", and "Illusionary Dance" with a Hollywood action sound; however, a few of these are too thin, repetitive, and generic to be of stand-alone interest. There are also a range of gothic rock interpretations too, such as "Bloody Tears", "Wicked Child", and "Cross Your Heart", which have a more retro influence than similar takes from Castlevania: Judgment. While this is a decent exclusive, the score for Castlevania: The Medal for slot machines — merely comprising one minute of orchestral fanfares — is also pointlessly tagged on to the end of this disc.
A more major exclusive on the set is Castlevania x Michiru Yamane Autobiographical Music, a collection of original compositions and series arrangements commemorating Yamane's career. It appears that Yamane used this album to reveal new artistic inspirations, with tracks ranging from a heavy metal vocal performance from Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, to a personal piano solo based on Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, to big band performances of classics from the original trilogy. Some of these interpretations will be divisive, given their transformative quality, though there are a few conventional classically-oriented arrangements of her first two series' scores. This is a fascinating exclusive, though note that this album is also available separately as a digital download in Japan for those who don't require the box set.
Finally, the box set includes a bonus DVD commemorating the music of the Castlevania series. It is nice how this DVD gets up close and personal with the musical heroine of the Castlevania series, Michiru Yamane, in an interview at her home. It even shows her playing with her cat, apparently the main reason she left Konami! Unfortunately, there are no subtitles, even though there was substantial international interest towards the box. However, there is some bonus musical content to partly compensate. Yamane offers a passionate performance of the aforementioned piano adaptation of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. In addition, there are some fascinating videos of the spirited yet professional recording sessions that took place for the autobiographical music disc. Overall, a decent bonus for curious fans.
For 25 years, the Castlevania series has offered some of the most memorable and distinctive music in video games. The series' scores include a few stinkers (e.g. Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania 64), but the majority have been excellent, whether for their memorable chiptunes (e.g. Castlevania, Castlevania III), rocking leads (e.g. Rondo of Blood, Dawn of Sorrow), or mature orchestrations (e.g. Lament of Innocence, Symphony of the Night). This box reflects the individual strengths of each score, while demonstrating the series' musical development and the more consistent elements. The inclusion of the autobiographical music and bonus interview makes this an even more historic commemoration of the series' musical legacy, particularly Michiru Yamane's now she has left Konami.
Unfortunately, the box set features some major production problems. The presentation could have been better — the packaging looks rather drab, the soundtracks are misordered, the liner notes are minimal, and there are some typos. In terms of selection, large chunks of score (e.g. Rondo of Blood, Order of Ecclesia), numerous bonus tracks (e.g. Dracula X Chronicles, Lament of Innocence), and entire game soundtracks (e.g. Akumajo Dracula X68000, Legacy of Darkness) are absent. Many of these seem to have been due to clumsiness or laziness, rather than for artistic reasons. In fact, the entire idea of creating an inflated best compilation, rather than a complete box, was a bad one. After all, such a box set is only likely to appeal to hardcore collectors, who are usually completists that expect complete soundtracks.
Given this box set was originally priced at 21,000 JPY (setting overseas customers back at least 250 USD), many consumers felt cheated with the final product and even more decided not to order it at all. In response to low consumer demand, Konami have now repriced the box set. The resultant package is now a worthwhile purchase for those passionate about the series' music. However, those that already own the main soundtracks in the series should treasure these instead, as they're generally better presented and more complete. The exclusives are welcome bonuses, but are hardly spectacular and worth paying heavy money for. Overall, the box is an impressive way to commemorate the series' legacy, but could have been much, much better with some more careful production decisions and, incredibly, a few more discs.