This Halloween, you might feel like turning down the lights and cranking up the frights with a run through of a classic game like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. But for my time and money, nothing beats the premier name in action horror -- Castlevania!
Castlevania may not be the first thing you think of when someone says "horror," but there really is no greater poster child for the genre. This is a series that originally drew inspiration from old Universal and Hammer monster movies, paying homage to icons like Frankenstein's Creature, the Wolf Man, and of course Dracula. Over the years, it started to incorporate monsters and myths from cultures the world over. Castlevania is really just one giant hoedown with nearly every ghoul and foul hellspawn from all of human history.
And what better way is there to celebrate such a remarkable franchise than with a totally objective list of the best Castlevania songs of all time? From gothic jazz to vampire rock, each tune is distinct and memorable in its own way. I guarantee that, by the time you finish reading this list, you'll feel like a badass, whip-cracking, axe-throwing, superhuman hunter of the night!
Every franchise has "that one game" that makes everyone scratch their head and exclaim, "What were they thinking!?" For Castlevania, Judgment is that game. Everything about it is just wrong -- the wrong genre, the wrong platform, the wrong art style, etc.
But the soundtrack is oh so right! Most of the tunes are high-octane arrangements of iconic themes from throughout the series, but there is a small handful of original pieces. The opening theme, "Darkness of Fear," is so intense that it might actually sucker you into playing this filth!
Speaking of the wrong art style, who at Konami thought it was a brilliant idea replace Ayami Kojima's brilliant character designs with that? Thankfully, the rest of the game didn't fall prey to the same lapse in sensibility.
"Condemned Tower" is one of those tracks that starts off slow and forlorn then crescendos until it reaches a mighty crash. It's a prime example of how Castlevania music is as much about building atmosphere as it is about delivering infectious, head-bobbing melodies.
Symphony of the Night was the start of a new Castlevania era in more ways than one. The music in particular took on a whole new dimension, thanks to composer Michiru Yamane. This was neither her first game nor her first Castlevania title, but this was the project that properly demonstrated her range and expertise.
Blending classical, techno, and rock styles, she forged a spirit all her own. Players are introduced to that spirit in "Dracula's Castle," heard as Alucard tears through the opening section like a... well... like a bat out of hell.
Of the NES Castlevanias, Dracula's Curse is the undisputed leader. It also packed quite a punch in the audio department... if you were playing the Japanese version, that is. Listen to the first stage theme, "Beginning," and tell me you don't feel that extra "oomph."
In Japan, a special audio chip called VRC6 was included in the cartridge, bestowing upon the game a couple of extra sound channels. That meant the music was richer and deeper than other games in the Famicom library. Unfortunately, the NES hardware out West could not support the VRC6, so our music sounds inadequate by comparison.
The song that started it all! I doubt composer Kinuyo Yamashita had any idea how influential her work on the original Castlevania soundtrack would become when she scored Simon Belmont's first battle against the undead horde.
To this day, "Vampire Killer" continues to worm its way into just about every Castlevania game, arranged and re-imagined in various styles. It stands as one of the most iconic pieces of game music, alongside such memorable melodies as the overworld themes from Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
I will put my foot down and claim that the soundtrack to Belmont's Revenge is the best Castlevania soundtrack of all. It is so criminally underrated, simply because the title is for the Game Boy. People seem to forget just how powerful the Game Boy's audio capabilities are. Why do you think the Game Boy is the tool of choice for many chiptune musicians?
What makes the Belmont's Revenge music so amazing -- "New Messiah," in particular -- is the deep, booming bass that you can only really appreciate by plugging a set of headphones into your portable. It's speed metal! On a friggin' Game Boy! C'mon!
Before Symphony of the Night arrived to rock our world, Rondo of Blood demonstrated what clean, high-quality CD audio could bring to the table. In that opening stage, as "Divine Bloodlines" plays and Richter marches past a besieged European town burning in the background, you get the sense that an epic challenge unlike any you have ever faced before awaits.
And no, the version that appears on Castlevania: Dracula X on the Super Nintendo doesn't cut the mustard.
Symphony of the Night, the game so nice I mentioned it twice!
"Lost Painting" may be the calmest song on this list, but it's precisely that haunting beauty that I find so incredible. This is Michiru Yamane once again showing off how talented she is, making all other music composers look like chumps. Contrast this with "Dracula's Castle" earlier in the list, and you begin to understand the scope of Symphony of the Night's groundbreaking soundtrack.
Next to "Vampire Killer," Kenichi Matsubara's "Bloody Tears" is the second song people tend to associate with the Castlevania franchise. Because it's damn good.
Let's be honest: "Vampire Killer" will always be a classic, but "Bloody Tears" is a musical triumph. That rhythmic bass line, those pounding drums -- they send a chill down your spine. Not out of fright, but out of sheer excitement and anticipation of the struggle to come.
Whoopsies! Looks like I ran down the timer because I was too busy flailing my whip in eight directions to the beat of the GREATEST THEME SONG IN THE HISTORY OF MAN!
Castlevania has some of the greatest videogame music of any franchise, and a simple top ten list was never going to be enough. I'm sure you'll argue about some of these inclusions and wonder why you personal favorite track didn't make the grade. Still, I feel that this list gathers a solid selection of the best music in the series.
Of course, there are other songs that barely missed inclusion, but I'd like to honor them anyway. These aren't in any particular order, but you can consider them "further listening."
Enjoy the tunes and have a happy Halloween!