Several months back, I wrote about playing Castlevania on the Gameboy. Between that and the late 90s, the only other Castlevania game that I had played was Super Castlevania 4. But something about those games, maybe it was all the whip-flinging action, had burrowed its way into my subconscious. I learned about previous titles and followed the series as it evolved, but was never much more than an onlooker. Then I met my husband and he had a Playstation and he had Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And with that, I found myself completely swept up in the game’s lore.
With some exceptions, most of the Castlevania stories revolve around Dracula and the vampire-hunting Belmont family. I don’t have Castlevania’s canon memorized, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for the exact facts, but I do recall that in SotN you played primarily as Alucard, son of Dracula and a human mother. Despite his roots, Alucard was mostly a good guy, and your goal in the game was to stop Dracula and save a member of the Belmont clan. The game took place in, what else? A castle. And the game maintained the 2D, side-scrolling tradition of previous titles; which was questioned at the time as 3D games became more and more popular. But Konami did the right thing. In my mind, my heart of hearts, Castlevania will always be a 2D side-scroller, and SotN was nearly perfect in that regard.
One of the great things about SotN was that you had an expanded arsenal. As fun as it was to Indiana-Jones your way through levels, with Alucard came knives and bombs and all sorts of other weapons (to find and/or purchase). But Alucard was no mere brute. The game also had three special items that, once found, allowed Alucard to transform into three different forms – mist, a wolf, and a bat. Using these forms gave access to previously inaccessible parts of the castle. Alucard also obtained powers to summon familiars – they proved to be vital in some battles. The gameplay and controls were straightforward and easy to manage. I still had problems making jumps and aiming correctly, but that was probably just me. Overall, Konami did everything right in SotN – it was simply a fantastic game.
So, there I was, having a great time with SotN (and if you’ve never played a Castlevania game before and want to, SotN isn’t a bad place to start), when news surfaced of a brand new Castlevania game…a three-dimensional Castlevania game. Castlevania in 3 whole D’s!! Well slap my ass and call me Sally! A 3D Castlevania game sounded like the best thing ever since whipping monsters in castles was invented. However, I had to quell my excitement since I didn’t yet have a Nintendo 64, the only platform on which the 3D Castlevania game was promised.
By the time the N64 entered my life, the console’s new Castlevania game was old news, and its reviews weren’t so hot. Still, I really wanted to give it a shot, so I rented the game; and I was quickly…!…disappointed. Castlevania (64) looked okay but the controls were terrible. You wanna complain about the camera in a 3D Mario game? Well just you give Castlevania (64) a shot and see if you don’t start singing a different tune! Goddamn if I didn’t end up spending most of my playing time trying to focus on what was in front of me, let alone in the surrounding area. And y’know, I say that the game looked okay, but I wasn’t a fan of the visuals. Everything looked stiff — characters sorts came off as animated marionettes, gangly and blocky. Castlevania games are supposed to feel eerie and otherworldly, yet still brimming and alive. Somehow, the makers of Castlevnia (64) managed to make the the game feel as rigid as a centuries-old castle.
And the glitches! Good lord a’mighty. The visuals were nothing compared to the game’s severe glitchiness. Granted, I was playing a rented copy, so the problems I experienced were probably compounded, but monsters would magically disappear and then reappear; and my character seemed always loose his legs at just the wrong time. And sometimes, when I picked up items, they counted; and other times it was like they didn’t exist at all. The whole game made me supremely grumpy and kinda dumb. I actually renewed the rental a couple times hoping that a glimmer of Castlevania magic might shine through the fog, but it didn’t.
Great. Story over now??
For you see, later in 1999, Konami released another N64 Castlevania game – Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. Part sequel, part remake, Legacy of Darkness promised to really live up to what Konami had intended with Castlevania (64). And I bought it. I believed the hype and I spent sixty of my hard-earned dollars on Legacy of Darkness. And it was…! Eh, better than the original but still not great. You got to play as a guy who turned into a werewolf (okay, that’s kinda cool), there were new levels and monsters to face (okay, I can deal with that), the graphics were still imperfect but a little prettier (you should’ve done that the first time round, but okay), and the gameplay had a survivalist feel (not my shot of tequila, but whatever). And it did play a bit better, but Legacy of Darkness just didn’t win me over.
The sad thing is, I really don’t know why I thought it would. I just can’t explain why I felt so compelled to buy Legacy of Darkness. I had moved onto better games for the N64. I didn’t need to go exploring in a soul-sucking, monster-ridden 3D castle, again. But the mind is a mysterious thing; and perhaps that little Castlevania blossom had flowered into something bigger than I had thought. It’s still there, y’know. Every time a new Castlevania game comes out, no matter the platform, the thought about buying it inevitably crosses my mind. Come to think of it, it’s been several years now since I’ve played Castlevania game. Maybe I should see what’s available these days…
Story over…for now.