As of Sept. 26, it’s been a long 30 years since the Castlevania series first appeared in 1986. From the smash success of the NES original to its total reinvention with the PlayStation title Symphony of the Night, and all the way to its upcoming spiritual successor with former Castlevania mastermind Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. As we reach the Castlevania 30th Anniversary, it’s a great occasion to look back on both the series’ highs and lows.
I wish I had happier news for the Castlevania franchise on its 30th anniversary, but it’s not to be. Given the overwhelming concerns with the future of Konami, there’s a good chance it may be a long time before we see another official Castlevania release on anything other than a pachinko machine. So let’s instead take a look back at some happier times with the best and worst the Castlevania series has produced.
Super Castlevania IV
The first Castlevania trilogy on the NES was a great start, but the series reached new heights in 16-bit. Technically a remake of the original game for the Super Nintendo, Super Castlevania IV is a like a bridge between eras for the franchise. It reexamines aspects of the original game while being a prototype for our current obsession with HD remakes and remixes of older games. The Nintendo original is still great and stands the test of time, but the Super Castlevania IV adds the ability to flop your whip around in any direction, clearly making it the superior version. It also features some of the best use of SNES’s Mode 7 graphics technology. A great starting point if you want to play a classic Castlevania.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
To many gamers, this PlayStation title is the pinnacle of the series. In fact, the platformer-adventure hybrid Symphony of the Night is considered to be one of the finest video games ever period. The meme-worthy bad voice acting aside, SOTN redefined the series, scrapping the linear levels of the previous games (Simon’s Quest excepted) with a sprawling castle that could be explored at will. Castlevania grew so much by taking inspiration from the Metroid series of games, inventing a new genre coined Metroidvania. SOTN‘s new RPG elements added depth to the combat, letting players tweak Alucard towards their preferred playstyle. SOTN so successfully blended elements from various game genres that it’s hard to overstate its importance; Mass Effect, Binding of Issac, and Dark Souls (among many others) likely wouldn’t exist without Symphony of the Night leading the way.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
After SOTN, Castlevania briefly shifted its focus to 3D and it would be several years before the series went back to its roots. But Nintendo’s handheld devices finally gave Castlevania mastermind Koji Igarashi a chance to explore and expand on Symphony of the Night‘s gameplay. Of the many Game Boy Advance and DS Castlevanias, all of which are at least solid titles, Aria of Sorrow is one of the strongest, a fantastic follow-up to one of the greatest games of all time. Why not give it a chance, either as the GBA original or on the Wii U eShop?
Castlevania 64/Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness
Like many other gaming series in the 32/64-bit era, Castlevania made an ill-advised jump to 3D on the Nintendo 64. While not Superman 64 bad, both Castlevania 64 and its somewhat improved repackaging Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness are real low points in the series. Both games suffer from many of the same problems many first wave 3D platformers do, namely clunky jumping and a completely unhelpful camera. Anyone who played Castlevania 64 will gladly recount their irritation with having to schlep a vial of nitroglycerin across a map without running, jumping or getting hit lest you instantly explode. Difficult to believe this came out two years after Symphony of the Night.
While we’ve mostly avoided remakes and spinoffs on this list, the abysmal Castlevania: Judgement deserves a special note. As the only fighting game to bear the Castlevania name, it’s a particular kind of disappointing oddity. And it’s mostly thanks to the game coming out on the Wii of all places. Fighting game fans didn’t appreciate the lethal combo of unbalanced characters and bad controls courtesy of the Wiimote. And almost every Castlevania fan reviled the character designs from Death Note’s Takeshi Obata. This is the lame duck of Castlevania games.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
NES sequel Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest has its fans, but I’m not one of them. While it’s a prototype for what the series would later become with SOTN, it received mixed reviews when it was new and the years have not been kind to it. The poor English localization exacerbates the game’s astoundingly cryptic puzzles to the point that Simon’s Quest is practically unbeatable without a guide. Add to that the game’s insistence on grinding for hearts to purchase key items and a ton of backtracking with no map system to speak of and it’s easy to see Simon’s Quest as the relic of a bygone era.
And that leaves us with the series where it is today, though there’s not much to say on the official front. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a shockingly good update to the series, but after a so-so sequel, it disappeared. And aside from random pachinko games, Castlevania publisher Konami doesn’t seem to have much planned for the series despite this being the anniversary.
But all hope isn’t lost for those of you who miss fighting Dracula. Koji Igarashi has gone independent and Kickstarted a spiritual sequel to the many acclaimed Castlevania titles he oversaw. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has tens of thousands of supporters looking forward to the game, though don’t hold your breath. It was recently delayed to 2018. Still, that feels more real than the possibility of Konami publishing another Castlevania anytime soon.