Review: Castlevania – Symphony of the Night

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The next installment of my Castlevania playthrough is complete. The legendary Symphony of the Night! This title is considered a classic, and is often considered one of the “must-have” Playstation titles. This is the game that revitalized the series, and set the bar for many of the future installments in the franchise.

Symphony of the Night is a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood. The intro to this game showcases the final battle between Richter and Dracula. Five Years later, Richter mysteriously vanishes at the same time that Castlevania reappears (that is, before the normal one hundred-year cycle). Rondo’s beloved Maria heads to Castlevania in search of Richter. While she’s there she runs into Alucard, who has also ventured to the Castle to investigate it’s mysterious return. This is where the game beings.

During the course of the game, you control Alucard as he explores the castle, and overcomes its many obstacles and monsters. Over time, he finds stronger weapons and armor, and develops new abilities.

This is the first is what is known as the “Castleroid” (or “Metroidvania”) games, due to the similarities it shares with Metroid (finding items to gain access to new areas, giving the player free-reign of the environment, etc). Progress can be saved by having Alucard rest in a coffin, much like the save-rooms in the later Metroid titles.

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As the game progresses, Alucard has several encounters with the various minions of Dracula. Eventually he runs into Richter, who seems to be possessed. Richter claims to be the “lord of the castle”, and he summons a mighty beast to fight Alucard. Alucard also has several encounters with Maria. On their last meeting she gives him a pair of blessed glasses. These will enable him to see “things which are hidden by evil”. At one point, while Alucard rests, he has a surreal dreams that depicts the death of his mother, Lisa. It seems that Lisa, who was a human woman, was condemned to death by humans for her relationship with Dracula. This finally explains the logic behind Dracula’s hatred for humanity.

Eventually, Alucard makes his way to Dracula’s throne room and finds it occupied by Richter, who attacks Alucard. When putting on the glasses, it becomes clear that Richter is being controlled by some phantom magic. Symphony of the Night features multiple endings and defeating Richter results in one of the poor endings of the game. But if players attack the magic orb controlling him instead, this allows Alucard to free Richter. Once Richter is free of his spell, all hell breaks loose… the clouds above the castle begin to swirl, and a dimensional portal appears in the skies above the castle. A mirror image of Castlevania descends from the portal, and this “Inverted Castle” becomes accessible.

This castle is a mirror image of Castlevania (although you must transverse it upside down this time). Now, just like Simon in Castlevania II, Alucard must recover the remains of Dracula. Once clearing this castle, Alucard finds his way to a hidden room occupied by the dark priest Shaft. He manages to slay Shaft, but moments too late – Dracula’s resurrection is complete, and Alucard’s battle with his father begins. If Alucard is successful in defeating his father, in Dracula’s last moments, Alucard will reveals Lisa’s final words to Dracula. As he returns to dust, Dracula seems to express some remorse for his evil ways.

The ending of the game depicts Alucard, Maria and Richter watching the Castle crumble. Alucard, still dealing with having to battle his own father, declares that he is going to go into seclusion. Richter pledges to continue to maintain the Belmont legacy, while Maria hints that she might attempt to learn more about Alucard and learn the secrets of his secluded nature.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lacarde vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Medium This title is fairly easy-going for the most part. Unlimited saves make things much less stressful than the Castlevania titles that came before. Anyone with a bit of patience can manage to power up before taking on new areas and bosses. This game sort of sets the standard for the future titles in terms of difficulty. The challenge here comes from exploration and finding all of the hidden and secret rooms.
Story: Very well done. We finally learn a bit of history behind Dracula, as well as backstory on Alucard. Of all the Castlevania titles thus far, this game focuses the most on the lore and storyline behind the game.

Originality: Overlooking many of the elements borrowed from Metroid, this game represents the new direction of the Castlevania series. Out with the old and in with the new.

Soundtrack: Excellent stuff here. New original tunes, CD quality audio. The music matches the game perfectly in most respects.

Fun: Very fun title. For a change, I found myself wanting more once the game was over. I can’t say enough good things here.

Graphics: This game is an excellent example of the what the Playstation could do. Excellent character models and background scenes.

Playcontrol:  Another win here. Everything feels natural with this title. The buttons do what they “feel like” they should do. Whoever mapped the controls to the in game abilities did a masterful job. Probably the best in the series thus far.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many, this game IS Castlevania. While completely different from the older games, there is no denying that Symphony of the Night was responsible for bring the series back into the attention of the mainstream audience. This is one title I think no gamer should be without.

Currently available: Playstation Network

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania Bloodlines

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This installment is a rather obscure chapter in the history of Castlevania. Today, I’m going  to discuss Castlevania Bloodlines. This title was released on the Sega Genesis, and for this reason alone, went largely ignored by many.

