In 2008, Konami dared to release a crossover fighting adaptation for its long-running Castlevania series, Castlevania Judgment (aka Akumajo Dracula Judgment), on the Wii. The game was a major flop both critically and commercially, although its soundtrack was still released. Handled by Yasushi Asada of noisycroak, it features a mixture of original compositions and classic arrangements in rock-orchestral fashion.
The main draw of the Castlevania Judgment score is its arrangements of various series' favourites. These tracks are all used during the fighting stages to represent different characters. For example, the demon-slaying hero Simon Belmont is represented with a fast-paced rock version of Castlevania's "Vampire Killer", while a more romantic rock-orchestral fusion of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's "Dracula's Castle" is a fine fit for Alucard. Several villains from the series are also represented, notably Death in a metal version of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence's "Evil's Symphonic Poem" and, of course, Dracula in a suitably gothic rendition of series' mainstay "Illusionary Dance".
The arrangements themselves are mostly solid. Castlevania Chronicles' "The Tower of Dolls", for instance, brings out the most of the original melody with bellowing brass while supplementing it with gritty rhythm guitars and romantic piano arpeggios. It's ideal for the intense battles with Golem. On the other hand, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood's is a delightful straight-out rockfest complete with infectious rhythms and electrifying leads. In terms of production values, Castlevania has never sounded so good as these tracks: the guitars and drum kits really come to life here, the orchestra samples are of Hollywood calibre, and the mixing of rock and orchestral elements is successful.
While the arrangements are generally enjoyable, they tend to be quite formulaic in their approach. Nearly all the tracks feature punchy guitar leads in combination with action-packed orchestration and hard-hitting drum lines. This generally fits the fighting gameplay and original melodies well. However, it can grow somewhat monotonous on a collective listen, both within and outside the game. A consequence is that themes with slightly weaker melodies, such as Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia's "An Empty Tome" and Castlevania III's "Mad Forest" get lost amidst the similarly styled arrangements of classic anthems like "Bloody Tears" or "Clockwork".
Yasushi Asada also created a number of original compositions to complement the series' arrangements. "Darkness of Fear" is the most notable of these, plunging gamers straight into the action with a high-octane rock-orchestral theme supplementing with harpsichord continuo. This track also offers the most memorable original melody on the album. Other tracks such as "Title Screen", "Character Select", and "Credits" provide respite from the action with their slower tempos and medieval orchestration. They're not outstanding, but are competently handled and entirely effective. While short, "Credits" is also exceptionally enjoyable with its multi-tiered development and haunting conclusion.
The individual arrangements on Castlevania Judgment are mostly excellent thanks to their exciting rock-orchestral stylings and absolutely stunning implementation. However, the album is slightly less impressive as a collective whole given the stage themes are so similar in their approach, while most of the original tracks are subsidiary. Still, many will find it hard to resist this album since it features the best renditions of many series' favourites to date.
Producer Koji Igarashi wouldn't be Igarashi without any surprises. In the midst of 2008, he announced that Castlevania Judgment would mark the series' debut on the Wii console and that it'd actually be a 3D fighting game for the first time in the long-running action series. The game uses a similar system as Square Enix's Dissidia Final Fantasy; the player controls characters from Castlevania's history, each with their own story, who fight against each other on familiar locations. Yasushi Asada, a member of the music production company noisycroak, was responsible for the musical score under the direction of Hideki Sakamoto. It includes arrangements of classic Castlevania tunes from the entire series paired with a handful original compositions for the game. Let's check out the latest installment in the Transylvania saga!
"Darkness of Fear" opens the soundtrack and game as well with a climatic composition of orchestral sounds and fast-paced percussion. It's one of several original themes by Yasushi Asada, but if you listen carefully you can hear some similarities to series' veteran Michiru Yamane, who I expect was the source of inspiration for his composition. That said, it is one of the strongest opening themes in the series and that it's a warm welcome after some stereotypical ones from Michiru Yamane. The piece sets also the atmosphere for the remaining tracks with its mixture of gothic and rock elements. Track 17 takes the opening motif and transforms it into a more slowly and string-oriented version. It fits well as it symbolizes Aeon's trial quite nicely without being too aggressive or pulsive; it's instead more sorrowful and intent. "Gallery" is one of the most beautiful pieces from the score with lush woodwind, harp, and violin segments. It's another of those ones which could straight come from Michiru Yamane. Most of the rest of the score takes the same approach except through arranging past Castlevania themes. This is the main issue I have with this soundtrack, so let's take a look at the stage themes...
