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Castlevania MoD / CotBM Original Soundtrack :: Review by Jared and Mac_Tear

Castlevania Minuet of Dawn / Cross of the Blue Moon Original Soundtrack Album Title: Castlevania Minuet of Dawn / Cross of the Blue Moon Original Soundtrack
Record Label: Konami Style
Catalog No.: LC-1453/4
Release Date: January 27, 2006
Purchase: Buy at VGM World


The Castlevania Minuet of Dawn / Cross of the Blue Moon Original Soundtrack packages together the soundtracks to the games known as Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow overseas. The scores were created for the Game Boy Advance and DS respectively, but fortunately the sound programmers were experienced working with them, unlike earlier Game Boy Advance titles. Both scores were led by Michiru Yamane, but several collaborators also joined her to preserve and evolve the distinctive style of the series. Time to take a closer look.


Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Aria of Sorrow was a thoroughly impressive game and near-enough everything about it shined with near-perfection. One of the most defining elements of the game is its impeccable score; even limited to the Game Boy Advance's technical specifications, Michiru Yamane, Soshiko Hokkai, and Takashi Yoshida still put out a jaw-dropping, gorgeous soundtrack that stands well on its own, as well as functioning flawlessly in game. The soundtrack starts off with "The Black Sun," which operates basically as a gothic fanfare and a lead-in to what follows. As such, it is rather short, but far from useless or boring; granted, it isn't much to listen to on its own, but at a mere 24 seconds Soshiro Hokkai manages to keep it interesting and foreshadow the overall mood of the game. Michiru Yamane's "Name Entry" is of a similar quality, consisting mostly of a dark chord and arpeggio progression. Nothing too spectacular, but then again, it is merely a name entry theme. Things really kick off with "Prologue ~ Mina's Theme," a short but heartfelt testament to one of the game's characters. There is a short introduction and then a high wind instrument plays the melody with as much emotion as the Game Boy Advance can allow it to. The piece manages to hold its own beauty, even though it is held back by the hardware limits.

Area themes are the real gem of this soundtrack. At the forefront is "Ruined Castle Corridor," which plays at the first area of the castle. It is highly adventurous and sounds slightly as a tribute to the themes of old games. However, it isn't bleepy and features a distinct instrumentation and several contrasting sections to build tension and interest. The great thing about the area themes is that each one is unique; no two of them sound alike, and each one has a particular style suited to a certain area of the castle. A great example of this is "Dance Hall," a haunting waltz that works brilliantly as an accompaniment to the gothic ballroom areas populated by ghost suitors and ladies, dancing for eternity. To show this image, Yamane uses some very interesting harmonies and melodies that come off as being a bit sinister as opposed to the happy, romantic nature of several waltzes. "Demon Castle Study" is a piece composed in a classic/baroque style, which suits nicely with the knowledgeable and wise setting, full of books and study tables. The composition itself is very interesting and pays nice homage to the pieces of older times; fans of classical will be pleasantly surprised to hear such a piece within a video game.

"Sacred Cave" and "Chaos Realm" are both very mysterious pieces from Yamane, though in completely different ways. "Sacred Cave" is very heavy in creepy chords and arpeggios. "Chaos Realm", however, is very playful and off-the-wall; it doesn't particularly reek of danger, but it does portray the weird monochrome world very well. Both succeed in suiting a similar purpose, but interestingly they use completely different methods to achieve their ends. "Chapel" also fits its scenery like a glove. The use of pipe organ evokes the image of a gothic church in one's mind, and as such suits its location in the game perfectly. It is also entertaining to listen to by itself, though it has its points of being annoying, especially when the organ plays repetitive runs in its higher range. Perhaps the dullest theme on the entire soundtrack, "Phantom Palace" doesn't really fit any particular style, but it does fit its rather drab location in the game well enough. The bonus arrangement "Phantom Palace Fontaine" is generally just as lame as "Phantom Palace" with only a few improvements — really, only the sound quality. Why they didn't choose a better piece to arrange is beyond me, but some might appreciate the extra track...

