31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is the third Metroidvania game on the GBA. It appeared Koji Igarashi and his team were going to keep on going in this direction, as the formula is a proven success. Aria of Sorrow was also released in 2003, which was probably the best time to own a GBA, thanks to games like Advance Wars 2, Fire Emblem and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga among others.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is, depending on how you look at it, the most bizarre or most creative the Metroidvania era. It completely ditches the “Belmont v. Dracula” story, in favor of something different. Even with strange new plotlines and characters, Aria of Sorrow features new gameplay features and has some of the best music out of all the handheld Castlevanias.

Aria of Sorrow’s plot and characters are unique
Aria of Sorrow takes place in the not-so-distant future of 2035. Instead of it being a period piece set in the European countryside, it is in modern Japan. Dracula’s castle also does not occur because of dark magic or it is the result mad cult leader or priest, it appears in Japan during a unique solar eclipse.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

Huh?

Setting itself even farther apart from other entries is the actual lack of the Count himself! Instead, it’s his “spirit” or “energy” that curses the Land of the Rising Sun.

What?

To add to the weirdness, players don’t take control of a vampire hunter at all. Instead, they play as Soma Cruz, an exchange student living in Japan. Cruz also has secret powers and a dark one hidden inside.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

Ok?

This may sound like a premise for a bad early 2000s anime, but it does flesh itself out into an engaging story with rich characters. The story has Cruz trying to defeat the evil in the land while trying to figure out what is going on himself. It’s a great set up, and the storyline practically begs players to explore the castle.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

The main villain is an American cult leader named Graham Jones, who wants to control Dracula’s evil. Helping Soma Cruz along the way is Japanese government agent Genya Arikado aka Alucard under a different identity; Yoko Belnades, a local religious figure and a possible descendant of Syhpa from Dracula’s Curse; Hammer, a former U.S. soldier who is a weapons dealer; and Soma’s childhood friend Mina Habuku, who is acts as travel guide. There is even a missing Belmont, who goes by the name “J.”

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

Aria of Sorrow is another great Metroidvania for the GBA
Despite the changes to the classic plot and ideas from other Castlevania games, Aria of Sorrow contains fresh gameplay ideas. Aria of Sorrow brings back the array of weapons in Symphony of the Night. Cruz’s sword and hand-to-hand combat skills are up to part with Alucard. This is also one of the few games in the series where the main character can wield firearms. Combat is still as engaging and fun as ever.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

The newest feature in Aria of Sorrow is Tactical Soul System. How the system works is, after defeating an enemy or boss Cruz can absorb its soul to gain all kinds of abilities. The souls of the enemies will contain attack enhancements, helpful uses, and even brand new attacks. Some souls allow for summons and using the attacks the enemies use. It’s yet another new process, but it allows for even more creativity. Players can have near endless customization with the souls and weapons.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

The graphics of the game take a more dark approach, which fits the tone of the game. It even looks more colorful and crisp than other GBA Castlevanias. Aria of Sorrow has one flaw and is shockingly enough its level design. The backgrounds and themes of the stages are classic Castlevania, but it’s a tad repetitive. Considering this is a massive exploration-based game, it makes Aria of Sorrow a bit of a slog.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Screenshot

To cap off the game, there is the soundtrack. Castlevania is a franchise with a consistently good soundtrack in each game, and Aria of Sorrow is no different. It’s a bit more atmospheric than most Castlevania soundtracks. There are some touches of native Japanese music too. Which makes sense, since that’s where the game takes place.

Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is easily one of the most original of the franchise. Its new premise and unique look on the classic Castlevania story is worth looking into. If it’s a bit too odd than players should still give it a shot, thanks to some imaginative gameplay. Aria of Sorrow’s levels may be a bit samey, but pushing that aside, fans and newcomers can enjoy a gripping Castlevania experience.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Screenshot

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is the second Game Boy Advance title and one that follows the Metroidvania format once again. Improving here and there on Circle of the Moon’s minor setbacks, Harmony of Dissonance proves that lightning can strike three times. Although, this time around, the overall package might come off as underwhelming.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance follows Symphony of the Night more closely

Taking one look at the box art, and one can see Konami used a similar art style to the PSOne classic. Starring Juste Belmont (Author’s Note: Who kind of looks like Alucard?) as the latest Belmont to take on the Vampire Lord. Dracula has kidnapped Juste’s childhood friend Liddy, but in typical shonen anime, his best friend/rival/shipping-partner-in-many-a-fan-fiction, Maxim Kishine, wants to save her first.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Screenshot

Gameplay-wise, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance utilizes the whip seen in most Castlevanias. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a missed opportunity to do something different with the combat. The new Spell Fusion system is similar to Castlevania Legends’ sub-weapon system but offers more variety. For example, Juste can combine the ice with the dagger weapon to shoot multiple targets at once. It’s a nice touch, but it doesn’t have a lot of customization, which is a downer.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Screenshot

Luckily, Konami piled on the RPG-elements with an overabundance of armor and sub-weapons to collect throughout the game. When you beat the game, you can play as Maxim, who has shurikens and can double jump. It doesn’t change a whole lot, but it does make the game much easier playing as him.

Music is fine, and the graphics have been improved over Circle of the Moon. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is one of the better-looking games on the GBA.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Screenshot

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is a good, 4/5 game

Overall, there is nothing truly horrible about Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. However, it doesn’t do too much different that sets it apart from the other Metroidvanias. The castle is overall pretty plain, and while there are some good platforming elements, it just has a very “been there, done that” vibe. However, it’s simple nature and the genuine decrease in difficulty make Harmony of Dissonance a great “beginner’s entry” to the Metroidvania-genre.

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Screenshot

Regardless, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is worth playing, whether you are a hardcore fan or a newcomer to fighting Dracula.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was one of the first Game Boy Advance games and is Konami’s second attempt at the Metroidvania-style. Thankfully for them, lightning struck twice.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

Circle of the Moon not only succeeds in repeating a formula but is also a great game on its own. Circle of the Moon introduces a new system and takes on a refreshing plotline to the long-running series. While the music is a tad weak and the graphics may become choppy, Circle of the Moon is an impressive game.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

Circle of the Moon creates its own story and new gameplay features
Circle of the Moon takes place a few decades before Bloodlines and stars vampire hunter-in-training, Nathan Graves. Graves is embarking on his last training session with his mentor Morris Baldwin and Morris’ son, Hugh. Upon entering a dark castle, recurring villain Camilla appears to kidnap Morris. Hugh and Nathan are separated, and players take control of Nathan to find Morris and Hugh. Unfortunately for him, his last test of training involves taking on a resurrected Count Dracula!

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

Circle of the Moon keeps the emphasis on non-linearity and exploration found in Symphony of the Night but manages to change up the core gameplay. Dracula’s castle is still a massive one and will take more than a few hours to explore it. The portions of the castle have a heavy emphasis on platforming. Thankfully, jumping and attacking are quite fun thanks to the GBA’s control set up. While certain sections of the Count’s castle may appear samey and will have the player questioning if they have been there before, the level design is overall good.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

Circle of the Moon begins a trend with the GBA Castlevanias

Instead of a huge variety of weapons, Nathan is equipped with a Castlevania staple; he combats the forces of evil with the whip. Players can upgrade the whip with the card-based Dual Set-Up System. Enemies will drop cards after being defeated by Nathan. From there, the player will collect them. From the status menu, players will set up whichever ones they want to use. Certain cards can change the whip attacks or summon monsters from magic. It’s an intuitive system that allows for creativity and mixing things up.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

For a launch title on the Game Boy Advance, Circle of the Moon shows off what the system is capable of doing. Unfortunately, this also shows the system’s shortcomings as well. The graphics within the game are crisp and colorful, but not quite as animated as they were in other games. The music is catchy and full of atmospheric anthems, but some of them are repetitive. Although, the remixes of classic Castlevania tracks are quite good.

