25 Things to Know About Konami’s "Castlevania" Series
1. Castlevania Began in 1986
Konami released the first Castlevania game in Japan in 1986. Known as Akumajou Dracula (悪魔城ドラキュラ), and consisting of six disparate stages within an immense Gothic castle, the game tells the story of vampire hunter Simon Belmont, in his quest to reach the castle keep where Dracula resides.
The following year, the game was ported to cartridge format and released in North America for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). A financial success, the game is nowadays regarded as an NES classic. The original six stages also laid the design foundation for all subsequent titles.
2. Early Titles Were Heavily Influenced by Universal and Hammer Horror Films
Earlier Castlevania games, especially the NES ones, were heavily inspired by classic horror films. Bosses were based on famous Universal and Hammer monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy. Title screens were also presented in a film reel style, with the ending for the first NES episode delivered in movie credits fashion.
Such references were removed in subsequent titles. However, Universal and Hammer monsters continue to regularly appear in Castlevania games as bosses or trash mobs.
3. Dracula’s Eternal Enemy, the Belmonts
Nearly every Castlevania game features a Belmont as the protagonist. In the original storyline, the Belmonts were the descendants of Leon, an aristocrat who was manipulated by his close friend, Mathias Cronqvist, in the latter’s plot to become an immortal vampire. In the rebooted/retconned Lords of Shadow series, Gabriel Belmont was a holy knight dispatched by the Brotherhood of Light to investigate the invasion of the world by a malevolent force. His actions and decisions then led to the birth of Dracula and future Belmont warriors.
4. "Vampire Killer" Is the Iconic Weapon of the Series
All Belmonts in the series wield the Vampire Killer whip. In Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, the origin of the whip was stated to be as an alchemic creation fused with the soul of Leon Belmont’s betrothed. This story would remain canon until the series’ reboot in 2010.
5. Simon’s Quest Was One of the Earliest Open-World Video Games
Departing starkly from the stage-by-stage format of the earliest titles, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (1987) offered a sprawling map, with areas and shops players could repeatedly revisit in the quest to assemble the body parts of Dracula. While mechanics pale in comparison to the games of today, Simon’s Quest was one of the earliest consoles titles to provide open-world exploration. The game was also noted for its day and night transitions, and for having multiple endings.
6. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse Introduced Interchangeable Characters and Multiple Routes
The third NES episode of the Castlevania video game series reverted to the format of the first game, with an increase in the number of stages and the addition of multiple routes. Dracula’s Curse was also the debut for Alucard, immortal son of Dracula, who would go on to become one of the series’ most beloved characters. Fans of the vampire genre would immediately recognize “Alucard” to be the reversed spelling of Dracula.
7. Dracula’s Signature Attack Is a Barrage of Fireballs
Typically the end boss, Dracula has displayed a variety of magical attacks throughout the series. Among all these, the most renowned is his Triple Hellfire attack, which consists of three fireballs launched forward. Dracula often pairs this attack with teleportation to heighten difficulty of evasion.
8. Dracula Has a Sidekick Named Death
Death has been consistently featured as Dracula’s right-hand man throughout the series. Portrayed as the classic western version of a robed skeleton with a huge scythe, Death is typically one of the most difficult bosses, and in both the original story and reboot, was said to have a major hand in Dracula’s creation. For most fans, Death is the secondary antagonist of the Castlevania video game series.
9. The Eponymous Castle Is a Physical Manifestation of Dracula’s Might and Presence
Dracula’s castles, with their ever-changing structures and outrageous interiors, are linked to his power. Therefore, they also symbolize his resurrection and threat. Usually, the castles collapse and disappear upon Dracula’s defeat.
10. The Castlevania Series Achieved A Major Milestone with Rondo of Blood
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was a 1993 Japan-only exclusive release for PC Engine's Super CD-ROM² System. The game introduced many mechanics that would go on to become staples in future episodes. These include Anime-style illustrations, higher mobility for Belmont characters, a distinctive magic system, and high-power attacks (item crushes) for secondary weapons. Of note, Rondo of Blood also started the trend of naming episodes as something-of-something, with the first word usually a musical form. This naming practice continues till today.
11. Bloodlines Was the First Episode Not to Feature a Belmont as the Protagonist
1994’s Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis introduced two new heroes, John Morris, and Eric Lecarde, the former being a distant descendant of the Belmont family. Unlike earlier episodes, the game also took place in different castles and palaces, instead of just one.
