Ranking The Castlevania Bloodline
Note: This article was originally posted before the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate and Lords of Shadow 2.
Like Dracula himself, new entries in the storied Castlevania series return year after year. Sometimes these new incarnations return to the series’ traditional action-platforming roots or deliver surprising gameplay evolutions. Other times, they’re dark abominations that should be doused in holy water and impaled with a stake. I’ve lined up every Castlevania game I’ve ever played (pretty much all of them), reflected on them, and ranked each based off my personal preference. Where does your favorite vampire-hunting adventure fall on my list?
25. Castlevania Legends (1998 – Game Boy)
To imagine that such a lackluster Castlevania game could release a year after the glorious Symphony of the Night is mind-boggling. Sonia Belmont’s quest to destroy Dracula was originally a prequel to the rest of the series until Konami blasted it from the official timeline. The game was visual step back and suffers from stale gameplay and boring level design. Not even another appearance by the renowned Alucard could save this game.
24. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (1999 – Nintendo 64)
Not even a year passed before Konami churned out this ho-hum sequel to the critically panned Castlevania 64. The gimmick is that you could play as a werewolf character and explore some new areas of the castle. The lycanthropic twist made combat slightly more interesting, but it still sucked overall. What I find most interesting is playing as an older, armor-clad, pistol-wielding version of Henry Oldrey, the little boy players saved in the first Castlevania 64. None of the new bells and whistles could save Legacy of Darkness from being an overall disappointment and perpetuating the series’ 3D curse, though.
23. Castlevania Chronicles (2001 – PlayStation)
After the success of Symphony of the Night, folks wanted more Castlevania on the PlayStation. Castlevania Chronicles probably wasn’t what they were expecting. Chronicles is a gussied-up remake of the original Castlevania with a little oil sprinkled on the creaky joints of the rigid gameplay. Simon whips in more directions, but at a severe cost: he inexplicably has neon pink hair. You can do worse than Castlevania Chronicles if you’re a sucker for revisiting classic games with gussied-up graphics, but it’s a lackluster experience.
22. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003 – PlayStation 2)
Castlevania 64 gave 3D Castlevania games a bad rap, and this PS2 follow-up didn’t do much to alleviate the situation. The game features a decent combat system, interesting-looking environments, and some familiar enemy types, which are the best things I can say about it. Lament of Innocence is painfully linear and focuses on the boring prequel tale of the origins of the Belmont/Dracula feud and the legendary Vampire Killer whip. It was a decent action game for its time, but not a title that deserved the Castlevania name.
21. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (2010 – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
What this six-player downloadable Castlevania game lacks in interesting game design it makes up for in ambition. Players select series heroes like Alucard, Simon Belmont, and Soma Cruz to team up and whip through huge castle maps. Zooming in and out on the action is a clever way to learn your whereabouts without having to pause the action. Unfortunately, experience-based progression is absent and players can only improve their stats with new equipment, meaning you have to replay level after level to find that rare item you want. I’d love to see more cooperative Castlevania, but please reintroduce the progression and weapon variety we’ve come to love.
20. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2005 – PlayStation 2, Xbox)
Like Lament of Innocence before it, Curse of Darkness is decent, but doesn’t reflect the overall style and atmosphere of other Castlevania games. Unlike Lament of Innocence’s limited camera control, players can take full control of the view in Curse of Darkness. The biggest improvement is the addition of a pet monster system. Players travel around with everything from a brutish golem to a healing fairy. Leveling these loyal familiars up and plotting their skill trees is a satisfying distraction from the ho-hum battle system.
19. Castlevania: The Adventure (1989 – Game Boy)
This handheld experience pales in comparison to its console brethren, but mobile vampire slayers couldn’t have asked for much more at the time. This portable title grants Christopher Belmont the ability to launch fireballs from his whip but took away traditional sub-weapons like axes and holy water. The monochromatic color palette holds back the dreary environments from coming to life, but the Game Boy’s terrific stereo audio provides an aural treat. This brief, forgettable game was later remade into a much more vibrant WiiWare title: Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth.
18. Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night (2010 – iOS)
This quirky mobile game plops Alucard back in the castle from Symphony of the Night, but requires him to engage in puzzle battles as he moves room to room. The simple gem-matching formula is made more intriguing by gaining new gear and leveling up. It’s a treat being able to hear classic Castlevania tunes and revisit the same castle while engaging in completely new gameplay. While I don’t play it much anymore, this is my go-to puzzle game on my iPhone. If anything, I just love staring at the touched-up Symphony of the Night sprites I’ve come to love so much.