For too long, fans were given mediocre, or outright terrible, Castlevania games on handhelds. Circle of the Moon managed to change that, thanks to engaging and entertaining gameplay. It’s a shame Koji Igarashi removed the game from the series canon, as Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is easily one of the franchise’s better games.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Screenshot

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania Chronicles

Castlevania Chronicles Screenshot

Castlevania Chronicles is a port of Japanese home computer version of the game Akumanjo Dracula (translated: Devil’s Castle Dracula). The Japanese original was released in 1993, and the Chronicles version was released in 2000. It was also Konami’s second Castlevania game on the PlayStation.

Chronicles is, in essence, another remake of the NES original. The game may be brushed off as a run-of-the-mill entry. However, Chronicles manages to stand on its own with new modes, bosses, stages, and remixed music. The new character designs are done by the team behind Symphony of the Night.

Castlevania Chronicles is another solid entry in the long-running series, but not much else. The new features are fine and all, but at the end of the day it’s just there. Not to mention, the newly designed levels and music aren’t up to par with the rest of the series.

Chronicles is a fun game to play and experience with new modes
Castlevania Chronicles starts out the exact same way the NES original did, but with added cutscenes at the beginning. They are full-motion video and they have not aged well one bit. Regardless, once the actual game kicks off, the 2D graphics are actually quite good looking. Instead of emulating Symphony of the Night, Konami went a more traditional route. It almost looks like Super Castlevania IV, but with a good facelift. Simon Belmont has been recreated with a generally good re-design.

Castlevania Chronicles Screenshot

Beating the game allows for Time Attack mode, which is basically a mode to speed run the game. Castlevania is known on the Internet for speed runs, so it’s nice for a game to present a mode design for this trend.

Castlevania Chronicles Screenshot

Gameplay is stripped down to the bare essential Castlevania formula. Simon Belmont can only whip forward and jump. Weapon attacks have players returning to use the attack and up button combination. There are only four weapons this time around too. The gameplay works and is as tight as its ever been.

There is not much else to Castlevania Chronicles

The simplistic gameplay is one of the reasons why Chronicles is just OK. It’s about as old school as one can get with Castlevania and does not go above and beyond.

Castlevania Chronicles Screenshot

One of the worst aspects of the game is the remixed music. Konami went a different route. Instead of utilizing the PlayStation’s audio capabilities like they did with Symphony, it’s just weird sounding. The classic track “Vampire Killer” has been turned into this bizarre song that would fit in an Eastern European disco.

The level design is all over the place with some levels becoming labyrinthine mazes or staying as basic as possible. Although, some of the later levels are challenging in that classic Castlevania style.

The game also has a difficulty curve more resembling Dracula’s Curse. However, the game does give the player a chance to change the difficulty.

Since Castlevania Chronicles is an updated re-remake, Konami added the original for fans to check out. It’s an incredibly average game with somehow even worse music and bowling shoe ugly graphics.

Castlevania Chronicles Screenshot

Castlevania Chronicles is absolutely worth giving a shot if you’re a Castlevania fan or even a newcomer to the series. The new graphics are actually nice to look at and the gameplay is straightforward and solid. The random level design, difficulty spikes, and bizarre soundtrack really take the polish off.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Screenshot

After Konami honestly tried with the N64, they swung again with Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness.

You know how Skyrim has a ton of mods that make the game an overall better experience? Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness might as well be called Castlevania 64, But With Mods. Gameplay is completely switched around and fits the 3D environments. Although, some previous problems do carry over into the game and bring it down a notch.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Screenshot

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness doesn’t star a Belmont…*GASP*

The game takes place around the same time as Castlevania 64, and stars a lycanthrope named Cornell. Cornell has found out his younger sister has been kidnapped by the Count, but his longtime rival is after her too. Shonen anime tropes aside, it’s another nice change of pace to play as someone different.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Screenshot

And Cornell plays awesomely. Instead of a whip, he uses brute strength and projectiles. This is a more than welcome addition to the otherwise clunky and unfair combat of the previous game. Cornell can also change into a wolf and use more abilities to fight Dracula’s army. The controls are fit more for a system like this one, and platforming is a lot less tiresome.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Screenshot

The cut scenes, while featuring a LOT of the same characters from the first N64 game, do a great job of fleshing out Cornell and who he is. It’s a shame Legacy of Darkness gets overlooked, because there are some great story moments.

