"Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight" (known outside Japan as "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night") legitimately makes claim at being one of the greatest Castlevania soundtracks yet. In album form it doesn't quite make the same astounding impression it does in the context of the game, but it's still another great Castlevania music experience.
Probably the most outstanding trait of this OST is its variety. While older Castlevania scores were limited to some degree by their sound systems, and the original Dracula X (the only other CD-based Castlevania game) was mostly rock oriented, Symphony of the Night rivals fellow Konami soundtrack Genso Suikoden in its wide variety of well-arranged musical styles.
So what styles are present? An easier question might be "Which ones aren't?" If it can work in a Dracula game, you'll probably find it here. "Prayer" is the perfect track to lead off a Castlevania adventure, featuring the mournful, haunting chanting of two female vocalists. The purely symphonic "Tower of Evil Fog" conveys the dark, Gothic mood of the series and the vast dungeon setting of the game itself. "Requiem of the Gods" features somber high-pitched chanting accompanied by epitaphial pipe organ and well-placed gongs from a funeral bell. Several tracks are supplemented by ambient sounds such as whispering wind, dripping water, and creepy forest critters to further the mood. No question whatsoever about this being a Castlevania soundtrack.
Of course the soundtrack doesn't focus solely on setting mood. In "Awakened Soul" the bassline and cymbal-intensive percussion get a groove going while a mellow guitar takes the lead melody, supplemented by jazzy horns and soft strings. If Konami ever offers a Castlevania installment in their Pro-Fusion series, this track has convinced me it'll be worth checking out.
And what Castlevania soundtrack would be complete without some old-school Konami rock? You'll find healthy amounts of it in the four or so boss themes, a couple reprises from the final stages of the original Dracula X, and the very catchy original stage BGM "Dracula Castle". However, these all pale in comparison to "Young Nobleman of Sadness". While some orchestral instrumentation sets the Gothic backdrop and provides the arrangement some excellent transitions, it's the electric guitar lead for its driving main melody that gives the track its fist-pumping, head-banging glory. It's the clear climax of the score and Castlevania rock at its very best - an instant classic.
It must be emphasized just how important the streaming, studio synth sound system is to this OST. Though most of the instrumental sounds here still seem to be sampled and are not quite the quality of the best arranged albums, they're leaps and bounds ahead of the typical video game synth of the period. Orchestral instruments sound sufficiently realistic to maintain the Gothic tone, choir accompaniment is dark and moody, pipe organs bellow, and in the grand tradition of the best Castlevania arrangements, electric guitars grind through with wicked force. The soundtrack isn't the be all and end all of video game instrumental sound, but it's a significant step in the right direction.
As well as the soundtrack works in the game, a few minor issues surface when it takes album form. Since it's a single-disc OST with a high number of tracks, most of the selections play once a full time through then begin to fade out on the first loop. Fortunately most of the compositions are long enough to suffice from a single play through, but some listeners might find them on occasion to be over too soon. Also the wide variety of styles and sometimes moody quality of the music might not be fully appreciated by some long-time Castlevania fans accustomed to its synthier, more rock and pop-oriented beginnings. I must say that certain tracks which worked fine in the game don't have so much appeal on their own. A few odd tracks are so unmelodic so as to be offensive, while some others are just too boring to bother with. Throw out these and the few under-a-minute tracks reserved for brief game events, and there are about fifteen tracks left which I listen to regularly.
Potential buyers of "Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight" who have played the game should have a good idea already whether they want its assortment of tracks on music CD, as this is a straight OST release all the way. For those unfamiliar with the game, well, this is one of the best soundtrack releases from one of the most musically-renowned series in video games. Sounds like a recommendation to me. Despite the typical presence of some forgettable tracks, the soundtrack is overall a great production that both branches the series out into new directions and offers some superb new themes true to their roots.