Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow & Dawn of Sorrow OST review by The Successor
oshiro Hokkai's musical work for Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was met with distaste by many common gamers and critics alike. This predominantly had to do with the sound quality of the songs, which was on par with a late Nintendo Entertainment System game.
The developers for Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow were sure to get the eminence of Gameboy Advance level sound back for the soundtrack, thus allowing for more faithful representations of strings, bass, woodwinds, pipe organ, guitar, and piano.
Hokkai returns for Aria of Sorrow to present to fans another dose of his talents and to show what he's made of with superior samples to work with. Along with him, Castlevania music legend, Michiru Yamane, makes a glorious homecoming to the series that truly made her celebrated among video game fans, and assists Hokkai in creating the music that would tell the story of the final Gameboy Advance Castlevania chapter.
Soshiro Hokkai's contributions to the soundtrack may not be the most memorable, but they are the most foreign and unique. Something I always respected about this composer was his ability to penetratingly broadcast raw emotion through music, while using such primitive sounds. This was undoubtedly evident in Harmony of Dissonance, with such themes as "Successor of Fate," "Beloved Person," and "Epilogue 1."
As much as I love the quick action tunes of the older games, which get you in the disposition to take on anything the undead have to throw at you, the change of pace to something more profound and stimulating was well done. There was a broader range of sensations and meaning to be felt in the music of Harmony.
Hokkai's tunes aren't going to be something you'll find yourself humming often, and most won't fill your veins with pumping adrenaline, but they are magnificently layered with such feelings as melancholy, curiosity, love, terror, madness, and much more.
Hokkai has not lost his capability to pass on those emotions and pour them on to the listener. He continues this trait in Aria of Sorrow.
From the beginning, he hits you with the onslaught that is "The Chaotic Black Sun," an incredibly powerful amalgamation of strings and percussion that refuse to let up and depicts the horror setting of the game perfectly. Such a commanding piece is an abrupt and surprising way to set the tone of things, but it's very effective.
One of the tracks that have always fascinated me the most in the Aria of Sorrow soundtrack is "Premonition of a Familiar Soul," an unassuming song that is quite hard to place. Honestly, I wouldn't know what genre to categorize something like this in. The bass, piano, and woodwinds may perhaps have some jazz influences, but it is something entirely different.
In Harmony of Dissonance, Hokkai would masterfully integrate many melodies into a song, and they would blend and play off of each other brilliantly. He does this again in "Premonition of a Familiar Soul." It's fun to just sit back and try to keep track of everything that is going on in the song, because it all gels so well, and there is more there than you would probably take in if you were to just casually listen to it.
"Premonition of a Familiar Soul" is fittingly played during the dialogue cut scenes. It has a mystifying and curious flair to it, which makes it ideal for where it is placed in the game, since that is when unsolved pieces of the plot start coming together. Aria of Sorrow certainly wouldn't be the same without this piece.
A master of mourning and grief, Hokkai creates very tragic elegies for the soundtrack, one of these being "Fate of the Devil." The passage of notes in this is quite similar to "Epilogue 1" from Harmony of Dissonance, especially in the beginning. If you listen to them back to back, you'll most likely detect the likenesses. It is presumably not deliberate, but rather Hokkai's style and preferences shining through. It's nice to hear similarities that allow us to discern this composer's musical tendencies.
Of the more grim laments is the credit's theme, "Staff Roll."
Woeful strings lead the piece in the manner of shuddering horror music, and it incorporates a variation of a part from "Ruined Castle Corridor," music that Michiru Yamane wrote, displaying a bit of teamwork amongst the two composers.
"Ruined Castle Corridor" is probably the biggest and most recognized song from Aria of Sorrow. Michiru Yamane blesses Aria with a danceable horror rock anthem.
Her choices of notes for the lead melody are just right. They're inharmonious at times, but not in an uncoordinated way. The instrumentation for this was perfect, as well. The rock-hard bass drives it along with a contagious bass line, and all of the subtle touches, such as the piano notes and strings in the background do make a big difference. The drums keep a strong, steady beat and perform impressive rolls to keep it attention grabbing and impulsive. This isn't one of her classy pieces, but it has a gothic horror attribute and modern edge to it that makes it captivating and exciting.
Yamane presents to listeners her wide-ranging skills in different forms of music. Perhaps the most fascinating things about her work for Symphony of the Night were the diverse genres of music that she integrated into the soundtrack, and her fluency at composing for such varied sorts. She returns to this in Aria of Sorrow, but it doesn't quite have the same impact, due to the restraints of the Gameboy Advance's sound.
