For the next two releases in Mondo’s series of Castlevania score reissues, the label has leapfrogged from 10-inch vinyl to double LPs. The previous instalments in the series were short, but the scores for Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Super Castlevania IV are absolutely epic versions of the captivating music for these classic video games.
Castlevania III contains both the music for the United States Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game, as well as that of the Japanese Famicom version. Being as how the NES didn’t have the ability to support the VRC6 chip which was on the Famicom cartridge, the music on the stateside release doesn’t feature the extra channels of the Japanese release. The sum effect of this is that the NES version isn’t quite as ornate as the Famicom’s, resulting in music that’s more of the standard chiptune variety, as opposed to the more obviously baroque stylings allows by the VRC6.
It’s a matter of personal preference as to whether the listener prefers the NES or Famicom versions of the music, but those who grew up on the NES might find the Famicom’s music a little overly-busy. The addition of the simulated strings definitely adds more dynamic aspects to the familiar music, but the flourishes can seem distracting to those who are used to the more stripped-down takes.
Granted, the Famicom’s extra channels do allow for the music to have a bit more heft in the low end, but the more-complicated music does add a lot more in the way of synthesised strings, resulting in a sound which is, overall, a bit more tinny. It’s a trade-off which doesn’t always pay dividends.
Super Castevania IV benefits greatly from the Super Nintendo’s sound card, and the music across the two LPs is absolutely astonishing. Coming just six months after the Super NES was released in North America, one would think that the game designers wouldn’t have yet figured out how to take full advantage of the new system’s sound capabilities, but it’s obvious that they took the opportunity presented them and went full-force.
The capacity of the Konami Kukeiha Club composers is most apparent in how the music present in the various earlier iterations of the Castlevania series evolved in Super Castlevania IV. Much as the graphics were smoother, crisper, and cleaner, so was the music. The series’ touchstone, “Bloody Tears,” is replete with digital strings and pipe organ, and it’s now the Gothic rumbler it so deserves to be. “Vampire Killer” is no longer the glitchy, tinny song it once was, but instead becomes a boisterously powerful number which makes excellent use of discrete channels, bouncing back and forth between the left and right speakers.
“Simon Belmont’s Theme” is one of the highlight of Super Castlevania IV’s music - it’s appropriately dark, but definitely adventurous, and it’s easy to hear why, along with “Bloody Tears,” it’s come to define the series going forward from this point. The audio quality on all four of these LPs is just so stunning, it’s readily apparent as to why so many fans of the games continue to listen to the music, decades on. These aren’t cheap little bits of background music, but instead, stand as music as anthemic as any film score.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is available in three versions: standard black, orange with splatter, or a split colour vinyl. We received the orange splatter, and upon comparison with the other versions online, feel that we got the best-looking variant there is. It nicely compliments the artwork by Sachin Teng, although Teng’s front and rear cover artwork looks a little fuzzy when compared to the clean lines of JenoLab’s work on Super Castlevania IV’s covers. Super Castlevania IV is available on either silver with red splatter or bronze and gold split vinyl, and again, we feel that we’ve gotten the better version. It’s very much like a bloody dagger has been turned into records, and looks wonderful.
The pressings for both double LPs come in gatefold jackets, and continue Mondo’s concept of using the gatefold to present a game map. We found ourselves reminiscing over past glories from our childhood at various stages, and it’s quite a fun thing to be able to pair the music which is being heard with a physical location within the game.
Mondo’s vinyl releases of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Super Castlevania IV are the best-looking, best-sounding versions of this music we’ve yet to experience. The sheer joy which they evoke in both viewing and listening make these absolute necessities for any fan of the Castlevania series, or game music in general.
CASTLEVANIA III: DRACULA’S CURSE AND SUPER CASTLEVANIA IV (1989 & 1991) COMPOSER: KONAMI KUKEIHA CLUB / LABEL: MONDO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Castlevania III Rating:
Super Castlevania IV Rating: