Count Vlad Tepes Dracula has been in many adaptions ever since he was first introduced in Bram Stoker’s novel in 1897. He has become the most recognizable creature of fiction appearing in many formats from Bela Lugosi’s haunting performance to a muppet on Sesame Street to a popular antihero in anime. In the world of video games, the name Dracula is synopsis with one of the most popular game series of all time. Today, we celebrate the legend. Welcome to the Time Warp Review Special Edition: Castlevania 30th Anniversary.
I, Devildriver1313, will take you on a journey through gaming history and look at how Konami’s flagship series began. Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s novel, Castlevania centered on the story of the Belmont family, a clan of vampire hunters, and their fight against the dark lord Count Dracula. There have been several protagonists who have taken up that famed whip to combat the forces of evil but let’s begin with the most well-known Belmont, Simon Belmont. Simon’s adventure began in the first Castlevania game released in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. He travels to Dracula’s demonic castle, Castlevania, and fights his way through the castle destroying Dracula himself and the castle. Belmont’s main weapon is a whip called “Vampire Killer”, while the secondary weapons are powered by Hearts, collected by attacking candles and killing monsters. Secondary weapons available are Daggers, Holy Water (Fire Bomb), Flying Axe, Stop Watch and the Cross (Boomerang). Only one secondary can be carried at a time. Hidden items such as power-ups and food (health replenishment) items are also found by attacking walls within the levels, a feature inspired by Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. with countless hidden items across the game’s levels.
Simon’s Quest continued in the follow-up title Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. (Yeah, I know what I did. Hmm… Well, on we go!) The sequel broke away from the linear side-scrolling in favor of open-ended exploration. Simon traveled between villages where he can purchase item and upgrades, similar to that of role-playing games. Simon’s Quest also featured multiple endings depending on how long it took to complete the game. This element was clearly borrowed from Metroid which was released the same year. The third title, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, featured Simon’s ancestor Trevor C. Belmont. While Dracula’s Curse bared similarities to Castlevania, the game was also non-linear, like Simon’s Quest, with other new elements such as alternate branching paths with different stages and alternate endings depending on the player’s choices, as well as multiple player characters. Joining Trevor on his journey are Sypha Belnades, a young sorceress with powerful elemental magic spells; Grant Danasty, a pirate with the ability to climb on walls and change direction in mid-jump (a rare ability in earlier games of the series); and Alucard, Dracula’s son (who would return in his own game), a dhampir with the ability to shoot fireballs and transform into a bat. Trevor could only travel with one companion at a time thus he has had to swap one for another.
By the release of the SNES in 1990 in Japan (one year later for North America), the series moved into the 16-bit era. Super Castlevania IV saw the return of Simon Belmont as the lead role in a game that retold his adventure in the first Castlevania. Much to the elements of the first game remained intact and the game returned to linear side-scrolling. However, there were new additions including the ability to move Simon while in a crouching position, using his whip to hang and swing from strategically placed rings. Holding down the button allowed Simon to hold his whip out where it then can be manipulated to strike in different directions. The graphics of Super Castlevania pushed the limits of the SNES with incredible detailing in most areas especially the underground and castle areas.
The series took a major turning point in terms of gameplay with the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997 for the Sony Playstation. This is the first time that the role was taken from a whip cracking Belmont descendant and placed in the hands of Alucard who awakens from his eternal slumber to end the reign of his father Count Vlad Tepes Dracula once and for all. For more info, check out my Time Warp Review of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The series would eventually move into the 3D realm with the release of Castlevania and Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness both for the Nintendo 64 game system. In 2003, the next 3D Castlevania title featured combat-oriented hack and slash gameplay that drew comparisons to the 2001 title Devil May Cry, though “Lament of Innocence” introduced several unique features to set itself apart from Capcom’s title. The game has also drawn comparisons to the 2002 release Rygar: The Legendary Adventure and 2005’s God of War, both of which used similar chained-blade weapons, while the latter also used similarly flashy and smooth attacks that could change direction in the middle of a combo.
The Castlevania series has borrowed inspiration from Universal Studios and Hammer films by featuring their famous monster including Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, Medusa and, of course, Dracula. Earlier game paid homage to these films. Later titles would delve into the mythical world by featuring monsters from the legends.
Castlevania has appeared in pop culture as well. Simon Belmont and Dracula were featured in the video game cartoon series “Captain N: The Game Master”. Simon’s look is drastically different from his video game counterpart due to the fact that DIC could not get licensing to use the image. Alucard appears in an episode as a rebellious, skateboarding teen (which was typical with the 80’s time period). NECA produced several action figures based on the series including Simon Belmont, Dracula, Succubus, and Alucard. There is also comic and graphic novel adaption based on Castlevania: The Adventure (The Belmont Legacy by IDW) and Curse of Darkness (graphic novel by TOKYOPOP).
To date, Konami has released 28 titles in the Castlevania series. This is excluding retitled games such as Rondo of Blood (Dracula X in the US), Castlevania: The Adventure (The Adventure Rebirth), and the original Castlevania (Vampire Killer in Europe). All of the games in the series have been well received by critics albeit a few that have met mixed reviews. However, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is still regarded as the “best game in the series” and “one of the best games ever made” overall. Many of the games have appeared on lists of “best games ever”. Symphony of the Night appeared at #16 on IGN “Top 100 games” and was one of the first to be introduced on the GameSpot “The Greatest Games of All Time”. Both acclaimed the game to successfully making a game in 2D while the industry was moving to 3D. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was named the 9th best 8-bit game by GameTrailers. Super Castlevania IV was named the 11th best game of the SNES by ScrewAttack on their “Top 20 SNES Games”. The series as a whole was also named one the 4th best franchises in game ever by IGN, behind only Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda and Mario, and citing Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow and Super Castlevania IV as highlights. Aria of Sorrow was also named the 2nd best game on the Game Boy Advance and one of the must buys for the system, according to the same website. Lords of Shadow 2, the latest release in the Castlevania series, failed to meet the expectations of a worthy sequel and series producer Koji Igarashi has left Konami, putting the series in limbo. Still, let us not forget the memories of fighting off the hordes of evil and vanquishing darkness from the lands. Castlevania will remain one of the most enduring game series of all time.
Eric Calderone pays homage to Castlevania!!
The famous rotating room of Super Castlevania IV!!
Enjoy the series through the years!!