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Akumajo Dracula X Nocturne in the Moonlight Soundtrack :: Review by Ryan

Akumajo Dracula X Nocturne in the Moonlight Original Game Soundtrack Album Title: Akumajo Dracula X Nocturne in the Moonlight Original Game Soundtrack
Record Label: King Records
Catalog No.: KICA-7760
Release Date: April 9, 1997
Purchase: Buy at Game Music Online


There is an old saying in Transylvania, "For those of you who don't know Castlevania, shame on... shame on you! For those of you who have never played or heard the music from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, shame on me." I shall therefore do my best to right these wrongs in a review which describes and illustrates various aspects and strengths of this soundtrack. I have played this game and, due to the wealth of features that it has brought me, I've decided to provide a bit of insight into this legendary game that may help others to realize its greatness.

Michiru Yamane is a total babe. Just to get that out of the way. She is also the primary soundtrack composer for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This review will be an introduction into the incredible musicality of the Symphony of the Night soundtrack which is considered by many to be one of the most pivotal well-regarded video game albums ever created. I can hardly disagree. In Symphony of the Night, a multitude of tracks, both old and new, are given ample breadth in both orchestration and musical construction. One will journey down many familiar musical paths and experience music that has long been tradition in the Castlevania idiom. However, there are also many wonderful shiny new musical gems waiting to be discovered.

An aspect of the soundtrack that I'd like to examine is the amazing eloquence with which Michiru utilizes multiple musical styles, sometimes alone, sometimes side by side, but always with good taste. The strength of this music contributes to the backbone of the emotional stirrings that are to be found in this amazing game and we can only listen with euphoric ears. It is a wonderful thing that the music of this game is provided in no trivial portion! If anything this review can be used as a guide that serves to try to explain why Yamane's work is so wonderful. Even though the music works very well apart from the game, the soundtrack works so amazingly well in context, with the gameplay and the environs, that I can't help but focus this review upon how the music nurtures the experience. So come along now and bring your garlic and crucifixes as I take you on a tour of every darkened crevice of Dracula's domain! MWAHAHAHAHA!


The title screen's "Prayer" is a sort of musical homage to the musicianship often heard in the 18th and 19th century Christian hymnals and missals that may be observed during mass. It contains a gloriously distinctive musical style; chanting voices of devotion sadly echo and intertwine harmonically and a very deep and rich sound is produced. The emotional nature of the piece is very heavy and equally thoughtful and stern, largely reminiscing musical devotions to honor God from 19th century chants and hymns. "Transformation No. 1" opens the soundtrack itself. In the game, this introduces the locale of Transylvania which will slowly move from darkened forest to the mist-riddled abomination that is... Dracula's lair. A giant castle on a hill overlooking darkened regions all around, the music projects the malevolence of this lair quite appropriately. The piece begins in a highly orchestral dissonant setup and sheds some more light on the true nature of the 'Dark Prince'. It has a very nice percussive sense; bells resound quietly while dissonant strings capitalize on things of a very darkened nature. Voices slowly drone in with the strings to again create a 19th century pastoral effect that seems very appropriate considering the timeline of the story. Cryptic voices then change from a legato to a staccato in unintelligible syllables which actually express a great deal of terror and unknowing. The piece works in that way for a bit and then ends with a very dark and dissonant cadence.

As Richter Belmont begins at the bottom of a large staircase leading up to Dracula's quarters, a bell tower in the moonlight shines behind him. Accompanying him for his journey towards almost certain death is a very brilliant piece of music, the "Prologue". It is an incredible pump up track with amazing double bass work and awesome blaring guitars riffing absolutely stunning harmonies. The first real deviation from the orchestral premise, additional instrumentation includes a church organ and voices to add a bit of warmth, texture, and general awesomeness to what is already quite amazing as is. "Illusionary Dance" recalls the battle from Dracula X: Rondo of Blood between Richter Belmont and the Count himself. During this heated battle, timpani's pound mercilessly while strings carry the melody from one end of the battle to the other. 27 seconds into the piece, a church organ is brought into the mix at a perfect time to tastefully add a new dimension of ill ease into the mix. The orchestrational stylings of this piece reminds me a bit of Bach's Toccata in the latter moments; this isn't so hard to believe as Michiru Yamane had studied Bach's compositional technique very closely before laying the groundwork for the composition to be applied for Symphony of the Night. I believe this is what makes a large majority of the tracks very tight and consistent compositionally.

Although "Nocturne in the Moonlight" isn't one of my favorite pieces of Symphony of the Night, it is suitable for the fact that it serves as a backlight to highlighting the story of Dracula and the events as they occur leading up to the beginning of the story. The piece is very string-oriented and they work lushly as a whole to create a dark ambience. The B section of the song is very sweeping and leads perfectly back into the A section. The awesome part of the song begins at 1:08, highlighted in waltz time by some beautifully ethereal woodwinds which sing their melodies with a hint of melancholy. When one is first entering Dracula's Castle, only the wind will serve as their companion as it whistles mournfully through nearby swaying pine forests. As one proceeds to venture into the great hallways of the darkened castle, giant Wargs threaten to impale with shiny bloody darkened fangs. If one is lucky enough to either evade or less likely slay these malevolent moonlit menaces, the candles of the castle magically lighten and a melody begins to materialize like a mist out of thin air... It is called bluntly "Dracula's Castle" and you are now its guest. Nice string work serve the piece well, but the highlight here are the rocking beats courtesy of arranger Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill.

