Castlevania Symphony of the Night - Skull Shield Effect
Another sprite for Comicon. If you are following my instagram I showed it off some weeks ago. I will try and have more updated on here, just catching up on all my custom orders before I am swamped. At the request of one of my customers I am attempting to do Final Fantasy Bosses and will hopefully have at least 7 giant frames done in time for con.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance has one of the best soundtracks in the series
Above: a handful of responses in an awful (as usual) thread on NeoGAF. They are, of course, all wrong. Harmony of Dissonance’s soundtrack, written by Soshiro Hokkai, is wild and weird, and the bile it continues to inspire is most of all a testament to the extremely small cultural pool gamers, and nerds in general, tend to draw from rather than the soundtrack’s craft and technical merits. Heaven help these people if they ever heard Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (well – that’s a bit of a delicious scenario, really; I love the idea of people still being scandalized by a composition from the early 1900s). Lovecraft’s writing isn’t a dominant reference point for analyses of Bloodborne because it’s the most pertinent or interesting one, but because gamers have almost no idea of how to draw connections between historical material and Bloodborne’s horrific and sublime elements. One funky hip-hop song is not necessarily akin to a given Persona song; it’s often just that the person doing the comparing has heard barely any funk or hip-hop outside of the Persona series. Similarly, HoD’s music confounds the gamer who has an apoplectic episode if less than 95% of the arrangements of Castlevania music on YouTube don’t involve an electric guitar. These people don’t have, and have no interest in acquiring, the means of engaging its music, so they dismiss it wholesale as a failure.
The critiques tend to come in patterns, and one of the stupidest is that Harmony of Dissonance’s music could be improved “if the samples were better.” The people saying this would almost certainly defend Mega Man 2′s soundtrack in a second, even though it also rendered through similar hardware; i.e., it is another “chiptune” score. In fact, HoD’s score is technically of a higher quality than Mega Man 2′s; the only 8bit Castlevania that can compare is the Japanese version of Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, which is assisted by the VRC6 chip. These informed observations are irrelevant to those doing the criticizing, though, because they’re expecting something very particular that is being unmet. This myopic expectation was demonstrated by the release of Aria of Sorrow and the continual remarks about how much better, professional, and listenable its music sounded. You see, the instruments sounded like real instruments now. How couldn’t it be a victory? In other words, Harmony of Dissonance was damned from the start since it had the audacity to be a Game Boy Advance title that technically sounded like a videogame from a little over a decade ago. And isn’t all art linear? I’ll leave it up to readers here to decide which version of “Ruined Castle Corridor”, the opening area theme from Aria of Sorrow, they prefer: the original, or this “technologically dated” arrangement. For myself, the preference for one is unambiguous. We can find ways to argue for and against the qualitative details of something that is of an older mold, no question, but that can only be done once we accept that not every new thing has to advertise that newness in every facet of its make-up. “lol this sounds like an old videogame, fail” is not in itself a legitimate criticism, even implicitly.
If there’s anything I’d broadly find fault with in Harmony’s soundtrack it’s that I wish there were more thematic development among many of its pieces. Even though “Chapel of Dissonance” is about fifteen or twenty seconds longer than the typical environmental theme from Castlevania 3, it feels shorter in action and in my memory than, say, “Mad Forest.” It’s almost as if it’s missing a section after its first twenty seconds – a minor bridge that would let the first section’s material grow out a bit more, not for formal coherence, just because it is so beautiful and deserving of embellishment. In this respect, “Offense and Defense” stands out: it is about a minute-and-a-half long (the game’s longest environmental track) and also covers as much ground as it needs to before looping. What fascinates me about this score is how much it exemplifies the counterpoint-like aspects of chiptunes while sounding like a fusion of modal jazz jam sessions and restlessly chromatic chamber music. Just listen to the the drums’ and basslines’ escalating activities in “Name Entry 2K2″, or the yearning chord progressions of “Epilogue 2″, so reminiscent of bittersweet, heart-trembling chamber works by Enescu or Rachmaninov. How anyone who has some familiarity with the formal quirks of videogame music, and is not repulsed by anything that doesn’t sound like what is played on the radio, can listen to these and not feel at least a bit of excitement or interest is baffling. This isn’t bad or janky music at all; it’s crackling stuff, pushing at the edges of its technological constraints and skillfully using them to its advantage (seriously, the percussive work in this soundtrack alone is a detail-oriented marvel).
You did good, Soshiro Hokkai. You really did do good.