The Belmont clan has been on a quest to vanquish Dracula’s ancestral home, “Castlevania”, for centuries, and if you were a kid growing up in the 80s or 90s, chances are you know the struggle. Castlevania, while not actually fitting directly into the horror genre, has terrorized children for decades with precision platforming and brutal boss fights.
The games themselves draw a parallel to the antiquated castle of Dracula in that they are an important relic of classic gaming that originated in a time where games did very little to hold the player’s hand.
The first game, Castlevania for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or Akumajou Dracula, on the Nintendo Famicom as it is known in Japan) alone has saved parents that follow the ol’ “I’m not buying you another game until you finish the one you have” standard of torturing their children an estimated 230 million dollarydoos since 1986.
Since then, the franchise has gone through many evolutions over the years, morphing from action platformers, to exploration and adventure games with RPG elements, and even Pachinko Slot machines back in Japan, as the series developer Konami has progressively turned more and more towards its Yakuza-based roots over the passage of time.
Castlevania Transcended Being Merely the Title of a Game, and Became (half of) a Genre of Games
Who hasn’t played a “Metroidvania” game in their lifetime? Uncultured swine. That’s who.
The Castlevania series first experimented with a more open world based model of game that requires exploration with its second entry in 1987, Simon’s Quest, AKA the game no one could beat without a strategy guide due to any guidance from NPCs being entirely too cryptic. Where Castlevania saved clever parents millions, Simon’s Quest banished young boys and girls to gaming jail permanently, where the remnants of their prospects as gamers lay to this day.
It wasn’t until 1997 with the release of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that Konami managed to strike gaming gold and create one of the most coveted and influential games of all time.
Symphony of the Night challenged players by having them explore a vast network of hallways and catacombs that made up Dracula’s castle, conceptualized and presented in its true full-scale glory for the first time ever, rather than having bats knock them into spike-filled pitfalls and merman infested bogs like the good old gaming jail days.
SOTN also put the player in the shoes of Alucard, the son of Dracula, who first made an appearance in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse for the Nintendo Entertainment System as a supporting character to Trevor Belmont. It was with SOTN that the character would gain popularity with fans, to return to the franchise in a prominent role once again in the future.
Most Castlevania games since then have followed the Metroidvania formula, although the old-style platformer has emerged a few times since then. Roughly 15 years later, the series took another turn with the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and later, PC. Lords of Shadow was developed by MercurySteam and Kojima Productions and served as a reboot for the series.
While it was a valiant effort and an admirable direction for the series to take, the subsequent follow up was developed without the expert tutelage of Kojima’s Production team and did less than stellar. The Castlevania games have all but disappeared since then, but the franchise has moved on.
Castlevania’s More Iconic Characters Stole the Show in Netflix’s “Castlevania” Series
Trevor Belmont and Alucard joined forces once again for an animated mini-series that premiered on Netflix to critical claim in 2017, much to the delight of old-school fans. The series, Developed with Adi Shankar taking the helm, masterfully retold the events behind Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse with wit, humor, and a darker, more adult-focused line of storytelling.
While season 1 was more of a conceptual piece setting up the prospect of exploring the Castlevania III story, it was greeted immediately with an uproar of praise from longtime series fans as well as newcomers and was a surefire candidate for renewal.
Season 2 ordered a full run of 8 episodes to finish the storyline, which also introduced new storylines featuring other characters from lesser-known Castlevania games.
Season 3 was almost immediately announced following the release of season 2 and came roaring out of the gates in March of 2020, to the surprise of many fans who had been awaiting news since the end of the previous season. It focused entirely on the characters and lore introduced by the animated series, greatly expanding the universe the show has created for itself with compelling stories and original characters.
As the series continues to grow in popularity, it has already been picked up for a fourth season which can’t come soon enough at this point. Unfortunately, new and old fans alike will probably have to wait until late 2021 or even 2022 for the series to return and start to resolve the many plotlines developed over the course of the third season. If I had one wish for its inevitable return, surely it would be longer seasons.
While many old school gamers no doubt miss new installments of the long-abandoned Castlevania game line, the masterful writing and age-appropriateness of the show ensure that the “Castlevania” name will continue to please its veteran fans for years to come.