This title takes place in 1917. You can choose to play as either Jonathan Morris (son of the Dracula character; Quincey Morris), or strange spear-wielding vampire hunter known as Eric Lacarde. (Often believed to be Alucard is disguise… although this is not confirmed in the game in any way)

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It is through some unknown twist of events that Morris possesses the legendary Vampire Killer whip, and when the evil countess Elizabeth Bartley tries to resurrect the soul of her uncle Dracula, John takes up arms to stop her. The general consensus seems to be that the Morris family branches-off from the Belmont family tree. Hence the title: Bloodlines.

This game starts at Castlevania itself, but when Jonathan learns that Bartley has fled, he chases her all over war-ridden Europe. Finally catching up with her in London, just in time for the final showdown with the newly resurrected Count Dracula.

This game was Konami’s attempt to link the Castlevania storyline, with the actual Dracula novel by Bram Stoker. Admittedly, it is was a good attempt, although several plot holes do exist,. But, the fact that they tried can at least appreciated.

Overall this installment is similar to previous Castlevania games, but to me, at least, it just didn’t feel right. The graphics on the Genesis, while just as good as the SNES, felt different, maybe a little too polished. Also, for the most part, I found the soundtrack to be somewhat lacking.

In my opinion, the first and the last level in the game are by far the best. The whole rotating staircases, and warped/upside down levels seemed more about showing off the 16-bit power of the Genesis, than about actual gameplay value. All that aside, on its own, I think Bloodlines is a solid title – but perhaps a little overshadowed by the legacy of the franchise itself. At this point, I think it is safe to say that the formula is starting to get stale.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lacarde vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Medium Very similar to Rondo and Super Castlevania in terms of difficulty. By now, if you’ve played through the other games, there’s not much that will surprise you.
Story: This title is unique for it’s attempts to link Bram Stoker’s vision of Dracula to the Castlevania series. Most of the game takes place during World War I, and countess “Bartley” is really believed to be Elizabeth Bathory.

Originality: Aside from the story elements and the historical settings in the game, there’s really nothing new brought to the table with this title.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is pretty mediocre in my opinion. The new music in the game is not very attention grabbing in my opinion. The few throwbacks that are included sound watered down. I’m wondering if perhaps the soundchip of the Genesis was a bit more limited than the SNES. That may be the problem here.

Fun: The game is itself is sadly more of the same. But I did take some enjoyment seeing the design of the various European-based levels. The game takes you exotic locations such a Greece, Germany, and Italy. Many of the token landmarks appear in the levels.

Graphics: Visually on par with most other titles of the 16bit era. Perhaps, maybe even a bit sharper than the SNES titles. It seems like the designers took a lot of time in the presentations of the game stages. High marks here.

Playcontrol:  The controls in this game feel a bit wonky. I think this may be by design but I cannot be sure. There is a definite difference in the feel of the two lead characters. But many of my deaths were the result of a misplace jump that just didn’t really feel misplaced. — That being said, I have to confess I do not own a Genesis. Therefore, I have to admit that I was relying on an emulator for this title. My problem with the playcontrol could be nothing more than bad emulation.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – This was one of my least favorites so far. While undoubtedly “Castlevania” – something didn’t feel right and I can’t really put my finger on it. I do think that stage-by-stage concept of the Castlevania series was starting to grow old by this point.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania – Dracula X – Rondo of Blood

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The next stop in my playthrough of the series is the mythical “Rondo of Blood“. This game was originally released on the Turbo Graphix16, a system I never had any experience with. Long hailed as one of the best Castlevania games of all time, I was always very curious about it. There was a watered down version of the game released for SNES, but when compared to the original version, it left a lot of be desired. Recently, a more “proper” release of the game made it’s way in the form of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. My wife was kind enough to buy this game for my birthday a few years ago, and I’ve loved it ever since.

For the purpose of this review, I’ll talking about the PSP version, since it is both easily available and considered by many to be the definitive version of the game. For those curious about the original TurboGraphix16 version, it was made available on the Wii Virtual console a couple of years ago.

The game starts with a cutscene showing a Black Mass. An evil priest named Shaft and his cult are sacrificing a virgin in attempt to bring Dracula back from the dead. They are successful and the armies of darkness decimate the countryside of Transylvania. During their strike, they come across a young girl named Annette, she is the betrothed to Richter Belmont, the hero of the game. Dracula recognizes this connection and orders her locked up in the tower of Castlevania as bait for Belmont. Just like always, the Belmont family answers the call.

There are some really nice throwbacks in this game. For example, the first level takes place in a burning town. For those that have played Castlevania II, it location might look a bit familiar, it is the town of Aljiba, the last city before reaching Dracula’s castle. I thought this attention to detail was a nice touch.