Another one of the dark rock songs is "Clock Tower." This one catches the awareness of many fans; no doubt do to its style and use of guitar voices. She uses a bell for emphasis, most likely to depict the 'tower' aspect.
The song starts well with a dismal piano, and after a few slow paced segments, a weighty bass guitar and drums speed the rate of it up as it erupts into something that is more intense and threatening in a less subtle way. The piano intro is actually what attracts my thoughts the most. The notes appropriate so well, that it seems as though I've heard that pattern elsewhere. But. . . I don't think I have. It sounds like it should be famous. Really famous.
Yamane has become so adept at writing horror music that I had thought that the lead melody from "Holy Floor Cursed By the Moon" was surely taken from something else. It just sounds like a spot on, definitive horror melody. Her technique is thoroughly perceptible with this one. Like "Iron-Blue Intention" from Castlevania Bloodlines, she uses a rock bass line and drumbeat to compel what would otherwise seem like a classical composition, with an edgy piano thrown in for good measure. The drum sound for the snare is pretty weak and paper-thin, but it is something that I like. It reminds me of how Sega Master System games' drumming sounded.
Going back to how Yamane incorporates past ideas from Bloodlines, one thing I have noticed her do a lot in her compositions is use an ascending and descending scale pattern over and again in direct succession, but each time she changes the root note in which it starts. "Holy Floor Cursed By the Moon" has a flute voice performing these patterns. If you listen to "Calling From Heaven" from Bloodlines, you'll no doubt hear the similarity that I'm talking about. It is a cool technique that she has become quite fond of, as she includes it in some of her songs, counting "Melancholy Joachim" and a small part of "Lament of Innocence" from Lament of Innocence.
Among the classical pieces that Yamane offers are "Diary's Room of the Demon Castle" and "Requiem For the Black Soul." The Chapel's theme is excellent. It's interesting that she uses the high-pitched notes to sustain, while the lower ones play continuous, methodical scale runs. It's a very dark and creepy track that is yet another example of Yamane's craft at baroque composition. "Diary's Room" is very impressive, too. It's a strings piece with many counter melodies that intermingle perfectly.
Where the Aria of Sorrow soundtrack stumbles some is holding your attention while listening to it outside of the game.
There are a good number of themes that fit their respective situations in the game very well, but don't have the weight to stand by themselves as especially captivating tracks. Among these is the Dance Hall's theme, which is like a confused or drunken waltz. Listening to it on its own, it's not that appealing, but it does have a feverish sort of delirium to it that corresponds to where it plays in the game.
One of the more meditative songs from Aria is "Palace of Dreams." It is one of my favorites from the OST, but I suppose some may find it too dreary. I can understand why. It is quite subdued and doesn't change in pace, or take any unexpected turns. But it has a touch of mystery and intrigue to it, an element of vagueness that I find alluring.
"Sacred Cave" doesn't have much of a redeeming quality. I'm not going to say that it is bad, but it is stuck within droning mediocrity, which is. . . bad.
It's boring, too.
It does its job in game, but there is just no incentive to listen to it when not playing Aria. Regrettably, this is the case with a handful of tracks from the OST, even some good ones, such as the sad, yet consoling theme of Mina Hakuba, which is a shame.
To balance out the OST, there are some outright terrible tracks to go along with the great, and simply okay ones. These are the songs that you don't want to listen to anywhere, at anytime. Most of the boss tracks fit this bill, and they come from Takashi Yoshida, a third composer.
"Final Decisive Battle" is horrible.
In video games, I don't like music that is only there to be intense and suspenseful. "Final Decisive Battle" is thrilling, but it has no real listening merit. Sadly, the only good thing about it is that it is totally forgettable.
"Battle Against Chaos" sounds like something from Contra III: The Alien Wars.
Perhaps it could be used as one of those really strange tracks that play in Metroid Fusion when a huge Core X parasite comes out of a boss. Aside from slightly interesting percussion, this is a cacophony that you should avoid at all costs. Although, the bongos do make it sound more like "Battle Against King Kong."
"Battle for the Throne" is far too ungraceful. It tries to be epic and imposing, but winds up being nothing more than a muddle of earsplitting sounds that don't flow well and have little organization.
Breaking the chain of absolutely horrendous boss fight music is the incredible "Can't Wait Until Night".
An old favorite!
This is the way that remixes ought to be handled. They should be done sparingly, and in a way that surprises and welcomes the listener. Aria of Sorrow follows this, and therefore makes it an unanticipated treat, which many times are the best type of treats.
So, the Aria of Sorrow soundtrack turns out to be. . . pretty good.
Despite the factor that Yamane and Hokkai present a commendable effort and reliable soundtrack, they've both shined much brighter elsewhere, such as Symphony of the Night and Curse of Darkness for Yamane, and Harmony of Dissonance for Hokkai. Taken as a whole, the soundtrack is absolutely not bad, but it seems to lack the ambition that some others had. It's not adventurous enough, and seems complacent in that. It doesn't take many risks, or even have a lot of instances that turn your head.
These two are capable of better when you consider the entirety of it. Nonetheless, it is a reputable endeavor that delivers more of the gothic sonatas that have given Castlevania's music the well-regarded reputation that it has.
|1. Cross of the Blue Moon||0:59||1.64 MB|
|2. A Fleeting Respite||2:06||2.70 MB|
|3. Gloomy Memories||0:49||1.05 MB|
|4. Evil Invitation||1:14||1.90 MB|
|5. Pitch Black Intrusion||1:33||2.37 MB|
|6. Equipment's Tale||1:01||1.30 MB|
|7. Dracula's Tears||1:58||2.89 MB|
|8. Dark Clouds||0:46||1.09 MB|
|9. Black Shudder||0:38||1.00 MB|
|10. Platinum Moonlight||1:33||2.08 MB|
|11. After Confession||1:45||2.51 MB|
|12. Scarlet Battle Soul||1:42||2.66 MB|
|13. Demon Guest House||1:57||2.52 MB|
|14. Echoes of Darkness||1:23||1.93 MB|
|15. Condemned Tower||2:58||4.19 MB|
|16. Into the Dark Night||1:11||1.94 MB|
|17. Cursed Clock Tower||2:31||3.26 MB|
|18. Subterranean Hell||2:45||4.18 MB|
|19. VAMPIRE KILLER||1:40||2.50 MB|
|20. Demon Castle Pinnacle||2:20||3.36 MB|
|21. Piercing Battle Fury||2:21||3.60 MB|
|22. Underground Melodies||1:28||1.99 MB|
|23. The Abyss||2:44||3.91 MB|
|24. Portal to Dark Bravery||1:40||2.66 MB|
|25. THE BEGINNING||1:30||2.44 MB|
|26. BLOODY TEARS||1:25||2.24 MB|
|27. Illusionary Dance||1:19||2.09 MB|
|28. After Battle ~Blue Reminiscence~||1:45||2.37 MB|
|29. Momentary Moonlight||2:12||2.88 MB|
|30. Original Amber Scenery||4:03||3.71 MB|
In a surprise twist of fate, the music composer for Castlevania 64, Masahiko Kimura, has returned along with Michiru Yamane, to create the music for Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.
Kimura's style has taken a complete 180 from that of his former work. In Castlevania 64, the bulk of the compositions were subtle, ambient tunes, which quietly lurked in the shadows of the background. And when they weren't doing that, they seemed to have the intention of reaching for a rather cinematic feel, as several of the songs would fit right in with some suspense B movie.
For Dawn of Sorrow, Kimura's technique takes on a more traditional Castlevania feel. In comparison to his previous work for the series, his music is now more 'in your face,' not as wandering, and seems to have more of a solid focus. It's also lively and up beat, things that the N64 games' soundtracks certainly were not.
This all makes sense, though. The demographic that the development team was aiming for with DoS were young children, probably somewhere around their pre-teen years. Not only did this result influence the
official artwork for the game, but also the music. Some may not promptly realize this, since it isn't as radical a change as that of the visual art, but it is indeed perceptible.
Judging from my own knowledge and experience, the vague tunes of the N64 installments aren't going to be something that will especially appeal to your average children. Consequently, Kimura has abandoned that approach, but does not compromise the horror aesthetic of the series' music.
With "Pitch Black Intrusion," Kimura uses grave strings to lead the piece, which faithfully characterize the gothic element of the series, yet somewhat juvenile horn voices, along with other "blips" blast in to counterbalance the strings' dire nature. It turns out being a catchy song, but don't put this one on repeat, as it gets annoying pretty quickly. The main string melody is great, but nothing else about the song is very notable. It is not even close to being a worthy successor to Aria of Sorrow's "Ruined Castle Corridor."
