For the past three years, I have dedicated the month of October to play different Castlevania games. Ever since Symphony of the Night, I have been trying to play as many games in the series that I can before the fatigue hits. Last year, I played through all of the Gameboy Advance games thanks to the Castlevania Advance Collection that came out last year. This year, I wanted to swim in the murky waters of the early 3D Castlevania titles. The only game in this “collection” that I didn’t play was Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. Not because the first Castlevania game on the N64 dissuaded me from playing it, but because I do not own a copy of the game. Most of these games are foreign to me since I have never played them before. In total, there were three and a quarter games played and finished.
Release Date: January 26, 1999
Platform: Nintendo 64
Canon to Story: Non-canon
I was really looking forward to this game. This game is not foreign to me since I once rented it from my local video store long ago. I never made it far in the game since you are required to have a Controller Pack in order to save the game. So after all these years, I was ready to tackle the very first 3D Castlevania game. Unfortunately, I could not finish the game. I had reached a point in the game where I was just tired and frustrated with the game design, that I just put the controller down and moved on.
Castlevania (1999) was the first Castlevania game on the Nintendo 64, and the very first game in the series to be in 3D. For a first attempt, there were some ideas that worked to set the mood. The design of the stages and some of the effects are creative and interesting. I was impressed with the effects of lighting hitting the trees in the first stage, and watching them fall on fire until the flames extinguished. The stage within the mansion was a fresh change since no two rooms in the mansion were exactly the same. There were some good design ideas that we placed in the game that I unfortunately did not get to see.
The story of the game follows two protagonists that you choose at the beginning. First, you have Reinhard Schneider, an heir to the Belmont Clan of Vampire Hunters and someone who looks like he belongs in the 1980s and not the 1850s (when the game takes place). He plays like a normal (non)Belmont would with his trusty whip and sub weapons that are staples to the series. His plot device is that he is a vampire hunter and must do what his clan does best, slaying Dracula. Then you have Carrie Fernandez. Carrie is a gifted magic user who uses magical projectiles and is probably related to the Belnades Clan. Her plot device is that she senses evil energy coming from Vlad’s Pad and must go defeat it for her clan. Both characters’ stories are similar minus two different stages unique to each character. Other noteworthy characters in this game are Charles Vincent, a guy who really loves Jesus, and Malus, the guy who plays the violin at the start menu of the game that may or may not be Dracula (depends on the ending you get).
Once you start playing the game, that is when you can tell that this was a first attempt at making a 3D action/platforming game. Let me go ahead and talk about my biggest complaint about the game, the camera. Oh dear lord, the camera in this game. For a game that started development in April 1997, you would think by the time it was released in January 1999 that the developers would have seen how other developers handled the camera operations in their games. Out of all four C buttons, only one controls the camera, and it basically just shifts how the camera works. You have your standard “Normal” camera that is positioned a set distance from your character, but will adjust haphazardly to what it thinks is the ideal position. You then have an “Action” view which just spins the camera around so that you can see around you. It will still act like the “Normal” camera and adjust haphazardly to your character. Thirdly, there is the “Battle” view. Battle view keeps enemies in focus and will attempt to adjust the camera to how your character is looking at an enemy. Finally, there is the “Boss” view that is only accessible while you are fighting bosses. This camera keeps things focused on the boss at all times and will actively try to help them as well. What makes this camera scheme annoying is that you have to toggle between them one at a time to get the angle that you want. It is like the developers didn’t know which camera angle would be best for the game, so they opted to go with multiple angles that the player could decide on when needed. In theory, this is a good idea since it compensates for each players’ needs, but in practice it just doesn’t work in this game. There are many platforming sections in the game that require accurate landing or it will cost you an instant game over. For someone who has a hard time with 3D platforming to begin with, these moments were more stressful than certain other moments in the game that are designed to stress you out. If there is one element that made the game miserable to play, it is the camera 100%.
Another thing that felt off about this game was something I didn’t really realize until I did some research about the game. This Castlevania game implemented something in any other game in the series, horror. If there is one thing Castlevania is not is being scary. There are a lot of horror elements sprinkled in this game straight from Horror Movies 101. This is evident in a beginning scene where you open a gate and a giant skeleton greets you with a “jump scare.” This didn’t click to me that it was supposed to be a jump scare since I knew it was coming, but other instances did invoke that stressful feeling. When you first reach the villa, there is a fight where you have to fight a Cerberus in complete darkness. At first I thought that it was some weird glitch, but no. It was an intentional game design to frighten the player. The moment it really clicked for me however is when you are escaping the garden maze. Not only are there two dogs chasing after you that you cannot kill, the developers decided to throw in Frankenstein with a chainsaw to add to the nightmare. The inclusion of these suspenseful moments in a series that is not scary at all is something I was not expecting from this game, and may be another factor that made me put this down. I play Castlevania for the exploration, cool gothic design, and bumping soundtrack. Raising my heart rate with these cheap scare tactics was not on my list when I decided to play this.
