Monday, September 08, 2014

Soundtrack September: Akumajo Densetsu

Game: Akumajou Densetsu (1989)
Platform: Famicom
Composers: Maezawa Hidenori, et al

English-speaking readers of this blog know this game as Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, but I'm specifically honoring the Japanese version's soundtrack. In this rare case, the original Japanese release of the game contained an extra audio chip that was not built into overseas versions. The so-called VRC6 chip allowed for polyphony beyond that typical of the Famicom/NES. On top of the hardware's five voices (two pulse waves, one sine wave, one noise wave and one 6-bit PCM channel which was only occasionally used), this chip added two additional pulse waves.

The result is a striking difference for people who are used to four- or five-channel polyphony in Nintendo game music. Fuller harmonies and more complex textures raised the quality of Akumajou Densetsu's audio to a mid level somewhere between the 8-bit and 16-bit home consoles. What is already considered a great soundtrack by fans of the NES version is elevated to new levels of excellence by these two extra audio channels.

From a composition standpoint, the game features some of the finest examples of the Castlevania series's emblematic baroque-and-roll musical backdrop. Expansive, downbeat tracks like "Prelude" and "Nightmare" best show off the VRC6 chip's contribution to the overall sound with their thick, uneasy harmonies. Conversely, the expert drum programming typical of games in the series shows up in "Beginning," "Mad Forest" and the brief but intensely-loved "Aquarius."

The soundtrack was released together with those of the Japanese versions of Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest on the album Akumajou Dracula Best (1998).

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