The music that elevates: Super Castlevania IV

Between the time that I kinda sorta played Castlevania Adventure and most definitely played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, I spent several memorable months play playing the highly enjoyable Super Castlevania IV (1991) on the Super Nintendo. This title didn’t really bring much new to the story of Dracula and the vampire-hunting Belmonts, but it was set in the beautiful, spritely 16-bit graphics of the time.

The end.

Shortest blog post EVAR?!

HA! Yeah, right — like I could ever stop at a single paragraph.

Super Castvlenaia IV cover art © Konami, Nintendo (source)
Super Castlevania IV cover art © Konami, Nintendo (source)

Super Castlevania IV was plenty fun. Simon Belmont had that awesome, expanding whip. There were lots of enemy encounters and plenty of special things to find. As far as SNES platformers that weren’t Mario, Super Castlevania IV was among the best. Hands down. In fact, if you don’t believe me, you can go right ahead and download the game RIGHT NOW on the Wii. REALLY. Go right ahead and do it, seriously. And while you’re playing, be sure to tune into the music. Because it in is where this Castlevania experience truly lies.

So head back with me for a bit…it’s nearing the end of 1991 and the SNES has only recently hit the market. With this new 16-bit era has come a leap in game sound design. This isn’t to say that the 8-bit era was full of crap music, but something about the push upwards in graphics and processing capabilities also pushed forward sound design. Just think of how many memorable soundtracks came out of the Genesis/SNES era! The sounds were still very electronic (as opposed to symphonic) in nature, but they were instilled with feeling and sensuality. Rather than just provide background ear candy, plenty of game music from the 1990s really set the stage for, well…a game’s stages.  And Super Castlevania IV, the music for which was composed by Masanori Adachi (credited as Masanori Oodachi  and Taku Kudo (credited as Souji Taro), serves as a great example of this. For starters, just listen to the recognizable music of the opening level:

Video from YouTube user scigamerfan07

I’m sure I’m not the only one who could hum that song by memory. (Especially considering how often I personally had to start the game over. Christ, it coulda been my theme song for 1992.) “Simon’s Theme,” or “The Dance of the Holy Man,” has been recycled into other Castlevania games, and it may be one of the game’s most familiar songs, but this version literally set the stage for the first level of Super Castlevania IV. The song was quick and perky, but not very sinister, indicating that your introduction to the game was probably not going to be hardest thing ever.

As the game progressed, the music got darker, a little heavier, and more evocative. Belmont’s quest became more difficult and player’s had to contend with a larger cache of enemies. As the levels became more intricate, so too did the music, which became infused with Baroque sensibilities. The lithe yet pendulous beats reminiscent of a wig-laden master at an organ set the stage mid-game:

Video from YouTube user scigamerfan07

The music of Super Castlevania IV never let you forget that you fighting monsters and demons and such in a medieval-esque setting. Though occasionally, the songs would belie the game’s whereabouts in favorite of punching up the atmosphere over the envirionment itself. For example, there’s a primitive underlayment to the torture chamber music of level 8 that’s wholly different from most of the sound that came before:

Video from YouTube user scigamerfan07

From that point on, the each level’s flavor remains in tune with the soundtrack as a whole, but things become more urgent and a little more modern. The previous organ beats are replaced by something more synthetic and asymmetric. The music sounds like it might be more at home on a Broadway stage with someone singing something about a phantom, or perhaps with a heavy metal band telling the audience to run to the hills, than in a game about vampire-hunting and monster-killing. But it works incredibly well as players drove towards the end of the game. And really, the composers never let us forget that we were, in fact, playing a video game.

Video from YouTube user scigamerfan07

With the return of quick beats and urgency, players knew that they were approaching the ultimate battle between Belmont and Dracula.  This final theme fits perfectly with the battle, though it somewhat feels like it might have been ripped out of a sci-fi space battle. There’s a vast simplicity to the music that works well as the player makes it to the game’s final scenes.

Video from YouTube user scigamerfan07

So you see, sometimes a game’s music elevates the experi…hey…HEY?! HELLLLLOOOO!??

WTF…?

Where’d everybody go?? What?…

Oh… they’re off playing Super Castlevania IV? Huh.

Looks like my work here is done.

4 thoughts on “The music that elevates: Super Castlevania IV”

  1. Nice post. I keep going back and forth between SOTN and Super IV as to which soundtrack I prefer. Both of these games made such a mark on my gaming history, especially since each one was practically a launch title for their respective system in our home.

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    1. Thanks! I think the connection between the visuals and music in SotN give it an edge over IV. I remember being so stunned by the beauty of SotN; but at that point it had been awhile since I played IV, so I might have just been romanticizing the experience. That said, I spent much more time with IV than SotN, which is why I think it’s more firmly planted in memory.

      Like

  2. Excellent post. These are some great tracks that I hadn’t heard before. I think I skipped every Castlevania in between the first and Symphony of the Night. Too much for my young brain to not suck at.

    Like

    1. Thank you!

      I think the series could have started with SotN and been just fine…haha. But seriously, of the few early Castlevania games that I’ve played, IV is by far the best, but it’s not a must play by any means.

      Like

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