Sometimes there’s a game that just seizes upon you, and you become so taken with it that you need more to satisfy some inner longing built from its excellence. In these cases, there’s been plenty of ample sequels or prequels to fulfill that itch for me. These are the franchises I have been following the closest over my gaming existence, the ones that I hold the highest standards to and anticipate the greatest. They are not in any real order, because that would be agonizing to determine what I love more. It’s hard enough with individual games – uniting them all would be a nightmare. However, I will go into what game left the impact and which of the series I adore the most, as well as discuss each game I have (or have not, and explain why) played and its furthering impact upon my feelings. There’s nine that I consider the finest – Castlevania’s 25 years old today, so let’s tackle that one.
Game That Left the Impact – Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance)
The Game I Adore – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)
It took some time for me to get attached to Castlevania – the first two NES games stumped me as a kid, and lack of exposure to systems for the majority of its sequels didn’t help. Aria of Sorrow was the first to wow me, and following that I’ve become a bigger and bigger fan. This series I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I have sunk time into many of the finest games it features, and look forward to expanding my passions with some of the others in time.
What I’ve Tried
Castlevania – I’ve never beaten any of the NES games, but I’ve grown to relish trying! The first game may lack the overall quality the later games feature, but it’s a solid foundation of things to come (and my god, does its soundtrack rock). I’m closest to beating this one!
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest – I appreciate Konami experimenting a bit with the mechanics of ‘Vania here, but I think it would be an infinitely better game with better localization. For a game relying on communication for hints, it does that poorly. That said, I like the vibe and gameplay of the game, but getting anywhere can be a big chore.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse - My favorite of the NES trilogy (and many others!), CV3 returns to the first game’s format but refines the gameplay to a glossy sheen. The variety of stages and being able to be two characters is also great. I need to plunge deeper into it myself.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – The series took a Metroid-style turn with Symphony, and the results ended up being spectacular. It took me over a decade from its release to finally sit down and play it, but it was worth the wait. Beautiful spritework, awesome bosses, great music and mostly smooth controls make this my favorite of the series.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon - Circle is a strange beast to me. It lacks the smoothness of Symphony or the later games in its mold, had a different look to it that didn’t quite appeal to me, and its Card system was a bit convoluted. I played this post Harmony and Aria, so maybe that’s why I didn’t care for it much.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Before Aria came along, I liked Harmony enough to play through it and had a good time…but Aria outclasses it so much that I just couldn’t replay it again.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Aria ignited my passion for the series, and it’s the only one I’ve made the full-on effort to 100%. While Symphony I value a bit more, Aria is right behind it in terms of adoration. I feel it has the best plot out of all the games, its best gameplay system with the Souls, and controls a bit better than Symphony, but the earlier game features astounding visuals, more interesting bosses and far more impressive music and atmosphere…so it’s a tough choice between the two.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow - Dawn could have been the best portable CV (if not the best), if only Konami didn’t feel compelled to pad it with touch screen nonsense. The Soul System was refined and improved, the game looked better than Aria (save the blase anime recoat), the world was arguably more interesting than Aria’s and featured better bosses, and while the plot wasn’t as tight it wasn’t atrocious, either. But the touch screen sucked any of that positive impact away with annoyance. Still a shame.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Portrait feels a little too slapdash at times, but I really enjoyed the two player dynamic, the more exotic locales and it did have some glorious boss encounters…not to mention the wonderful music that I consider the best of the series. Tons of unlockables add to the joy. It just can’t quite shrug off the overall lack of refinement it features in level design and sprite recycling.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia - Shanoa’s quest hearkens back to Simon’s Quest a bit, and out of the DS ‘Vanias, I like it the most. It’s tough and challenges the player, has wonderful boss encounters that are almost all unique to it, and mixes in some Symphony elements like handling two weapons with two buttons. It too suffers some from sprite reuse, and Shanoa isn’t quite as graceful as Alucard or Soma, but I still enjoyed it a lot.
What Haven’t I Played?
Wow – I’ve managed to play less than half of the series. XD That’s a first! Castlevania has been scattered far more than the prior franchises I’ve covered, so that may explain why. Konami – release a damn comp. XD
Castlevania The Adventure – I’ve not seen hide or hair of this game…
Super Castlevania IV – Ditto! I wouldn’t mind owning it, though…
Castlevania The Adventure II: Belmont’s Revenge - Ditto again!