One thing that bothers me a bit is when some fans shoot down everything Kimura has done for the DoS soundtrack, or pass it all off as merely okay, simply because he's not Yamane. In all honesty, some of the tracks that he's supplied are right up there with the ones that Yamane has.
"Dracula's Tears" is a good example.
It can be argued that it is a bit impractical for Castlevania, but unlike "Pitch Black Intrusion," Kimura gets creative with this one. It is a pop song with a jazzy influence that takes me back to the track labeled "Slash" from the Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo OST. It is not as good as the track from Rondo, but there are some striking similarities, such as the bubbly bass lines heard in both songs.
The lead melody is unique and catching, and the whole song conveys a grooving vibe that keeps it from being too heavyhearted. Remaining in form, Kimura uses an organ synth to remind us that we're playing a game about Dracula and the undead. I really do like the contrast he's created for this.
Another one of Kimura's highlights is "After Confession." It is a formal, graceful, and unwavering organ piece with an aristocratic connotation, due to the harpsichord support. Drums also come in and lend it a marching feel.
Michiru Yamane was definitely a busy girl during the time of Dawn of Sorrow's development.
Not only did she have to near single handedly compose the entire Curse of Darkness soundtrack, but it was also her duty to write a good deal of Dawn of Sorrow's, as well. It seems as though most of her concentration went to Curse of Darkness, as it debatably demonstrates some of her finest work yet. But I am astonished that she manages to produce such excellent music for Dawn of Sorrow, considering her hefty workload.
However, this should come as no surprise. Time and again, Michiru Yamane creates some of the greatest tracks that have been heard in video games. No matter how many times she's done it, or how many ideas have been used up; she still is able to generate extraordinary works of art for the Castlevania series.
Are her compositions for Dawn of Sorrow miraculous masterpieces?
Perhaps not, but they're still beyond the scope of typical video game music.
Among Yamane's offerings is "Condemned Tower." This one has a rousing harp intro, but then relapses into something incredibly mediocre, only to be redeemed by a flurry of storming strings that create an intense feeling of urgency and terror. The strings continue to build in intensity, and at the climax are joined by a gloomy pipe organ and pounding drums, after which, the song collapses back into mediocrity.
This is one of those songs that have a really great part to it, but you have to wade through a series of just okay parts to get to it. I understand that there has to be pacing and build-up in music, but that doesn't mean that your level ground has to be unexciting, while the climax is astonishing.
"Cursed Clock Tower" is more evenly distributed. It doesn't have any explosive best moment, but it is enjoyable all the way through. Quivering strings and the bass line motif from Aria's "Ruined Castle Corridor" start it out. Fans sometimes point to how Yamane used the ticking of a clock to keep the beat in Curse of Darkness' "Eneomaos Machine Tower." What some don't realize is that this sort of thing was actually used first in "Cursed Clock Tower". . . more or less. In the intro, she's not using a clock per se, but the drums to create the same "tick tock" effect. She also throws in that bell again; in all probability for the same reason she did in Aria.
The song boasts a very attractive bass line, and longing melody, which at times incorporates parts of "Demon Castle Pinnacle," "Beginning" and "Reincarnated Soul." The whole thing is rather aloof and detached. It doesn't try to be epic, creepy, terrifying, sorrowful, up beat, noble, action packed, or suspenseful. Whatever it does try to be, it pulls it off naturally, and turns out being one of the better tracks in the OST.
In my estimation, Yamane's greatest contribution to the DoS soundtrack is "Demon Castle Pinnacle," which is a main theme of sorts for DoS, as eluded to by several other themes borrowing segments of it. Some have drawn similitude to it and "Bloodlines" from Rondo, but the similarities are small and obviously coincidental. I understand where they're getting the idea from, though. The first four notes of the Pinnacle theme's main melody are reminiscent to the first four notes of the "Bloodlines" main melody. Other than that, "Demon Castle Pinnacle" is nothing like it in mood or suggestion.
"Demon Castle Pinnacle" is a song that is full of resolve and tenacity. It is dire and painful at times, yet heroic and encouraging. Both the beat and bass line are solid, and every single movement that the piece takes is enchanting and charismatic. The whole original soundtrack (including the Aria portion) needs more songs like this. This is a song that is going to stick with you. It's not just simply ok or adequate; it doesn't just suffice. It transcends most of the others because it's not only there to be there and do a job. It's there to make a statement. And while some songs from Aria do make a statement, they sound bad while doing it. Once again, those are the boss fight themes.
