31 Days of Gaming Terror – Day 25: Castlevania

Alexander Lucard: Ah Castlevania, what can I say about you? As most of my readers and friends know, I have a love/hate relationship with this series. Castlevania is the only series I know that has used my name twice in the existence of the franchise. First with Alucard in CVIII and Symphony of the Night and then with Eric LeCarde in Castlevania: Bloodlines. I’ll admit that as a child it was awesome to have an NES and Sega Genesis game with characters “named after me,” but it was also the impetus for many a child hood nickname. Of course, it was the Sega Saturn version of SotN that would inevitably lead to my odd working/fiscal arrangement with Konami of Japan that still persists to this day. But enough about my actual personal history with the game, it’s time for me to share my favorite CV memories.

Aaron Sirois: Super Castlevania IV.

This has to be one of the best gaming experiences of my childhood. My cousin and I tag teamed this game. I sucked at making it through levels in one piece but could beat any boss that got in my way. My cousin was the opposite. For some reason the boss patterns eluded him.

So, we’d take turns playing. I have fond memories of battling the giant jeweled bat, Frankenstein, and even the count himself. To date, anytime anyone brings up the series, I can’t help but talk about this game. My friend considers it to be a mediocre game in the series. I consider him a twit.

Charlie Marsh: You can’t beat the first. The original Castlevania was freaking awesome.

You’re a guy who goes around a castle, whipping the shit out of ghosts and goblins and flying Medusa heads (by the way, I hope those things rot in hell), and oh, by the way, DRACULA! The only way this game could have been more awesome is if it somehow incorporated Batman.

But the best part of the game? The music. From the very first time you press the start button, you are given the privilege of listening to some truly epic music while you duel with Dracula and his minions. This was 8-bit Konami music at its best.

The game was pretty challenging, but that was part of the charm. You could get knocked back 12 feet by an enemy, into a conveniently placed gap in platforms, and you still keep continuing so you can show this game whose boss. Oh, but those things on the chains with the spikes that fall down and crank back up and deal instant death if they touch so much as your baby toe? Those can eat my ass.

Now, usually at this point, I’d say “They just don’t make these things like they used to” and rant about how the current generation’s love affair with 1080p is ruining gaming as I know it, but the last few Castlevania games have been pretty good. Dracula X is one of the few PSP games I find worth playing. They remind me of the original, which is a damn good thing.

Chris Bowen: Symphony of the Night, naturally, is what most modern day gamers think of when they think of the Castlevania franchise, and for good reason; it took the established gameplay and characters, and dropped them into an immersive, free-travelling world that was just linear enough to make you pay attention, but gave enough freedom to let people explore and find secrets. It’s compared to Super Metroid in that sense, and that’s apropos, but I also like to compare it to the Legend of Zelda, just for the amount of things one can find on their own if they took the time to look for them. There are also nearly forgotten classics to the mainstream such as Chi no Rondo, which finally saw an American release on the Dracula X PSP compilation.

I, however, am retro to the point of being a curmudgeon. Therefore, my first thought when I think of the Castlevania series goes back to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on the NES/Famicom.

I mention the Famicom because Konami did a strange thing with a lot of their games; the Japanese version (titled Akumajo Densetsu) was the easier of the games, whereas CVIII in America was ass-poundingly hard. There were plenty of differences between the two games (they’re on the Wikipedia page for the game), but other than the difficulty, the Japanese version had better sound (the Famicom had better capabilities for sound than the NES did), as well as the typical bout of Puritanical censorship (Medusa has boobs!? We can’t see boobs! We’ll break out into a Satanic orgy!).

The whole series is spectacular; from the first Castlevania (which still stands up as a good game today), through Simon’s Quest, the other big-name releases, even obscure games such as Kid Dracula and the retconned Game Boy games. There’s really no such thing as a “bad” Castlevania game, and if I was asked to recommend one, though I’d make it tentative with Simon’s Quest, I’d have to say all of them. They’re that good.

Aileen Coe: My brother tried to introduce me to Castlevania via Symphony of the Night. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, so I ended up losing in the first fight, which prompted brother dearest to quip, “How could you lose already?” I did eventually get the hang of it and started actually having fun roaming the borderline vast castle and slaying countless monsters. But alas, a wayward memory card ate all my saves, costing me all my progress. Sigh.

Some time later, I picked up Dawn of Sorrow, which would actually go on to be the first Castlevania I beat. I had no qualms with the art style, except that was a bit too bright considering the setting and story. I thought the plot twist with Soma was cool, even though I spoiled it for myself by playing Dawn of Sorrow before Aria of Sorrow (although not much can beat playing as the son of Dracula himself). Julius Mode was fun to play through as well, and facing down Soma the dark lord was epic.

And I so need to pick up Symphony of the Night again.

Mark B: Castlevania is one of the most long-running horror-themed video game franchises in existence, largely because the games from the series are largely good, but also because there are a pretty large number of games in the franchise (nearly thirty at this point, which it should probably hit some time next year, by all indications). Of course, there are absolute stinkers in nearly every video game franchise, and Castlevania is no exception (aside from the Nintendo 64 games and the presumably bad Wii fighting game, Lament of Innocence was rather forgettable), but by and large, the franchise has produced so many fantastic games on such a consistent basis that it’s hard to single out just ONE awesome game and discuss it.

Most folks, in this day and age, will point at Symphony of the Night and either 1.) lavish praise upon it for its excellent visual style and fantastic redesigning of the gameplay of the franchise , or 2.) condemn it for turning the franchise into Metroid (which should be a ridiculous assertion to anyone who’s played Simon’s Quest) and making the games far easier than they should be, and in either case, they would be entitled to that opinion. Either way, that particular title, while still fun and beautiful about a decade after the fact, has been praised to death, so we can simply assume that most folks like it and talk about something else.

In this case, Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania Legends.

Both have the distinction of being the last Castlevania title on their respective consoles; Aria of Sorrow was the last Castlevania title for the Game Boy Advance system, as well as the first title AFTER Symphony of the Night to really grasp what it was that made the game so special and enjoyable, while not completely draining the life from its corpse, while Legends was the last Castlevania on the regular Game Boy platform, as well as the last original-style Castlevania to be released on a console for a good many years, thanks to the popularity of Symphony. Both are generally overlooked games in the franchise; the former because, well, there are better games; the latter because it’s no longer part of canon and, yeah, it came out after Symphony and didn’t generate much interest.

However, both are awesome games.

Legends tells the story of Sonia Belmont, the only female vampire slayer of the Belmont clan, and her quest to take out Dracula, with the assistance of Alucard, and aside from the odd storyline twist that Simon Belmont may or may not be Alucard’s son (which would explain a lot), it’s generally a surprisingly solid old-style Castlevania game that was a fairly fitting send-off for the gameplay mechanics that made the series what it was for so many years. Aria, in comparison, is one of the better “Castleroid” games to come from the transition, largely thanks to a solid adherence to what things worked (branching rooms, lots of neat weapons and gear) and the Soul mechanic, which allowed Soma Cruz (your main character) to cast all sorts of useful spells that ripped enemies apart, helped you access new locations, and other fun stuff. There are better games in the series, certainly, but these games are absolutely worth checking out if you never have, and for me personally, they represent everything I love about Castlevania, and everything I always will.

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