Randomly whipping candles for hearts which you use as throwing knives, roast mutton stuck in random castle bricks, Dracula reincarnating himself every 100 years, him being prone to leather whips and satanic cults trying to resurrect him every time he dies, yup, that's Castlevania. As a result, we're putting a stake to the 10 Best Castlevania Games so that our readers can learn about some of the greatest vampire hunts in history. Despite how ridiculous its overarching plot has been, we cannot deny Castlevania's prevalence and importance throughout the gaming medium. As we patiently wait for Lords of Shadow 2, we're taking the time to reflect on why we love this series so much. Let's forget that Judgment fighting game ever happened as we side-scroll past the gate and across the drawbridge into our list of the 10 Best Castlevania Games!
Our first entry on our list of the 10 Best Castlevania Games tried to separate itself from the rest of the series. First, Bloodlines was the only Castlevania title to be released on the Sega Genesis (which was fairly a big deal considering that the series was most known for its Nintendo/Super Nintendo releases until that point). Bloodlines was also the first title to openly abandon the series' namesake setting of Drac's castle and had multiple levels which took players all over the globe. Bloodlines featured a choice between the playable characters of John Morris, a non-Belmont wielder of the Vampire Killer whip, and Eric Lecarde, a lancer whose girlfriend was turned into turned into a nightwalker. These characters were made as a direct reference to Stoker's original classic. In Castlevanian lore, Morris' non-Belmont bloodline resulted in the deterioration of his lifespan, which built up to playing as John's son in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS (which probably would have amounted to the #12 or 13 spot on this list if we went that far).
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Game Boy Advance
Harmony of Dissonance attempted to make amends for the flaws of its predecessor, Circle of the Moon. Circle of the Moon was widely criticized for its overall dim graphics, which ruined the experience for many gamers playing on the original version of the Game Boy Advance system. Konami responded to these criticisms by having Harmony of Dissonance's graphics be extensively brightened, and surrounding its protagonist, Juste Belmont, with a blue outline. Dissonance borrowed heavily from the ever-so-successful Symphony of the Night, which started a delightful trend for all of the ongoing handheld Castlevania titles from that point onward. With Symphony's monster designs, its dual-castle layout, Juste's coat, his white hair and blue outline, everything about Harmony of Dissonance encouraged players to think that the title was a rehash of Symphony of the Night. But Harmony's gameplay, spell book system and the continuation of series' frontman Simon Belmont's story (Juste is his grandson), established it as an integral part of the Castlevania series.
It's the vampire slayer that started it all, and boy, was it difficult. The original Castlevania title brought about a sense of classic horror to the video game format that was noticeably lacking when compared to Castlevania's contemporaries. With its Gothic design and inclusion of staple (though cliché), creatures of horror, Castlevania encouraged us to wade through the terrors of Dracula's castle. Simon Belmont had to put a stop to Dracula's reign of terror. And in order to do so, he had to endure six unrelenting levels (with dozens of cheap, midair, hit-stun-knockback pitfalls), and survive attacks from giant bats, Frankenstein's monster, a giant Medusa head, Igor, mummies and, of course, Drac himself.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Take Hideo Kojima and his production team, ask them to completely reboot the Castlevania franchise and, in turn, we got the first Castlevania title to efficiently make the transition from side-scroller to 3D. A percentage of fans were rather upset at the conclusion of its story (we'd rather not spoil it for those hoping to still play it), and at Shadow's obvious influences taken from the God of War series, but overall, Lords of Shadow was rather unforgettable. Robert Carlyle (the dad from 28 Weeks Later), and the ever-great Patrick Stewart provided stellar voice acting as Gabriel Belmont and Zobek, respectively. Despite having both its titan-sized battles and overall combat system both being taken almost directly from Kratos' playbook, Lords of Shadow proved that killing vampires with a whip is still immensely fun in the modern era of gaming.
Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse
Dracula's Curse told the story of the first Belmont to take on Dracula (until the PlayStation 2's Lament of Innocence), and introduced us to many traditions upheld in Castlevanian history. Critics slammed Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest for its nonsensical plot (you have to go around collecting Dracula's scattered body parts just to put him back together, resurrect him and kill him again), and cryptic game progression (summoning a whirlwind in order to get to Bodley Mansion). As a result, Konami decided to eliminate most of the adventure and RPG elements from Castlevania 3 in order to bring the series back towards the original title. Dracula's Curse offers four playable characters: Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades (a witch whose family turns out to be magic-wielding vampire slayers), Grant Danasty (a pirate who can scale walls), and Alucard, Dracula's son. These four characters and their subsequent offspring (except for Alucard, he just... lives on and meets their actual descendants), go on to fight Dracula each time he would ever appear throughout history. Dracula's curse is the greatest of the NES Castlevanias due to its solid platforming, variety in monster types and the differences in how all four characters play. The NES Castlevanias perfectly sync up to the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy, where Castlevania 1 would be equivalent to Super Mario Bros. 1. Here, Dracula's Curse acts as the Super Mario Bros. 3 of the original trilogy.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
In the middle of the 10 Best Castlevania Games, we have Rondo of Blood, which was remade for the SNES as Dracula X. Rondo of Blood was also recently redone on the PSP, packaged with an in-game copy of Symphony of the Night to boot. Playing as Richter Belmont, you must rescue your girlfriend with the help of her sister, Maria Renard. Rondo of Blood shows a clear evolution of the series as its graphics were, arguably, the best of the series up to that point in time. Rondo had extremely solid gameplay, tight controls, massive boss battles and was a major precursor to one of the greatest games ever made...
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
The pinnacle of the three great Nintendo DS Castlevania titles, Order of Ecclesia threw a curve-ball at gamers by having them play as Shanoa, a woman bestowed with magical glyphs named Dominus (which were based on Dracula's power). Shanoa's order meant to protect the world from evil while the Belmonts have been gone for dozens of years. Many of us were actually surprised to see why the Belmonts were actually gone upon Ecclesia's big plot reveal. Nevertheless, Order of Ecclesia's controls were tight, its glyph system was unique and engaging, it looked amazing and its bosses were relentless. Definitely one of the most difficult, and fun, incarnations of Castlevania, Order of Ecclesia proved that you did not need the Vampire Killer whip in order to kill vampires.
The story of Castlevania 4 is quite the conundrum: its overseas developers considered it to simply be a remake of the original Castlevania, showcasing the capabilities of the SNES. Konami's American team labelled it as a direct sequel to Simon's Quest. Nevertheless, Castlevania 4 was an amazing entry in the series. Finally, Simon Belmont was finally able to swing his whip in multiple directions. Remake or not, Simon's third adventure red-lined the capabilities of Nintendo's newest system and set the standard high for all Castlevanias to come.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Game Boy Advance
Instead of Belmonts or magicians, Aria of Sorrow lets you play as an incarnation of Dracula himself! The year is 2035 (a huge change for the series). While visiting the Hakuba shrine, Soma Cruz witnesses a solar eclipse, only to find him and his girlfriend pulled into the eclipse and landing in Dracula's castle. We find out that Julius Belmont, the Belnades and Alucard have vanquished Dracula permanently in 1999 but Drac's soul is trying to reincarnate itself 36 years later, with Soma being a potential vessel for it to hotwire. Soma uses a combination of both modern and vintage weaponry and is able to collect the souls of his enemies due to his Draculaic inheritance.The resulting effect is a sequel worthy to Symphony of the Night which measured up to its predecessors and left us hoping for a Castlevania game telling the 1999 story. But if we have already have Symphony's prequel and sequel on here, then that must mean...
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
The only people to be surprised at the fact that Symphony of the Night took the number one spot on our list of the 10 Best Castlevania Games are those unfortunate enough to never have played it. Even with its atrocious voice acting and horribly scripted dialogue, Symphony provided a simple story all Castlevania fans should love: after Richter defeated Dracula in Rondo of Blood, evil still seemed to emanate from Castlevania, so Alucard decides to put an end to the evil once and for all and destroy the castle completely. Meanwhile, Richter has been missing since he defeated Dracula all those years ago. Alucard doesn't use a whip, but fights with a sword and shield and has access to a variety of otherworldly powers that he inherited from his father. Symphony built on Rondo's tight controls and immense boss fights, Simon's Quest's open world and RPG mechanics and Castlevania 3's intense platforming. The result was absolutely groundbreaking. Symphony borrowed from Super Metroid, dawning the phrase, "Metroidvania", describing titles where your character must backtrack to previously explored locations in order to expand on them fully using newly unlocked abilities (double jump, shape-shifting, flying, etc.). We may have already said that Symphony of the Night is the Best PlayStation Game Ever Made, but looking at this list in hindsight reminds us that Symphony of the Night is arguably, one of the greatest video games of all time.