Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Say what you will about Simon’s Quest’s shortcomings, but its sound design is some of the best on the NES.  Unlike the first game, with its ridiculous number of generic, tonally inappropriate pickup sounds, Castlevania II succeeds at creating satisfying, organic sounds that help flesh out the creepy world you’re exploring.

Holy Water

HolyWater

This is one of the few sounds good enough to get carried over from the first Castlevania.

It’s an…Emaj7#5? Sorta? The specific pitches aren’t the most important feature here, partly because the NES has tuning problems at such high frequencies. The very angular line and the extremely high frequency range work together to approximate the sound of breaking glass, the higher notes providing a tinkling sound while the lower notes make for a complex texture that’s appropriate for a bunch of shards of glass showing off their resonant frequencies.

Enemy Cry

EnemyCry

The first four notes use a buzzy 1/4 pulse width, which imitates the noisy glottal opening at the start a scream. Then it switches to a 1/2 pulse for its stronger fundamental. The melody’s quite complicated. It starts with a simple descending fifth figure, which it turns into a compound line by adding oblique motion and chromatic sequencing (the different colors represent the two contrapuntal voices). The complexity’s important in making a vocal sound. If we simplify the line by using parallel motion, we get something like this:

The rhythm and melody are more obvious, so it sounds more musical and less natural.The original’s pretty damn impressive for a square wave. .

(Note: The whole line is made even less musical by being 25 cents flat.)

Enemy Death

EnemyKill

A straightforward B half-diminished 7 made cooler by the punchy bass sound it uses. Each note descends from 2 octaves above in about 70ms. The dynamics and melodic contour give it an explosive quality to match the animation, which is reinforced by the noise channel (written into the MIDI file on channel 2).

Heart

HeartPickup

This is one of the more “videogame-y” sounds in Simon’s Quest. The others all imitate real-world sounds to varying degrees, while this one is mostly generic bloops and bleeps. It fits the game’s tone by using a DbMaj7 instead of a triad, and the wide range and quick sweeps make for a satisfying reward sound.

Gold Knife

GoldKnife

The minor triad gives the Gold Knife a somber, mysterious quality and the rapid trill makes it sound blinky and magical. The simple fade out is enough to give the sense that it’s moving away from you. The other two knives in the game only use the noise channel, so the square wave here helps make it stand out and sound more special.

(Note: This sound isn’t in standard tuning – every note is about 35 cents flat.)

Whip 1 – Whip 2 – Whip 3

All three whips use the noise channel, and all three have the same basic contour, with a build up and a follow through to match the animation. But Whip 1 uses wide-ranging high frequency noise, giving it a thin, whispy quality, while Whip 2 uses a dense series of low to mid-range noise, giving it more weight. Whip 3’s noise is a straight-up fiery explosion, and it’s joined by an interesting square wave line (MIDI Note – Channel 1’s the square wave, Channel 2’s the noise.)

FireWhip

Ok, so that doesn’t look interesting, but each note sweeps up an octave in about 60 ms, and the combination of the pitch bends and the ascending line makes for a cool rippling sound.

The fiery whip animation, the explosive noise, and the cool square wave all make your last weapon upgrade feel totally badass.

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