For the most part, this game plays much like Castlevania 1, 3, and 4. Most levels are fairly straightforward, with a boss at the end. The goal is to reach Castlevania itself, and ascend your way to Dracula’s chamber. What makes this game a bit different is that it contains hidden levels and unlockable content. For example, on level 2, you can obtain a key that will open a locked gate. Entering the locked area you will encounter a little girl; Maria. Once you have freed her, she actually becomes a playable character.

Maria is much easier to control, as she is faster and her attacks have a longer range. However, she is not a strong or powerful as Richter. There are three other maidens that you can rescue as well. Finding them is not always easy, but only by doing so will you receive the TRUE ending of the game. I had a lot of fun combing each level trying to find all the secrets that are tucked away. (Aside from the maidens, you can also unlock the original version of Rondo, and Symphony of the Night – this game’s direct sequel.)

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Finally, on level 7, after a little mini boss-rush, you battle the dark priest Shaft. If you managed to rescue all of the maidens, the boss of level 8 will be Shaft’s ghost. Only by defeating the ghost can you actually win the game.

Naturally, there also a battle with Dracula himself, which is very reminiscent to fighting him in first and third games in the series. If you’ve played them, you know what to expect. If you’ve defeated Shaft’s Ghost, Dracula will also unleash a third form that is a bit more challenging. Once you complete that phase, he will perish and Castlevania will begin to crumble.

As I said before, I had a GREAT time playing thru this title. Partially, I think, because it was new to me, but with that familiar old-school feel. The soundtrack was very impressive, and the unlockable content kept me exploring. I can’t say enough good things about the title.

I chose to play the remastered version for my playthrough. Aside from new graphics, and the unlockables, it is no different from the original game. The dialogue is essentially the same, the levels are pixel perfect, and there are no major changes to report. The only difference I could find was that the original game presents the cutscenes in a comic-book format, while the new game presents them in a nice gothic CG style.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Medium Compared to the other games in the series, Dracula X is a bit tamer. While, still challenging at times, the PSP version is not quite as hair pulling as the older titles. (I cannot say the same for the old SNES or TG16 version). Finding all the hidden stuff may present a bit of a challenge.
Story: Again, we have the simple, Dracula has returned set up. But unlike previous titles, we get to see a little more detail. Also, the cutscenes are a great addition to the series.

Originality: A familiar Castlevania style, but with some new touches that really go a long way. The most fun for me was finding the hidden zones and characters.

Soundtrack: As far as the PSP version goes, TOP NOTCH. The best soundtrack in the series thus far. The PSP version offers CD quality audio and remixes of the tracks found in the original game. New songs, series throwbacks, it’s all here.

Fun: I had a ball playing this title. In fact, I daresay it’s one of my favorites. The summary above speaks for itself.

Graphics: The PSP version is phenomenal. It’s defiantly a testament to the hardware. The original version were both stellar at the time. Even the cheapened SNES version really pushed the limits of what the system could do. However, the Chronicles version of this game is the best you’ll find.

Playcontrol:  I’m not a fan of the classic PSP layout. But I found this game to be comfortable to play and very responsive. No complaints at all.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – One of my favorite Castlevania games. This game represents the end of an era for the series. I recommend it, and it can usually be found fairly in expensive these days.

Currently available on: Sony Playstation Portable, Wii Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Super Castlevania IV

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 Castlevania, the company surprised everyone by releasing a revamped version of the original game instead of launching a brand new title. Sold in the USA as Super Castlevania IV, many bought it thinking it was one of Simon’s “further adventures”. However, as mentioned above, it has since been declared to be a glorified re-telling of the original story.

Taking full advantage of the technical prowess of the SNES, the developers were able to give the first entry in the saga a well-deserved refresh. It’s very obvious that the developers took their time and really added a nice coat of polish for this release. The remixed music is eerie and appropriate, the graphical effects are awe inspiring. It’s fun to see the translation of the old levels to the new 16-bit format. But, aside from some background art, the levels have been completely revamped. Many of the bosses are also familiar, but there’s also a few new ones tossed in to the mix this time around.

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Of all the console Castlevania titles released up to that point, Super Castlevania offers the best playcontrol experience. The controls are loose and precise, something that was much needed for this type of game. Technical upgrades aside, this game piggybacks on the previous entries in the series pretty heavily. If you’re familiar with the other games, you already know what you’re in for with this title.  But despite that, I had a blast playing through this title again. It has been one of the my favorites in the playthrough so far.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Difficult Compared to most games of today. This title is still pretty tough, but not inhumanly hard. When compared to the earlier games in the series, this one is much more balanced in terms of difficulty.

