The Castlevania series spans across several centuries. Let’s take a look at some of the notable timeline shenanigans.
It’s a dark and foggy night? Skeletons are walking the earth? Kamikaze hunchbacks are nose-diving off of doves? A ginormous castle suddenly appeared in the woods? Holy crap, it’s Castlevania! Quick, grab a Belmont!
Every 100 years, Count Dracula and his Eye Sore Real-Estate of Doom appears to strike fear in the hearts of mankind. When that time comes, a member of the Belmont family appears with the bane of the kinsmen of the night, the legendary Vampire Killer whip, and destroys the Count with the rest of his army. If a Belmont isn’t around, you can bet there’s a brave soul out there who will take up the mantle of hero.
Their struggle goes back almost 1000 years, and we’ve been along for the ride the entire time. Castlevania made its debut back in September 26, 1986 on the Japanese Famicom (called Akumajou Dracula, or Demon Castle Dracula) as a simple side-scrolling action game. No one would’ve guessed that the series would go on to spawn over 30 games that span such a large length of time. There’s so much history there! And it’s not like the games follow sequentially one after the other; they all jump around and take place in a different part of the timeline. To go into depth of the timeline would be a bit much, but there are a couple of interesting bits that are worth mentioning. So, let’s start at the beginning. But… which beginning?
So according to the history books of yore (by that I mean old issues of Nintendo Power :P), the game that was touted as the “first” Castlevania was Castlevania: Legends that was released for the Game Boy in 1998. Taking place in 1450…
Oh wait, that’s right! That’s completely changed now! The first, official part of the timeline is Castlevania: Lament of Innocence for the PlayStation 2 back in 2003. Going all the way back to 1096, the game stars Leon Belmont, a knight of the church whose bride-to-be, Sara, mysteriously disappears. Leon’s friend, Mathias Cronqvist, who fell ill after the death of his wife, tells Leon that a vampire living in a evil forest is the culprit. So Leon goes off and plays hero.
This game explains many of the series’ mysteries, like why weapons are in candlesticks, the origin of the Vampire Killer, and why the Belmonts swore to fight Dracula, among other things. It’s the third 3D Castlevania game in the series and while was infinitely better than the previous two (I’ll talk about those in a bit), it was still flawed and, I think, trying too hard to be like another action series that was growing in popularity, Devil May Cry.
It was also really short. You could finish the entire game (and I mean, get 100% completion), in about 6 hours or less. I realise that this is because a lot of the usual CV occurrences were just established, but still, it is kinda disappointing.
So why did I have a slip of the tongue… er, typing finger when I said that Legends was the “first”? That’s because for the longest time, it was the first. As Sonia Belmont, you travel across the countryside and eventually take out Dracula. It’s also suggested that the Belmont clan was in full swing because she hooked up with… Dracula’s son, Alucard.
Well, she’s got good taste in men, I’ll give her that.
So what happened? In 2001, the series gained a new producer, Koji Igarashi (or IGA, as he’s called around the industry), who worked on previous CV games, Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night). He took one look at the timeline of the series and decided that a re-write was in order. So, he retconned Legends out of the official timeline so that he could re-work the origin story of the Belmonts! Back in 2003, when Lament was about to be released, he explained why he left Sonia out and talked about female main characters to EGM:
EGM: Would you make a Castlevania with a female main character?
IGA: Hm, there are difficult problems with that. As a gamer, I think that you become one with the character, and since Castlevania has a lot of male players, it’s natural to have male characters. In Rondo of Blood, Maria was a silly, cute aside, but you still had Richter to make it serious. Plus, Mr. Hagihara (the director) had a playful sense of humor. He worked on Symphony as well, and he made the telescope part where, if you pan over to the left you can see a little mouse, and also where Alucard can sit down on the chair and prop his feet up.
EGM: After Tomb Raider, don’t you think a female character is more acceptable?
IGA: It’s possible I guess. Although, I purposefully left the Sonia Belmont character (from Castlevania: Legends for GBC) out of the official Castlevania chronology. (laughs) Usually, the vampire storyline motifs, females tend to be sacrificed. It’s easier to come up with weak, feminine characters. I’ll think about it more in the future, though. It’s tough to fit a female hero into the early history of Castlevania, but as you move into the modern day, females can then more easily become a hero.
Make a note to remember this for later, mmkay?
Taking Those Baby Vampire Steps
The very first Castlevania for all of us mere mortals was the very first Castlevania when it reached North America in May 1997. You may have heard the term “Nintendo Hard”; a difficulty level of mythic proportions at a time when you didn’t get to choose difficulty levels. There was just one setting: Kick Your Butt. And it did… over and over again. Travelling back to 1691, Simon Belmont sets off to hunt the creatures of the night and vanquish Dracula.
The game was successful that it spawned two sequels. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest deviated from the traditional action style (more on that later), and Simon hunting down and destroying Dracula’s remains in order to lift a devastating curse affecting the land. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse would go back to the same action/platforming as the original, but this time adds a twist: different characters! Simon’s ancestor, Trevor, can team up with one of three brave warriors: acrobat Grant DeNasty, sorceress Sypha Belnades, and the mysterious Alucard (yea, he gets around).