Will I return to Castlevania (1999) at some point? Maybe. At the time of playing, I was just getting increasingly frustrated with the enemy respawn rate, the stress level of annoying platforming and racing the clock to get the good ending, the questionable mechanic of waiting for specific things to happen with the in-game clock, and the FREAKING CAMERA. I wish I had a copy of Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness so that I could compare the two to see if some of the frustrating bits got ironed out. If I do return to this game, it will probably be on my own time where I can take things slow without the pressure of finishing within a time frame. I won’t say that it is the worst game that I played in the series, but it is definitely not one of the greatest.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Date Released: October 21, 2003
Platform: PlayStation 2
Canon to Story: Beginning of timeline
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was the second attempt of creating a 3D Castlevania title (Legacy of Darkness was mostly made with assets that the developers could not put into Castlevania 1999). In a GameSpot interview in 2003, Igarashi mentions that the developers had learned from the Castlevania games on the N64, and wanted to make a 3D Castlevania that actually felt like a Castlevania game. They definitely succeeded in that effort, but there are glimpses in this game that make it feel like a safe, second chance at making a 3D Castlevania game.
Lament of Innocence was created to tell the origin story of the series and how the Belmont clan became involved in this eternal nightmare. Set in 1094, Leon Belmont hunts a vampire named Walter Berhard who has kidnapped his betrothed, Sara (as you do as a vampire). In order to reach the dastard, Leon has to defeat five bosses in order to gain access to Walter’s Lair. Leon receives assistance from an alchemist named Rinaldo who gives him a whip that will later become the famous Vampire Killer. There is also Leon’s friend Mathias who is one who informs Leon about Walter, and only shows up at the end of the game (I will get into that later).
I was really excited to finally have an excuse to play this game. My final thoughts are that it is a good Castlevania game that’s a mix between the old and new format of the series. Lament of Innocence tries to be a Metroidvania game like Symphony of the Night, but due to the design of the gameplay it feels more like the linear games with branching paths that may or may not have items for you to collect. All six areas of the game feel the same. You move from room to room connected by hallways, where you then have to fight all the enemies in a room in order to unlock the next door to progress. There is a lack of detail that distinguishes each room unless it holds some importance and wants the player to know that something may be different about this room. Ninety percent of the game just felt like I was moving from one end of the map to the other, while retracing some steps in order to unlock my way to the area boss.
Lament of Innocence has some really good elements. Combat is fun even thought it can get repetitive at times. Like any Belmont, Leon uses his whip primarily while using sub weapons that can be picked up. Leon can find different elemental whips to take advantage of weakness, and orbs all you to change the effect of sub weapons. These items help with taking down trickier enemies and solving puzzles. The soundtrack is also on point with House of Sacred Remains and Leon’s Theme being some of my all time favorites from the series. An interesting tidbit is that the composer of the game, the beautiful and talented Michiru Yamane, was instructed to not include many familiar tunes in the game since this was the beginning of the series and the things we know and love hadn’t been established yet.
So let’s talk about the things that broke me in Lament of Innocence. Please welcome back to the roasting pit, the camera. After learning that having four different camera perspectives does not make the game better, Instead, Lament of Innocence takes all camera control away from the player and will adjust to help keep Leon at the center of the screen. This is not an issue since it doesn’t make fighting and running from room to room painful, but it does make one part extremely difficult, platforming. There are platforming sections in this game, as well as a mechanic where Leon can latch his whip onto guard rails to clear some distances. The camera in this game does not make some of these platforming sections easy as it should. Since my brain only has the information that the camera can show me, there were many times where I would overshoot or completely miss where I was trying to land. This makes things even frustrating when you need to use the whip latch mechanic for certain speed challenges, but can’t get the distance or timing right to get past these parts (I forgot to mention the game is very stingy with timing your whip latches).