Story: For whatever reason, Konami decided to re-imagine the original scenario of Simon vs Dracula. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand why they would do this. Looking back today, I imagine that when faced with all the possibilities the SNES was able to offer, the creators decided to reintroduce the series using the latest technology.

Originality: This game follows the formula of CV and CV3 in terms of design. Most of originality presented in this title comes from the graphical effects and the twists and turns of level design.

Soundtrack: The music in this title is really good stuff. We are treated to some new original tunes as well as some remixed songs from the previous games in the series. It’s a lot of fun to hear these tracks enhanced by the SNES soundchip. The music is very action oriented, yet spooky at the same time.

Fun: In my opinion, this game has provided some of the best fun in the series so far. It’s still tough, yet not maddeningly frustrating. This would make a great late night playthrough with a family member or friend.

Graphics: This game is a great example of the what the Super Nintendo is capable of. Here we have well-detailed objects, moving-layered graphical effects, and an independent side scrolling background. Even by SNES standards, I think this game is a great example of good graphical direction.

Playcontrol:  This is the first title in which I have no real complaints. The character movement responds perfectly to the physical controls. This is true on the original SNES gamepad or the Wii gamepad. The ability to swing the whip is a nice touch.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I can’t praise this title enough. Setting nostalgia aside, I can claim that in my opinion, Super Castlevania is so far the greatest title in the series. Everything about the game was executed almost flawlessly.

Currently available on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania Adventure II – Belmont’s Revenge

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I’ve moved on the the next installment of the Adventure series, Belmont’s Revenge. This game takes place in 1591, several years after the original. In this chapter, Christopher Belmont’s son, Soleiyu, goes exploring and discovers four unmapped castles. During his exploration, he is enveloped by a supernatural mist and disappears. Suspecting the forces of evil are at work, Christopher Belmont takes up his whip in search of his missing son.

This game, while similar to the original Castlevania Adventure, features much improved playcontrol and slightly better graphics. But on the flipside, the soundtrack actually seems to suffer a bit compared to the previous game. The difficulty of this title remains the same; very frustrating.

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What sets this game apart from most other Castlevania titles is the “level selection” screen. When starting out, you are given the choice between four stages. This option felt very similar to the way Mega Man games allow you to choose which level you wish to tackle. Once the four castles have been conquered, Castlevania itself appears .

At the end of  the final stage, Christopher encounters his son – who is now possessed by the spirit of Dracula. After the battle, Soleiyu comes to and points his father towards Dracula’s secret chamber. The final battle is, of course, between Christopher and Dracula.

Overall,  I found this game was an improvement over the original. However, I still believe it is too difficult for most casual players. Personally, I  was able to complete it, but not without much frustration. It took me a few days to clear the game. But, in theory it could take a little as a couple of hours.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania  – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
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Difficulty: Very DifficultMuch like it’s predecessor. This is a very frustrating platformer. Overly difficult by today’s standards. Thankfully, there is a password system in the title that makes things a bit easier.

Story: The concept of Christopher setting out to find his son is a bit weak. Personally, I feel this game was created as a way for Konami to redeem themselves and attempt to make a better GB title. The story is just a means to an end.

Originality: Despite being very similar to the last game, Konami did take some steps to make the game stand out. The level selection makes this game a nice touch.

Soundtrack: In my opinion, this is a step down. The music in this title does not have the same level of quality seen in the first GB title. Other aspects of the game sound do seem a bit improved, however.

Fun: It’s interesting to see the difference between the various castles, but the difficulty of the game again often leads to frustration.

Graphics: A step up from the previous release. The main characters still retain a low level of detail. But the stage design and background are a definite improvement.

Playcontrol:  Much better than CVA. I must not have been the only one who hated the way to previous game felt. It seems that the developers really took the time to tweak it for this title.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Despite many of my complaints, this game is a solid improvement in most ways over the original. I suppose you could say it is the definitive Game Boy Castlevania title

This title is currently not available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: The Castlevania Adventure

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The Castlevania Adventure is the first handheld Castlevania title. In the early days of the Game Boy’s release, developers were in a rush to make a GB title for their franchises. Many of these early games were thrown together and done rather poorly. Fortunately, as time went by, developers figured out how to better implement their ideas on Nintendo’s new mobile platform. But, this game, The Castlevania Adventure, was one of Konomi’s first GB titles, and it really shows.

The graphics and playcontrol are horrid. The storyline is weak. In fact, the only saving grace for this game is the soundtrack. I have to give Konami credit here, the things these guys could accomplish with the Game Boy’s soundchip was astounding.