Speaking of dark foreboding pieces, "Golden Dance" will be the featured theme as one enters the Alchemy Laboratory. Although the piece is in 4/4, there is a very sweet dance-like lyricism stated in the melodic premise. Each section of the music is incredibly well written and flows effortlessly from one end to the other. Like many of the pieces on this soundtrack, the way through which the musical material varies from section to section, makes the music much more satisfying and much easier to listen to for large tracts of time, which I assure you is no large feat. The C section at 1:23, especially, is amazing; the foreboding nature of the piece is dropped for mere moments and enchanting strings sadly echo throughout the great wide walls, expressing a journey of epic proportions. Upon entering and surveying the brick-laid environs about you, you will be greeted by flying demons, specters, giant strange 'unnecessarily slow moving ball and chain monsters', as well as a deliciously devious phase-guitar laden jazz-like theme "Marble Gallery". In actuality, this piece of music is very familiar to the Castlevania idiom and makes presentations in other Castlevania games as well. The subsequent "Tower of Mist" shares the same theme; strings now project it, which adds to the variety of the soundtrack while reflecting its context. By this time, you may be noticing that Symphony of the Night's playlist is quite eclectic and utterly tasteful!

As you make your way into the vast and sophisticated library of Count Vlad, an equally erudite musical theme looms in the background: "Wood Carving Partita". Now when I mention the term highbrow, I don't necessarily mean it in an obnoxious way, but it is a piece of music that has a very regal air about it. I shall therefore refer to this track as "His Royal Majesty, Wood Carving Partita". Obvious Bach influences and references exist within the musical form, making this a wonderfully conspicuous piece of music. Considering all of the other elements of the soundtrack, this piece seems to stick out like a thumb, but because much of the soundtrack has such a good grasp of musical mechanics, the piece is really a particularly tasty h'orderve and yet so much more filling. While we are in the library, let us also gaze at the "Lost Painting". When looking at this beautiful painting, an enchanting melody materializes. After hearing so many intense pieces, its nice that Yamane included a piece of music that relaxes the senses instead of putting them on precipitous edge. Beautiful instrumentation, with additions by both orchestra and background electric guitar make this a very accessible piece and one of the best loved from the Symphony of the Night soundtrack.

While gazing out from the library window into view comes a courtyard, with large stone pillars and corridors, and a few soft glowing shadows begin to materialize in the distance. These shapes move sadly and reveal themselves to be ghosts. Like raindrops that hit the ground and then dissipate, they are merely apparitions but they still call for one last dance. They begin a procession of slowly moving about in a waltz for the dead. They are accompanied by a wonderful piece of music called the "Pearl Dance Song". I won't lie, this piece makes me want to dance. My jaw dropped in disbelief upon first hearing this piece and little has changed since then. It takes a bit of intestinal fortitude to include a waltz on a video game soundtrack, especially Castlevania, but it's clear that Yamane was up to the challenge, both musically and otherwise. The opening of the song includes a section of orchestral buildup utilizing bells, strings, and a cascading harp where it then propels itself then into the main musical statement. The piano carries the melody so softly yet so surely. The nuts and bolts of the piece are simple and yet there is a complex storytelling in the music with the seamless drifts between consonance and dissonance in the development that transport one into a dreamlike state. A haunting and enchanting dance of the dead.

As we amble through the prolific library, a mysterious book might uncover a spell to find "Gates of Spirits". This piece scares me. It is extremely unpredictable and tumultuous in its rhythmic sense but additionally in its especially dissonant neo-classical harmonies. If anything, the music certainly represents a particularly foul mooded entity, always keeps the listener on edge with its uncertain development. After moving through the gate, we gaze upon an abandoned pit in "Path of the Departed". It's a piece heavily influenced by neo-classical music, particularly composers such as Gyorgy Ligeti as far as harmony goes. It symbolises the universal fear of looking into a darkened corner, bombarding the imagination with premonitions of unseen terrors. The piece capitalizes on this fear by never straying from its premise and throwing the listener into a very uncertain musical environment where nothing is as it seems. While the piece is fairly straightforward rhythmically, the piano is all the while utilizing a particularly acidic harmony which clashes greatly with the continual bursts from the string bass and ethnic hand drums. Very creepy and very effective.