Outside of my camera and platforming issues, the only other issue that I had with the game was the story (mostly towards the end). My grudge is about Leon’s closest friend, Matthias. In the prologue, we learn that Matthais’ wife Elisabetha dies suddenly and he falls to despair. We learn at the very end of the game that he orchestrated Leon battling Walter in order to absorb Walter’s soul and become the Vlad Dracula Tepes that we know and love today. My problem is Walter’s reveal feels like it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit narratively. You never see Matthais in person until this moment at the end of the game when he pops in and then peace out. You don’t even get to confront him at the end. Instead, Death appears and becomes the final boss of the game. What makes this frustrating from a narrative point of view is that the reveal is supposed to be a twist that the player is not supposed to see coming, but the twist fails because there were no hints given that this would happen. You can make the argument that Matthias planned this since he was the one who told Leon about Walter in the prologue, but for me that is a big detail that should be reminded in the story and not just in the prologue. I may have appreciated the reveal more if Matthias was more present in the story and was helping Leon throughout the journey. It would have made the ending a more tragic one after watching along with Leon losing his betrothed and best friend in a single night. I wish we got a follow up to this story from either Matthias point of view, or something that happened in the 300 years between this and Dracula’s Curse (maybe we would have if Iga had the chance).
Finishing Lament of Innocence took no time at all. I do own the strategy guide book to this game, so I referred to it to check on any items that I may have missed (there is one hidden item that is really easy to miss without a guide). In my eight hour playthrough, I was able to explore 92% of the entire castle and missed out on four relics and one orb that you get for fighting an optional boss. With an extra hour or two, I could have 100 percent the game on my first playthrough. You do unlock another vampire named Joachim as a playable character when you enter his name when creating a new file; and you can play in Crazy mode when you enter @CRAZY as your name in a new file. I’m glad I finally got to play this game after all this time. If this game were to get the same remastered treatment, I would definitely dip my toes back into it.
Date Started: October 1, 2022
Date Finished: October 9, 2022
Total Play Time: 8 Hours
Percentage Completed: 94.3%
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Release Date: November 1, 2005
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Canon to Story: 3 Years after Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
I had no expectations when I started this game. Like Lament of Innocence, I had no prior knowledge to this game or how it operated. Now that I have finished it, it is the best 3D Castlevania game in the series. I wouldn’t put it over the 2D Metroidvania games (maybe Circle of the Moon), but it is pretty high on my rankings. From gameplay, story, and progression, this game felt well crafted and kept me engaged from start to finish.
Curse of Darkness takes place three years later after the events of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. In Dracula’s Curse, Trevor Belmont defeats Dracula along with his companions. Curse of Darkness tells the story of Dracula’s actual curse that is spreading across the land due to his defeat. The narrative follows the struggles of two Devil Forgemasters; Hector, a former servant of Dracula, and Isaac, another servant of Dracula who is trying to revive him. After setting the stages for his plan, Isaac edges Hector to regain his former power and defeat once his powers have returned in full. Hector accepts as he seeks revenge for the death of his fiancée by Isaac’s schemes. Hector meets different allies and foes in his journey, including Trevor who seeks to stop Dracula’s resurrection by his own means.
I have come to learn that my favorite Castlevania games are the ones where you don’t primarily play as a Belmont. Symphony of the Night has Alucard, Aria of Sorrow has Soma, Order of Ecclesia has Shanoa, and Curse of Darkness has Hector. Being a Devil Forgemaster and a former subordinate of Dracula, Hector uses more than just a whip and the power of Jesus to fight his battles. Like a non-Belmont, Hector uses a range of weapons from swords, axes, lances, his fist, shuriken, and an electric guitar (that one was weird to find). What makes Hector different is that no two items of the same family operate the same way. You have your one-handed swords that are different from the two-handed variety, but Hector’s moveset will alter slightly based on the principles of that weapon. It is a great detail that shows understanding how that weapon would be used effectively instead of just this one is for stabbing while this one is for slashing. Hector is able to use combos with each weapon, making using each weapon type available valuable and gives incentive to switch out from time to time (that and another mechanic).
Hector has more than just his weapons. Being a Devil Forgemaster, he is able to summon monsters (Innocent Devils or I.D.s in this case) to help him in battle and navigation. Familiars in Castlevania games are not new, but they are far more useful and reliable in this game. There are five different types of I.D.s: Fairy, Battle, Bird, Mage, and Devil (also Pumpkin as a joke). Fairies are used mostly for healing and support, but they are also responsible for opening treasure chests for Hector. Bird I.D.s help protect Hector from flying enemies and provide a general barrier for him, but also help Hector glide over large gaps. Along with this, there is a monster raising mechanic that helps level up your I.D.s and eventually evolving them to more powerful demons with more abilities. In order to evolve your I.D.s, you need to farm Evo Crystals from monsters that you defeat on the regular. Crystals drop in different colors depending on the type of weapon that you are using. This is where changing your weapon from time to time comes in handy since each I.D. has a branching path to the next evolution that corresponds to a weapon type’s evo crystal. This made the I.D. system fun to use since certain I.D.s can only be obtained in a specific evolution path.
