'Castlevania'

A NES Horror Series

Castlevania. Boy, what a strange name that was for a video game based on the stories of Dracula, Count Vlad Tepes, based on the stories of Vlad the Impaler, based on the book of the movie, and—okay, I’m kidding now.

In this fictional world, a vampire hunter, Simon Belmont, is on a mission to kill Dracula and save what I’m guessing is Transylvania from misery, but who is Simon? Which other vampires has he hunted? From where did the vampires come? 

Some of these questions were never really answered. It doesn’t make any difference, either. Castlevania one, two, and three, are some of the best video games the NES has to offer, and their joy comes from visual stimulation, auditory bliss, and just being a fun game play. They are so popular, Nerd of AVGN made some great videos about them, and the Castlevania series is in such high demand that it’s been released across numerous platforms and consoles; there’s even an animated series revolving around the adventures of Trevor Belmont.

All three games share a similar style of gameplay, similar graphics, and similar music. You control Simon in the first two games, and as you move in timeless side-scrolling fashion, you flail your whip about to defeat classic, scary enemies such as bats, spiders, skeletons, and demons. The platform jumping can be a real pain in the ass, though; the overall feel of the controls is stiff when compared to games like Mega Man or Contra, but to make up the difference, the enemies you encounter tend to move stiffly as well except for the medusa heads….

One major difference between Castlevania and Castlevania 2, Simon’s Quest, is that the second game has some RPG elements. You kill monsters, collect money, buy equipment, gain levels, and gather information as you progress through, well, wherever the hell you are. It may well be Wallachia, but to my knowledge, it’s never expounded upon.

While a great many players of these games rag on these facets of Simon’s Quest, I find them rather quaint and nuanced, but that may be because I began my journey with Simon’s Quest. Yes, it’s true, the in game clues are useless, but they were the same for Zelda 2, and no one seemed to mind that.

Then, I moved on to Castlevania 3, Dracula’s Curse, well before every playing the first one of the series. That being the case, by the time I got around to it, I never really thought Castlevania was much fun; it lacks the features of its sequel, and you can only play as Simon, whereas Dracula’s Curse allows you to use other characters such as Grant, Sophia, and Alucard, all of whom can help in very different ways.

The great thing about this series, though, is the evolution. Castlevania wasn’t a series that started one way and stuck with whatever was safe. It was never stagnant. Some games are better than others, and since Castlevania, Symphony of the Night, there have been quite a few that emulate the 2D exploration method wherein you have to run around until you hit a dead end, and then find an item or skill that allows you to progress. In fact, Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow follow this structure.

This gets me to the point where my corn is cheesed, as usual. I get that game engines have improved and so a first person perspective exploration version of Castlevania might be a great addition to the PS4 library, but I would love to see a brand new side-scrolling, platformer starring a new Belmont, maybe something in between Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow. I mean, hell, often times, Dracula isn’t even the bad guy at the end of the game anymore.

If my story line is accurate, Julius killed Dracula once and for all, debatably making him the most powerful of his bloodline, so why not a brand new side-scroller starring Julius? Instead, we got that lame ass Gabriel Belmont from Lords of Shadow, the reboot that certainly wasn’t necessary. Evidently, the story was actually rewritten for nonsensical reasons, but it’s all BS to me, because the original first Belmont was Sonia from Castlevania Legends. Unfortunately, people didn’t like that game, and I don’t know why, it was alright.

I’m getting off topic, though. This is what can happen with such a wonderful series; everybody likes something about Castlevania. Everybody would like to see more of something, and when everyone is weighing in, you know you’re discussing an awesome series, but for me, it all began with Simon in 1987.

He came on the scene, beating ass with a whip, and that was pretty cool. Of course, chucking knives and axes was cool, too. Then, the series grew; Dracula had been killed, but his dark curse lingered, and so Simon grabbed his whip once more, and went around killing demons in order to retrieve the pieces of Dracula. The only way to end the reign of darkness was to summon the beast, and kill him, you know, more.

Funny thing, though, if Simon bought his whips in Simon’s Quest then he wasn’t using the vampire killer. Instead, after buying the morning star, some dude in a robe grants him the power to defeat evil, the flame whip. There’s another story arc I’d like to see; who were these people willing and able to aid Simon, and from where did the power of flame come? Simon was even able to obtain a flame spell in Simon’s Quest.

Things changed a little more after Dracula’s resurrection. It was Trevor’s turn to join forces with others in the hunt for Dracula. They stormed his castle, cornered him, and killed him, but so long as evil exists among the hearts of men, the beast can return, and so the demon jumped from one platform to another, but that’s a story for another time.

The Castlevanias on the NES are some of my favorite games, and I always enjoying playing them with friends or family, taking turns knocking out one stage, and laughing when a bat knocks Belmont into the water. From stained glass cathedrals to frightening forests, there’s some wonderful backgrounds to appreciate, and the accompanying instrumentals bring a real sense of anguish and resolve to the games.

Sure, they’re difficult games. Yeah, the controls aren’t stupendous. We all know the medusa heads are cheap enemies, and we all know the clock tower suuucks, but there’s such a rush when you whack death—yeah, death works for Dracula—and kill him with just a hair of life left; this feeling is best when shared with someone, and that leads me to wonder why there was never a two player version of these games….

Castlevania 3 would have been perfect; instead of switching from Trevor to Alucard, it would have been cool if the second player was allowed to control him. After that, some of the games on the GBA and DS have multiple characters, so it seems like a missed opportunity, but perhaps, the wise minds behind the series aren’t finished with the evolution of this terrific and terrifying series….

In conclusion, do yourself a favor; play the first three Castlevania games on the NES. They’re every bit as classic as the first few Mega Man games on the NES, or every bit as classic as the first 3 Mario games. Castlevania helped to define the horror game genre, and without the series, there probably wouldn’t be any Resident Evil or Persona, but who knows?