Things are often lost in the translation from East to West. This is certainly true of video games that were ported from the Famicom to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Usually, it was the story elements and visuals of games that changed the most. Japanese folklore and phrasing had to be converted for American audiences, along with censoring any sort of religious or potentially frightening content.
There were technological constraints that had to be considered as well. Unlike its Japanese cousin, the NES could not support most coprocessors that game publishers would use to enhance their titles. This included external sound chips like Konami’s VRC6. Co-created by Hidenori Maezawa. this chip added two extra pulse-wave channels and a saw-wave channel to the Famicom’s initial set of five sound channels. As the sound designer for Castlevania III, Maezawa used the VRC6 chip to create a soundtrack with richer music than many other games on the Famicom.
Unfortunately, the game’s soundtrack had to be downgraded to comply with the standard five sound channels of the NES. As a result, songs that sounded like this for American audiences:
Originally sounded like this for Japanese audiences:
With the extra channels of the VRC6, Maezawa and his team of composers were able to synthesize a more complex sound. The original version of Prelude has a stronger reverb than its American counterpart, along with fuller string section further reinforces the ominous opening of this spooky classic.
Konami wasn’t the only company that used special sound chips to enhance the soundtracks of Famicom games. For some great examples of other composers’ use of these chips, be sure to check out Episode 75 of VGMpire, Fiddlin with the Famicom. While you’re at it, you should take a listen to the rest of the VGMPire back catalog. It’s a fantastic podcast that highlights some of the best music across video games.