You are all going to be shocked about this next comment. It only took the developers three games to get it right, but the camera in this game actually works. No longer are we restricted to a fixed camera. You have full control of the camera in this game, and it made me jump for joy when I discovered this. There isn’t a lot of platforming in this game, but just having the ability to turn the camera around just so I can see everything around me was something I really missed. This alone makes it the best 3D Castlevania game.
I also had a fun time with the bosses in this game. Typical monsters didn’t give me too much trouble, but the humanoid opponents felt like intense dances to the death. The two Isaac and Trevor fights put me on edge since they are both fast and resourceful. Isaac will summon his own I.D.s to fight with him, so it felt like a game of summoning the right I.D. to counter his own. With Trevor, he fights like a true Belmont. His whip and sub weapons are brutal, but are not hard to avoid or see coming. I am not the type of person who is good at parrying, but parrying their attacks felt so good since it always opened the path to pass their defenses. The fight with Dracula may be the hardest Dracula fight I have ever been in. Like every Dracula encounter, he has two phases where you fight the elusive spell caster in the first part, and then the brute devil in the second. This fight took a lot out of me since I had to pause for a moment and come up with a strategy to tackle both phases with the limited amount of healing items that I had (I forgot to mention that you are only allowed to buy 5 potions, 3 high potions, and any other healing items can only be obtained by finding them or dropped from enemies). I brought in two fairy I.D.s with me for some healing options, but there was only so much they could do when Vlad does so much damage. I was only able to defeat him when I decided to not summon any of my I.D.s during the first phase, and pile on the assault during the second phase. It also helped that I remembered that I had other weapons that did way more damage than the sword I was using; and that a more powerful weapon would do more damage…
I do have my share of complaints since the game isn’t completely perfect. While the environments are more distinguishable this time around, I found the enemy variety completely repetitive. From my memory, there are around 20ish enemy designs in the game that just get slightly altered throughout the game. Not the biggest complaint, but Castlevania is known for having a lot of monster designs that feel unique. I was just getting tired at some points fighting the same horde of skeletons, but this time with bluish bones. I also wish Hector was a bit faster. There are times where you can backtrack to obtain items you skipped since you didn’t have the right I.D. for the job. Going back to some of these places can be a slog since there is no way (at least in my playthrough) to increase Hector’s movement speed. Another small complaint, but other Castlevania games around this time (including Lament of Innocence) had ways to make you really zoom around the map.
Overall, I would say that Curse of Darkness surprised me with how good it was. I don’t know if playing Castlevania 1999 or Lament of Innocence helped make this an enjoyable time, but I am glad for it. Without using a strategy guide or the internet to help me much, I filled out 92% of the total map. I didn’t grab every accessory in the game, nor did I craft every single weapon and armor in the game. Some items for crafting require special items that I had no idea how to farm or which enemies to steal them from; so I just used what I had and just went with it. You do unlock Trevor and Crazy mode for betting the game. This game was also a bit longer than any other Castlevania game that I’ve played. It took me twelve hours to reach the end where two of those hours was me just grinding a bit to defeat Dracula. This is a title that I can see myself revisiting at some point since it has all the elements that I enjoy from my other favorites in the series. I will also say that if you are familiar with the Castlevania series on Netflix, I think that they are cowards for not sticking with Isaac’s original design.
Date Started: October 23 , 2022
Date Finished: October 29, 2022
Total Play Time: 12 Hours
Percentage Completed: 89.01%
Date Released: November 18, 2008
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Canon to Story: HELL NO!
“Right on time. Welcome to the time rift.”
“Time rift? I thought I was done talking about the 3D Castlevania games?”
*Pause* *Camera Pan*
“You thought you were done. But there are other trials that you need to face before ending.”
*Paaaaause* *Camera goes to lunch*
“Fine then. Let’s make this one quick.”
“My name is Aeon. Shall we begin the first trial?”
(Every cutscene in the game is like this…)
Ok. I’m sorry that this post is way long, but I have to talk about this game real quick. Back in 2008, Konami decided to throw everything at the wall and decided to make a fighting game based on the series. On paper, this seems like an interesting title, but when you see the words “3D fighting game only on the Nintendo Wii,” you can’t help but to immediately assume it’s going to be bad.