12. The Series Achieved Its Greatest Milestone With Symphony of the Night
1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SotN) for the PlayStation remains the most critically acclaimed episode of the series. The masterpiece is renowned for using Alucard instead of a Belmont as the protagonist. It is also famous for revamping Castlevania gameplay into the “Metroidvania” format. A portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, this format emphasizes non-linear exploration and RPG-style powering-up. Metroidvania was subsequently the format for most new episodes in the next 13 years of the series.
13. The Series’ Cover Artstyle Adopted a Strong Gothic Flavour With Symphony of the Night
Unlike Rondo of Blood, cover and promotional artwork for Symphony of the Night was created with a strong gothic feel. This art direction would be reused in several other Metroidvania episodes, and in the two PlayStation 2 titles.
14. Symphony of the Night Greatly Expanded Gameplay Complexity
Powering-up in earlier Castlevania games was simplistic, no more than the discovery of secondary weapons, the lengthening of the protagonist’s whip, or an increase in secondary weapon firing rate. In Symphony of the Night, powering-up was vastly expanded with the introduction of RPG elements. Not only was there a plethora of weapons and skills to acquire, but Alucard could also repeatedly strengthen his basic attributes. Subsequent Metroidvania episodes further introduced complex magic systems with each new protagonist.
15. Earlier 3D Episodes of the Castlevania Series were Generally Not Well-Received
Between 1999 and 2005, Konami released four Castlevania episodes featuring 3D gameplay. Unfortunately, all four received a lukewarm response from players, with the most common complaint being monotonous and repetitive environments. Possibly because of this, Konami did not attempt any further 3D entries until 2010’s Lords of Shadow.
16. The 3D Episodes are Not Considered as Metroidvania Episodes
While Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness for the PlayStation 2 also featured non-linear level exploration and RPG-style leveling up, they are not regarded as Metroidvania entries by fans. In short, Metroidvania entries are 2D in presentation, and overall, similar to Symphony of the Night in feel.
17. Konami Has Released a Castlevania Title for Most Consoles
The most noted exception is the Sega Dreamcast, for which Castlevania: Resurrection was canceled. As of this time of writing, it remains unknown whether Konami would release a new episode for the eighth generation consoles.
18. In 2010, Konami Rebooted the Franchise with the Lords of Shadow Series
By 2010, Konami had introduced a plethora of characters and storylines for the Castlevania universe. Rather than add more, the developer chose to reboot the franchise by retconning Dracula’s origin story. In this new version, the story began with Brotherhood of Light warrior Gabriel Belmont being dispatched to investigate the encroaching darkness that killed his wife. His actions and sacrifice would see the rise of the darkness all Castlevania fans are familiar with.
19. Medusa Heads are the Most Hated Trash Mobs
According to Castlevania lore, these flying heads are spawned from the snake-like hair of Medusa. While incapable of inflicting significant damage, their undulating flying patterns and tend to appear in tough platforming areas make them universally detested by Castlevania players. Till today, they are regularly scorned in Castlevania and retro-gaming forums.
20. During NES Days, Castlevania Crossovered With Other Games
The most famous crossover happened in the Wai Wai World series, in which a whip-wielding descendant of Simon Belmont was a playable character. A skeletal version of Simon also appeared as a trash mob in Getsu Fūma Den. In 2010, the Castlevania series honored Getsu Fūma Den by featuring its graphics and stage design in Harmony of Despair.
21. The Clock Tower is the Definitive Stage of the Castlevania Video Game Series
The interior of a clock tower, gigantic moving gears and all, formed one-third of the final stage in the first NES Castlevania game. Ever since, clock tower stages have appeared through the series. Medusa Heads (see above) are usually at their worst in these stages.
22. Simon Belmont Was One of the Heroes In the Animated Series, Captain N: The Game Master
Simon was a major character in Captain N: The Game Master, which ran for three seasons between 1989 and 1991. Unlike the original vampire hunter, this version of Simon was egotistical and goofy, often intended as comic relief.
23. Castlevania Soundtracks are Well-Known in the World of Video Game Music
Castlevania soundtracks are beloved and famous in the world of video game music, with a great number of feature albums released over the years. Among the most famous compositions are "Vampire Killer," "Bloody Tears," and "Beginnings" i.e., the beginning music for the three NES episodes. Castlevania music has also been performed in symphonic concerts, such as those by Play! A Video Game Symphony.
24. In 2005, Work Began on a Castlevania Movie, but the Project was Cancelled in 2007
Rights were acquired for a motion picture adaptation in 2005. However, after various studio, director, and story changes, the project was more or less shelved.
25. Netflix’s 2017 Series is the First Full Animated Adaptation of the Castlevania Series
While there’ve been numerous print adaptations of Castlevania stories, the 2017 Netflix series is the first time a full Castlevania story was featured on broadcast media.
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© 2017 Kuan Leong Yong