There are some things you take for granted in life: a healthy population of "Merle" girls at Anime Expo, nine pounds of junk email on your AOL account, cheap beer in Mexico. Chief among them is a solid soundtrack for any game boasting the Castlevania label. Well, my happy little world was shattered when I heard the score for this latest Dracula installment.
Powered by the N64 sound output, Dracula Apocalypse leaves much to be desired. Because of the limited DSP allocated to the sound, the music sounds more squeezed than a rat in a boa constrictor, with a paltry number of sound channels available. Some would say this new era of "ambient" music in Castlevania is an experiment for which Konami should be congratulated. To me, this so-called ambience is merely a cop-out forced on Konami by the hardware limitations.
Shockingly unlike its predecessors, the sounds of Castlevania Apocalypse are entirely forgettable. (What was that third level theme?) I doubt we'll be seeing any remixes of any of this new material in future CV games. (How would we be able to tell, anyway?). The few songs which actually grab you are the tracks remixed from previous Castlevanias, like Rondo of Blood's "Illusionary Dance". I only wish there were more of these. "Mysterious Casket" teases the listener with the opening passage from "Bloody Tears". I almost cried some bloody tears of my own when this song stopped so short - I was prepared for a full remix of the original.
I at first thought this was actually going to be a promising score after hearing the beautiful arrangement of "Bloodlines" used in the opening theme. Unfortunately, this was the high water mark for the game's sound quality and expressiveness.
Castlevania does not have to be pure rock and roll to be enchanting. It's not the fact of the non-traditional approach to CV music I object to; most of the tracks from Symphony of the Night were uncharacteristically arranged for an orchestra or chamber group, and were excellent. In fact, the general sound of Castlevania has changed many times through the generations - from the lively jazz and progressive rock of Super Castlevania IV to Konami's trademarked synth rock in Dracula X - Rondo of Blood.
I will grant that a few of the interlude tracks are enjoyable, but they are simply not developed enough. And with the BGM, it sounds largely like the musicians were hardly even trying. Given the inherent limitations of the N64 sound processing ability, I only dared hope for something 1/10th as good as Symphony of the Night, but this one couldn't even cut the cake that thick.
Come on, Konami, I know you can do better than this. Let's keep our fingers crossed for Dracula Resurrection, and keep our crosses fingered against the scourge of "ambience" in our beloved Castlevania.