Excuse me for a moment, whilst I confound the hell out of you.
- Castlevania MSX (Vampire Killer)
- Castlevania Arcade (Haunted Castle)
- Castlevania II: The Seal of the Curse (Simon's Quest)
- Castlevania: Legend of Dracula (Adventure)
- Castlevania: Legend of Dracula II (Belmont's Revenge)
- Castlevania III: Legend of Castlevania (Dracula's Curse)
- Kid Dracula NES
- Kid Dracula GB
- Super Castlevania (IV)
- Castlevania X68000 (Chronicles)
- Castlevania: Bloodlines
- Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood
- Castlevania XX: Vampire's Kiss (Dracula X)
- Castlevania X: Nocturne in the Moonlight (Symphony of the Night)
- Castlevania: Dark Night Prelude (Legends)
- Castlevania Apocalypse (64)
- Castlevania Apocalypse: Legend of Cornell (Legacy of Darkness)
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
- Castlevania: Concerto of the Midnight Sun (Harmony of Dissonance)
- Castlevania: Minuet of Dawn (Aria of Sorrow)
- Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Now. If you know anything about videogames, I'm certain that that you'll notice something odd about the above list. If you're fairly acquainted with the Castlevania series in particular, then you've probably opened your mail client already, in preparation to yell at me. (Now, now. Please wait.) If you're still confused, then let me explain.
While it is clear that this is a chronological listing of the Castlevania series, for almost none of the games in question have I given the correct title -- in either Japanese or English. Rather, what you see is an unfamiliar mangled gallimaufry of possible titles and subtitles, resulting in a wholly region-free fantasy naming scheme of my very own!
Well, I like it.
I make such a list for the purpose of illustration. While at face value it might perplex, it helps to maintain an overall sense of clarity. Think of it as an alternate manner of visualizing the series as a coherent whole.
That is to say! If you familiarize yourself with this schema, it's a lot easier to see the patterns within the Castlevania series -- both from a contemporary standpoint and within each game's individual historical context, as the series evolves.
So. Now that you're geared up, I'm about to head into analysis mode. Ready?
My goal here is to draw out the method through which the series has evolved into what we now know as Castlevania. It's passed through a few phases and trends, been alternately exploited and ignored, and then -- almost by accident -- been transformed into something rather grand.
Our first step is to recall that it's essentially (current series producer) Koji Igarashi alone who has laced the Castlevania series together into the taught serial epic that it has become. He's the one who ditched the series' long-standing macho image, and who first focused his attention upon the overall continuity and logistics of the series.
If you look closely, you'll notice that the first several games are all basically various iterations of the same design. Up until Bloodlines, Konami was pretty reluctant to take a step away from Simon Belmont -- the original main character of the series (although, at least in the West, his name wasn't widely known until Castlevania II; previously he was just "that muscular guy with the whip").
The first NES game (Castlevania here; Akumajou ("Demon Castle") Dracula in Japan) was more or less a streamlined port of the original MSX version (with the nonlinear adventure elements removed and the remainder honed into a focused, well-designed action game). The arcade game was a problematic attempt at arcadeifying the successful NES version. Castlevania II was basically a mixture of the leftover elements of the MSX game, whatever new elements were introduced in the arcade game, the overall trappings of the first NES game, and some new ideas.
Four games in, and we finally get our first real sequel.
And people criticize Capcom for their update policy.
Then the Gameboy arrives. As is the trend for most early adopters, Konami gets busy with the chopped-down remakes of their popular series. In this case -- as Igarashi has rightly complained -- it is initially unclear that our new (and rather oafish) character, Christopher Belmont, isn't intended as yet another iteration of Simon. Even today, few aside from the more hardcore fans know enough to make the distinction.
The only real hint that Chris isn't Simon (until the sequel, when his name is offered) is in the original Japanese title. Over here, we received a game called The Castlevania Adventure; in Japan, it goes under the name of Dracula Denetsu -- The Legend of Dracula. This implies either that it's supposed to tell some kind of a backstory, or that it's supposed to be some kind of a throwaway gaiden.
Indeed, the game is set about 100 years before Castlevania. Now, this doesn't really form a pattern yet. It's not the conscious foundation of some grand, epic vision for the Castlevania series. This choice appears more of a practical fluke; a manner in which to quickly excuse the Gameboy games as an unrelated subseries.
As portable offshoots, these games aren't as "pure" as the main console line. So as to avoid disappointment in the minds of those looking for a Gameboy port of the original Castlevania -- and if that's what they wanted, they'd certainly be crestfallen -- we got a knock-off series; the forgotten uncle of the Castlevania we knew.
This also meant that Konami's main Castlevania team wouldn't have to worry about whatever nonsense the Gameboy team was up to, and could concentrate on the real games.
Something odd happened, however; the team behind Castlevania III did pay attention. They took the Gameboy games into account. Covertly, yes -- and yet, in retrospect the inspiration is clear.
In Japan, Castlevania III follows -- indeed, takes advantage of -- the implied split in the series. Whereas the Gameboy games chronicled the legend of Dracula (one half of the original series name), this third Famicom game goes by the title of Akumajou Denetsu -- The Legend of Demon Castle.
To further the parallels, Castlevania III takes place another 100 years before the Gameboy games. And there's yet another Belmont in the lead; in this case, Trevor (or Ralph, in Japan -- although Igarashi recently seems to have abandoned that name) -- credited as the first known hunter in the clan line.
Now we've got the start of something interesting; some continuity, and a logical split path for the series. We have the Dracula games, and we've the Akumajou games. We've got three Belmonts, separated by a span of 200 years. Dracula seems to have a certain hazy pattern to his returns. The new possibilities are tantalizing as hell.
Things are going so well that Konami even produces a couple of Parodius-like spoofs, for the Famicom and Gameboy.
And yet, this period constitutes more or less the peak of the series for the next decade.
[Next: The Middle Ages and Renaissance]