As far as story goes, this title hearkens back to the original Japanese manual for Castlevania 1. There was a passage in that instruction booklet that read; “Simon Belmont, ancestor of the fabled vampire hunter Christopher Belmont…” Well, The Castlevania Adventure is the legendary story of Christopher. It takes place in 1576, generations before Simon ever took the whip in hand. The tale is typical, Dracula has reappeared on Earth and the Belmont family rises to stop him. The usual… In the end, Christopher is successful and Castlevania crumbles to the ground soon after Dracula’s defeat. As Christopher turns away to head home, a giant vampire bat is seeing flying from the ruined castle.

The game is fairly short, there is no saving or passwords. It can take as little as thirty minutes to play through it, but it will likely take much longer than that seeing as the game is so difficult. Seriously. These games keep getting harder. This title is DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE unless you were an obsessive/narcissistic child like me and somehow managed to remember all the tricks years later as an adult.

The playcontrol in this game is very stiff and unforgiving. Some of the jumps require pixel-perfection, and let’s not even talk about the final battle with Dracula….

All that being said, the game is nostalgic for me. I love the music and as much as I hate the game itself, I also love the game… Does that even make any sense? I suppose I can chalk my affection up to good memories with the title, but even then, I wouldn’t give up my copy for anything.

 

1476: Castlevania III – Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs Dracula
1691: Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
Difficulty: Very DifficultThis is another example of extreme difficulty. Of all my friends growing up, I’m the only person I knew that actually bothered to finish the game. After the 2nd or 3rd stage, it’s ridiculous.

Story: Again, Konami has decided to focus on a new hero. It’s starting to become clear that the Belmont family has long been the saving grace against the forces of Dracula, which seem to return approximately every 100 years. Aside from the backstory in the manual, there’s nothing in the game that really elaborates.

Originality:  I get the impression that the team wanted to try to bring the feel of CV and CV3 over to the handheld market, but wasn’t sure how to do it. There’s really nothing new to be found in this title.

Soundtrack: For the step-down that the Game Boy was, sound-wise (at least compared to the NES ), the music in this game is surprisingly good. This game is proof that you really don’t need fancy sound synth or redbook quality audio to make a good soundtrack. All you need is some catchy tunes.

Fun: Most the fun in this title is quickly eroded by it’s high level of difficulty. For me, I take most of my pleasure out of the novelty that this game provides.
Graphics: Mixed bag here. The backgrounds are actually fairly well done. However, the main character and monsters are pretty basic looking. There’s little to no detail in the character art. Very generic looking, even for an early Game Boy release.
Playcontrol:  The worst. Controlling Christopher Belmont feels like walking around with a steel rod stuffed up your backside. Personally, I find the controls to be very unresponsive and somewhat laggy. This is probably my biggest complaint with this title.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Overall, this is not a very good game (at least in my opinion). But, it is Castlevania and it’s worthy of a look. Being the first handheld CV title, I can be a little forgiving to the developers, but not by much.
Available now on:  Nintendo eShop

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania III – Dracula’s Curse

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Finishing off the original trilogy is Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Despite its name, this game actually serves as a prequel to the first two titles in the series. In it, you play as Trevor Belmont, one of Simon’s ancestors. After years of exile due to their Supernatural powers, the Church calls upon the Belmont family to rid the countryside of Draula’s evil legion. Trevor is eager to find favor with the local folk and accepts the request.

For this game, Konami decided to go back to their roots, thus making CV3 more like the first installment of the series. The game plays very similar to the original Castlevania. Both the level-design and music hearken back back to that first installment as well. One thing that does make this game stand apart is the ability to choose which levels to tackle, as well as being able to switch between characters.

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While Trevor is the main hero of the game, depending on which path you take you may also encounter the following other playable characters: Grant the pirate, Sypha Belnades, a female vampire hunter, and Alucard, the son of Dracula. Each character has their own unique attacks and style. Some characters are better suited for specific levels, so it’s up to the player to experiment and  determine which to use.

Graphically, the game is one of the best that the NES had to offer; moving backgrounds, detailed textures, etc. The Japanese version also contained a special music chip that offered some incredibly enhanced sound. Sadly, due to budget restraints, the American release did not.

The biggest drawback to the game is its level of difficulty. Even with a password system in place, the game is damn hard. There is a strategy to many of the bosses in the game, but even so, the levels themselves are maddening. But, strategy of not, many of the fights just seem almost unfair. For example, in the final fight with Dracula, he has three forms. Each giving him a full bar of energy, while the hero only retains his single bar through the entire battle. To make matters worse, in most boss fights, all it takes is three hits and Trevor is out.

During my playthrough for this review, I collected Sypha, and then Alucard. Alucard comes in handy making it through many of the later levels, but I always turned to Trevor when it comes to defeating the final battle.

All in all, this is a good installment to the series, but I do believe it is a little TOO hard for most. For this reason, ultimately will may not be enjoyable for most players.