"The Purgatory Arena" is one of the most action-packed and dynamic themes on the soundtrack. Considering that the theme plays in the castle colloseum, it is very well suited as such a purpose. This area holds some of the more fearsome enemies, so a driving and tense piece was a perfect choice to complement the area. The best area theme without a doubt is "Demon Castle Top Floor," otherwise known as "Holy Cross Obsessed by the Moon" on the Lament of Innocence soundtrack. The short organ intro shows a bit of danger and caution about the area, and appropriately so; it is the last section of the castle, and it is here that the story comes to an end (or does it?). Regardless of the story, this theme is pure genius. The bass guitar is constantly driving forward with a certain groove, while the entrance of the piano locks in that groove. The melody is very straightforward, but when laid over the off-beat bass and piano motif, it creates a very interesting effect. The track takes occasional deviations into short, tense sections, but soon returns to the upbeat groovy main section. Also, the piano groove is often replaced with synth arpeggios, though this doesn't hurt the piece in anyway; it serves as a relief for the piano part as well as a mood change. As such, when the piano re-enters, it is just as novel as it was at the beginning, and therefore the track never loses its effect.

The soundtrack has a number of riveting battle themes by Takashi Yoshida, most of which are great and serve their purpose. The best of these is probably "The Final Decisive Battle ~ Game Over," which is extremely tense, dangerous, and dynamic. It lacks any true melody and is largely orchestral effects (glissandi, ostinato), but they all work together to great effect. "Battle Against Chaos" uses a similar approach, but to a much lesser effect. The tempo is much less driving, the track repeats often, and it lacks the danger of "The Final Decisive Battle". "Can't Wait Until Night" is a lot more melodically based than the final battle themes. It isn't terribly dangerous, but it is tense and full of adventure. It is a large contrast to the other battle themes present on the soundtrack, and an appreciable one. "Confrontation," "Battle for the Throne," and "A Formidable Foe Appears" work largely like lessened versions of "Battle Against Chaos". There are a number of cutscene and dialogue pieces, but none of them are particularly exciting or memorable, though they all function well. "You're Not Alone" is the most moving and functional of them all, featured during a hopeful (if rather cheesy) moment of the game. "Staff Roll" works as the opposite of "The Black Sun," being a gothic piece that resolves the game effectively and with a suitable style. It reprises a section of "Demon Castle Corridor" about halfway through, then after a series of rising string passages, the piece (and game) concludes with a short pizzicato bass note.

Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Two years after the success of Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow continues the story of Soma Cruz and Count Dracula. Michiru Yamane returns as secondary composer, but it's Masahiko Kimura — harshly criticised for his ambient work in Castlevania 64 — that leads the score. Instead of relying on the ambient route, Kimura took an almost full spin with his style. The opener "Cross of the Blue Moon" is a fine example of this. From the gothic organ introduction to the upbeat main theme performed by strings, brass, and nice piano chords, everything is just done right and fits the title scene very well. Michiru Yamane says hello in "A Fleeting Respite," a lush and emotional track used for the opening sequence. Although the track doesn't exhibit usual power of the composer, it's still effective. Don't worry, she made some other contributions too and saved the best for last as always!

One of the most memorable and catchiest early tracks is the first stage theme "Pitch Black Intrusion". Here Masahiko Kimura shows his experimental and bouncy side. While the first section is extremely catchy with its bell motif and rock organ, the second section picks up the motif from "Cross of the Blue Moon" with excellent use of strings and brass. Short, but one of the tracks which must be heard. "Equipment Discussion" features the classical Kimura style with pizzicato strings, glockenspiel, and woodwinds, which he used also for Castlevania 64 ("Rose") and Suikoden III ("Sorrow"). As it's used as Hammer's shop theme, I prefer Aria of Sorrow's rocky "Hammer Company" a lot more. The experimental style from the first stage returns in "Dracula's Tears," another bouncy and memorable stage theme with excellent use of melodies of harmonies. While the first section is more adventurous, the B section shortly after the one minute mark features a cool string line together with electronic effects. "Platinum Moonlight" exhibits a light jazzy atmosphere with nice use of piano percussion in the second half, but overall is not one of the strongest themes from the score. "After Confession" tries to keep pace with the first two stage themes, but fails a bit with respect to memorability.