Thankfully, they actually decided to give DoS really good boss fight themes!
Along with having a cool name, "Evil Invitation" has a believable feeling of anxiety and immensity. It sounds very intimidating, with its arresting horns, threatening pipe organ, and pulsating drums. It lives up to its name and sounds and feels evil.
"Into the Dark Night" is absolutely breathtaking. The intro is one of the most powerful things I've heard from the series. Right as it begins, it aggressively grabs hold of you and doesn't ever let go. It kind of sounds like a Megaman X Maverick battle theme, but that doesn't matter when it is this good.
It doesn't seem as though they could keep up such spectacular themes, because this is when "Scarlet Battle Soul" comes in. Much of it sounds like it belongs in some lame racing game, definitely not Castlevania.
It does have a quite good segment near the end that sounds Castlevania-esque, but it only lasts for a short time, and is forgotten as the song swiftly returns to its ridiculous path, with its stupid instrumentation. It's terrible, and easily one of the worst tracks onthe OST.
And then there's "Portal to Dark Bravery." Sounding directly inspired by Aria of Sorrow, this is another one of those uninteresting "dramatic" tracks that only builds up suspense and pressure, but has no listening worth. It is possible to have music of this sort that is good. A perfect example is "Boss Battle 2," an epic, triumphant, and dominating track from Chrono Trigger, but the Castlevania composers just don't seem to know how to do this right (although, Yamane's "The Dark Holy Man" is quite impressive).
To Dawn's credit, the songs that would usually seem "second fiddle" and not worth too much consideration. . . are worth consideration.
"Dark Clouds" is ominous and tumultuous, much like storm clouds. It incorporates a part of "Evil Invitation," and uses powerful, rolling drums to create that feeling of warning. It is short, but very good.
"Black Shudder" is another quick ode that is a good example of classical baroque music fusing with a modern rhythm. It proudly shows off the series' gothic component.
The greatest of these sorts (if it can be counted among them) is "Gloomy Memories." I admit to being a slight bit disappointed to discover that Dawn's title screen intro was nearly completely silent and emotionless. I couldn't understand why they did this, after both Harmony and Aria boasted very distinct, and memorable intros. My disillusionment was washed away and forgotten when I came to the screen where you create or select a save file.
The shadowy, solemn organ dirge that is "Gloomy Memories" morosely welcomes players. It is morbid, yet sophisticated. The silence of the prior sequence makes this funeral song all the more profound. It is full of emotion, possibly more so than any other on the soundtrack. But it is not of pleasant emotions; it is bitter, haunting, depressing, forlorn, lost, and deceased.
Another great track is "A Fleeting Respite," the theme of Yoko Belnades and her shop. It begins with a very beautiful ascension of notes that lead the piece into a worried, troubled part. It isn't too upsetting or tense, but it has the feeling of being concerned. After that, it flawlessly transforms into something encouraging, comfortable, and up building, and repeats the ascending intro, but it is even lovelier than the first time. It's wonderful, and another song that is pouring out emotions upon its listener.
Dawn also features remixes from games past. They are of the most expected songs to be remixed, which have been remixed who knows how many times. All I'm going to say about them is that they're unnecessary, and do nothing but bring the soundtrack down. They're just dumbed down versions of the Rondo of Blood variations. The only one that I felt was truly impressive and used well was the powerful "Illusionary Dance." Aside from that, I think it'd be better if they weren't there at all. If you are new to the series and haven't heard them before, prepare to be introduced to some truly awesome songs, but I suggest you go listen to them from the Rondo of Blood soundtrack instead.
The Dawn of Sorrow soundtrack makes a bigger impression than the Aria of Sorrow one, if only because its songs are more catchy, though lacking the level of maturity and sophistication of Aria's. The tunes may not be as engaging or thought provoking, but for the most part, they're simply more fun to listen to.
Together, they don't form one of the best Castlevania music collections that Konami has released. Predominantly, the compositions are just not as inspired as what we're used to hearing from the series. The highlights of the AoS and DoS collection are unquestionably magnificent, but a large number of less than spectacular, or "filler" tracks lessen it. And then there is a sum of utterly horrible tracks. There are not a lot of them, but enough to cause a significant blow to the quality of this package.
Even if this doesn't have a profound effect on you, it's still quite good, and fun to listen to every now and then. It is a steadfast reminder of Castlevania's attention to having good music in video games, but does not dare to be much more.