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1476: Castlevania III – Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1691: Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

 

Difficulty: Very Difficult – These days when people talk about difficult games, they often use the phrase “Nintendo Hard”. This is an example of “Nintendo Hard”. If you die, you start the level over. You get three chances to complete the level. That’s it. A well known cheat for this game, is entering the phrase “Help Me” as your character name at the start of the game, this gives you a few more tries per level. But, even with that enabled, it’s still much harder than most people find enjoyable.

Story: Konami takes things backwards by giving us a prequel. I found that to be an interesting idea at the time the game was released. We are also introduced to Alucard, a character that becomes very important in future titles. While still a bit shallow, the back story of the game does begin to lay the groundwork for what the series is eventually going to become.

Originality:   CV3 is a throwback in many ways to the original. However, Konami manages to keep it fresh by giving us optional levels to explore and offering alternate characters with various strengths and weaknesses.

Soundtrack: The grooves in this game are up to par with the series so far. The Japanese version of the game included a slightly improved soundtrack. But there’s not enough difference to really ponder on.

Fun: This game has a lot of fun and appeal. I enjoyed the scenery of the various stages and characters, but after a while the challenge tends to become frustrating. Trying to get through the last stage AND beat Dracula on three lives begins to seem much more trouble than it’s worth.

Graphics: This was a title that came out late in the lifecycle of the NES and it shows. At this point, game designers had really learned how to push the NES. Castlevania III represents some of the best art you’ll see in an 8bit era game.

Playcontrol:  Much like the first title, Castlevania III seems a lot stiffer. Your character will meet more than one death due to poorly placed jumps. It takes a little time to get used to the feel of the character. Switching characters seems to change this a bit, so I assume this is by design. With that in mind, there’s not much really to complain about.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – When many people think of classic Castlevania, this is the title that comes to mind. It’s a definite upgrade to first game. Part two of the series was so radically different, that it’s hard to make a comparison. Aside from being frustrating at times, this is a great title. For many, it served as the introduction to the series.

Available now on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

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Back for the next installment of the Castlevania playthrough and review. As one might predict, the success of Castlevania brought a sequel. However, it is not what you might expect. Castlevania II is not merely an update to the original stage-by-stage platformer. It is something altogether different.

The game takes place 7 years after the original. In this story, we learn that during his battle with Dracula, Simon was inflicted with a curse. As the years have gone by, the curse has slowly weakened him. Through his research, Simon learns that the only way to break the curse is to gather the remains of Dracula, return them to Castlevania, where they should then be burned.

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Instead of being thrust right into the action, this game is quite different then the original. Simon begins his quest in a town. Here, Simon will interaction with NPCs who often provide some insight into his quest. Some give valid clues, while others send Simon on wild goose chases. Simon must use this information to uncover the location of various haunted mansions that are scattered through the countryside. These mansions house the relics of Dracula that Simon must collect in order to complete his quest. These relics consist of: Dracula’s Rib, Heart, Fingernail, Eye, and Ring. Each relic grants a particular boon when collected. For example, the rib can be used a shield, while the fingernail increases the damage Simon can deal to his enemies.

For the most part these relics are easy enough to collect. To do so, Simon must make his way to depths of the mansion and strike a crystal ball that contains the item with an Oak Stake. In most cases, it is as simple as that. However, two of the relics are guarded by mini-bosses: Death (aka: The reaper) and Carmilla’s Mask. In reality, both of these battles are laughably easy. Defeating them also earns Simon a special item or weapon.

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Aside from collecting the remains, Simon can also gather various other objects: Magic Crystals, Holy Water, Garlic, to name a few. Simon can also upgrade his whip multiple times, ending with a Whip of Flame. By the time the game is over, Simon has visited multiple towns and is geared to the gills with an arsenal of weapons and items.

One of the more unique aspects of this game is the Day/Night system. As Simon travels around the land of Transylvania, time continues to pass. The game distinguished between night and day. During the day, enemies are weaker and more sparse. But as night, they are stronger and harder to defeat.

This time around, Castlevania itself is a cinch to navigate, in fact, it is empty. There’s not a single monster in the whole castle until Simon reaches the end and sets the relics on fire. This spawns a ghostly version of Dracula, that if you let it, will fly around the room and attack Simon. However, in another example of how ridiculously easy this game is, Simon can continually toss a holy flame at Dracula, both immobilizing him and damaging him at the same time.

Once defeated, you are treated to one of three endings. In one ending, both Simon and Dracula perish in the fight. It mentions that the Belmont family will continue to hunt evil for many generations to come. In the second, Simon wins, but eventually dies from his wounds nonetheless. In the third and true ending, Simon wins and lives a long healthy life, but in classic horror movie form, the players then see Dracula’s hand erupt from the ground by his gravesite. Hinting that the Prince of Darkness will one day return.

All in all, and despite it’s faults, I love this game. It holds a lot of dear memories for me, and will always be a favorite of mine. As kids, my old buddy and I were nuts for it. We couldn’t wait for the weekend when I’d sleep over at his house so we could stay up all night and play this thing. We wanted to see all the endings and figure out what all the strange and mysterious items were for.

Despite all this, the game has some major shortcomings. The translation is just atrocious, and the game itself is way too short, and easy. You can sit down and play thing from start to finish is about two to three hours if you know what you’re doing.

The Castlevania series ends up having a pretty convoluted timeline, so to keep things understandable, I’m going to help track the games for those that might not be familiar, I will amend this list with each review:

1691: Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

Difficulty: Easy –  This game is not very difficult at all. Perhaps at the very beginning there’s a bit of a challenge until Simon has grown in strength, but if you don’t go wandering too far you’ll have no real trouble. Monsters are stronger at night time, but not by a very noticeable degree. Some of the mansions feature fake floors that will plummet you to your death, etc. But their locations can be detected by tossing some holy water on the floor.

Story: I like the concept of Simon being inflicted by a curse and having to resurrect Dracula in order to break it. One might expect a simple “Dracula has returned!” plot, so this is a nice treat. Aside from that, there’s not much lore that unfolds in the game. Some of the locations are named roughly after certain areas of Romania and Transylvania, but there’s no elaboration in game.

Originality:   This is certainly not a rehash of the first game. The development team took a big risk by making the sequel radically different.

Soundtrack: The music in this game is the pinnacle of NES beeps and bloops if you ask me. Great stuff, I still hum it today whenever I think of the title. Some of the classic melodies from the Castlevania series started right here.

Fun: For me, this is great fun title. It has a more serious tone than the original in some ways. It also is a bit more atmospheric. This is probably my favorite of the 8-bit NES Castlevania games. 

Graphics: The graphics here are very different than the original. I consider them to be an improvement. There’s a lot on the screen at times, and this game will occasionally choke up. But in terms of aesthetics, I do not have any complaints. Good 8-bit artwork.

Playcontrol:  A big improvement over the original. Simon feels much more flexible and easy to control. Switching between equipment is pretty simple and painless. Everything is precise and responsive as it should be.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While this title is a favorite of mine, it received a lot of criticsim during it’s time. Many fans of the original title were turned off by the difference between the two games. I personally feel that the boss battles should have been a bit tougher than they are. Many of the puzzles in the game are bit unusual and don’t make much sense. (Thank god for Nintendo power, or many of us would still be trying to figure out what to do with the red crystal.) Regardless of these issues, I love the game.

Available now on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania

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When I was a kid, no other game had cooler monsters and a scarier atmosphere than Castlevania. It’s creepy, but just campy enough to keep you from getting scared. For those that are not familiar, here’s the set up: Transylvania, a place we all know and love. Filled with gypsies and creepy things. But, every 100 years the land is plagued by the ghostly return of the legendary vampire, Count Dracula. Throughout history, a family of warriors known as the Belmont Clan have always stepped forward to eliminate the threat.

The year is 1691 and Dracula has risen again, this time the hero is a young man named Simon Belmont. He must enter the fortress of Castlevania and make his way through the haunted castle, fighting armies of skeletons, zombies, and other monsters. His ultimate goal: hunt down and slay the evil Count Dracula.

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Simon Belmont is armed with an enchanted whip: The Vampire Killer. Throughout the game, this is main form of attack. Although, he will eventually find various other weapons to help him out. The first level begins in the courtyard of the haunted castle, and takes Simon into the lobby. As the game progresses, Simon continues to infiltrate deeper into the castle. Each level is guarded by a “boss monster”. These bosses start easy and get progressively harder. Below is a list of the areas and the bosses that protect them.

Castle Courtyard and Entrance: Giant Vampire Bat

Castle Tower: Medusa

Castle Roof and Turrets: Mummies

Castle Catacombs and Lab: Frankenstein’s Monster and Igor.

The Dungeons: The Grim Reaper (Death)

The Clock Tower and Dracula’s Chamber: Count Dracula

The game starts off fairly easy but get harder as it goes on. By the time you’re to the mid-way point, you’re ready to pull your hair out. The fight with Death, is so difficult its maddening. Very few casual players ever make it past the reaper… Compared to Death, Dracula (who is the final boss) is easy.

Once Dracula is defeated, you’re treated to scene of Castlevania crumbling into ash and there is a really corny credit scroll filled with various puns. In my opinion, it really ruins the actual “horror feel” of the game. Konami, the publisher of Castlevania, was infamous for inserting these terrible jokes into games during the localization process.

