My name is Jeffrey L. Wilson, lifelong gamer, founder of 2D-X.com, and lover of all things Castlevania. Well, almost.
Castlevania entered by life in 1988 when a junior high school buddy suggested I sample his “rad monster-killing game” that featured Frankenstein’s creation, Dracula, and other creepies from Hollywood’s early horror entries. Despite being just 12, popping Castlevania into my NES was a watershed moment in my young gaming career; having been raised on a steady diet of Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and other innocuous hop-n-bop titles, Castlevania felt downright morbid. The colors were muted. The music was haunting. Dracula’s castle contained plenty of dark atmosphere. It was as though gaming had left childhood and entered puberty.
With each new series entry, I became more enthralled with the Belmont saga; Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse added multiple pathways and selectable characters, including series favorite Alucard; Super Castlevania IV reinvented Drac’s castle into a darkly gorgeous structure filled with some of the most emotion-stirring tunes of the 16-bit era; Castlevania: Bloodlines was a tough, but fun romp. But it was 1993′s Dracula X: Rondo of Blood that floored me as no Castlevania before or since.
And I want that feeling back.
In the months following the mental and physical devestation that my hometown suffered after the September 11th attacks, I sought out any form of entertainment that would cause light to penetrate the bleakness. I was still way deep into the original PlayStation with no true interest in its follow up, but I did discover a system that picqued my interest after goofing around eBay one night: The PC Engine Duo-RX.
Back in the ’90s, I had been a proud owner of a Turbo Grafx-16 console, but always lusted for the Japanese version. There were always uber-hardcore types that would pen line after line in online forums about the excellence of Japanese console. I read wondrous tales of games featuring bathroom humor, boobies, and violence, but I was most intrigued with what was hailed as the greatest Castlevania game ever – - Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. You know, in-depth commentary such as:
OMGz the gameplay! Best Castlevania eVarz! Richtar rox!
It was easy to write off the commenters poor grasp of the language, but not so much their passion. So as I sat with my credit card in had, I took a gander at the the lone eBay auction that was quickly approaching triple digits in the five days that it had been running. I won’t cross the lines of deceny by revealing the amount of cash spent on the sexy import, but let it be known that it took me two months to pay off that debt (mainly becasue I knew not that thing known as employment).
The day that Rondo of Blood was delivered to my local post office was a day, so powerful and life-changing (I’m speaking strictly within the gamerverse, here), I imagine that the emotion felt was similar to those Moses felt when he descended Mount Sinai. After dashing back to my Coney Island apartment, I knifed the box, sliced the bubblewrap, and marveled at the sight of Richter Belemont, whip in hand, doing his best Ryu impression.
Rondo of Blood stands as an icon within the side-scrolling action genre. Konami built upon the classic elements of Castlevania‘s past (heart collecting, stair climbing, candle whipping), but melded it with numerous pathways, multiple endings, hulking bosses, and secret characters. It was Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest’s natural evolution. And it was awesome.
In many ways, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Rondo’s direct sequel, has become the defining series entry; every decent, original Castlevania game that emerged in its wake has unabashedly modeled itself in its image. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon and its Nintendo DS brethren have made Symphony blush a crimson hue. These Symphony Sons may have added subtle changes to the gameplay and style (amongst other thing, making the already delicate-looking Alucard looking Schwarzeneggerian next to Soma Cruz and company), but, ultimately, they’re inferior to Rondo of Blood as they only highlight the inherent flaws of Alucard’s Playstation romp.
Simply stating that Symphony of the Night is anything less than gaming perfection is all it takes for a generation of ultra-dedicated gaming nerds to get all a-tizzy. Yes, Symphony of the Night was also watershed moment in the Castlevania franchise with its myriad of weapons, magic, and RPG elements, but it has its issues.
New Castlevanias are far too easy. Before Symphony of the Night, no one, and I mean no one, complained that a Castlevania title was too easy to beat (except, perhaps, Super Castlevania IV). The leveling system totally breaks the difficulty, which the shield/weapon combos (and various sub-systems in later games) only intensify. But as it turns out, that’s the least of the new crop’s problems.
The backgrounds lack the rich, brooding personality that permeated Dracula’s abode in earlier Castlevania games. As you’re leaping from platform to platform and speed racing through levels, you’re no longer taking in the environments. That may translate into silky smooth movements, but also means that you’re not absorbing the scenery. One could argue that you could stop for a second and admire the surroundings (or pause the game), but I’d rather take in the loveliness while adventuring. Give me another Treasury-styled level ala Super Castlevania IV, and I’ll be quite the happy vampire-killer.
Finally, the music has been severely lacking. Up until (and including) Symphony of the Night, Castlevania the game was intimately tied to Castlevania the soundtrack, but the Bosom Buddies-like bond the two had appears to have eroded with the most recent franchise entries. Perhaps the blame should be placed on the DS’s weak sound system; perhaps it should be placed on the developers who may believe the music isn’t vital in the mobile game experience. Regardless, not one modern soundtrack has been able to touch Rondo‘s.
Without those three elements – - tough as nails difficulty, excellent backgrounds, and memorable music – - Castlevania just han’t been Castlevania. It’s been more “Hey, here’s some Emo dude with a beef against powerful Goth dudes.” I see enough of that walking around Manhattan.
So what can be done to alleviate this? A change of your mentally, Konami. I want a new game cut from the same cloth as Rondo and I don’t care if it’s a hi-res graphic orgy or a neo-retro title such as Contra: Rebirth or Mega Man 9. Fans that have stuck with you through years of sub-par outtings deserve it.
Please love us back.