Guess what? I didn’t completely forget about this retrospective project! After four months the second part is finally here… and I still haven’t beaten every Classicvania, or at least not every Classicvania gameplay wise. This piece DOES instead choose to rank the last of the traditional retro Castlevanias with the cut off point being the 2000s. Okay yes there is still technically Castlevania Chronicles but I’m covering the remake which was in 2001.
Castlevania has been kind of a strange entity in that nearly EVERY game in the series were linear sidescrollers, and then everything changed when the Symphony of the Night nation attacked! Since then the only traditional sidescrollers have been the aforementioned Castlevania Chronicles, the Rondo of Blood remake Dracula X Chronicles, the WiiWare title Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth that can no longer be purchased since WiiWare was shut down, and Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon that isn’t even an official title.
But this article is about the five Classicvanias that preceded those ones, although that term is a misnomer because on two of them are good. Anyway let’s get going.
Kid Dracula/Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula-Kun (Game Boy, 1993)
This game is not often talked about by Castlevania fans but what little I have heard was good. Unfortunately I really cannot see why. okay yes the game looks nice and cute and the foundation itself doesn’t really have any problems but where this game falls apart is the level design.
Kid Dracula could have been an interesting spinoff considering that its graphics look more at home in a Kirby game and kid Dracula himself controls more like Mega Man. I should note that I did not realize until after I started writing this piece that Kid Dracula on the Famicom and on the Game Boy were two different games with differing design and I thought that the GB version was a mostly straight port. I may or may not decide to go back and play the original Famicom version for a future piece but for now I’d like to talk about this one.
The problem with Kid Dracula is not that it is “hard” but rather that it is cheap… and boring. While Kid Dracula is far from the worst game in the series or even the worst game covered in this piece, there just is not a lot of substance to Kid Dracula. The music was mostly dull unmemorable fluff and the story was uninteresting. I think the reason that the cheap moments in Kid Dracula bothered me more than in other Castlevania games is just that Kid Dracula has less substance available to mask them. I won’t deny that I abused the fuck out of save states to get to the final boss and I gave up on the final form. I probably could have beaten it legitimate if I put in enough time but I’d rather spend it on games I find fun. Kid Dracula gets two and a half holy waters out of five.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood/Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (Turbografx CD, 1993)
Koonami had some pretty big shoes to fill after that of Super Castlevania IV. The common consensus is that Rondo of Blood was successful at filling those shoes and is one of the best games in the series, but I’m not of the same impression. Don’t get me wrong, Rondo of Blood IS a pretty badass game, but of the 13 games in the series I have played thus far it is merely my fifth favorite; and three of the four games that top it I talked about in the first part of this retrospective.
Rondo of Blood’s major claim to fame, aside from the fact that it was not given an official release outside of Japan until 2007, is the use of anime cutscenes, voice acting, and CD quality audio.It is also worth mentioning that the music itself is of impeccable quality and it was the first game in the series to feature the legendary final boss theme “Illusionary Dance.” I am sure that at the time many people found this impressive enough to qualify as an improvement over Super Castlevania IV, and I won’t deny that these are really nice features, but unfortunately the gameplay just isn’t quite as good.
Rondo of Blood does have a few neat additions that improve the game overall like the fact that you have a brief chance to pick your old subweapon back up as opposed to it automatically being replaced as soon as you touch your new weapon. Unfortunately they also went back on some of the best features of Super Castlevania IV such as multi directional whipping and having item use mapped to the shoulder buttons instead of up and B (or whatever the Turbografx equivalent is). Oh but they had to make room for a super charged version of the subweapons that eats up way too many hearts to be useful and only ever triggers by accident.
One may respond by pointing out that Super Castlevania IV didn’t carry over every feature from Dracula’s Curse either. While it is true that Super Castlevania IV did not feature the branching level paths and multiple characters that Dracula’s Curse did, it was able to make up for it by adding at least as much as it takes away. Rondo of Blood did add some nice features but it ultimately was a step down from Super Castlevania IV in terms of design.
The key problem is that Rondo of Blood is mostly style over substance. That is not to say there is no substance but there isn’t as much of it as in Super Castlevania IV, Dracula’s Curse, or the original. The major contribution that Rondo of Blood has gameplay wise is finding hidden paths through levels that are almost always too difficult to find without a guide and don’t provide any incentive to play over the normal levels that isn’t “you need to play them to find the maidens and get the true ending.”
