The Castlevania series of games are classic titles that have spanned across many different retro and modern platforms. Some consider the franchise to be one of the all-time greats in gaming history, containing many genre landmark aspects and memorable moments. Of many of the long lasting franchises that have been around since the late 1980s, Castlevania has changed quite a few times over the years in both the traditional 2D and 3D titles in the series. However many later iterations of the franchise failed to capture the essence and long lasting appeal of some of the very first entries that appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System. These are the classic games that brought skillful platforming and action packed vampire hunting to many childhood memories. This was Castlevania.
The very first Castlevania game was released on September 26, 1986. Originally named Akumajō Dracula (Devil’s Castle Dracula) in Japan, and was first released on the FDS before later being ported to the MSX 2 and eventually the Nintendo Entertainment System for North America. What made the game popular and enjoyable to play was the way it mixed up some of the approaches to platformers at the time, which was dominated by games like Super Mario Brothers. The basic story centered on the clan named The Belmonts, vampire hunters on a quest to kill the monster known as Dracula. The gameplay itself had players going through various areas inside and outside of Dracula’s castle, tackling many enemies based off classic horror clichés. The level of challenge is regarded by many to be some of the most difficult in gaming, which only got tougher in the sequels that followed.
With the success of Castlevania on NES, two sequels were developed and released in both 1987 and 1989 respectively. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest took a big deviation from the formula of the first game by adopting more RPG elements outside of action and platforming. Exploring various environments and backtracking for secrets would make for the backbone of Simon’s Quest, which had some interesting twists and turns that had many gamers reading through Nintendo Power to discover where to go and how to get there.
Two years later was the release of Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, a game that had much more in common with its older predecessor, going back to the roots of the platforming and challenge. The premise of this game however did not continue the story from parts 1 and 2, but instead went back to the story from before the first Castlevania game and spotlighting Trevor Belmont, the ancestor of the main hero from the first Castlevania. Unlike in the past two games however, players now were able to play as multiple characters in their quest to destroy Dracula. Players can take control of Trevor, the sorceress Sylphia, the pirate Grant, and Dracula’s son Alucard (who would later be the main character in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night). Dracula’s Curse also was the first Castlevania game to have multiple endings and allow for multiple playthroughs, where the outcome would change depending on the different paths players would take through the game.
The Series Defining Qualities
What makes the Castlevania games on NES so memorable and everlasting isn’t solely the tough challenge they provide, or the fact that Dracula never really dies. It is the atmosphere each game creates and becomes memorable through the use of clever level design and superbly composed music. The original Castlevania takes place through a series of levels that help tell the story of the game, where each successive level expresses a unique personality and becomes more sinister as players make their way to Dracula’s lair.
Both Simon’s Quest and Dracula’s Curse also have similar aspects that accomplish the same thing, but each presents this in a different way. Simon’s Quest not only changes the environments between day and night cycles, where enemies appear more and even get stronger, but also does so through the exploration in each area of the game. Players walking through the levels at night will feel a sense of tension, as well as a sense of ease and patience during the day time cycle. Dracula’s Curse follows more closely to the first Castlevania’s approach during gameplay, but the branching paths of levels make for a different experience with each playthrough, as each level has its own dangers and lively background personality and enemies.
The music of the Castlevania series is some of the best and long lasting tunes ever to be conceived in the gaming industry. The main theme from the first Castlevania has been remixed and revamped countless times in successive games in later years, but the overall soundtracks for all three NES games work hand in hand with what is on the screen. With each level that players go through the visuals of the background, the enemies, and the obstacles become complemented by a soundtrack that keeps the action in perspective. Music that sounds catchy and action packed, as well as gloomy and mystic, help bring together everything to tell the story of the game and convey a feeling within each level.
Lasting Through Time
The original NES Castlevania games were some of the most genre defining games to have been made in the 1980s. All three games have been rereleased many times, and even redone in various styles, on multiple platforms since their initial release. The series’ roots have been credited as classic titles that provide a level of challenge and experience that some games have tried to emulate, but were unsuccessful in capturing the lasting appeal and individuality. While some have argued that the series may have lost its way since the days of the NES, everyone definitely agrees that the NES Castlevania games are some of the most important video games of all time. They are games that have left a huge impression on gaming culture that much like Dracula himself, will not ever go away.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of our look at the Castlevania series, as we continue to dive into many of the games that helped shape the series as a whole. All of this and more leading up the release of Castlevania Lords of Shadows 2. Stay tuned!!!!