But those weren’t the only Castlevania games we had back then! When the Game Boy was announced it gave us the power. Portable Power! Having a mini-Nintendo game in our pockets was great, even if everything was the colour of spinach. Many games we enjoyed on the NES made their way to the Game Boy in some fashion, and Castlevania was no exception.
Castlevania: The Adventure was released in December 1989. In 1576, Christopher Belmont goes off to fight Dracula. There was also a sequel, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, which takes place 15 years later. This time, Dracula kidnapped your son, Soleiyu, so not only do you have to stick it to Drac, you have to save your little boy.
Many of these earlier entries have been re-released in some form. Some of them have made appearances on Game Boy Advance. The original Castlevania has been retold several times. Super Castlevania IV on the Super NES not only brought the series into the 16-bit era, it was a complete do-over (and very, very good). Japan’s Sharp X68000 system got a version of Castlevania, and that eventually made its way Westward in the form of Castlevania Chronicles for the original PlayStation. Castlevania: The Adventure got a remake exclusive to Wii Virtual Console, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth.
Though it didn’t get a remake, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse did get a direct sequel. Released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2005, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness stars Hector, a man who served Dracula as a Devil Forgemaster. He left that life behind shortly before Dracula’s defeat at the hands of Trevor and company three years previous. Now, the country is engulfed in a nasty curse, and Hector’s former colleague Isaac played a role in orchestrating the death of Hector’s wife. So our hero sets off to get revenge, but must first regain his old powers in order to stand a chance.
Let’s Add Some Fiction to Our Fictional History
As I said, the series has been around a long time, but perhaps Konami felt it needed a bit more credibility. And what better way to increase street cred than to add a famous novel to your storyline?
Castlevania Bloodlines was released for the Sega Genesis in 1994. Taking place in 1917, you play as John Morris, part of the Belmont lineage. Morris, eh? Sounds a bit familiar… maybe Quincey Morris rings more of a bell with you novel buffs?
Don’t look at me like that! I kid you not: Konami made an attempt to fuse Bram Stoker’s Dracula with the Castlevania series by having the main protagonist in one of their games be the progeny of one of the novel’s characters. That’s right, Quincey Morris is John’s daddy. Weird, eh? I mean, the game kicked ass, don’t get me wrong. I just wonder why Konami decided to do this. I mean, the series was pretty popular; it didn’t need any more help, I think. Guess they were trying to unnecessarily tie in every bit of Dracula lore they could. Well, so long as the current Castlevanias don’t try to weave in, oh I don’t know, Twilight into the storyline, then I’ll be fine.
Oh crap, forget I said that. Oh God, I hope no one from Konami read that and gave them an idea! Oh noes…
One more thing: the protagonist for Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS, 2006) is named Jonathan Morris. Guess who his daddy is? Go on, guess. John Morris. These Bloodlines run deep indeed (see what I did there?)!
Jonathan and his friend, Charlotte, must stop the vampire Brauner from using the power of Dracula’s Castle to destroy mankind. What’s cool is that you can switch between Jonathan (all brawn) and Charlotte (magic user extraordinaire), or use a special Team Attack. So, so cool!
A Marvellous Symphony for the Night
By 1997, the industry had moved onto the 32-bit era with Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and Sony PlayStation. Franchises that reigned supreme in the days of Nintendo and Super Nintendo were re-inventing themselves with this new 3D technology, so it made sense for Castlevania to follow suit. However, instead of jumping right into full 3D, it stuck with the 2D look and grab some inspiration elsewhere.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was different than the other CV games in the NES era because it was non-linear, and had a more adventure game/RPG feel. There was also Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, a game that was released exclusively for Japan’s PC Engine in 1993 (it did receive a port that came over to the west in the form of Castlevania: Dracula X for the Super Nintendo in 1995). Because hero Richter Belmont was also on a rescue mission, having to find his kidnapped girlfriend Annette, her sister Maria, and two other village maidens, you also have to do some exploration in each of the stages. Konami took those formulas, and the mass exploration element of Nintendo’s legendary Metroid series, and combined them into something that would change things for the series for a long time.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released for the PlayStation in 1997 and later ported to the Sega Saturn. In 1797, four years after Rondo of Blood, an evil sorcerer named Shaft wanted to bring back Dracula, so he did the only thing he could possibly do: put a spell on Richter Belmont. All that power shifting to the side of evil is not good. Who will put a stop to Dracula if Belmont’s in cahoots with the dark side? Why, Alucard, Dracula’s wayward son of course!
SotN was a smash hit, both critically and commercially. It sold well over 250,000 copies and made it to “Greatest Hits” status, and with good reason. The music, the graphics, the replayablity. All these things made it a classic and one of the greatest games in the series. The gameplay in particular resonated with gamers so much that Konami decided that they would re-use this particular formula for future instalments. This formula was dubbed “Metroidvania” by fans because of the mix of Castlevania elements with the exploration of Metroid. Symphony eventually made its way onto PlayStation 3’s PlayStation Network store and Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade, as well as a PSP release paired with a remake of Rondo of Blood, entitled Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles.