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Beloved and legendary as it is, the great Castlevania franchise is not without its missteps and fails.
Here are five Castlevania games that didn't work for me. Five episodes that either didn't live up to the hype or utterly failed to provide the sort of macabre Gothic castle adventuring experience that I came to associate with the series.
(This list is in ascending order of dislike)
5. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
I'd start with something sacrilegious, and share that I was bored by Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.
Yes, the NES classic title. The one in which Simon Belmont got all sickly and cursed, and spent his supposed final days wandering about the East European countryside searching for body parts.
Now, I know Simon’s Quest is regularly included in lists of top NES games. And in terms of game design and mechanics, it was undoubtedly an early effort by Konami at open-world exploration and gaming.
Still, the entire game was dreary and repetitive, on top of suffering from lackluster background designs and utterly forgettable boss fights. Beyond a point, even the two legendary Castlevania BGM tracks, "Bloody Tears" and "Monster Dance," couldn’t alleviate the tedium. How could they, when they are repeated everywhere, from the start of the game to the end?? This was one NES sequel that truly did not do justice to its predecessor.
4. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Some gamers consider Dawn of Sorrow one of the greatest “Metroidvania” episodes of the Castlevania games. Others go as far as to say it’s one of the best Nintendo DS games ever.
I’d be fair and acknowledge that Dawn of Sorrow was slick in various ways, with above-average stage design and music. The problem though, the game reused the same soul system introduced in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, and in doing so, removed the key attraction of a new Metroidvania title i.e., that of a new gameplay system. Yes, the system was enhanced. The Nintendo DS also has better graphic and sound capabilities, compared to the Game Boy Advance for which Aria of Sorrow was released for. But to me, it still felt like a convenient rehash. There just wasn't that "freshness" in the gaming experience.
Moreover, the muddled storyline that started in Aria of Sorrow continued to plague the game. Like its predecessor, Dawn of Sorrow was also set in the future, but its East European stage design simply didn't feel very futuristic.
The entire premise of Soma being a good reincarnation of Dracula also received little development, with no other stunning revelations or twists in the tale. That there were no subsequent episodes with Soma as the lead strongly suggests to me that Konami eventually felt the awkwardness of this story direction too. Thankfully, they then chose to abandon it. Castlevania fans were spared more bewildering episodes of Dracula reborn as a bishonen, cloak-wearing schoolboy.
3. Castlevania: Dracula X
Dracula X, or Dracula XX as it’s known in Japan, wasn't a bad game. My main issue with it is that it was a remake of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the SNES, and when compared to its source material, it truly, truly pales.
Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM² System featured a fresh art direction, as well as branching routes, two playable characters, and truly memorable soundtracks. While Dracula X adopted the same music, it significantly slashed gameplay. Going to the extent of even removing Maria, the secondary playable character in the PC Engine version.
Maria, one of the main attractions of Rondo of Blood. A character that enables a completely different replay of the game, thanks to her many colorful magical abilities.
As is well-known today, Dracula X was butchered in this way because of the limitations of the SNES. Still, couldn’t the “trims” be done with more finesse? Was it really impossible for the SNES to include some fresh content as compensation, for example, more weapons for Richter Belmont i.e. the main hero? This was one Castlevania title in which I felt Konami was purely trying to make a quick buck by rehashing an older title. It was also a rare instance in which I felt I wasn’t getting my money’s worth from buying a Castlevania game.
2. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
There was quite a bit of hatred when Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was released. Both for the (allegedly misogynistic) rewriting of Belmont clan history, as well as the insipid, repetitive 3D stage design.
I will defend Konami by saying the problem with the 3D stage designs was something they couldn't possibly overcome. Somehow, Castlevania games need to be appreciated in 2D, with gaudy color schemes, impossible architectural design, and all that.
On the other hand, I fully agree with the criticisms rained on the retconned story. Why was there a need to remove Sonia Belmont and Castlevania Legends from canon? And what’s with the awkward, almost laughable names in Lament of Innocence itself? Names such as Walter the Vampire and the Pagoda of the Misty Moon?
These corny names did nothing at all to alleviate the tedium of pushing through the dull looking stages. In fact, for me, they were often the reason to stop playing.
1. Castlevania: Judgement
One of the things I really love about the Castlevania games is that there is always consistent effort to update the gameplay.
The franchise grew from linear progression to multiple paths, then to Metroid-like RPGing, and finally to 3D. And so when I heard about a 3D Castlevania fighting game in 2008, I thought, “That’s great! Why not?”
It would be nice to see different protagonists from different titles thrown together. It would also be interesting to see their power combos. The gaming experience would be something different. Perhaps even something memorable.
I was so wrong.
There are so many things that are terrible about Castlevania Judgement, beginning with the art style. Personally, I was fine with the Anime/Goth direction in the Metroidvania and PS2 episodes, but to adopt Death Note like aesthetics? With Koei-Tecmo style oversized weapons and sexualized outfits?
And the actual gameplay: Judgement would have fared reasonably as a fighting game, but as a title catering to Castlevania fans, it simply didn’t deliver. I’d go to the extent of saying the entire game felt like an illegal rip-off of popular Castlevania characters. With nothing outside of names having any connection with the franchise.
The short of it, I’m glad low ratings brought about the demise of this “alternate” game direction. Had Konami continued making Castlevania fighting games, I would have stayed away from the series for good.
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