After leaving the site of the abandoned pit and traveling through a mist-riddled hallway, you may stumble into a world of skeletons, giant floating skulls, bird women, and many things one might see everyday while driving down the street. The tale of the "Young Nobleman of Sadness" manifests itself in a glorious musical fusion of rock and roll, jazz, and classical. The opening of the piece throws the listener into some rather unsteady but rather gorgeous ground, utilizing equal parts orchestra and rock band, together with simply brilliant solo work. There is even a section influenced by 1980s disco, but thankfully it is fairly short-lived and serves mainly as an very interesting break in the development. This theme will be recognisable to lifelong fans of the Castlevania series and Yamane treats the source material faithfully while adding beautiful instrumental flourishes to update the music. Speaking of roll and roll, the instrumentation of "Our Festival" resembles heavy metal, but the construction of the music is still fairly classical what with the quickly moving string arpeggios moving alongside the electric guitar. The fusion is very successful and it's also amazing how well this piece works when you are fighting a battle.

So having regained consciousness after nearly dying, "Requiem of the Gods" fills the bell tower with its eerie foreboding presence. A hymnal approach is once again drawn upon with sad melodious voices accompanied by a very nice organ solo two thirds of the way through. This isn't the most uplifting place to dwell upon, so let us leave this accursed chamber, posthaste... Descending leagues deep below the castle's surface, we journey forth into an underground cavern, lined with sparkling waterfalls, stalagmites, and strangely enough, the sound of "Crystal Drops". It is a cascade of dark, beautiful, and imaginative musical inventions. The complex chord voicing throughout the piece is gorgeous and the oboe cadenza and solo piano work are also breathtaking highlights. Upon leaving the darkened underground, we come to a strange room with small greenish imp creatures leaving fire wherever they go. A few "Awakening Souls" join them to accompany weary travelers. This piece of music is simply outrageous with its rock / jazz / blues setup. It is really a lot of fun and a much less serious take on the Symphony of the Night idiom, even though it stays amicably true to the idea of Castlevania.

As we make our way into Dracula's wing of the castle, I become reluctant to journey onward. A piece of music bellows mournfully throughout the halls and we stand petrified, gazing into the "Door to the Heavens". This piece is very dark and yet beautifully orchestrated with horns and strings. Interesting chord changes keep the piece from getting old in any short amount of time. It seems that many of the chords utilize ninths and elevenths to create a deepened sense of harmony. After making a brave decision to walk through the doorway, we ascend a great stairwell with a large clock tower in the distance and come upon a strange room. It is the only hardened wall that separates us from the great count, so let us proceed with caution as we descend to the "Door to the Abyss". The piece introduces an unsettling choir as percussion slowly ambles along at each interval. A flute echoes throughout the room displaying a blood curdling apprehension, almost like an unknown eye in the darkness which sees you all too clearly while you struggle to find the light. Interesting sound effects also capture the frightening demeanor. The tension in the piece definitely represents the essence of expectant terror but we have traveled far and we must meet Dracula for the final showdown.

And here are. Smack dab in the dimension of Dracula's lair, face to face with a most terrible and cruel visage. Dracula has prepared a "Black Feast" for his unwanted 'guests'. On this table, the blood flows like wine. Other appetizers include hopelessness, untimely destruction, a few bread rolls, and 17th century noble china. However, I am rather reluctant to inform you that we are the main entree. The main course of this music is truly grand, terrible, and ultimately effective at displaying not only the all-consuming rage of Dracula, but the spiraling into darkness and madness which went along with it as he went from man to demon. If the ear catches it, it is not difficult to see how this piece might have been influenced by the percussive innovations of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The percussive usage is garnished with off beats to cast this meeting in a most unpredictable and unsettling light. Dracula is going to destroy us! Quickly, throw your garlic at him and lets get outta here!

OK, that garlic seemed to help. We have now made it out of the castle and we're thankfully intact minus a few pints of blood. From our vantage point, we can see the tower slowly beginning its descent where it will then rest beneath the waves. "Transformation No. 3" is the cue which details the down fallen kingdom and all of its dark inhabitants. Finally Dracula is gone, but he is quite persistent for a dead guy, so we all know he is back. And, sigh, there is actually one last track to go over, so let me just hurry up and get this over with. Rika Muranaka's "I am the Wind" is the closing credits song for the game and in my opinion is completely ridiculous and cringe-worthy. It sounds like an early 1990s love ballad and not the good kind which leaves you with only a slight headache. It includes vocals, cheesy chords and melody, and an uninspired vocal performance. Thematically and stylistically, it simply doesn't close the musical gaps very efficiently and doesn't stay true to the main gist of the soundtrack. Despite this glaring monstrosity, it shouldn't take anything away from what this soundtrack truly is.


In case you couldn't tell from my description, this soundtrack is a diverse and masterful work of art. When one delves into the game, it becomes quite clear that the soundtrack has a certain flair for heartily maintaining the structures of classical composition. However, it is also effective in upgrading tracks that have become quite familiar to the expansive musical world of Castlevania over the years. The structures of the music are generally well oiled beasts and, even though there is a variety of styles, the tracks are bound together well as a cohesive unit. The soundtrack represents the ideal of Castlevania to utter perfection, merging old and new into one neat little shiny piece of musical goodness. The successful nature of the soundtrack speaks multitudes of the diversity of Yamane's eclectic compositional style and her ability to move like flowing water in whatever style she chooses. I am absolutely amazed at the brilliance of this music and how well it shines poignantly and brightly, like a candle dwelling in darkness.

Overall Score: 10/10