Beating the game unlocks Henry, a knight who wields a shotgun. That is just too awesome.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Screenshot

An overall improvement to Castlevania 64…but not without its problems

One of Castlevania 64’s biggest issues (among others) was its lack of atmosphere and poor level design. Sadly, this carries over into Legacy of Darkness. Konami reused a lot of the game’s previous stages and it comes off even more unfinished. There are a few redesigned places here and there, but it still has an empty feeling.

Music is OK. A small amount of remixed classic tunes are welcome, but it’s the same kind of atmospheric droning that plagued the last game.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Screenshot

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness is a sadly overlooked game in the franchise. But then again, if your game had to follow a terrible entry like Castlevania 64, it would be overlooked too. The little tweaks to the overall package, along with tight gameplay, make Legacy of Darkness one entry worth seeking out in the classic series. Unlike its predecessor, it’s not worth tossing the game in the fires of Mount Doom.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania 64

Castlevania Screenshot

Castlevania 64 is a generally bad game and a borderline embarrassment to the series. It’s clunky, silly and comes off as a third-rate Ocarina of Time clone.

This is the general opinion fans, and even longtime Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, have on Castlevania on the N64. The game is shunned where Konami actually removed the game from the series canon and timeline. Ouch.

Is it that bad of a game? After all, with the benefit of hindsight, anything can be considered a masterpiece. Unfortunately, Castlevania on the N64 does not fit into that category, but it is not the absolute disaster fans make it out to be.

Castlevania Screenshot

Castlevania on the N64 tries the adventure game format once again
Konami tried experimenting a little bit and decided to go with an adventure game. Instead of a linear platforming experience, Castlevania on the N64 takes a few feathers out of Legend of Zelda and the then-burgeoning survival horror genre. To be honest, it doesn’t really work.

For a series that has always been about platforming and having a very organized feel, the game just feels way too open and lifeless. It feels too much like a slow-paced dungeon crawler. There are parts of the game where there are just a few enemies and you running around. The courtyards around the castle and the wastelands surrounding it are barren. It does not feel like a Castlevania game at all. It feels empty and unfinished, rather than spooky.

Castlevania Screenshot

The game gives the player a chance to choose their character. Reinhardt Schneider, who is a relative of the Belmonts and Carrie Fernandez, a teenage girl who wields magic. Schneider is just awkward to play as, as his whip only faces forward. Carrie’s magic is incredibly useful because it works more like a projectile. Regardless, the controls for both characters are still troublesome.

Castlevania Screenshot

Castlevania on the N64 comes off very stiff in its controls, and jumping is easily one of the most difficult things to do in the game. Jumping was always weird in the 2D games, but now it comes off as an aspect that’s going against the player. It does not help the in-game camera is not friendly.

Castlevania is known for having a great library of songs. Castlevania on the N64 barely has any songs at all. They are mostly just atmospheric droning. Although the violin theme at the title screen is chilling.

Is there anything good about this game?
Does Castlevania on the N64 have any positives? Yes, actually. Castlevania on the N64 actually looks good for the time being. Characters aren’t a weird mix of polygons and textures are nice and smooth.

Castlevania Screenshot

The game has some creativity behind it, both in the story and the strange enemy types. Castlevania on the N64 attempts to tell a grand story with references to the novel. There is a wide cast of characters, all of whom add to the story, as well. Granted, it boils down to “vampire hunter v. Dracula.” However, attempting to have a narrative told in an RPG format is bold.

Castlevania Screenshot

Some of the strange enemy types include the infamous motorcycle riding skeletons and the chainsaw-wielding gardener. It still does not make the experience any better, but at least Konami tried to give the game a personality.

Castlevania Screenshot

At the end of the day, Castlevania on the N64 is a failed experiment. It does not control well, gameplay is boring and it does not even feel like a Castlevania game. However, players can’t say Konami did not try and do something genuinely creative.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania Legends

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

The third and final Game Boy game, Castlevania Legends is an attempt by Konami to tell the true origin of the Belmont family and their first battle against Dracula. The story is arguably the strongest part of the game, but it has some unique gameplay elements.