Castlevania Judgment is a 3D fighting game that is not fun to play. Characters find themselves in a time rift for different reasons that do have no connection to anyone else. Some fight to prove themselves to others, while some are searching for an answer in all the wrong places. And then you have twelve year old Maria Renard who just picks fights against anyone who has a bigger chest than her. I would say that there is a story, but there really isn’t. Nothing is connected since most of the fights just happen without an explanation to why they are fighting (like in an Arcade mode). At the end of each character’s story, an original character named Aeon shows up, says he’s acquired a key, and then stares at you lovingly until he fades to black. You can’t technically finish a character’s story until you finish every other character first, and then replay the character’s story to fight the final boss to end just their story. It’s a “story” mode just to unlock characters and nothing more.
Did I mention that the game is fun? Because it is not. This is a 3D arena fighting game, so let’s talk about what doesn’t work. There is no sense of balance between characters. You have characters that like to spam moves that are impossible to block against, some who are large and will deal more damage with their regular attack just because they are big and strong, and then you have the children who are a bane to my existence. No game has ever made me say the phrase “Just please let me murder these children” before, but Judgment made the impossible possible. I will give credit for making each character feel unique like how Simon and Trevor operate differently despite being the same character, but the moveset on some of these characters can make some fights feel one sided.
I hope you bought a Wii Classic Controller or Gamecube controller, because playing this game with a Wii Remote and Nuncuck is not recommended. While normal controllers have actions mapped to the different buttons available, the WiiMote’s lack of buttons makes you play in a different way. Start practicing those maraca skills, because almost all attacks are done by shaking the WiiMote. The buttons on the WiiMote are just used to change what your character does while you are shaking uncontrollably. Because of this, combos require you to know which attack chains into the next one; unlike using different inputs just to do certain attacks. It’s not fun. Especially when you are going against hard A.I. opponents who do not need to worry about these restrictions. If you haven’t figured it out yet, using any controller besides the WiiMote is the only way to play the game in a “comfortable” way.
Stages don’t fare any better. Each stage can come in two flavors, tolerable or bullshit. Some stages will just be your normal 3D environment where you can break objects to find hearts and sub weapons. At times, these stages will change to add “fun” mechanics to utilize during the fight. There is one stage that is just a torture chamber, and they made sure to make it feel like one. I’m talking about spikes on the floor, poison water that you and your opponent can just walk right into, guillotines swinging in the background, and a giant buzz saw in the back just for good measure. This is the worst stage in the game, but it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes in the graveyard stage, it will just be a normal graveyard. Other times, you have to deal with zombies that will pop out of the ground, and then leave a pool of acid when they get killed that will poison you. Or how about the bridge where a giant fish will come out of the water, knock you to the end of the bridge, and then you ring out since the bridge is falling apart as well. This does not make the fights exciting. It just makes me want to play Castlevania 1999 since that was a less painful experience.
There are a few positive things about the game that I like. It is short. I unlocked and defeated the Time Lord in four hours. I do like the character designs in the game. If the design looks familiar it is because they were designed by the mangaka Takeshi Obata; who did the artwork for Death Note, Bakuman, Platinum End, and currently Show-ha Shoten! (one that I am currently enjoying monthly). It takes a while to get used to, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I appreciated his take on the characters (even though Simon is just too pretty for the character he truly is). The soundtrack in this game is a standout. Each fighter’s song is a remix from a popular song from their respective game. Hearing tunes like Bloody Tears, Dracula’s Castle, and Dance of Illusion really help me forget that I’m stuck in one of Eric’s combo loops that is just instant death if you are stuck in it. Seriously, the soundtrack is wonderful and easy to find online.
But yeah. That’s about it for Castlevania Judgment. There are other modes like Arcade, Castle Mode, and unlockable, but it would be bold of you to think I would put that much effort in playing this game more than I had to. It was an interesting experience and a concept that could work, but little to expect from a game that could have used a bit more time in development. If I had to pick a favorite character to play as, it would be Dracula because you can stand in one spot and just assault your opponent with powerful spells from a distance and teleport away if they get too close. Yay game balance!
Date Started: October 22, 2022
Date Finished: October 23, 2022
Total Play Time: 4 Hours
Best Character: Dracula
Worst Character: Golem (I just don’t like playing big, slow fighters)
And that should finally do it. Only three more sets of Castlevania games to go. Tune in next year to see which set gets covered next.