30 years ago, Konami released a game called Castlevania. The horror themed adventure game came out in Japan for the Famicom Disk System on September 26, 1986. This also means that the soundtrack, composed by James Banana AHEM i mean Kinuyo Yamashita, has also existed for 30 years! In my personal opinion, the finest waveforms to ever flow out of the NES' 2a03 sound chip.
I've listened to a lot of video game soundtracks. There were a few months in my life when I listened predominantly to NSF and SPC files. I'm not trying to wave my nerd cred around, I just want to establish that I've been around the block. Although this website mainly focuses on independent interpretations of video games and their soundtracks, I know my original game soundtracks just fine.
With that said, the original Castlevania has the greatest videogame soundtrack of all time. Not just best Konami soundtrack or NES soundtrack. Through all game history, no single game has produced a finer series of themes. People who have never played the original game still know the famous Castlevania intro, which leads right into the intense opening stage theme, Vampire Killer. I could stop right here and have an argument for best game soundtrack. Though Yamashita would not continue producing music for the Castlevania series, she immediately set the aesthetic and tone for all future Castlevania music in one and a half tracks.
Castlevania has a great mix between catchy adventure and ominous horror music. This sets a great tone for all the goblin monkeys, roving medusa heads and boner throwing boners that are defending Dracula's castle. Yamashita's compositions also push the natural tempo of the game, creating that dire, rushed feeling that keeps the player moving forward, even when it's uncertain what horror is coming next. There's always some new and deadly monster lurking around the corner, and the soundtrack makes you know, and dread it.
One thing all great NES soudtracks are known for is their ability to be catchy without becoming increasingly irritating as the deaths and game overs pile up. Everyone has their own range for when they get sick of a song, but this soundtrack surpasses the upper limits of such feelings. I have had multiple chances to test this outcome with the original Castlevania because, surprise, I'm not that good at Castlevania. I wouldn't actually hear the epicness of the full soundtrack until a late discovery of the internet.
Far more often than I have played Castlevania though, is the endless rotations I give the original soundtrack, I'm listening to the OST as I write this. I often think of many of my favorite OSTs as their own albums for this very reason When I look at the Castlevania soundtrack as an album, Yamashita and the developers of Castlevania get it even more right. There are only a handful of stages, which means the game only needs a handful of themes to compliment them. The best things about the Castlevania OST, is that it had very few songs. Only 10-15 tracks, depending on where you draw the line between asong and a jingle. Like most NES games, the small amount of levels meant fewer, but far more memorable songs for each stage. I consider most great albums to only have about 10-15 tracks. I believe it to be just the right amount before fans and listeners get antsy and start losing focus. I blame video games.
Each track in the Castlevania soundtrack is distinct, but also fits the overall theme of horror and action. Tracks shift from the adventurous, almost upbeat tone of first level theme Vampire Killer, towards the deeper and more foreboding themes Nothing To Lose, and Black Night. The Castlevania soundtrack closes, logically, with the ending theme. If there is a better theme to hear while watching the sunrise after a night of vanquishing evil, I've never heard it. Daylight returns and the hero escapes triumphantly with this soaring yet ominous final ballad.
The hallmark to the Castlevania soundtrack, is that Yamashita created the most malleable game music I have ever witnessed. In my line of work, I've heard plenty of Castlevania remixes, in pretty much every genre possible. I've heard twerked out castlevania mixtapes, orchestral arrangements that bring a tear to the eye, balls to the wall metal covers (shout out to Year 200X). When in the right mindset the themes of the original Castlevania can sound like the dopest hip hop beats, the heaviest metal, or the craziest techno dance grooves. I've heard all those interpretations and they're all ridiculously catchy, to an almost preternatural degree. I've gone on record saying that Metroid is the most difficult series to cover or remix, which is why Metroid Metal made a name for themselves for just doing that correctly. Castlevania is the polar opposite of that sentiment. For as much as I've heard, it appears to be damn near impossible to mess up a Castlevania remix. The base is as sturdy as it gets, whatever an artist piles on top is pure gravy.
Yamashita's work can be taken in endless directions, and it has. But I always hope for more. I never make requests of what games musicians should cover, but if I could make a request of anyone reading, it's simple. Just cover the entire original Castlevania OST. I don't care about the format, length, instrumentation, or any other fancy music terms. Just rock that shit and you can make one person happy. Although if you read this article, I'm happy enough.
This is the real Mega Man 2 Soundtrack. Why isn't everyone tripping over each other to do a full album tribute to this beautiful score? Especially on this classic franchises 30th Annniversary. I am sure there will be a few albums dropping that I wasn't aware of will drop the same day as this article, so expect to hear more about this in the coming weeks.
I can't end this article without calling out Konami. Will there even be a new Castlevania? Series mainstay Igarashi left Konami, and is going to build his own Castlevania, with blackjack, and hookers. I'm excited about that. Konami themselves seem uninterested in continuing with the most recent Castlevania Lords of Shadow series, or attempting any further 2D entries. Castlevania is pretty much done for the foreseeable future, save for a shoddy mobile game perhaps. This is why I implore Konami to please just sell the rights for Castlevania to another, better, game studio (along with the rights to Gradius and Mystical Ninja). It's for the good of humanity.
If you've got 9 1/2 minutes to spare, and you do, because you read this, then go listen to the entire Castlevania soundtrack. In fact, you probably got 19 minutes to spare. Listen to it twice. Then listen to my SUBCON podcast Castlevania special, and check out my Nastlevania, and CastleTwerkya review. Then follow me on Twitter because I bring up the OG Castlevania OST about once a week. It's really good you guys, for real.