Beginner’s luck

I’m pretty big into game music. Once in a blue moon, I’ll listen to some ’80s glam, Rush, or symphonic metal, but well over ninety-five percent of my aural diet is from the real classics: Mega Man, Castlevania, Ys, Final Fantasy, Gradius, and the like. As such, I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to what’s good and what’s composed by Tommy Tallarico. So I’ll be sharing my views and highlighting individual pieces of game music I think are worthy of “best of” status — and to make it easy, we’ll start off with a classic.

Composed by: Konami Kukeiha Club
Also known as: “Dreams of Triumph,” “BIGINNING”
First appeared in: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse/Akumajou Densetsu

“Beginning” is part of the holy trinity of recurring Castlevania themes, alongside “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears.” Conveniently, these compositions serve as the opening stage music for the first three “main” games in the series (screw you, Castlevania: The Adventure). Together, they provide a consistent musical link between the Castlevania games — or possibly just an easy way out of composing new material.

“Beginning” was likely named for Castlevania III’s hearkening back to family patriarch Trevor Belmont’s undead odyssey, set centuries before his descendant Simon made watching castles crumble a routine experience. So why is it a piece of music worth remembering?

First of all, it’s longer than “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears”; while those each run about thirty seconds before they loop, “Beginning” nearly doubles that with a fifty-second length. Hey, it mattered back then! Its original incarnation from Castlevania III is a very up-tempo and percussion-laden piece -– not as plodding as “Vampire Killer” can be, while lengthy enough to avoid the repetitiveness of “Bloody Tears.” In the Japanese version of the game, Akumajou Densetsu, it also benefits from extra sound channels from Konami’s proprietary VRC6 chip. With even greater percussion and an all-around fuller sound than the NES release, it’s still one of the best versions of the piece to date (see above video). For an interesting comparison between territories, click here.

I wasn’t joking when I said “Beginning” is a recurring theme: it appears in nearly ten Castlevania titles — and in a variety of flavors. Styles range from a playful mix in Kid Dracula to the atmospheric orchestral sound of Super Castlevania IV. It’s also a favorite on arrangement albums such as the hard rock Dracula Battle series. The synth-symphonic version from the rare Dracula New Classic album isn’t too shabby, either. And that’s to say nothing of the de facto “winner” off the dubious Dracula Perfect Selection CD. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

The danger in so many appearances is that it’s very easy to burn out; however, “Beginning” still doesn’t crop up nearly as much as “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears.” It was most recently used in last year’s Rondo of Blood remake, The Dracula X Chronicles, where heavy guitar and ample synth made for, in my opinion, its finest arrangement yet. Curiously, it was renamed “Dreams of Triumph” here; I don’t know if this is a permanent change or a one-time miscommunication, but future titles should tell. With two Castlevania games on the horizon this year (and also that weird whipping arcade game), there’ll be plenty of time for the series’ composers to be lazy and include some rendition of the song.

Is “Beginning” the most iconic piece in the Castlevania series? No, that title probably belongs with “Vampire Killer.” Is it the best? That too, is pretty subjective, and I’d personally have to favor SCVIV’s “Theme of Simon Belmont.” But that’s the point, really: “Beginning” proves that you don’t have to be the best or most iconic to be one of the greatest pieces of music in video games.

And also: if you know a piece of game music that you think deserves to be covered in future installments, please let me know in the comments!

26 thoughts on “Beginner’s luck

  1. I’m glad to see you went with the Akumajou Densetsu version of Beginning (as opposed to the Castlevania III version). It really is so much better.

    Personally, one of my favorite Castlevania tunes is the unsung Iron Blue Intention. I don’t know which games it’s featured in or which version is the best (I think it’s from some remix or arranged album that I can’t remember the name of), but I love that song.

    I’m definitely looking forward to future installments.

  2. Great article. Castlevania music, in particular, is surprisingly overlooked in a lot of the game music communities I’ve hung around. Wouldn’t be quite the same series at all, without the consistent good to amazing soundtracks.

    Iron Blue Intention premiered on Castlevania Bloodlines. The best version, IMO of it, is on Dracula Battle Perfection Selection II. That’s my favorite track off both the Perfect Selection CDs. Just amazing piece of music.

  3. Iron Blue Intention is another classic as well. And I agree that the Dracula Battle II version is really kick ass, as usual. My favorite track from that album though is “In The Castle.” It’s amazing what they did to crank up its ambiance to 11.

  4. Wicked Child is probably my personal favorite Castlevania song. At least among the pre-Symphony of the Night era songs.

  5. I’d say the track for Wily Stages 1 & 2 from Mega Man 2 deserves mention. It rocks.

    Man, it still amazes me how the Famicom version of Castlevania III sounds so much better than the NES one.