Not to mention the ever present paradox of trying to incentivize exploration in a game where one wrong move can easily kill you and make you start the entire stage all over again. All that this means is that the exploration will just make the player switch over to Maria when in order to find the extra cutscenes. Thankfully you have a stage select option so you don’t need to get them all in one go.
So Rondo of Blood is definitely a good game, but I don’t quite hold it in as high regard as the first three mainline games (not counting Simon’s Quest) so it gets four holy waters out of five. Now the next game on the other hand…
Castlevania: Bloodlines/Castlevania: The New Generation/Vampire Killer (Genesis, 1994)
Castlevania: Bloodlines is awesome! While Rondo of Blood is merely my fifth favorite entry in the series, Bloodlines is a pretty close second to Super Castlevania IV. It is a shame that Bloodlines has not received any releases given that this game is basically the Sega Genesis’s answer to Super Castlevania IV.
If one could not tell, Bloodlines starts out by being a lot gorier than previous Castlevania releases (except for the censored version in Europe and Australia) AND by allowing you to play as two different characters who are designed differently. Instead of having any Belmonts present, Bloodlines instead offers the choice between two characters named John Morris and Eric Lecarde, the former of which is the son of Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s original novel.
What I find nice about the choice between these two characters is that both of them have more mobility and reach than most Castlevania titles despite not having as much range as Simon in Super Castlevania IV and you have decent incentive to play as both. John can only whip in four directions and two of those are only when he is jumping but he also does more damage than Eric. Meanwhile Eric’s spear can be used in all eight directions and he can use his charged spear jump to reach higher places AND damage enemies.
While I still do find it much more enjoyable to play as Eric and still think he is better overall, I do like how it isn’t like in Rondo of Blood where Maria is made infinitely easier to play and the devs think that her being a little girl and making the aesthetics look more girly will dissuade players out of choosing her because they are insecure about their masculinity and they assume straight men are the only people who play games.
While Castlevania: Bloodlines doesn’t allow you to pick your previous sub weapon back up, it DOES at least change the graphics up for candles depending on whether they contain a subweapon or a consumable. The ability to use subweapons is also mapped to a separate button similarly to Super Castlevania IV as opposed to Rondo of Blood which arbitrarily removed it.
The graphics are top notch and take excellent advantage of the Genesis’s hardware and the music is brilliant as well. Of special note is how unique the level design is with some especially creative mechanics. Just look at this bit from the final level.
No that is not a glitch, this is actually how the game looks. Attempting this mechanic was such a risk that I can only imagine must have been absolute HELL to test and the fact that they executed it so well lends a lot to not just the quality of the level design but also adds a lot to the ominous atmosphere of the final stage. I mean the section after this also has you walking on the ceiling upside down so it gives you the impression that the laws of physics are falling apart at the seams.
Castlevania: Bloodlines really is fantastic and it deserves a lot more attention than it gets, and any fan of the series NEEDs to check this one out. Five holy waters out of five. Also I have no idea why the Japanese title is Vampire Killer.
Castlevania: Dracula X/Castlevania: Vampire’s Kiss/Akumajou Dracula XX (SNES, 1995)
I would like to start out my segment on this game by talking about how dumb of a title “Castlevania: Dracula X” is. Dracula X was a sorta remake of Rondo of Blood meant for the SNES. Since the Japanese name of the series is “Akumajou Dracula” and the Japanese title of Rondo of Blood is “Akumajou Dracula X,” it follows that a more appropriate English title would be “Castlevania X” right? Yes it may sound like it’s ripping off Mega Man X but it would be a lot better than the redundant mess that is “Dracula X.” I don’t know why the Japanese title decided to add a second X but I can at least understand the desire to separate it from Rondo of Blood. The European title “Vampire’s Kiss” makes even less sense, what is Dracula tsundere for Richter or something?
As for Dracula X itself, i initially kinda liked it. It may have gone back to the janky control scheme of the NES Castlevanias and have none of the cool features from Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, or Bloodlines, but I did like it at first because I didn’t mind the jankiness of the original games. I thought that the level design was solid for the first half of the game and I was even tempted to say I enjoyed it more than Rondo of Blood to piss everyone off with my contrarianism yet again. Also worth noting that the sound effects are much better than in Rondo of Blood and Super Castlevania IV. That was one of the few things I didn’t like about Super Castlevania IV but I didn’t mention it because sound effects are a rather small thing for me. Dracula X needs everything it can get though so good on it for getting at least SOMETHING right.
