[In this audio interview, Gamasutra talks to Japanese audio studio Noisycroak about updating the classic Castlevania soundtrack for the latest in the series, fighting game Castlevania: Judgment.]
Since its inception in 1986, the Castlevania series has witnessed its fair share of lasting musical creations.
Joining us for a discussion of this auditory history are two members of Noisycroak, the videogame music studio responsible for original compositions and rock arrangements found on Konami's Castlevania: Judgment soundtrack.
With a score directed by Hideki Sakamoto, the game features remixes from prior titles in the series for such game consoles as the 8-bit NES, Super Famicom, original Playstation, and Nintendo DS, arranged for the Nintendo Wii by composer and guitarist Yasushi Asada.
The familiar melodies are a reminder of past encounters with Simon Belmont, Maria Renard, Shanoa and Dracula.
This discussion centers on an artist's personal rock music signature, an approach to the challenge of unifying selections from the long-running adventure series' musical timeline.
Sakamoto-san, thank you for joining us for this conversation on the subject of the Castlevania: Judgment soundtrack.
Hideki Sakamoto, Noisycroak Music Director: Good to have the opportunity.
Previously you have shared with English-language readers details on your compositions for Echochrome and Yakuza 2. This is our first time hearing about your supervisory role on game productions. How did it come about that Noisycroak was invited to contribute to the development of Castlevania: Judgment?
HS: To start off with how we joined the Castlevania: Judgment project I should mention that a certain person at Konami has been very supportive of Noisycroak since the company was founded. The offer was extended by this individual, which greatly motivated me to have it be a success.
Personally, I have always been a tremendous fan of Castlevania, so the idea of Asada-san writing original tracks and arranging familiar classics from the series brought with it some trepidation, together with a great deal of excitement.
GYou served as a composer on the Wii-exclusive sound novel "428: In a Blockaded Shibuya," which is one of few games to have received a perfect score from Famitsu Magazine. How did your responsibilities on the production of this title differ from your role on Castlevania: Judgment?
HS: For 428: In a Blockaded Shibuya, I participated as a composer, while for Castlevania: Judgment my role was as music director. In that sense the responsibilities were quite different. However, both as a director and as a composer a concern for maintaining the highest possible quality on each track remains the same, so these roles do share some commonalities.
To put it another way, the hurdles placed in front of me on 428 may have been more numerous, as it involved composing various styles of music. It was an eclectic mix, including everything from techno and funk to bossa nova and classical. Clearly, the genres were very diverse. By contrast, Castlevania: Judgment was working with a comparatively consistent musical concept. While it was less difficult to dive right in, providing the needed variation between each track was where the difficulties lay. In that sense the challenges were of a different kind.
Whose decision was it to offer Asada-san the role of arranger on this soundtrack?
HS: In our first meeting, the formula we came up with for this project was "orchestral gothic horror meets rock." Naturally, this concept had been informed by long-running traditions of the series. Once this approach had been decided upon, it seemed completely appropriate that Yasushi Asada take on the role of composer.
Asada-san is dexterous in his treatment of genres and someone you can trust will invest tremendous effort in his work. He has a clear vision for his music. It should also not go unmentioned that he has world class competency with the guitar. Those were certainly some fitting qualifications for this project.
Asada-san, thank you for joining us for this discussion of your music for Castlevania: Judgment. How long have you been a member of Noisycroak and what originally made you decide to lend your musical training to the sound design company?
Yasushi Asada, composer on Castlevania: Judgment: It was around 2005 that I began working at Noisycroak. I had been focused on making MIDI data for ringtones at my previous company, and during that interval I was writing demos and sending them out to music studios. I gradually began landing some jobs in videogames.
In terms of your background knowledge of the Castlevania series, what did you feel were important elements to bring to this game in offering a unified feel to two decades of Castlevania themes?
YA: Overall the most important quality I could bring to these arrangements was my own performance style as a guitarist. After that, it was a matter of finding surprising new chord progressions for the original tracks. It also came down to an endeavor to get the most out of the sound equipment at my disposal at Noisycroak.
Did you consult with sound producers at Konami Digital Entertainment during the making of the game?
YA: We got together for a meeting once all of the remixes for the game had been completed. They mentioned that the arrangements could deviate more from the source material, but beyond that I was left to my own devices.
On your staff bio listed on the Noisycroak site it says that you are a hard rock and heavy metal guitarist. How has this background helped to shape your work as a game composer?
