It’s really hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since we were first introduced to Konami’s Castlevania, which has become its very own institution in gaming. We still remember those first few steps we took with Simon Belmont, on his request to destroy Dracula and his army of ghouls and monsters. And since then, the series has gradually grown into something stronger, thanks to the addition of compelling gameplay, unique storylines, and memorable boss encounters. In fact, the PlayStation game Symphony of the Night was such a dramatic shift in itself. Many still consider it the best game in the series.
But is it? We decided to challenge ourselves here at GameZone and count down our top ten favorite Castlevania games of all time. Now, of course, some choices are obvious to debate, while others are kind of missing from the list (such as Simon’s Quest and Harmony of Despair – tough eliminations, but had to be done). We think, in all, that this list really breaks down the sheer beauty that Castlevania has displayed over the years, and we only hope the next 25 years are equally entertaining. Let’s count ‘em down!
10. Castlevania the Adventure ReBirth (2009, WiiWare)
With the forthcoming release (at the time) of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, fans were worried that Konami was forgetting about the old-school aura that surrounded the series. However, Koji Igarashi, the series originator, along with the creative team at M2 (the same ones behind Contra and Gradius ReBirth), proved everyone wrong by producing a top-notch, side-scrolling adventure worthy of the Castlevania name. Featuring all new level designs, an epic soundtrack (for 16-bit standards, anyway), and a challenging adventure that would last hours through each playthrough, Castlevania the Adventure ReBirth proved that the old school will, in fact, never die. And at a $10 bargain price, no less.
9. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (2006, Nintendo DS)
It’s hard to believe that it’s been quite some time since we’ve gotten a quality handheld adventure in the Castlevania lexicon, but even after all this time, Portrait of Ruin holds up as a classic entry in the series. Featuring some new characters, beautiful visuals, a great new soundtrack, and, for the first time in the series, online cooperative multiplayer (you’ll need it for the boss battles), Ruin proved that you can make changes to a formula and still come away smelling as sweet as a rose. Y’know, as long as those changes aren’t too drastic (like Castlevania Judgment…what happened there?).
8. Castlevania (1986, NES)
We’d be fools if we didn’t give the original Castlevania a nod on our list. After all, this is the game that really started the journey to begin with, as we mentioned in our opening paragraph. The classic adventure still deserves playing these days, with its gameplay still holding up well and the retro music and visuals finding a place in our hearts. You can find it now on the WiiWare Virtual Console store for around $5 – a fitting deal considering the nostalgic value this game brings. Now go and stop Dracula, the old-fashioned way!
7. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003, Game Boy Advance)
With all the great portable Castlevania games out there, including Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance, nothing really stood out like Aria of Sorrow did. Taking place in the distant future (2035, to be exact), the game puts you in the shoes of Soma Cruz, a teenager with occult power assigned the task of stopping the reincarnation of the all-powerful Dracula. With its elegant design and its cool, new “Tactical Soul” system, Aria of Sorrow was considered one of the best games in the series since Symphony of the Night added its dramatic arc to it. We definitely agree.
6. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (2010, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)
After the release of a pair of Nintendo 64 duds and some merely average PlayStation 2 games, many were left wondering why Konami bothered trying to do a 3D Castlevania game to begin with when the 2D format worked just as well. If that were the case, we would’ve never ended up with Lords of Shadow, a dynamic, new twist in the Castlevania regime. Somehow, Kojima Productions and MercurySteam actually got the formula right this time around, making a 3D Castlevania game that was worth a damn. With epic boss battles, terrific gameplay, and a top-notch voice cast (including Jason Isaacs and Sir Patrick Stewart), it catapulted Castlevania’s greatness into today’s modern game scene. Let’s hope these guys are hard at work on a sequel.
5. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (2007, PlayStation Portable)
Back in 1993, Konami released an import-only TurboDuo game called Rondo of Blood, giving that system a much-needed boost of Castlevania goodness. It was so good that hardcore gamers imported it like crazy. Fourteen years later, the game finally got its due in the U.S. with a release on the PlayStation Portable as the Dracula X Chronicles. This remake hit all the right notes, keeping every ounce of Rondo’s goodness intact while adding great new visuals and music. To boot, it also comes with a bonus game for good measure – a complete edition of Symphony of the Night. It only goes for about $10 or so these days, a worthwhile value for these two great adventures. (You can also check out the original Rondo on WiiWare for $10, as well.)
4. Castlevania Bloodlines (1994, Sega Genesis)
“Why do Nintendo people get to have all the fun?” Many Sega Genesis-owning folk kept asking this question, especially after Super Castlevania IV came out, but in 1994, Konami responded by producing a terrific Castlevania adventure exclusively for their platform. Featuring two unique characters and outstanding new levels, Bloodlines became an instant hit upon release, pleasing the masses and introducing a new fan base to the series. What’s more, Konami did a worthwhile soundtrack for the game – something that wasn’t easily done considering the Genesis’ limited sound processor. Our only complaint was that Konami was, at one point, preparing a PSP port of Bloodlines for release – but it merely vanished into the realm of rumors. Here’s hoping it makes a comeback one day. We love Bloodlines.
3. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1990, NES)
As good as Simon’s Quest was, we found ourselves favoring the third chapter of the Castlevania saga on the Nintendo Entertainment System, due to the fact that it reminded us how good the original game was, while adding plenty of new stuff. Dracula’s Curse features cool, multi-branching gameplay, not only introducing new paths but also new characters to change into – such as a ledge-grabbing pirate and a spectral warrior. It also brought a great soundtrack with it, along with cool level design and boss battles. The Castlevania NES saga definitely ended on a high note with this game, and if you missed it, you can still download it on the Wii Virtual Console service for $5. Worthwhile investment, if you ask us.
2. Super Castlevania IV (1991, SNES)
When the SNES came out, many were wondering if third party developers would be ready with quality releases for it. Konami answered the call, not only with excellent entries in the Contra and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, but also with a Castlevania game that blew our socks off. Super Castlevania IV defines everything that’s great about the series, including gameplay (we love the whip-swinging tactic), boss battles, a truly awesome soundtrack (this is 16-bit?!), and cool graphics, with multi-scrolling playfields and wicked special effects. Classics like this don’t come around that often, so enjoy them when they come. (You can snag this now over on the Virtual Console service for $8. Go get it!)
And now, our favorite Castlevania game…it’s kinda obvious.
1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, PlayStation)
Sometimes you need to make a change in a series to keep interest – like how Call of Duty shifted into Modern Warfare. Konami took a big gamble with its change, adding a dramatic new story arc and exploration factor into Symphony of the Night, and it paid off – big time. Many consider this to be the greatest Castlevania game ever made, and for good reason. Hours can be spent exploring the castle, fighting enemies, finding items, and discovering secrets that changed the very scope of how you played. What’s more, unlockable goodies, like being able to play as Richter Belmont, made it worth playing through several times. The graphic style still holds up well today (it’s included in the downloadable Harmony of Despair), and the soundtrack is so good, you’ll want to hunt it down on iTunes (or any given MP3 provider). And the gameplay – simply magnificent. If you haven’t bought this yet, smack yourself. Then buy it. You can download it on PSN for $5.99 or a buck less over on Xbox Live. Miss this and you’ll miss what Castlevania is truly all about.
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