There are several tracks featured within that fans of the series should immediately recognise. They include "Vampire Killer" and "Bloody Tears" from the very first episode, "Beginning" from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, and "Dance Of Illusions that debuted in Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. All of them are arranged in quite an effective and powerful manner, but sadly they suffer from the fate I told about earlier. Strings and brass mainly dominate the melodies in conjunction with hard guitar riffs and energetic percussion. This isn't a bad thing at all, but you miss the variation at some point, at least compared to earlier arrangements from Perfect Selection Dracula Battle or Dracula X Chronicle. While "Bloody Tears" is missing its trademark instrument, the organ, it nevertheless features effective guitar sections and strong drum work, which make it worthy to listen to. "Beginning" and "Dance Of Illusions" resign completely from the rock territory and transform into orchestral marches with brass and strings. While nice contrasts compared to other tracks, they're also easily one of the more repetitive tracks from this score, even with the lengthy development.
"Dracula's Castle", "An Empty Tome", and "Iron Blue Intention" are some of the tracks which suffer the most in my opinion. The first two sound like copy-and-paste versions of typical Asada arrangements. "Iron Blue Intention", however, totally failed to impress me here. The repetitive approach absolutely doesn't work well here and ruins almost the wonderful melody. It's not that the arrangements are bad; they're just not entertaining enough outside the game and, on a musical side, they feature not enough variation nor interesting elements. Castlevania Chronicles' "The Tower of Dolls" has its strong parts with strong brass sections, but still the arrangement lacks a bit on variation. You can also easily hear that the original wasn't intended to be written in this music genre. Luckily, there are slightly more interesting tracks within. One of the biggest surprises is clearly "The Wolf Revealed", which is actually a medley of Castlevania 64 themes. This game among others was banned from the official timeline by Igarashi, but this arrangement seems to reveal it once again. There are three themes fans should recognise within, namely "Melodies of Castlevania" (a rendition of the main theme) at the beginning, the "Renon / Malus" theme around 0:56, and finally a short passage from "Toothed Wheel" at 1:18. For me this one is easily one of the best tracks and a certain highlight from this CD!
Minor themes from the series such as "Mad Forest", "Clock Work", and "Slash" make wonderful appearances here and really demonstrate the strength of this album. The first has a swinging and light-hearted atmosphere through its use of playful melodies while the two others simply hit the nail on the head with their fascinating arrangements. The baroque and orchestral elements on "Clock Work" work extremely well to portray the melody while "Slash" pumps your adrenaline to hundred percent with its wonderful guitar riffs and catchy melody segments. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence's "Elemental Tactician" also makes an appearance with a furious orchestral rendition. Yasushi Asada inserts his own style with some interesting additions such as a choir, driving beats, and some wonderful string sections. While the original was rather repetitive in nature, this one sounds way better and is a lot more effective in context. The same goes for "Evil's Symphonic Poem (Death's Theme)", where strings and percussion are arranged nicely.
Yasushi Asada did an average job arranging familiar themes into rock and orchestral tracks for Castlevania Judgment. However, he reused the same formula over and over again for most remixes such that everything sounds the same for the most part. It's nice to see so many traditional tracks returned for this game in conjunction with the series' classic rock and baroque elements. However, the arranger should have used a little more of his heart and emotions when reviving the classics instead on focusing blindly on his straightforward style. Most of the arrangements are effective and energetic, but most are colorless and shallow too. Still I'm glad to pronounce small highlights such as "Clock Work", "The Wolf Revealed", "Slash" and "Elemental Tactican" that sound very enjoyable in their new outfits. Also some of the original compositions deserve a listen like "Darkness Of Fear" or "Gallery"; even if the resemblance of series veteran Michiru Yamane is obvious, sometimes the composer manages it to create fitting and effective compositions for the gameplay. If you're a fan of the series' music you may be a little dissapointed with the result here, but some of the tracks are still worthy to listen; just give it a try.