As far as where it ranks in the Castlevania library? It’s easily one of the better games in the franchise. Being released late into the Game Boy’s lifespan, there are some technical setbacks that keep it from achieving legitimate greatness. Castlevania Legends looks great on a Super Game Boy, though.

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

Castlevania Legends stars Sonia Belmont, the first (and only) female Belmont

Castlevania Legends starts out with a text crawl about a young woman named Sonia Belmont and how she is on a quest to defeat the ultimate evil…problematic protagonist tropes in Castlevania! And Count Dracula.

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

Joking aside, it is great to see a female protagonist in the series and be the (at the time) first Belmont to defeat the Count. The game also does not harp on the fact that she’s a woman either. And for longtime fans of the franchise, Alucard also makes an appearance.

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

Sidebar: there is a fan theory going around about the ending (scroll to #4, but spoiler warning), that could have been fodder for future titles.

How’s the rest of Castlevania Legends?

Castlevania Legends is quite a lot of fun to play. Controls are simple and responsive and luckily, the slowdown is minimal. The whip-based combat is back, as is the ability to upgrade it to shoot fire out of it.

One of Sonia’s abilities is the ability to absorb the souls of bosses, called Soul Weapons. The Soul Weapons allow her to heal herself, increase attack power, or hit every enemy on screen. Sonia can also enter Burning Mode where, at the cost of some hearts, she can become indestructible and have can deal heavy damage. Combined with these abilities, Sonia is a total badass. It also makes the game much easier than most.

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

On the other hand, the game’s graphics are very “meh”. Backgrounds aren’t as detailed as they were in Belmont’s Revenge. Playing it on the Super Game Boy is needed because at least some color is given to the game.

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

It doesn’t help the levels aren’t super well-designed either. While the branching paths are a nice addition, there just isn’t much worth exploring when it all looks the same after a while.

Castlevania Legends stands as a solid 3-star entry to the long-running series about killing Dracula. Sonia Belmont’s abilities are truly unique amongst her successors, and it’s a shame she never returned for a sequel. As far as action handheld games go, you can do a whole lot worse than Castlevania Legends.

Castlevania Legends Screenshot

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

In 1997, the first Castlevania game was released for the Sony PlayStation. Instead of taking advantage of the new 3D graphics, the series’ then-new producer, Koji Igarashi, stuck to the 2D style. The game also marked a massive shift in gameplay. Despite being a huge fan of the classic NES trilogy, Igarashi wanted a Castlevania game unique from the rest of the franchise. Igarashi wanted to make an action game that can be played dozens upon dozens of times. It was a risk to make an enormous change to a long-running series. However, it was one that paid off.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night became a sleeper hit and later went on to universal critical acclaim, appearing on multiplegreatest games of all time” lists and is fondly remembered as one of the best games of its generation.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the rare examples of a game living up to its reputation and credentials. Just about every little tiny detail in this game is fantastic and its one Castlevania fans will be playing for a long, long time.

Symphony of the Night is a top to bottom masterpiece

Symphony of the Night is a sequel to the acclaimed Rondo of Blood and actually starts with recreating the final boss fight of that game. Although, this time Richter Belmont and Count Dracula are sharing now-infamous dialogue.