Overall the best thing about this game is the music. WOW. This is some good stuff, you’ll be humming it for hours afterwards. Not to mention, anytime you hear it, you’ll have whip flashbacks…

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Difficulty: Very Difficult –  For many players, Castlevania consists of only two or three levels. Because for most, that’s as far as they get before walking away from the game in disgust. After that point, the game is brutal. That being said, those willing invest a little time and patience should eventually manage to get through. The boss fights seems a bit out of balance. For me, the Grim Reaper was always the hardest boss in the game. Much harder than the final boss, Dracula.

Story: The story is a bit strange. Here, we have taken Dracula, an iconic figure, and inserted him into a game with a different hero. It seems a bit unusual, but it works. The game itself is basically a tour classic horror movie monsters, set within the confines of creepy castle walls.

Originality: Castlevania was unlike many of the platformers that were popular at the time. Giving the hero a whip seemed a bit refreshing for some reason. The idea of making a showcase for various horror movie icons is a campy, but very fun.

Soundtrack: While I’ve heard better 8bit soundtracks, the music of Castlevania is catchy and very well crafted. This game introduces some iconic themes that still last into today’s Castlevania releases. Great stuff here.

Fun: If you like cheesy horror movies, and creepy environments, this is a fun stroll. However, for younger players and those that get frustrated easily, your enjoyment will often be ruined by the intense difficulty some parts of the game have to offer.

Graphics: The NES version of the game lacks a bit compared to some of the arcade cabinets. But I tend to forgive this as this was one of Konami’s first big titles on the NES. Everything on the screen is pretty much discernible, and still manages to capture that “creepy castle” feel.

Playcontrol: Overall, no big complaints. The jumping in the game can be a little stiff at times, and some jumps require you to be pretty precise. What little quirks the game does have with the controls, are easy to get used to after a while.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Another 8bit classic. For many, this little is something once visited and remembered. However, it is notable for launching a truly iconic series. Opinions on this game are all over the spectrum. Personally, I can easily look past it’s faults and enjoy it for what it is.

Available now on: Wii/WiiU Virtual Console

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

October, Dracula, and Castlevania…

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Well, here we are: October. Probably my favorite month of the year. There’s just something about the change of the seasons that appeal to me. I enjoy the crisp bite in the autumn air, the sound of the breeze through the leaves, and something childlike in me really enjoys the creepy feeling that you get late at night that makes you want to turn off all the lights and put on a cheesy horror flick. Oh, and let’s not forget the great beer that comes along with Oktoberfest…

As a child, I was never really one for spooky or slasher movies. But I did enjoy Halloween quite a bit. For some reason, I always had a thing for Count Dracula. One of the earliest Halloween outings I can remember, I dressed in a black cape with a plastic pair of fangs stuffed into my mouth.

When I was around 11 or 12, still living in Okinawa, Japan, I found an old green, fabric-bound copy of Dracula and Frankenstein at the library on the Air Force base. I checked it out and read it. Now, at that age, I can admit that some of it did go over my head. After all, the book was almost 100 years old. But, I had pretty good vocabulary for my age, and I was able to understand it quite well. In fact, I fell in love with the book. To this day, Dracula, by Bram Stoker is my favorite novel of all time. I’ve read it probably a total of ten times in the last twenty years.

A couple of years ago, a distant descendant of Bram Stoker published an “official sequel”… and let’s just say, I personally feel that it is not very true to the original. But, in all honesty, it’s not a bad book in its own right. Regardless, I don’t considering it to be a true heir to the story of Dracula.

My love for this book, attracted me to a video game that many reader of this blog probably know and love: Castlevania. The Castlevania series is built off of the legend of Dracula, and again, in its own right, it’s a pretty interesting tale.

So far with this blog, I have largely spent time reviewing classic NES games from my youth. Of course, I’ve taken breaks to discuss some other titles, just to kind of change up the flow a bit. This month, I’m going to do something a bit different… October is going to be Castlevania month. While my original plan was to cover the NES games from my youth, and then the move on to SNES, and so on; I’m going to break the rules and provide extensive coverage of the Castlevania series as a whole. Then, starting in November, on the Samhain (traditional Pagan New Year), I will tackle the latest installment in the series, and also the series new reboot title: Castlevania – Lord of Shadow.

The Castlevania series has had it share of ups and downs over the years. Several titles in the series were retroactively removed, and then a handful of those were added back later on. So, the whole thing can be very confusing. For the sake of this playthrough, I’ll only be reviewing the games that are considered “canon”, with perhaps one exception.

The coverage starts tomorrow, so if this is your kind of thing, stay tuned.