Keep reading to learn about the series' clunky 3D debut and the much-debated NES sequel.
17. Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth (2009 – Wii)
This WiiWare exclusive resurrects the forgotten first Game Boy title for a new generation. The updated graphics are great, but the gameplay is still unforgiving and rigid. Thanks to being based on a Game Boy game, the levels and enemies lack depth and end up feeling repetitive. Balancing out the so-so gameplay is a marvelous soundtrack that revisits classic tunes from the series redone to sound like they were composed with the Sega Genesis’ unique FM Synth sound. The game is worth downloading for the music alone.
16. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (1991 – Game Boy)
Christopher Belmont’s second adventure is a considerable step up from The Adventure. Konami’s improved use of the Game Boy hardware ups the graphical ante, more closely resembling the NES games’ aesthetic. Sub-weapons also make a return, allowing you to cut down flying foes with axes. I particularly like how the Mega Man-style stage selection allows players to choose their own path. This is the easily best of the original Game Boy Castlevania games.
15. Castlevania (1999 – Nintendo 64)
The Castlevania series’ first foray into 3D is as rancid as a pot roast hidden inside a castle wall. The whip-wielding Reinhardt and supernaturally blessed Carrie control like wooden dolls, which is made worse by unforgiving platforming sections. One obnoxious scenario tasks the player with transporting an unstable explosive through the castle, where falling more than a few inches results in multiple infuriating retries. Faults aside, the game holds a special place for me. The ominous, desperately lonely atmosphere struck terror in my young heart. Being chased through a hedge maze by a chainsaw-toting Frankenstein’s monster chases still haunts me.
14. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003 – GBA)
The last GBA game in the Castlevania series is also one of the best games available on the handheld. Soma Cruz’s mission to destroy Dracula takes place in 2035. While the future setting doesn’t change the gothic, Halloween-esque vibe the series is known for, it did integrate modern firearms and gear. Aria of Sorrow let players put down the series’ trademark whip in exchange for a plethora of unique armaments from a trident to gigantic flaming swords. While the story and characters are mostly forgettable, the gameplay and impressive visuals set the standard for the terrific Castlevania DS games to come.
13. Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles (2007 – PSP)
Casual Castlevania fans probably haven’t heard of Dracula X or Rondo of Blood. Rondo of Blood is a Japanese-only PC Engine game (TurboGrafx-16 in the US), and Dracula X is a watered-down SNES remake that received a limited release. These lesser-known traditional Castlevania games set the framework for the legendary Symphony of the Night. Many sprites, characters, and songs you know from Symphony originated in these games. Dracula X Chronicles is a solid PSP remake of Rondo of Blood, complete with pretty visuals and updated versions of the PC Engine’s awesome anime-style cutscenes. The original versions of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night are also on the UMD, making it a must-have for any PSP-owning Castlevania fan.
12. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (2006 – DS)
Portrait of Ruin delivered the same basic formula and gameplay of the previous portable Symphony of the Night clones, but with the added bonus of juggling two characters. Players can swap between Jonathon’s classic whip action and Charlotte’s magic tome attacks to battle Dracula’s forces at any time. Having two wildly different play styles available on the fly adds welcome variety to the familiar formula, and the cooperative dual crushes are satisfying spectacles capable of obliterating everyone on the screen. We need more Castlevania games like Portrait of Ruin.
11. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (1987 – NES)
Just like Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Simon Belmont’s second outing is a polarizing adventure. Unlike the linear levels of the first title, this sequel is a free-roaming jaunt loaded with cryptic puzzles and a day/night cycle in which enemies become tougher when the sun sets. Good luck trucking through this one without a guide at your side. From summoning a tornado to the famous “What a terrible night to have a curse” line, this game holds an important place in gaming history, even though it may not be my favorite entry.
Read on to discover my personal top ten Castlevania games.
10. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001 – GBA)
The first game to successfully mimic Symphony’s amazing Metroid-esque formula is a fantastic handheld title, but it was doomed from the get-go. Circle of the Moon’s gorgeous visuals were mostly hidden by the dim presentation, which was complicated by the original GBA’s lack of screen lighting. Playing near a window around 1:15pm on a sunny day with the system titled at a perfect 47-degree angle grants entrance into a Castlevania game with great bosses, pitch-perfect controls, a customizable whip, and truly satisfying exploration. If you missed this one, pop it in your DS Lite and take it for a stroll.
9. Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994 – Genesis)
Sega fans got their hands on only a single solitary Castlevania game between the 8- and 16-bit eras. Castlevania: Bloodlines features some of the goriest visuals in the series, including dripping blood and the mangled bodies of Dracula’s victims. Players choose between two characters: the classic whip-wielding John Morris and Eric Lecarde, a spearman who could thrust his weapon in multiple directions. This moody, richly detailed Genesis romp is one of the most overlooked treasures in the franchise.
8. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002 – GBA)
And so begins Konami’s steady stream of terrific handheld Symphony of the Night copycats. I still remember the first time I got my hands on Harmony of Dissonance – because it was just once. I beat the entire game in one glorious eight-hour sitting. Juste Belmont controls great, with the ability to dash forward and backwards with the GBA’s shoulder buttons. While the flow of the game and overall design of Dracula’s castle are some of the best in the series, the overall experience is held back by dull visuals and some of the most underwhelming Castlevania music ever.
7. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1990 – NES)
If Simon’s Quest was an intriguing sidestep for the series, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is a full-on return to form. The game looks, sounds, and feels exactly like the first Castlevania, but offers new features like switchable characters and branching paths. Iconic Castlevania mainstays like Alucard and the punishing moving cogs of the clock tower stage make their first appearances here. Being able to play as the wall-clinging Grant made the most perilous platforming sections an empowering treat, resulting in less controller-throwing bouts of frustration.
6. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (2005 – DS)
Soma’s tale continues in this direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow. This sequel takes advantage of the superior hardware of the DS to deliver impressive animations and amazing music. Soma has an even broader selection of weapons available this time. It’s pretty satisfying knocking out a gigantic Castlevania boss by launching a rocket-propelled grenade into its face. A cute rune-tracing minigame is in place to finish off bosses, but it adds little to the overall experience. This game successfully ushered the impressive portable Castlevania games into a new generation of handhelds.
5. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (2010 – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
If you want to know how much I love the latest 3D Castlevania game, all you have to do is read my gushing review. In an effort to keep things short I’ll highlight the three things that make this not only a terrific Castlevania game, but one of the best action games of this console cycle: More harrowing boss battles than you can shake a whip at, a dual magic-based combat system, and the first story worth caring about. The introductory stages may be slow-paced and a little dull, but the polished payoff that follows more than makes up for it. The game also features one of the most exciting and shocking video game endings I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel to this gem.
4. Super Castlevania IV (1991 – SNES)
Essentially a remake of the original Castlevania, this Super Nintendo game perfects the classic formula. Unlike the stiff gameplay of the original, players can whip in eight directions and swing across chasms Indiana Jones-style, resulting in one of the most nimble Belmonts in the family. The SNES’ Mode 7 technology also presents players with deadly rooms that could rotate 360 degrees, creating unexpected spike hazards or pitfalls. If you want to experience the rewarding challenge of the traditional formula but the 8-bit era is too dated for you, look no further than this 16-bit gem.
3. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008 – DS)
The final portable Castlevania game is also my favorite. I didn’t play through it until about a year ago, and I fell in love with its punishing difficulty. Protagonist Shanoa possesses the ability to equip different glyphs, which is basically a catch-all term for being able to equip two different weapons and a special ability. I loved hewing through droves of succubi and skeletons with a huge scythe, then switching to an energy beam to blast through multiple foes at once. Order of Ecclesia is the master’s course for 2D Castlevania fans, presenting flawless gameplay wrapped in a satisfying challenge.
2. Castlevania (1986 – NES)
Simon Belmont’s first adventure is a tough-as-nails sidescrolling romp through Dracula’s Castle. The years haven’t been kind to the rigid platforming and unrelenting challenge, but it’s still the essential Castlevania experience. My heartbeat still quickens when I face off with the unrelenting Frankenstein’s monster and his pal Igor. Later games in the series honed the basic formula of whipping loads of Halloween-themed bad guys, but this first game evoked a brooding atmosphere with gothic visuals and haunting melodies. Castlevania’s fantastic Nintendo debut made the series the legend it is today.
1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997 – PlayStation)
Alucard’s journey through his father’s sprawling castle put the series on the map for a new generation of gamers. Symphony of the Night combined the exploration and skill progression of the Metroid series with beautifully detailed 2D sprites, razor-sharp gameplay, and a rewarding leveling system. Players equip the bad-ass half vampire with everything from a butcher’s knife to a morning star, and even transform him into a bat, wolf, or mist to access new areas. Throw in a surprising twist that literally turns Alucard’s world upside down and you have one of the greatest video games of all time.
For more Castlevania check out my feature about the analysis of the series' core bosses.