The beginning is actually a creative bait and switch, as players now take control of Alucard from Castlevania III. Dracula has risen once again, and Alucard storms his father’s castle to end his bloodline. Although, the start of the game, Alucard will be destroying everything in his path until Death “aka the Grim Reaper” takes all of his abilities away. From there, Alucard will have to explore the castle to find new weapons and techniques.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Symphony of the Night is known for being the first “Metroidvania” game, as it uses many elements of the Metroid series. The emphasis on non-linear exploration of Nintendo’s series, combined with the action-platforming of Castlevania. The map is even similar to Super Metroid. Symphony of the Night contains a leveling up system, as seen in many classic RPGs. It certainly makes up for some addictive gameplay.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Alucard will be traversing his father’s domain and players will see jaw-dropping 2D graphics. For a system not well regarded for its 2D games, Symphony of the Night is hands down one of the most gorgeous games on the system. The animation on the characters alone is worth the admission, but the overall range of environments and stages show off the creativity behind the game. The disturbing catacombs, to the church towers, to the long hallways are all incredible to look at.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Alucard plays much different from other Castlevania heroes. The son of Dracula uses a variety of swords, shields, spells, and transformations to help him battle his father. Alucard can turn into a bat, a werewolf or a cloud of mist in order to fight his way. A number of weapons and items to equip is almost overwhelming, but it allows for flowing diversity with customization and combat. For a game as huge as this one, it’s good to note that Symphony of the Night’s combat never becomes a chore.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Boss fights are awesome, but always find a way to challenge the player. Each fight is different and more unique than the last one. Alucard fights Greek myths, gigantic zombies that summon flies and even a certain Belmont. The final battle with Dracula is also incredible.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Finally, there is the soundtrack. Symphony of the Night truly is, for lack of a better word, a symphony. There is a wide array of music types for players can enjoy. It is, without a doubt, the greatest assortment of sounds in a Castlevania game. Some range from atmospheric, such as the Marble Garden’s theme, to fist-pumping anthems, such as the remix of “Bloody Tears.”

Maybe this Symphony goes on a bit too long

It’s no longer a spoiler, but players are required to go through the game twice. Upon beating what is supposedly the final boss, the “true” castle is revealed to be one upside down. Symphony’s castle is already a monstrosity of evil. Having to combat enemies again, but this time upside down may be a turn off for some players. It’s also more difficult this time around, so players are warned.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Screenshot

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a phenomenal game in its own right, and managed to give the franchise the right amount of originality it needed. Aside from, what could be considered, the immense length, Symphony of the Night is arguably the franchise’s magnum opus. It’s unique, creative, addictive and fun. Most importantly, Symphony of the Night’s reputation one that is justified. Find a copy of this game and just play it.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Dracula X

Castlevania: Dracula X Screenshot

Castlevania: Dracula X is another red-headed stepchild in the series. It is often unfavorably compared to Rondo of Blood, and to be fair, Dracula X takes a lot from it including characters, music, etc. When the game was announced, fans expected it to be a SNES port of the PC Engine game.

Sadly, we ended up with a flawed, but overall good, Castlevania title. A lot of what made Rondo of Blood great is still in the package, but there’s more than a few cons that bring it down.

Castlevania: Dracula X Screenshot

Castlevania: Dracula X isn’t exactly a port or a remake…

Dracula X stars Richter Belmont (Author’s Note: My personal favorite out of all the Belmonts, to be honest…) once again, as Dracula has risen again and has taken over Transylvania and has kidnapped his girlfriend…blah blah blah. The story is an all too well-traveled road. However, that is just the beginning of the issues.

The game doesn’t have anime-inspired cut scenes and characters are completely cut from the story. Level design, while pretty good in the sense that it focuses on platforming rather than straightforward combat, is very OK. There is also a complete lack of open-ended levels and you cannot play as Maria. Much of this can be chopped up to the SNES’ limitations, though.

Castlevania: Dracula X Screenshot

Worse yet, Richter doesn’t have the same mobility he did in Rondo of Blood making this game rather slow. However, it’s not all bad.

Dracula X takes parts of Rondo of Blood and makes it a whole new experience. There are different levels and bosses and the remixed music sounds fantastic.

Castlevania: Dracula X Screenshot

The SNES doesn’t have the graphics or sound capabilities the PC Engine does, but Dracula X does hold its own against a superior console. Seriously, the fire effects in the first stage are nice to look at. The whip sounds are also, strangely enough, nice to hear. Dracula X might have some of the best sound design in the entire series.

Gameplay is simplistic but still as satisfying as ever. Ritcher’s whip gets the job done, as well as his Item Crash technique. The Item Crash now takes up hearts instead of health and it’s much easier to pull off.