I will also give credit that they did as well as they could have at rearranging the Rondo of Blood tracks to fit the SNES sound chip. There aren’t any especially neat level mechanics like in Bloodlines either but I did find it a neat throwback to the NES games when I played the first five levels but the game went to Hell after that.
Levels six and seven were atrociously designed that it tainted my view of the game as a whole and makes me never want to touch it again. Level six is overly reliant on platforming and tricky jumps in the game with the most stiff controls since the NES which means you are basically going to need to repeatedly plow through this level over and over again. Level seven would be slightly less bad if it did not have one of the worst designed final boss fights I’ve ever experienced.
Dracula X could have just made the final boss like Rondo of Blood where you fought Dracula on a flat surface like EVERY OTHER GAME IN THE SERIES!!! Instead they thought to take the same approach that permeates shitty romhacks that will take pre existing fights and merely change up the terrain. Translation: you fight Dracula on top of a series of pillars with bottomless instant death pits between them.
The terrain also takes up two screens as opposed to the usual one screen so it becomes much harder to get the opportunity to hit Dracula, so it means you spend most of the time waiting for the opportunity to hit him. Between this and the second phase this results in a boss battle that takes longer than the stage that preceded it… in the one game in the series where you DON’T have a save check point before the final boss.
Once you complete stage five of Dracula X, you may as well shut the game off there because it just goes to Hell. I’m probably never going to play the game again because of how horrendous those last two levels are. Yes they may make up less than a third of the game but with all the repetition they require they will likely take up half of your play time. Because of that, Castlevania: Dracula X gets two and a half holy waters out of five. It’s a lot more than what I’m willing to give the next game though.
Castlevania Legends/Akumajou Dracula: Shikkoku Taru Zensoukyoku (Game Boy, 1997)
Remember when I said that I hoped Castlevania: The Adventure would be the worst in the series? I said that for a reason. I didn’t want to play a Castlevania game worse than The Adventure but holy shit on a shingle is Castlevania Legends atrocious. I was able to make it at least halfway through the third stage of Castlevania: The Adventure but i rage quit on the boss of the second level in Legends. It’s not because It was too hard or anything but literally because I sat down with one play session and said NOPE NOPE NOPE I’m not playing this shit any further. I didn’t even bother to look up a playthrough of the rest of the game.
Right when I started it up this game just did NOT click with me in the slightest. While Castlevania: The Adventure and Belmont’s Revenge had amazing soundtracks, Legends opens up with a horribly butchered rendition of Bloody Tears. Graphics wise it looks alright I suppose but what really killed this game for me was just how unbearably tedious it was.
Unlike Belmont’s Revenge which featured subweapons like the rest of the series did, Legends instead chooses an approach similar to that of Mega Man where you are given access to an ability once you complete a level. The problem is that this means the first few levels are unbearably boring and level one in particular will give you a ton of hearts with nothing to use them for. The second level gives you the stop watch which no one ever uses anyway and as I said, I did not bother to play beyond the second level.
The game also has candles that activate trap doors and put you in a room (pictured above) packed with enemies that are nigh impossible to fight without taking damage. Thus far Castlevania Legends is the only game in the series to put a save check point right at the boss and not require the player to start from the beginning. This would be a good decision if this did not mean that you had to fight the boss with an un-upgraded whip that results in the boss taking an absurd amount of time to defeat AND it being easier to die.
Forgive me if my critique of Legends seems limited or if it seems “lazy” of me to not play the game to the end but I just cannot imagine the horrific design of this game getting any better and I have far better things to be doing with my time then forcing myself to play through this to the end. While It at least makes sense that Castlevania: The Adventure ended up so bad due to it being released early in the Game Boy’s life cycle and lack of familiarity with the limitations of the hardware, Koonami proved that it was possible to make a good Castlevania game on the Game Boy with Belmont’s Revenge. There really is no excuse Legends being this bad aside from admitting that they had anyone who was any good at making games working on Symphony of the Night at the time.
Castlevania Legends pisses me off not just because it’s a horrible game, but also because I really liked it in concept. I think the idea of a female Belmont is very cool and the concept of it being the story of the very first Belmont was even cooler. Unfortunately this game really dropped the ball, and the fact that the last true original “Classicvania” is this far from “classic” is nothing short of tragic. Whether Symphony of the Night was worth it is up for you to decide… mostly cause I haven’t played it yet. NO HOLY WATERS FOR YOU LEGENDS!!!!
Well I finally got the second part of this retrospective done. The next piece is likely going to be a straight review of Symphony of the Night… whenever I get around to it. See you all then.
Next Part (Does not exist yet)
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