Jamicom #1: Sinking Old Sanctuary

Welcome to Jamicom! In this (hopefully somewhat regular) feature, I’ll be talking about music from all eras of video games. While many pieces of VGM are iconic and beloved, my hope with Jamicom is to shine a spotlight on tracks, games, and composers that deserve wider recognition as well as the occasional Greatest Hit. I’ll be talking about the tracks in both a compositional sense and in the context or their original games. Fair warning though that my technical musical knowledge is extremely pedestrian! Anyway, enjoy the tunes!


With the Castlevania series, an absolute goldmine of amazing music, recently celebrating its 30th anniversary (and publisher Konami doing practically nothing to recognize it), I thought a Castlevania track would be the perfect way to kick off my Jamicom column. Now, the core Castlevania tracks are some of the first things you’ll find if you go looking for the generally agreed-upon Best Video Game Music ever. Just search for “bloody tears remix” on Youtube, the pages and pages of results prove how beloved the music of this series is. Today though, I’m going to focus on a track originating from Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis: Sinking Old Sanctuary.


While previous Castlevania games expanded beyond the walls of Dracula’s castle into the Transylvanian countryside, Bloodlines tracks a map across Europe. Later stages in the game include the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a German munitions factory, but today’s theme comes from Stage 2: the Atlantis Shrine. While the theme of the first stage, Dracula’s abandoned castle, goes for a fairly traditional driving Castlevania tune, Sinking Old Sanctuary feel immediately different. You can tell from the opening notes that composer Michiru Yamane (a top class composer who would work on the majority of Castlevania soundtracks from Symphony of the Night onward) was trying to evoke as much of an echoey, mysterious vibe as the grungy Genesis could muster. The track has no drums, opting instead for a consistent piano-y twinkling effect and a contemplative bassline. Much of the stage has you jumping between the outcroppings of sunken pillars and statues, or manoeuvring around the changing water levels. All of it lends to a sense of ruined majesty, of a grand society washed away by the waves. Aside from the incredibly moody Super Castlevania IV(a soundtrack I will definitely gush about on here eventually), Castlevania wouldn’t get many opportunities to deviate from the power-rock action game tone until Symphony of the Night shifted gears for the series. This makes Sinking Old Sanctuary a bit of an oddity, and one that I really dig. The track wouldn’t see nearly as many reprises in later games as the likes of Beginnings or Simon’s Theme, but it did show up a couple more times. Oddly, both instances are in games that Yamane didn’t work on.


First comes the theme of the Art Tower from Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, arranged by composer Masahiko Kimura. I haven’t played much of this game myself, but I feel like this arrangement is probably very fitting for an area called the Art Tower. This version of the song is much more slow and stately than original, the better to fit the pacing of a more exploratory game from awkward early 3D days rather than a snappy, arcadey Genesis game. The deep, slow, doleful drums help lend the track a mournful, almost dirge-like quality, and the ambiguous Genesis twinkling instrument has been upgraded to a wistful piano that comes and goes throughout the track. The bridge now being a delicate flute performance, as well as a number of other orchestral embellishments make for a much more dramatic track overall.


The final occurrence of Sinking Old Sanctuary comes from Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, arranged by composers Sotaro Tojima, Hiroshi Mitsuoka, and Taro Kudou. This version is faster than the others, and probably the most action-y out of all of them. Besides the boosted tempo and the bass being much more prominent, the composition is probably about as accurate to the Genesis version as the poor GBA sound chip could handle. It is a much longer and fuller version of the track, switching up the instrumentation a bit on the second loop of the main melody and adding a couple new sections. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but all of this together give the track a slightly different feel, one that somehow suits moonlit castle corridors more than sunken ruins. While I think the original is my favorite version of Sinking Old Sanctuary, I enjoy the embellishments in this one and think it suits the pace of the game well. This track is tied to a good chunk of the map in CotM, and so you’ll be hearing it a lot as you explore the castle. In that light, a longer loop that does a little more to drive you forward feels like a good fit.
And that’s about it for Sinking Old Sanctuary. Again it isn’t one of the Castlevania series’ heavy hitters, but it does have its fans and I’m glad it got to show up at least a couple more times before the series went dormant. As an extra bonus, here’s a video of the track being performed live by a full orchestra in 2010 for Castlevania: The Concert:


Header image taken from my own playthrough of Castlevania: Bloodlines

I Am Link’s Overlooked Vestiges of Failure

Breath of the Wild, and Zelda games in general, are games in which there is a skill disparity between the canonical character and the player controlling them.

Legend of Zelda games are narrative-structured games; the story is the organizing device and the driving force behind all the elements the player encounters in the game. And unless you’re reading a choose-your-own-adventure book, there aren’t many narratives outside of video games in which the protagonist encounters a bunch of anticlimactic demises (and spontaneous resurrections unmentioned by the narrative) before striding confidently into the final showdown. If any Zelda game were a book, Link would go from his bed to the steps of Ganon’s fortress without a single “game over”.
So how do we rationalize the two narrative realities, the “perfect run” that represents the canonical course of events, and the multitude of hours we spend watching our character ragdoll from an explosion we can’t pretend we didn’t see coming?

I don’t have a good answer, but this train of thought came to me with the image of Zelda sitting tight in Hyrule Castle for a century, waiting for Link to get out of his regen tank, and fully assuming he’s going to surpass every single difficulty and trial along the way to get to her… i.e. not expecting the news that her most trusted and capable knight has perished after accidentally dropping a five-ton iron ball on their head once they  were done utilizing it in a physics puzzle.

The conclusion I’ve reached is that the “canon-narrative” version of Link is the one who makes it from cryochamber to castle without a single game over; but who then are all the versions of Link that die tragic/stupid deaths from our own lack of skill? Aren’t they, in a way, more representative of us as players, as we spend way more time embodying them than the one time we get it all right?

There are many other video games that unite the narrative with the player experience by utilizing the “growth of a hero” narrative; you start shitty and git gud over the course of the game, just as you the player learn the controls, strategy, and in-game systems. I wonder what games out there effectively incorporate the meta-reality of game-overs? (Besides Undertale of course, y’all calm down).

— Nagi

(Edited by Chocomarsh)

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