This CD contains the full soundtracks from the two Game Boy Advance Dracula games "Circle of the Moon" and "Concerto of Midnight Sun" (the latter called "Harmony of Dissonance" in the West). For a while, it seemed like Konami weren't going to release a soundtrack for Circle of the Moon, but they waited for the second game to come out, thus being able to release them as a single set. It turned out to be a wise decision, since both soundtracks together only cover about an hour of music.
Before I start describing the music, I should mention the sound quality. Being from portable games, the synth isn't that great. Personally, I don't mind, but I know many others will. Basically, if you like older game music (like from the 8 and 16-bit periods) you'll like this, otherwise you probably won't. Circle of the Moon actually has superior synth to that of Concerto of Midnight Sun, even though the second game was released one year later. This is because Concerto of Midnight Sun uses far more memory space for graphics and other things, thus leaving the sound quality to suffer. While the music from COTM sounds almost as rich as the SNES synth, the COMS music sounds very much like 8-bit music. There are some COMS tracks who rise above the standard and sound like those in COTM (most notably "Successor of Fate (Variation)"), but overall the sound quality is very poor. As I said, I don't mind it in the least, but if you're not a "classic gamer" you might want to stop reading the review here.
As if this wasn't bad enough, the recording quality STINKS! It sounds like they recorded the music straight from the headphone jack of the GBA. There is an irritating hissing sound prevalent throughout the entire soundtrack. Why this is I have no idea, especially if we take into account the fact that this CD comes from Konami, well known for putting out soundtracks of high quality not only compositional wise, but also in regards to sound quality and mastering. If I recall correctly, the first prints of their "Dracula Best" CDs covering NES and Game Boy soundtracks were released in the early nineties, and they sound much better than this! Whoever is responsible for this fiasco should be ashamed, if not fired.
How about the music itself? Well, as far as I'm concerned, all is redeemed when you hear the music. A 120-piece live orchestra simply won't help a piece if the composition stinks. When everything comes around, the core of the piece is what matters, and here both COTM and COMS deliver. The COTM music is the best, both in sound and composition quality. Much of the music in COTM seems to be a tribute to Castlevania's glorious musical legacy. A large portion of the soundtrack is comprised of remixes and remakes of old classic cues. We have "Clockwork Mansion" and "Game Over 1" from Castlevania 4, "A Vision of Dark Secrets" and "The Sinking Old Sanctuary" from Castlevania Bloodlines, "Clockwork", "Aquarius", "Big Battle" and "Nightmare" from Dracula's Curse, "Inversion" and "Shudder" from Castlevania 64, etc. The best-sounding piece is probably "Requiem" from Dracula X - how on earth they managed to make the GBA sound like a female vocalist is just beyond me, but it's there, and it sounds almost as true to life as it did in the CD-based Dracula X game. Hearing these golden oldies again is a real treat for any old CV fan, and most of the classics have been extended in addition to being remixed, so they sound quite fresh. COTM brings us some truly memorable completely new themes as well. "Awake" sounds like the quintessential Castlevania "first stage theme". While not being a new "Vampire Killer" or "Bloody Tears", it still impresses greatly (and of course "Vampire Killer" itself is present on the CD). The same could be said about "Fate to Despair", a new favourite of mine. But the best new composition must no doubt be the fabulous ending theme "Repose of Souls". This tracks has incredible nostalgic and sentimental values, and might even be one of the best ending themes I've ever heard in a game, even though it's quite short and the infernal "hissing" is there to bug you.
The music from Concerto of Midnight Sun is far less striking, the most obvious reason why being that the sound quality is far below that of the music of COTM. Another reason is that most compositions are not quite up to the phenomenal standard heard in COTM. Of course this might be because I'm unfamiliar with the music (while many of the compositions from the former game were old favourites), but still many tracks from COMS are lackluster, filler-type compositions. There are of course marvellous breakings of this rule, the two most notable being "Offence and Defence" and "Successor of Fate". Both are bound to go down in CV history as classic action tunes. And to the credit of the composer, most tracks are brand new, the only old ones being "Vampire Killer" and "Underground" from Castlevania 1 and "Game Over 2" from Castlevania Adventure. But even though there are some new highlights and some old classics, most of the COMS music is pretty bland, far from what you'd expect from Konami's flagship series.
To finish the album off, there is an arranged track, "Chapel of Dissonance (Arranged Version)" from COMS. Don't get your hopes up, though - after a slow, moody start that sounds like something from Michiru Yamane's Symphony of the Night OST, it quickly degenerates into plainness and boring droning.
So what's the final word on the "Dracula: Castlevania - Circle of the Moon & Concerto of Midnight Sun Original Soundtrack"? If you have no interest whatsoever in older game music and tinny synths, don't bother. If you like classic game music, it might prove a worthwhile investment. And if you like Castlevania/Dracula music (and really, who doesn't?), this should be in your record collection. Even despite the presence of some boring tracks and the horrid sound mastering, I find myself enjoying the music very much.