Note: Akumajou Dracula Gallery of Labyrinth is known as Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin in North America. I will refer to it by its latter, American name.
With Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, Konami made a strong start on Nintendo’s latest handheld back in October 2005. The following year, DS gamers got the next of the latest Castlevania installment by the name of Portrait of Ruin. Like Dawn of Sorrow, it plays like many other “Metroidvania” games we see these days. Like in those games, composer Michiru Yamane does the musical score once more. She teams up with veteran composer, Yuzo Koshiro. Together, they form an interesting score on Konami’s vampire-slaying series. While I have some knowledge of Koshiro’s work, I don’t recognize his style in a lot of songs.
The musical style in Portrait of Ruin utilizes synthesized orchestra to retain a sophisticated and classic touch as you venture through an old castle. The style also gave some of the songs haunting executions to add ambience to some stages. It’s a style that is reminiscent of some of the older Castlevania games, but less gothic. Along with these sophisticated tunes, there are a number of upbeat songs, starting with the first song “~Gallery of Labyrinth~.” It’s a short, but engaging and intense song that uses violin to create the haunting melody and utilizes piano organ synths to complement the main melody. The following song, “Name Entry” is an example of one of the numerous sophisticated songs featured in the soundtracks, using the organ with some violin in the background to give elegance to the song.
There are also some songs that have its own category such as “Invitation of the Lunatic Moon” which serves as an entrance song upon entering Dracula’s castle. It starts out with a simple guitar beat, and then it kicks it up a notch 8 seconds into the song, having an upbeat mixture of slight techno and rock and roll. It’s a lighter version of a rock and roll style Yamane used in Symphony of the Night. Then there is “Seek the Secret Process” which starts off with an Egyptian style melody then shifts into a bit of a Celtic style. The combination flows well and makes for an interesting melody. “Hail of the Past” is a bit similar to “Seek the Secret Process,” but uses an Arabian approach in most of the song. “Bad Situation” is interesting because parts of it sound quite similar to Ys II‘s “Termination,” a song Koshiro composed when he used to be with Falcom.
Aside from the songs I mentioned above, there are a few others that I thought were well done and got me listening to them a few times. “Silent Prison” was one of the better songs in the album. It has sophisticated melody, but has a sense of mystery of sorrow within which is what I enjoyed about the song. I also enjoyed the following “Jail of Jewel” which I got pretty hooked by its engaging and creepy melody. “Iron Blue Intention” is also very good, having a similar feeling of sorrow from “Silent Prison,” but with an intense and dramatic melody, giving the sense of a finale.
The first disc ends with “Theme of Simon Belmont” which is an arrangement of an old theme in the series. It starts off with weak quality, but it picks up as it progresses and gave some nostalgia hearing it. Regardless, it is not a great arrangement of a song I liked.
Disc two is a nice treat as it contains all the music from disc one, but uses enhanced synthesizers. They are not arrangements, but are actually the original versions, which would later be downgraded to “DS” sound quality. My overall opinion remains the same from disc one and it does go to show how well the synthesized versions held up from that tiny cartridge. I definitely like the inclusion of the songs in this format and they were a treat to listen to.
The only major difference comes from the final song “Theme of Belmont 2007” which is much better than the synthesized version. The beginning provided a strong sense of nostalgia as it plays the original theme from Castlevania IV which was my very first Castlevania along with the first song I heard from the franchise. A minute later, it shifts into a great, orchestral arrangement, keeping the sophistication and nostalgic feeling of the original version. While the ending was bit abrupt, it was great hearing both the original and modern version in one go. It definitely took me back to one of the reasons why I got into the series.
While the soundtrack captures the spirit of Castlevania well, it does not fully wow me. In my ear, the main con is that a lot of the songs feel a bit similar, utilizing the same orchestra feel and similar eeriness to them. Even the upbeat songs don’t seem that distinctive from the overall style. Fortunately, there is distinction between the songs, but listening to the soundtrack all together; they don’t stand out as much as they could’ve been. Regardless of my personal gripes, the songs maintain good quality in both synth and instrumental form.
I personally find the older Castlevania music to be the most enjoyable; Portrait of Ruin is still a solid and enjoyable soundtrack. It surpassed Dawn of Sorrow in my ear and some of the other handheld installments like the utterly weak Harmony of Dissonance. I also liked the inclusion of the “upgraded” (original) instrumental: I feel this is something more handheld soundtracks should have. Fans of Castlevania music shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this soundtrack, but music fans in general should pick this up too as it is a solid album altogether.