Castlevania is a series that continues to evolve and change with time. While its roots in the NES may have created the foundation for the lore and core gameplay of the series, some sequels have refined and evolved both aspects throughout the years. These cornerstone titles have yet to be matched in terms of quality in control and immersive setting by later iterations of Castlevania, even by games that took the series into the third dimension. These are the Castlevania games that showcase the best aspects of what the series is mostly known for, the crème of the crop and zenith of the entire series.
A Superb Sequel
Castlevania made the jump to Nintendo’s new home console, the Super Nintendo (SNES), on December 4, 1991. Going along with the fad of games for the system that contained the term “super” in the name, this new title in the series was Super Castlevania 4. Instead of being a continuation to the cannon storyline from the NES games, this game was a reboot of the original Castlevania title released years earlier. Most of the original level design, enemies, and recognizable parts from the first game are present and accounted for, but are taken even further in terms of presentation. This is one of the best aspects about Super Castlevania 4 and a true marvel of what the SNES was capable of at the time.
Yet the meat of Super Castlevania 4 lies in the solid, and arguably perfect, control scheme. Unlike in previous Castlevania games that limited striking the famous Vampire Killer whip in one direction, this game allowed for 8-Way attacking. This allowed players to attack in just about any direction from any position, even allowing players to manipulate the whip by holding the attack button down and pressing a direction on the D-pad. Yet Super Castlevania 4 took the concept of the whip beyond just as a means for attacking enemies and made puzzles and obstacles for players to traverse using the whip. Being able to hang and swing and get around obstacles made the gameplay of Castlevania more dynamic, giving a whole new level of depth to an otherwise simple approach to the gameplay. These are characteristics that have yet to really be fully replicated or revisited by later iterations of Castlevania, something that definitely should be considered in the future of the franchise.
A Symphony of Excellence
Perhaps the most popular and referenced game in the series would be Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This was the first true new Castlevania title that was made for the original PlayStation in 1997, and one that completely changed the formula and recognizable aspects of the series. Gone was the sense of linearity and in was the sense of exploration within a giant castle while on a quest to destroy Dracula. This title focused on the son of Dracula named Alucard, who first appeared in Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse on the NES, and some of the characters from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. Unlike most games that had come out previously in the series, Symphony of the Night had some RPG elements mixed alongside the action and platforming, allowing players to find and use equipment and level up Alucard as they defeat enemies. The game also allowed for multiple endings depending on how much of Dracula’s castle was explored and the actions taken while doing so. This was a heavy deviation from traditional aspects of Castlevania and was a radical approach to the series as a whole.
While the controls of Symphony of the Night are solid and story interesting, the charm of Symphony of the Night lies in its presentation. Not only do players get to see a much more intricate and deep interpretation of Dracula’s castle, but enemies and backgrounds of the castle work together to create an awesome immersive environment. Small details like lightning in the background clouds or enemies peering through outside windows give extra depth and unique personality to each area. The amount of unique enemies and dynamic yet challenging bosses keep the game’s momentum fresh and attention grabbing as players explore each area of Dracula’s castle. This formula that totally reimagined the Castlevania franchise has constantly been replicated by later titles in the series, mostly on handheld consoles like the Gameboy Advanced and Nintendo DS.
Both games, Super Castlevania 4 and Symphony of the Night, are both examples of the Castlevania series at its absolute finest. Utilizing different approaches, one being more traditional and true to roots while the other being radical and changing the core formula, both stand as cornerstones of what should be done for future iterations of Castlevania. And while many sequels have tried to replicate or recapture some of the magic from both series-defining games, not one recent Castlevania title has truly done so as of yet. To go beyond what Super Castlevania 4 and Symphony of the Night have already done would require blending together the concepts of solid controls and dynamic presentation that will entice players and evolve the series for the better.
Be sure to check out PART 1 of our Castlevania Overview, as we look at the roots and origins of the Castlevania series. All of this is leading up to our review of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 coming out at retail stores on February 25th.