Castlevania: Dracula X turns up the difficulty to 11

Castlevania: Dracula X’s biggest flaw is its monstrous difficulty. Richter’s backflip, which was previously useful in Rondo of Blood, now has a huge emphasis placed on it. Getting hearts from candles almost becomes a chore because some are placed high above Richter’s head. Boss fights also focus on it, which is strange considering how sluggish the game can be.

Count Dracula is also a significantly difficult boss fight, but more so than usual. Instead of one plane to fight on, Richter has to constantly jump all over the place in order to avoid Drac’s attacks. Oh, this game also reintroduces the infamous “knock-back” from the first game.

Castlevania: Dracula X Screenshot

If fans were to rank Dracula X in the whole series, it would probably be head-and-shoulders above the “bad” titles of the series, but fall just short underneath Bloodlines and other 16-bit entries. By all means, not a terrible game, but a very, very generic Castlevania experience.

31 Nights of Castlevania: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Screenshot

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is the only Castlevania to be released for the PC Engine CD. It was also a Japanese only release until the compilation the Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP and the official release on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console.

It was worth the wait, because what a game Rondo of Blood is. Konami took full advantage of the system’s sound capabilities and managed to show off some stylish cutscenes as well. Rondo of Blood may not have the graphical tricks and whip controls of Super Castlevania IV, but the overall package is a fantastic one.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Screenshot

A new Belmont takes on Dracula in Rondo of Blood
Players will take control of Richter Belmont, the latest member of the Belmont clan to wield the Vampire Killer whip. One aspect of Rondo of Blood players will take note are the graphics. Not just with the creepy intro and anime-styled cutscenes, but with the game itself. It’s a well-animated game, as backgrounds will also have a life to them.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Screenshot

Enemies won’t have just one walk cycle, but will sometimes disintegrate or break down after being attacked. Richter himself is also animated in his confident idle pose. There is just as much color as seen in the SNES games, but the graphics are not quite as crisp. Regardless, Rondo of Blood is a nice game to look at.

Richter is not the only playable character, as the little girl Maria Renard joins him. Maria uses cutesy animals as weapons and is actually pretty fun to play as. Their initial meeting is actually pretty humorous.

Controls are back to the usual two-button format and the awkward jumps are back. Not to mention, Richter doesn’t know how to whip in all different directions. However, he does know a backflip which helps dodge enemies. He also has the Item Crash attack in which, at the cost of a few hearts, he will create a super attack based on a particular item.

Level design is not just linear, as each stage has more than a few exploration options. Richter is not only looking to defeat Dracula, but also rescue is girlfriend and other maidens. Rondo of Blood’s levels are huge and has a similar branching path system seen in Dracula’s Curse, except done in a more organic manner.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Screenshot

Every stage is well designed too. The opening stage in the burning village, the clock tower, and rest of the castle are actually fun to play in. There is a lack of adventure feeling, but it’s still a great experience.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Screenshot

To complete this phenomenal game, the soundtrack is superb. The addictive sounds of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood are a unique mix of original music and classic Castlevania tunes. Combined with some crisp voice work from the characters, and this is easily one of the best sounding games.

Challenge is a bit high but does not bring down Rondo of Blood
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood brings the controls brought back to basics, which actually creates a lot of challenge in the game. Enemy’s attacks will send Richter flying back and precision jumping is a lot more difficult. His backflip may not help too much in certain situations as well.

Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Screenshot

Enemies and bosses are also in complete defense mode and are borderline merciless in some stages. For example, the knights in the clock tower and dragon heads take a lot of hits, regardless if the player is using Maria or Richter. It’s nowhere near as brutal as its SNES counterpart Dracula X, but it will cause a few broken controllers. Especially in the later stages.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood succeeds in being a fantastic Castlevania game because of its impressive levels and gameplay. It also manages to capture the horror atmosphere well with the soundtrack and graphics, despite being on a unique system. Its bizarre spikes in difficulty may turn players off and the true lack of any major gameplay changes may turn fans off. However, sticking through it, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood stands head and shoulders above many entries in the series and can be considered one of the best.