VGM Entry 14: Konami in ’86
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)
I never actually got into the Castlevania series until Symphony of the Night came out in 1997. It was conspiratorially taken off my radar. My parents weren’t about to have any of that demonic, Satan-worshiping trash in OUR household. Here’s some change, go pick up that new one I heard about in Reader’s Digest. M.C. Kids was it? (We actually owned a copy of the infamous unlicensed Bible Adventures.)
But I digress.
What drew me to Symphony of the Night in the first place was Michiru Yamane’s outstanding soundtrack. Her classical compositions drove the game, defining the setting and mood in a way that graphics alone could never accomplish. What I hadn’t known at the time was that this was a series tradition dating all the way back to the 1986 original. Even some of the tracks remained. Vampire Killer, arguably the most iconic song of the series (its rival, Bloody Tears, first appeared on Simon’s Quest in 1987), was in place from the get-go.
Konami is an especially difficult company to sort out soundtrack credits for. Kinuyo Yamashita has acknowledged that she composed most of the soundtrack, but refrained from disclosing which tracks specifically were her work. Her official biography confirms Wicked Child and Heart of Fire. The rest is anyone’s guess. The classical influences in both of these songs, which so appropriately set the mood for the entire game series, may well have been a part of her conceptual contribution.
Of course the entire soundtrack isn’t this great. Vampire Killer, Wicked Child, and Heart of Fire stand pretty far above the rest. The music varies from excellent to merely sufficient, though much to its credit it never devolves further. Kinuyo Yamashita still struggled I suppose, as did most of her contemporaries, to make do with the highly limited sound selections technology made available. But if some of the tracks sink a bit into mediocrity, they at least never dip below it. The classical influences maintain the work’s consistency and provide the requisite spooky haunt of a vampire game. She never tries to get too experimental about creating a sinister sound (as opposed to say, Hirokazu Tanaka on Metroid, which was just a little more hit-or-miss than people care to remember), and the decision pays off.
(Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Dōchū)
Another significant Konami series launched in 1986 is Ganbare Goemon, familiar to western audiences as Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Konami never made a real go at marketing this series in North America. The SNES title Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki, appearing in North America as The Legend of the Mystical Ninja in 1992, was our first of very few ported installments. In fact, Wikipedia lists a whopping 35 Ganbare Goemon titles, of which only five were ever ported. At least up through the SNES era they all featured the Asian folk style you are currently hearing.
The first was Mr. Goemon, a 1986 arcade game, but Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Dōchū followed that same year for the Famicom and was not a port. Satoko Miyawaki is occasionally credited with the composition of the latter, however I could not confirm this, nor whether he had any involvement in the arcade version. This musical style, similar to that of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, was and remains relatively unique for video games. Konami’s musicians would continue to improve upon it over the years, making it a staple feature of all of the early Ganbare Goemon games.