  6. “Distant Triumph” is what the arranged versions of “Beginning” were called in the Akumajou Dracula Best and Akumajou Dracula MIDI Collection albums. I guess Igarashi or somebody just wanted to switch things up for The Dracula X Chronicles, so they used the super-obscure title instead of the original one.

  7. Among Castlevania tunes, I’m a big fan of the first track of Rondo of Blood (I’ve heard it titled “Bloodlines” but that sounds like the Genesis game) and the eerie music for the final level of Castlevania II. The fact that the last castle was completely empty made me very frightened as a child.

    But as a Neo Geo owner, I always put those tunes at the top of my favorite video game music list. The best of the best is Geese Howard’s theme from Fatal Fury Special, although other quality variations include Art of Fighting 2 and the experimental KoF: Maximum Impact.

  8. I think that Konami undoubtedly has an appreciation for Beginning as well. If I’m not mistaken, the soundtrack CD with Portrait of Ruin had three different versions of it included.

  9. Portrait of Ruin had some great remixes of some of the old tunes, including “Theme of Simon Belmont”. I love the version they had of that and of Bloodlines in that game.

  10. Good selection. You made me reach for my Akumajou playlist on my iPod.

    If I may humbly suggest a future spotlight, I recommend the Sinistral Battle music from Lufia II. But really anything is good because I love game music almost as much as you do.

  11. If you can shine any more light on how Konami composes these songs, that would be interesting. Writing collaborations are never as simple as “Konami Kukeiha Club”, particularly when the gig is for a single paying customer.

    Not to say you didn’t do an excellent job, eirikr… and that I don’t lust for more of these game music posts! I think Secret of Mana, game and series, would be worth further review.

  12. I agree with feitclub with the Neo Geo music. Seriously, the music by Tate Norio and the SNK New World Orchestra is the best kept secret in the world of video game music. It’s so hard to pick a favorite. London March, Billy’s theme from Fatal Fury 2 and KoF 97 is particularly good, as are Galford’s theme from SS2 and Chizuru’s theme from KoF 96. And stuff like the Fatal Fury or Art of Fighting team’s music in KoF 96, you just can’t find music like that in other games. Even post SNK meltdown stuff like the soundtrack to KoF XI is terrific.

    My favorite Castlevania music is Theme of Simon. If you can get it with organs, it’s just wonderful.

  13. Right on. This is the sort of stuff I like to read. Maybe something about Ys music in the future?

  14. Seconding the request for Ys music reviews here. Also, insights on some SNK music would be interesting. I really liked Rock Howard’s theme from Mark of the Wolves, though it rips off Robert Miles’s song “Children” about a minute in.

  15. Requests are noted. I’ll probably end up doing one of these a week.

    And regarding the Youtube clips, I wasn’t able to find something that had just the music for the Akumajou Densetsu “Beginning.” On the CD it was released, it was part of a medley and I wanted something more straightforward. Seeing the track in context of the game is also something I’ll always try to show.

  16. Good article.

    For the future, I’d love to see Snake Man, Shadow Man, or Wily Castle Stage 3 and 4 from Mega Man 3. I mean, holy balls.

  17. Clash on the Big Bridge (or, how the best track in Final Fantasy XII was actually written by Uematsu after all).

  18. This is going to be an interesting addition to GameSpite. I’d be really interested in discussion of the various music chips (at least in the earlier consoles where it makes a difference), because as this post makes clear, those different chips really affect the experience. Oh, SNES. What a wonderful music chip you had!

    Anyway, some of my favorite pieces are the title screen music from Mega Man 3, Star Light Zone from Sonic 1, the music that plays over the text intro in Link to the Past, and the various ocarina songs (esp. Nocturne of Shadow and Requiem of Spirit) in Ocarina of Time.

  19. Of course, they just had to call stages “blocks” instead! I thought about it while searching for the music but surmised that “no moron is just going to call it the block 1 music.” Anyway, everyone give it a listen if you’re not into downloading things. Thanks dj.

    I still like to show the music in context of the game however, so I’ll keep the other one up.

  20. I have largely glossed over Castlevania in recent years, so a look back at the games and their music is appreciated. Also, I really wish I still had a copy of Kid Dracula for Game Boy.

    As for your next piece, as long as you have your dial set at Konami in the NES days, I would recommend looking back over Jackal. The first stage’s music draws you in fast and keeps you there. On occasion, it does so in spite of the game!

  21. My personal favorite is definitely the Tal Tal Heights music from Link’s Awakening. It perfectly embodies the sense of adventure that is a hallmark of the Zelda series.

    I also have to mention the Ballad of the Wind Fish, specifically the “vocal”/ocarina duet arrangement that you play with Marin about halfway through the game. For a long time, one of my 3 save slots was dedicated to that point in the game just so I could hear the song.

Comments are closed.