Amongst the upper echelons of VGM, Castlevania must surely be there alongside Super Mario, Zelda and Mega Man. There’s a level of powerful consistency with these games: no matter your opinion on the quality of the game itself, the music is guaranteed to be legendary. From the triumphant “Vampire Killer” to the somber yet beautiful quietude of “Lost Paintings,” the series’ music has cemented itself up on high for the rest of time.
The very foundation Castlevania helped to build in terms of VGM is still present in modern games. Unfortunately, thanks to a certain company making certain choices which I won’t get into here but that I’m sure most of you already know about, anything Castlevania is all but dead as Dracula himself in the sunlight.
Or so we thought.
No one expected the hit indie game Dead Cells to have Castlevania DLC (aptly entitled Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania). Finding out about it was quite a shock, to say the least. Even we here at RPGFan found it surprising! Once I heard about it, my initial thought was that there would be Castlevania music, and even if I wasn’t a fan of Dead Cells and its roguelike gameplay, I was still very hungry for some new Castlevania remixes. Needless to say, this DLC’s soundtrack did not disappoint.
Starting off, we have an excellent acoustic rendition of “Prayer,” the file select music from Symphony of the Night. Just like the original, this is a slow and somewhat subdued acoustic track which adds in very light vocals around the first minute. From here, the rest of the soundtrack is a solid mix of all the classical songs you’d expect from anything Castlevania.
The next song, “Vampire Killer,” is a blend of orchestral and light rock. Neither one of these elements necessarily overpowers the other, making for a good mix. This was intentional of course, as composer Yoann Laulan made the music with the intent of just being “Castlevania with a Dead Cells vibe,” and it works very well.
Castlevania remixes tend to favor a single genre, often rock. While the soundtrack does have that rock motif, there’s plenty of other instrumentation, which makes both orchestral and rock elements feel subdued, but not underwhelming. It’s a delicate balance to maintain two different styles in any kind of music, but Yoann managed it very well with Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania.
I’d like to give special attention to the track “Tragic Prince” however, as this was one of the standout tracks of the album. It exemplifies the overall theme and sound Yoann was going for the most, and I often found myself either drumming along to the beat or bobbing my head up and down. The two styles previously mentioned complement each other rather than compete, making for a wholly unique sound. Even after multiple listens, this was the track I always thought about and found myself humming well after I was finished listening.
This all being said, I found the latter half of the soundtrack, which consists of 8-bit demakes, to be underwhelming. None of the tracks were inherently bad, and a few I even somewhat enjoyed, but on the whole they were relatively boring, especially compared to the rest of the soundtrack. This isn’t to say that I hate old-school 8-bit music. However that sort of music is tough to pull off because it can be hard to make a song super catchy and not a bunch of annoying beeps and boops. The demakes certainly aren’t annoying, but I also found myself more likely to just pass on them.
It’s clear from the start that the entirety of Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania was crafted with all sorts of love and care for its source material while also being very Dead Cells. This is often the case when fans are allowed the opportunity to show love to a series or franchise that inspired them. Taking on the challenge of creating a soundtrack based on a beloved franchise, especially in a commercial release that more people are likely to hear and scrutinize, had to have been daunting. But like the album title says, this soundtrack is a wonderful return to Castlevania that had me smiling the whole way through. If you enjoy Castlevania music in any capacity, you owe it to yourself to check out this album (such as on Bandcamp), as I’m sure you’ll find plenty to love here.