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Beloved and legendary as it is, Konami’s great Castlevania franchise is not without its missteps and fails.
The following are five Castlevania games that didn't work for me, at all. These episodes either didn't live up to the hype or failed to provide the sort of macabre Gothic castle adventuring experience that I came to associate with the series.
In the case of the final entry, I’ll say I even utterly hated it. With a vengeance.
(This list is in ascending order of dislike)
5. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
I'll start with something sacrilegious. I was utterly 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 regularly appears in lists of top NES games. In terms of game design and mechanics, it was undoubtedly an early effort by Konami at open-world exploration too.
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 of “Bloody Tears” and “Monster Dance” couldn’t alleviate the tedium. How could they, when they are repeated everywhere, right till the end of the game? Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest might not completely qualify as a bad Castlevania game. But it was certainly a very boring one.
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 any 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 any "freshness."
Not to mention, the muddled storyline that started in Aria of Sorrow dragged down “Dawn” in the exact same way. Like its predecessor, Dawn of Sorrow was set in the future but its East European stage design simply didn't feel very futuristic.
The premise of Soma being a good reincarnation of Dracula also received little development, with no stunning new revelations or twists in the tale. That there were no subsequent episodes with Soma as the lead strongly suggests to me that Konami ultimately 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 Anime schoolboy.
3. Castlevania: Dracula X
Dracula X, or Dracula XX as it’s known in Japan, wasn't a bad Castlevania game. My main issue with it is that it was a SNES remake of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM². When compared with the Super CD-ROM² version, the SNES remake truly, truly pales.
In short, Rondo of Blood featured a new art direction, branching routes, two playable characters, and truly memorable soundtracks. While Dracula X reused the same art direction and music, it significantly slashed gameplay. It even removed Maria, the second playable character in the Super CD-ROM² 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 colorful magical abilities.
As is well-known today, Dracula X was butchered in this way because of the limitations of the SNES. SNES cartridges simply couldn’t contain that much content.
Still, couldn’t the “trims” be done with more finesse? Was it also 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 aiming for 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. For a fan of the series like me, this feeling was awful.
2. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
There was quite a bit of hatred when Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was released. Hatred stemming 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 have overcome. Somehow, Castlevania games need to be played 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?
Needless to say, 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
The one thing that 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 fantastic! Why not?”
It would be great to see protagonists from different titles thrown together in death duels. It would also be interesting to try their power combos. The gaming experience would be something different. Perhaps even greatly 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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