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Akumajo Dracula Gallery of Labyrinth Soundtrack :: Review by TheShroud13

Akumajo Dracula Gallery of Labyrinth Original Soundtrack Album Title: Akumajo Dracula Gallery of Labyrinth Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Konami Style
Catalog No.: LC-1541/2
Release Date: March 23, 2007
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


Few game series can rival Castlevania for the quality, popularity, and consistency of their soundtracks. For over twenty years, series composers have combined modern pop genres with a touch of the baroque to synthesize an immediately recognizable sound for Konami's electronic Transylvania. That sound is back for Portrait of Ruin, the second Castlevania entry for the Nintendo DS. In true Castlevania tradition, Portrait of Ruin moves the series forward by building on a successful formula rather than revolutionizing its process. For Konami, that formula is longtime series composer Michiru Yamane. She handles the bulk of the material on the album, but is joined on this album by longtime journeyman Yuzo Koshiro (ActRaiser, Streets of Rage).


Though Koshiro only composed six of the album's thirty-seven tracks, his work stands as some of the best on the album. "Invitation of a Crazed Moon", which continues in the tradition of first stage Castlevania both in style and excellence, may well be the album's best track. "Invitation..." takes a straightforward rock beat, adds a frenzied bass line full of energy and syncopation, and finishes everything up with a theatric melody that has that little taste of the macabre that makes Castlevania rock so distinctive. Of Koshiro's remaining tracks, "Dance of Sadness" stands out most to me. Despite its uninspired title, this orchestral track is a fantastic accompaniment for battles with Stella and Loretta, the mismatched vampire sisters that would seem destined for a sitcom if they could just stop attacking poor Jonathan and Charlotte. Koshiro does a great job of establishing two principle sounds: a lyrical sound for the mild mannered Loretta, and a bombastic, brassy sound for the abrasive Stella. Aside from doing a good job of establishing the two characters in music, Koshiro mixes the two ideas so that they are not only treated separately throughout the piece. This creates a piece that flows more naturally than average music.

Koshiro's record on the album is not perfect. The abrasive "Banquet of Madness" calls every bombastic orchestral cliché to attention, and is a rare example of Koshiro abusing a single texture over the course of the piece. Ultimately, the tension this piece could create is not as effective as it could be because the piece is loud from 0:00 to 1:58. Aside from that one track, the rest of his work on the album is exceptional. The one complaint is that it rarely sounds that Koshiro has the confidence to veer away from the sanctified Castlevania sound and assert his own personality. It's tough to complain considering how good his contributions are, but it still would have been nice to get more of the Koshiro sound from this album, rather than the Yamane gospel according to Koshiro.

Though Koshiro's work was of very high quality, his contributions do make up the minority of the album, and Michiru Yamane carries the load with what I consider to be her best score since her breakout with Symphony of the Night. While Yamane never quite reaches the milestone set by that iconic score on this album, and she occasionally seems to be stuck on autopilot, the work here is better than your average Castlevania soundtrack, and that is worthy of praise.

As with most Castlevania soundtracks, the tracks composed for the different explorable areas of Dracula's Castle, or in this case Brauner's Castle, are the most diverse and most memorable. Yamane pursues a wide variety of affects for these tracks, ranging from the subdued piano of the melancholy of "Silent Prison" to the anxious strings of the dramatic "Gaze Up at the Darkness" and even to the warped dance of the eerie "Chaotic Play Ground". There is no shortage of variety in Brauner's Castle, and for the most part these varied tracks work quite well.

In addition to a strong selection of original stage musics, Portrait of Ruin continues the Castlevania tradition with a few well selected reprises of old Castlevania tracks. One of these reprises takes us back not only in Castlevania history, but also in Yamane history. That track is "Iron Blue Intention", which comes from Yamane's first Castlevania score: Bloodlines. It is a welcome addition to the soundtrack, as it is one of the finer Baroque inspired tracks in the Castlevania canon. There is also a moment beginning at 1:48 that, while it is a stretch, sounds an awful lot like "Wicked Child" from the original Castlevania. Whether it is an intended homage or a coincidence, the section sounds nice regardless.

Even more welcome is "Crucifix Held Close". This fierce example of Baroque rock is, despite being an arrangement, one of my favourite tracks on the album. The blistering tempo is carried by a vigorous rhythm section, and does a great job of accompanying one of the great Castlevania melodies that has mostly slipped through the cracks of Castlevania lore as it had only been used in the poorly sold arcade game Haunted Castle and Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, which was never released in America. The presence of "Crucifix..." on this soundtrack finally gets a fantastic track a place on a major Castlevania album.

I would have been happy without an arrangement of the miserable "Simon Belmont's Theme", though I will concede that it does give Yuzo Koshiro a fantastic opportunity to make a terrible piece listenable. On the other hand, the presence of an orchestration of that theme in "Simon Belmont's Theme -2007-" as a conclusion to the original sound version disc is without merit. The source material is bad, and Yamane's arrangement is worse. The conclusion has some interesting ideas, though they have nothing to do with the piece itself. It's just nasty.

Moving from the area music to event music, the whole of the event specific music in Portrait of Ruin is largely forgettable. The beautiful "Name Entry" is a great listen, and "A Small Prayer" is similarly beautiful and quite affecting. However, they are complemented by pieces such as "OPERATION ‘VK'" which tries its hardest to be a great military march, but mostly ends up annoying. There is also Yamane's best Romantic impression with "The Night Flows", which isn't a terrible effort at a charming ending theme, but ends up too forgettable to be of any real impact.

Aside from weak event music, the only complaint I can really make about the album is that it occasionally suffers from the same problems all game albums do, inconsistency and overuse of autopilot. Take the motive that appears at 0:30 in "~Gallery of Labyrinth~". Now check out 1:23 of "A Small Prayer", 1:10 of "The Hidden Curse", and 1:34 of "Crucifix Held Close". I have no problem with the use of themes in a soundtrack, but Yamane's use of this motive rarely seems to have any strong purpose as far as storytelling goes, and its appearance in assorted tracks rarely ever seems to enhance the pieces.

Worthy of note is that the release of the Portrait of Ruin includes two discs. The first is the DS version of the soundtrack. The second is the Original Sound Version. If you end up buying the soundtrack on eBay, and it only includes one disc, I would recommend the DS version. Both discs have their strengths and weaknesses, and it tends to vary track by track, but I find that, on average, the DS version is mixed better and sounds more musical. The Original Sound Version boasts better sound quality, but many tracks are just terribly mixed. Accompaniment instruments often dominate lead instruments ("Crucifix Held Close", "Chaotic Playground"), overly long attacks make rhythmic parts sound sluggish ("Dance of Sadness"), and rarely, the samples actually end up sounding worse ("Invitation of a Crazed Moon", "DESTROYER"). The Original Sound Version should be the better of the two discs, but it sounds like it needs a little bit more time in front of a producer to be truly engaging.


As a whole, the Portrait of Ruin soundtrack works very well. The modest DS sound chip prevents the type of sonic diversity of a Symphony of the Night or a Lament of Innocence, and there is a decent amount of filler on the album, but as far as handheld Castlevania goes this is top of the muffin. The presence of Yuzo Koshiro, even if he is trying too hard to fit into Dracula's clothes, brings some very exciting pieces to the album. This album is not going to win any Castlevania skeptics, and it isn't going to alienate any long time fans. Portrait of Ruin is a somewhat complacent album that just happens to do what it does quite well, and as such has to be recommended.

Overall Score: 7/10