Michiru Yamane takes up the stage contributions from now on and begins with "Demon Guest House", an eerie and lyrical low-key arrangement based on bells and woodwinds. "Condemned Tower" is more interesting with the use of an excellent piano melody together with woodwinds, strings, and percussion. One of the nicest additions from Yamane here. Things keep strong with "Cursed Clock Tower" and "Subterranean Hell," two gorgeous stage themes in typical Yamane style with bouncy, dramatic, and yet lighthearted atmosphere. But as I said earlier she saved the best for last, namely "Demon Castle Pinnacle," the best stage theme from this score in my opinion, which was also used during the trailers in a slight remixed version. From the nice percussive building up over to the dramatic and melancholy string melodies, everything is done excellent here. In the second half an oboe joins to give the track more emotion and the strings take over thereafter into an beautiful section until the piece ends. Definitely one of the strongest contributions from Michiru Yamane, who shows that she was a busy girl once again.

As we talk about battle themes, there are several others featured on this soundtrack as well. "Evil Invitation" and "Into the Dark Night", the two boss themes by Masahiko Kimura, are done quite nicely. While the first is more orchestral with a build up of tension of drama, the second is a fast-paced rock composition with synth melodies and frantic percussion. One of the more prominent themes is "Scarlet Battle Soul". Here Yamane shows her talent of rock compositions once again with excellent use of fast-paced percussion combined with catchy melodies similar to her earlier action themes. "Portal To Dark Bravery" isn't that interesting, even if it's surprisingly used again in Portrait of Ruin. It sounds too chaotic and harsh for my taste, even if the piano chords are quite interesting. "Piercing Battle Fury ~ Game Over" is the game's final boss theme and opens in a nearly identical way as Curse of Darkness' "Prologue of Fate" until the strings and brass build up and the percussion kicks in taking the form of electronic bass drums. As the story is futuristic, this is a wise inclusion, but the overall hectic mishmash of orchestral and electronica sounds too disordered and confusing. The short "Game Over" jingle at the end is also rather missleading and could have been left away.

After the stress we finally can calm down with the ending themes. "After Battle ~Blue Memories~" is a soft and serene composition with nice use of harp and woodwinds similar to "A Fleeting Respite", only in a more positive mood, while "Finale ~Momentary Moonlight~" is an heart warming and melancholy rendition of Aria of Sorrow's "You're Not Alone". Like Aria of Sorrow, this disc also closes with an bonus arrangement by Michiru Yamane namely "Amber Scenery," an excellent piano based version of the "Subterranean Hell" motif. I like the choice of soft instruments like xylophones, bells, strings and percussion. This rendition is a lot more melancholy and emotional than the original and a real pleasure to listen to. The piano is used here gorgeously, especially in the second half towards the end. Finally, five tracks on this score are remixes from earlier Castlevania soundtracks. "Vampire Killer" is a nice bouncy revival of the classic with even a cool newly added part around 1:06 while "Underground Melodies" is a suprising theme from the arcade game Haunted Castle in a catchy arrangement. "Illusionary Dance," the Dracula battle theme, is quite similar to Castlevania 64's rendition only with the use of light bass drums in the background to portrait the futuristic timeline. There are also the trademarks "Beginning" and "Bloody Tears", both true to their originals here.


The Aria of Sorrow soundtrack is amazing in style. Yamane and collaborators have a great great skill to write effectively in different styles of music for the various areas and events in the game. Tracks like "Demon Castle Corridor," "Dance Hall," and especially "Demon Castle Top Floor" just shine with brilliance and are a joy to listen to, even outside of the game. The Dawn of Sorrow soundtrack is pleasing too. It features the improved sound quality of the Nintendo DS and some fine compositions from both Kimura and Yamane. Tracks like "Pitch Black Intrusion," "Dracula's Tears," "Scarlet Battle Soul," "Condemned Tower," or "Demon Castle Pinnacle" are absolutely worthy of listening and some of the best creations. As it also includes some of the traditional songs in arranged versions this is a recommended soundtrack both for fans and newcomers to the series. With two great soundtracks packaged into one set, this is a very recommended purchase.

Overall Score: 8/10