[AudioCade is recurring feature in which we gush over a video game soundtrack by analyzing not only what makes it a pleasurable listening experience, but its overall significance as well. This time out we listen to the Akiropito, Jigokuguruma Nakamura, Sanoppi, and Mikio Saito-scored Dracula X: Rondo of Blood.]
Several elements define Konami’s Castlevania series. A fiend-hunter trekking through Dracula’s dark abode. The Belmont bloodline. The Vampire Killer whip, the mystical weapon of choice for said family. But it’s the soundtrack–a mix of goth-rock, classical ,and stirring pop-like pieces–that gives the series a distinctive feel. In fact, I’d go s far as to say that outside of the Mario and Sonic games, no other series manages to both capture and create tone that’s so perfectly aligned with gameplay.
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, originally released on the PC Engine CD platform in 1993, has a marvelous soundtrack in a franchise packed with rich music. When I think Castlevania music, I think Rondo music, which is odd because it is such a departure from what came before and after it. Super Castlevania IV‘s tunes personify the darkness that is the Demon Castle with its dense soundscape, while Symphony of the Night’s epic compositions match the size and scope of Dracula’s fully realized demon abode. Rondo of Blood‘s 16-track score, however, is tighter, lighter, and more heroic–Castlevania “pop” music, if you will.
Note: The official Dracula X: Rondo of Blood soundtrack contains a second disc featuring tracks from the Genesis’ Castlevania: Bloodlines and the Sharp X68000 Castlevania. We’re only focusing on select Rondo music. In addition, this soundtrack should not be confused with the PSP’s Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles soundtrack which contains Rondo of Blood music.
“Overture,” which powers the anime-style cutscene intro, is an uptempo track that lives in stark contrast to “Requiem,” the somber, chorus-heavy song that plays during the save file creation. It features driving keys, crisp drums, and a galloping baseline that sets the stage for the action that is to come when you enter the first stage’s burning village. These two compositions, rich and powerful in their own ways, demonstrated in the early ’90s that CD music was indeed the future of video game audio.
It’s in this monster-plagued town where your ear tastes “Bloodlines,” ”Overture”‘s twin. It, too, opens with a fast-paced guitar-like synth, and follows very similar steps. “Bloodlines,” however, is a fuller work with more subtle instrument play beneath the bombast. It’s one of the strongest audio openings in all of video gaming.
“Cross a Fear,” the aqueduct bridge’s theme, begins life with a thumping electric bottom that’s soon inter-cut with bouncy keys. It swirls and builds, eventually adding a whiny synth tone that somehow manages to not offend. The crescendo has an orgasmic release roughly 40 seconds in that separates it from darker Castlevania sounds and is the sonic epitome of heroism.
Still, more traditional Castlevania tracks grace the disc as well, which helps audibly tie Rondo into the rest of the series. The always-wonderful “Bloody Tears” appears here with an organ-driven melody that’s oddly dance-able thanks to solid, deliberate drum track. “Den” is essentially a Castlevania greatest hits, featuring callbacks to previous tracks while remaining its own work.
It’s damn near impossible to find new, and you’ll pay a pretty penny for a used copy (Play-Asia lists a pre-owned copy at $150), but the Rondo of Blood soundtrack is one that any Castlevania, video game, or music fan should have in his or her library. The four-person composition crew (Akiropito, Keizo Nakamura, Tomoko Sano, and Mikio Saito) created an enduring work that remains one of the industry’s finest, a quirky mainstream take on horror-action.