YA: To play the guitar well, I believe you have to pay attention to your form to bring both passion and control to your music, while electronic music allows for more leeway. Videogames often take the license to pick up cues from exotic or regional music sources, which I find to be a very attractive prospect for a composer.
For a rich history of rock music in videogames, you could hardly do better than Castlevania. Were you familiar with the game series or Konami's rock arrange albums prior to joining this project?
YA: Certainly, I have strong memories of playing these games since the 8-bit era, when I was just a kid. I knew of the arrange albums, but I thought it would be a bad idea to listen to them while working on this project. I wanted for my personal interpretation to bring something new to the listening experience.
The Castlevania: Judgment music includes arranged songs from different videogame consoles, though there is consistency in the game's musical style. What quality were you looking to achieve overall on this score?
YA: I began thinking about the style after Sakamoto-san had met with Konami and I was assigned the job of composer. There are classical music conventions to be found in the Castlevania games, serving as threads that thematically unify the individual titles. What I sought to emphasize was the presence of this gothic horror component, one that was crossed with rock, something that had been in our minds at Noisycroak from the outset.
Compositions that originated as streaming music and as chiptunes are represented in Castlevania: Judgment on tracks like "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania III and "Dracula's Castle," the theme of Alucard from Symphony of the Night. In the broadest sense, what are some of the differences of approach that were necessary in adapting these songs of different game hardware eras for the Wii title?
YA:The audio on these versions were not created on internal synth, which allowed for more freedom in the kinds of compositional structures that could be employed and the various instruments that could be introduced in layered arrangements. That said, a lot of effort went into making sure that the familiar melodies remained recognizable on the new versions.
Maria’s Theme “Slash” will be familiar to anyone who has played the remake of Rondo of Blood for the PSP. Were you interested in conveying aspects of the character, such as her youth, through this theme?
YA: Maria is very energetic and innocent, so I was looking for that quality in arranging the music theme. When I heard the original version, it somehow struck me as having a melancholic quality, despite its Latin rhythm. I felt that instruments like a nylon string guitar and accordion would help match the intensity of the character.
Another of the songs that many players are likely to recognize is "An Empy Tome," Shanoa’s theme from Order of Ecclesia, whose soundtrack is by Michiru Yamane and Yasushi Ichihashi. Shanoa is a very stoic character, but her theme is full of energy. How did you go about adapting this song from the version that appears in the Nintendo DS title?
Asada: On this track I was using orchestral instrumentation and was conscious of preserving the integrity of the composition. Including a rock-style drum and guitar combination lent the track some force, but fundamentally my concern was with carefully handling the original melody.
"Dance of Illusions" is Dracula's theme, which appeared in the score to Symphony of the Night. Seeing as this is the main antagonist in the game, and the only character to tie the entire series together, was it important to you to have this particular track stand out from the rest?
YA: I was not paying special attention to this one song, but I wanted to give it a different quality from the original arrangement. The chords are a bit different. Incidentally, the latter half of the track is a nod to the Castlevania song "Black Night."
Castlevania: Judgment places a strong emphasis on fighting, but there are also some subtler songs featuring wind instruments, harps and gentle percussion. Was it considered important to offer the player a breather amidst the battles?
YA: Yes, though in addition to lending a cool and pleasant sounding atmosphere, on these peaceful songs I was looking to include some suspenseful and ominous qualities.
Your original song "Darkness of Fear" has a novel quality to it, while establishing itself thematically within the world of Castlevania. Can you tell us what concepts informed the sound of this song?
YA: Thank you for saying so. The sound directors at Konami responded favorably toward this track. It was important here to stress originality, so it diverges thematically from prior Castlevania music. If asked to describe the category of music, I would have to call it neo-classical styled heavy metal. From listening to the song, perhaps you can also tell that I enjoy film soundtracks.
Most people who play Castlevania: Judgment are likely familiar with the character designer Takeshi Obata through his illustrations for Death Note. In creating the soundtrack for the game, did the design of the characters offer you an indication of what style to employ on the various stage themes?
YA: At the outset, when I was given the documents outlining these various characters, I was taken with the astonishing illustrations. It was another source of enjoyment in working on the project. Of course the artwork was able to capture Dracula's world of uncanny dread, but within that context the illustrator was providing a cool surface and beauty to the characters that I wished to reflect in my music choices. Even on tracks that foreground the electric guitar there are touches of woodwind instruments and the harp. These are ideas where the illustrations served as a valued reference. They compelled me to express feelings that were correspondingly intense and refined.