Castlevania: Bloodlines – No Genesis!
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood – No Japan Turbo-CD! Although I will DL the Wii Virtual Console version if I get it online.
Castlevania: Dracula X – Never seen it…I realize that the game, despite being a drastically altered port of Rondo of Blood, is also trying to do its own thing, but with Rondo being available now I don’t see much reason in investing in this…
Castlevania 64/Legacy of Darkness – I skipped these due to middling reviews in my N64 heyday, but now that reviews don’t matter to me so much, I’d like to try Legacy of Darkness. These are a bit hard to find used, though…
Castlevania Chronicles - I like the original CV enough to not feel the pull to DL this off of PSN.
Castlevania Legends – I haven’t seen it, and I’m not that interested.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – The PS2 ‘Vanias don’t appeal to me for some reason. I guess I like the thought of the series being in 2D more (yet want to try Legacy of Darkness :p ).
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness – Ditto, but the DDR X mix of Bloody Tears from this game is damn good!
Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles – No PSP.
Castlevania Judgment – While the thought of a fighting game with the heroes and villains of the series sounds intriguing, the character redesigns turned me off, as did the lack of Soma Cruz, Charlotte Aulin or Jonathan Morris, who happen to be favorites of mine. It also didn’t look all that great. Don’t think I missed much here.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair - I’m not entirely convinced I should even bother with this game. It’s due to arrive on the PS3 soon, but I really just am ashamed of the thought of trying it given how recycled and lazy it appears to be.
Castlevania The Adventure Rebirth – Wouldn’t mind trying this if I get the Wii online.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – This is not a Castlevania game to me. Sorry. Too many liberties taken and not enough throwbacks to the past for me to care.
What Makes It One of the Best?
Music to Die For – Castlevania from the beginning has featured some of the most incredible gaming tunes ever made. Kinuyo Yamashita got the ball rolling with Vampire Hunter, Wicked Child and Heart of Fire, and nearly every game following her effort has built and expanded the greatest hits list – Bloody Tears, Aquarius, Mad Forest, Theme of Simon, Iron Blue Intention, Requiem, Dracula’s Castle, Crystal Teardrops, Jail of Jewels, Hail to the Past, plus plenty more…amazing aural delights.
Making the Most of the Gothic Atmosphere – The best ‘Vania games have some of the finest 2D atmosphere in any game, making the dilapidated, derelict castle you wander around in truly seem that way. Each environment (save the later DS games, which got into a nasty habit of asset rehashing) is unique from the others, and is full of its own challenges, quirks and visual cues. The whole vibe of the games is dark, dingy and foreboding, yet isn’t afraid to use color effectively. I do love the style of this series.
Responsive Avatars - Simon and Trevor aren’t the quickest, most agile heroes in gaming lore, especially compared to Alucard, Soma, Jonathan and Shanoa, but I can say that all of Castlevania’s heroes and heroines do respond well to inputs from the player no matter the era, and has steadily improved that trait over the years to make some of the smoothest, most enjoyable protagonists in any game to control. I love becoming these characters and exploring their worlds, because they react like I would want them to. In the early NES games there’s naturally some control issues due to programming nitpicks and all that, but overall I think that even those early attempts are fairly solid.
Thrilling Boss Showdowns – Every single game in this franchise seems to have gotten the memo that boss fights are a vital part of the experience, and rarely have I felt cheated or overwhelmed by them. The earlier games require patience, pattern recognition and perhaps a lucky item to conquer, but the later games kept up those traits (to a lesser extent, since you can heal) and expanded these into dramatic affairs that stand as some of the best in the industry. I give massive props to Konami for continuing to provide stand-out bosses.
Memorable Bestiary – The monsters, demons and undead legions employed by the House of Dracula and his cronies play off of mythological lore, B-movies of the early cinema and occasionally the twisted minds of the Konami staff, and the unique unification of such diversity is one of the joys of wandering the halls of Castlevania. It’s great to see some enemies return to their classic patterns, see what new beasts they’ve trodden out, and how to best get by them all.