Around this time last year, when the days were getting darker and the horror holiday was almost here, I decided to go on a new journey: To explore all the Castlevania games that I missed out on, specifically the exploration based 'metroidvania' ones. It was an amazing experience. This year I'm starting on a new journey, but I was reflecting on all the games I played and realized I never even wrote about most of them. That's why, in this article, I just want to go over the Castlevania games I played and share some brief thoughts about each of them. Join me as I re-experience my Castlevania marathon one more time. I'll give a brief overview of each game and tell you what I remember most about each of them.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Symphony of the Night is the game that started it all, the game that defined the subgenre of Metroidvania that we sometimes call 'Igavania.' It's self evident that it made a brilliant impression on me; I went on to play all of its successors, after all. Beautiful sprite animation and magnificent music populates every frame of this game as you explore an enormous castle jampacked with secrets. And as an added bonus, there is some truly meme-tastic voice acting.
What I remember the most about Symphony of the Night is the presentation and the sheer size of the game. When they revealed I had an entire upside down castle to explore, I just felt overwhelmed and very impressed. But more than that, the game really whet my appetite for this franchise and genre.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Circle of the Moon is the second Castlevania game and first GBA game I streamed. The power disparity between the PlayStation and the GBA is huge, and as such, the game is much less technologically advanced than Symphony of the Night. But there is beauty in simplicity, and Circle does a lot with what it has. You can equip cards that give you various abilities and buffs, there are plenty of secrets and the story is very different; you're not a Belmont or Alucard, in fact, the game feels completely disjointed from the franchise and is considered non-canon. I still really liked it though!
What I remember most about Circle of the Moon was its music and the final boss. I really love this game's rendition of the 'Sinking Old Sanctuary. And no other final boss in the franchise gave me this much trouble. I had to dedicate a full, several hours long stream just to make it through. But get through it I did, and I don't think I encountered a harder challenge anywhere in the series.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was a huge step forward for Castlevania on GBA, but only in some ways. Visually, it's incredibly vibrant - probably because the muted palette of Circle of the Moon made it really rough to play on the GBA's unlit screen. With much more impressive visuals and a story that actually involved a Belmont, what could go wrong? Well, the game had to surrender its musical quality to make it work, which meant the otherwise well composed tracks sounded grating or unpleasant most of the time. It also had no breakable walls hiding secrets. Aside from that, though, it's impressive and draws heavily on Symphony of the Night in many ways.
What I remember most about Harmony of Dissonance was being introduced to a new Belmont, Juste, and that I really liked him as a character. I also appreciated them bringing back the "upside down castle" concept from Symphony of the Night, but in this game, it's a parallel world not unlike the Dark World introduced in games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Aria of Sorrow is the third and final GBA Castlevania, and it's the game that most defied my expectations. It took everything I thought I knew about Castlevania and threw it out of the window: It takes place in the future, it takes place in Japan and you're playing as a previously unknown character called Soma Cruz. Even so, it shows the fruits of Circle and Harmony's lessons, having both a strong soundtrack and appealing visuals. It introduces the concept of 'Souls', unique abilities you can acquire from every single enemy in the game, which allows for a truly insane amount of ways to play.
What I remember most about Aria of Sorrow was the compelling and surprising story and incredibly innovative soul system. The twist with Soma caught me off guard and I really liked Julius Belmont as a character. The rendition of 'Heart of Fire' that plays in a certain scene with him is etched into my memory forever.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
With Dawn of Sorrow, we finally made the leap to Nintendo DS, and what a leap it was! The game looked amazing and the soundtrack was even better than Aria of Sorrow's. The game is also unique in that it is a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow; direct sequels don't really happen in this series, usually. I really liked the story and characters in Aria, so it was a joy to see Soma and the gang again. In most ways the game did what Aria did but better, although the slightly forced implementation of the touch-screen made me lose a few boss battles.
What I remember most about Dawn of Sorrow were the snowy opening area (I love snow-themed areas in games), charming enemy animations, memorable boss battles and incredible soundtrack. My favorite track is still Dracula's Tears, give it a listen for something spooky and catchy:
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Portrait of Ruin is another game with many daring design decisions. It's not about Soma or the Belmonts, it has two playable characters you can switch between called Jonathan and Charlotte. The game revolves around using both characters in tandem and to your advantage. Instead of just exploring a castle, you're also exploring painting worlds in the castle which lead you to very unique locations - a bit like in Super Mario 64. I later learned that the story tied in with a Sega Genesis classic, Castlevania: Bloodlines. Visually, it's a bit more colorful than Dawn of Sorrow, but not much more advanced. In fact, I did find myself missing the Soul system that had been in the two prior games.
What I remember most about Portrait of Ruin is the dynamic between the two characters, Jonathan and Charlotte (in both story and gameplay), the many worlds you could visit through the paintings and the charming enemy animations.
After realizing that Portrait of Ruin tied in with Castlevania: Bloodlines, I decided to take a break from the Metroidvanias and try this classic style Castlevania on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. It only has six levels, like the original on NES, but it's tough as nails from start to finish and it took me about four hours to get through it. It has two playable characters of which I apparently picked the hardest one to use, so that might be why.
What I remember most about Castlevania: Bloodlines is how incredibly difficult it is. It's a great game with great visuals and music, but at the end, I was about ready to give up - that's how challenging it got by the end!
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Portrait of Ruin shook up the Castlevania formula by having you travel to many smaller worlds. Order of Ecclesia, the third and final Castlevania game for DS, takes this to a new level and consists almost entirely of smaller areas that are connected by a world map. The only truly large area is Dracula's Castle, and it's the final area you go to assuming you ignore the optional content. Even though the game functions like the other Metroidvania Castlevanias, many of the areas are small and several of them are completely linear, revolving more around fighting enemies - strangely enough, it feels like a step back to the old Castlevania games, even though its story has very little relevance to the Belmonts. But it also expands on the shared ground between Metroidvanias and RPGs by having a town with friendly NPCs that give you various quests to complete. This game brings back the 'souls' in a certain way; the main character, Shanoa, can absorb magical glyphs. These glyphs can be found or dropped by enemies, and when absorbed, Shanoa can use their powers.
What I remember most about Order of Ecclesia is the compelling story between Shanoa and Albus, as well as the game's stellar soundtrack. Dawn of Sorrow has my favorite individual track on the DS, but Order of Ecclesia has my overall favorite soundtrack. Just listen to 'An Empty Tome,' the track that plays as Shanoa, having lost everything, finally approaches Dracula's Castle.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
In a way, my Castlevania journey was leading up to this - to experiencing the two revivals of the series, Curse of the Moon and Ritual of the Night. I started with Curse of the Moon, a retro style game heavily based on the classic Castlevania games. It expands on the concept by having 4 characters with unique abilities and has a twist - instead of recruiting the additional characters, you can also kill them to upgrade the one main character instead.
What I remember most about Curse of the Moon are the beautiful sprites and incredible 8-bit tracks... and the tough as nails difficulty. Let me share my favorite music track from the game, 'Defiler of Taboos':
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
I played through the beginning and end of a series, and in a way, a whole subgenre of games. And this revival of that formula - Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night - was the end point, and it was a glorious experience. In Ritual of the Night, you play as Miriam, a Shardbinder (a person who can absorb demon powers) tasked with exploring and destroying a castle summoned from Hell itself. The game draws from the best parts of its predecessors and is everything I could've hoped for. In style, the game is most like Aria and Dawn of Sorrow, because Miriam absorbs demon powers just like Soma. This is the only game in this list that I dedicated a full article to, so I won't waste too much more treading the same ground. Have a look if you're interested:
What I remember most about Ritual of the Night is the incredible presentation, especially the soundtrack. I've loved so many soundtracks in this series, but this might be the best one since Symphony. I also loved the new alchemy crafting system and the sheer amount of ways to play; 5 slots for 5 unique types of souls - or shards, in this case - can lead to some crazy and broken strategies. Since I've done it for so many of these, have one more amazing track:
So, what now?
Thanks for joining me on this little recap of my journey. I'm aware this article is a bit more messy and subjective than my usual stuff, but I just wanted to reminisce a bit. Now, I've officially called 'Ritual of the Night' the end of my Castlevania journey, but more content will be added to the game - and there may yet be future games in the Bloodstained series as well. So instead of calling the Castlevania journey done, let's say it's on break until good old Iga makes us another one.
While we wait, I've finally started playing the Resident Evil games, another series I missed out on back in the day. I'm making my way through Resident Evil HD and can't wait to share my thoughts on that game.
That's all I wanted to say. Thanks again for your support, and have a very happy Halloween!