Castlevania, one of the greatest video game franchises of all time, has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence of late. The original game released on the Famicom Disk System on September, 26, 1986. Since then, nearly 40 titles have been published across just about every significant system in gaming history from the NES onward.
The franchise has even made it’s way to TV, thanks to Netflix, which released the first great video game adaptation. We certainly loved the four-episode first season and enjoyed the second season, too. This is an interesting development, considering there hasn’t been a new Castlevania game in a few years.
Castlevania fans haven’t received a major sequel since 2014’s Lords of Shadow 2 released to little fanfare on the aging PS3 and Xbox 360, an unfortunate turn of events for the series. While it has re-released several classic installments for modern consoles, Konami hasn’t seemed all that interested in creating anything new for the franchise.
But while the future of the game franchise remains unclear – even as it becomes a successful TV series – the more than 30-year milestone is as good of an excuse as any to take a look back at the series as a whole. With more than three dozen titles on the roster, not every game has been a commercial or critical success. But when Castlevania is at its best, it’s provided players with some of the most memorable experiences in gaming history.
Here are our picks for the top 10 Castlevania games of all time:
1986 | Konami | NES
Castlevania as a franchise would pick up a lot of new tricks in later years, but at heart, it’s always been about the horror. The original title was a classic side-scroller, but its Gothic-themed romp through Dracula’s castle set it apart from other similar platformers of the era. Players guided vampire slayer Simon Belmont through six levels that got ridiculously difficult at times. His main weapon, a whip called “Vampire Killer,” was perhaps a little too spot-on in its name but would soon become an iconic part of gaming history.
9. Castlevania: Bloodlines
1994 | Konami | Genesis
Bloodlines was the only Castlevania title to see release on Sega’s 16-bit console. It tells the story of a legendary vampire named Elizabeth Bartley, who is Dracula’s niece. Bartley suddenly appears in the 20th century, intent on continuing her uncle’s dark legacy with the ultimate goal of bringing him back to life. Heroes John Morris and his best friend Eric Lecarde stand up to Bartley and prevent Dracula’s resurrection.
This installment is notable as the first game in the series that did not take place in Dracula’s castle. In fact, Bloodlines sends players on a journey throughout Europe. The European connection looks ironic in hindsight, however, as the game was heavily censored for its PAL release. Bloodlines was even renamed The New Generation in Europe. Blood effects on the title screen were changed to water and zombies were changed in color from pink to green to make them appear less gruesome. Despite the censorship, the game was an instant hit around the world.
8. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
1990 | Konami | NES
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest received what you might call a less than warm reception from fans. (You want me to go around and gather Dracula’s body parts and bring him back to life… just so I can kill him again? Seriously?) As a result, Konami decided to go back to basics with Castlevania III, getting rid of most of the RPG and action-adventure elements from Simon’s Quest in favor of a return to the original game’s platforming. Players took on the role of Trevor Belmont and could select one of three additional characters to fight alongside him in the quest to once again defeat Dracula. Castlevania III was unique in that it allowed for different story paths and multiple endings based off which companion accompanied Trevor, a concept that felt new and exciting during this era of gaming.
7. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
2005 | Konami | PS2, XBO
Curse of Darkness was not perfect by any means, but the art style alone earns it a spot on this list. The gorgeous levels and character designs would serve as inspiration for a manga spinoff that was published by Tokyopop.
The game is set three years after the events of Castlevania III. It offers a fresh story and protagonist, leaving the Belmont family behind in favor of Hector, a Devil Forgemaster who was previously employed by Dracula. Trevor Belmont does become playable, however, along with his trusty whip once the main game has been beaten.
6. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
2010 | MercurySteam & Kojima Productions | PS3, X360
We’re tempted to just write that Hideo Kojima was a producer on this title and leave it at that, but really, the entire production team deserves kudos for making Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a great game. When Konami first announced the title, it was just Lords of Shadow because they wanted to keep the fact that they were completely rebooting the Castlevania franchise a secret. In the end, this is the Castlevania title that was most successful at transitioning to 3D. Yes, the action-based combat felt a lot like God of War, and the game’s ending left a bit to be desired – but hey, look at me, I’m cracking a whip at a vampire in high definition.
5. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
2008 | Konami | DS
The Nintendo DS has three Castlevania titles and they’re all pretty good, but Order of Ecclesia takes home the top prize. Players take on the role of a woman named Shanoa, who is leading an organization that set out to defeat Dracula after the Belmont family vanished. As such, it’s one of the few games in the series to not contain the famous Vampire Killer whip. But the controls were excellent and the boss fights were way more epic than what you would expect from a handheld game.
4. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
1993 | Konami | TurboGrafx
Rondo of Blood is probably better known in the U.S. as Dracula X, which was the name that Konami gave the SNES port of the Japanese TurboGrafx-16 title. The problem is that most hardcore fans consider Dracula X to be a weak port, meaning Rondo is still the best version of the game. Like Castlevania III, Rondo of Blood featured multiple paths, fantastic level design, and some pretty good action-based combat. Players progressed as both Richter Belmont and Maria, his lover’s sister.
3. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
2003 | Konami | GBA
Castlevania has had quite a few portable titles over the years, but 2003’s Aria of Sorrow for the Game Boy Advance still holds up today as an all-time classic. The game wins points for its unique story featuring Soma Cruz, who is basically a teenage reincarnation of Dracula. Think about that. A Dracula with acne and probably a big authority problem. Anyway, Aria of Shadow is also unique in that it’s set in the year 2035. Cruz eventually ends up in Dracula’s castle because Plot Reasons. There he finds out that the original Dracula, who was vanquished by Belmont and friends in 1999, is trying once again to come back to life and he’s planning to use Cruz’s body as his vessel. The game being set in the future also allowed for a cool mix of both vintage and futuristic looking weapons. This was the worthy spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night that fans had been waiting for.
2. Super Castlevania IV
1991 | Konami | SNES
What was it about the Super Nintendo that created so many epic games? Much like A Link to the Past and Super Mario World, Super Castlevania IV was a huge leap forward for its respective franchise. The graphics looked incredible compared to the games on the NES, the soundtrack was equally fantasticm and Simon Belmont’s iconic whip could now take on vampires in eight different directions. Grappling and crouch walking provided additional ways to progress through the levels. The messaging was a bit mixed on the story, however, as the original developers considered it to be a remake of the first game, but Konami’s American counterparts decided to market it as a direct sequel to Simon’s Quest. Either way, Super Castlevania IV raised the bar for what fans have come to expect from the series.
1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
1997 | Konami | PS
Symphony of the Night took all of the best parts from the most loved previous games in the series and put them all together for an absolute masterpiece. The game features great controls and epic boss fights mixed with open-world exploration and RPG mechanics as well as the best platforming since Castlevania III. You would think that such a mash up would be hard to keep up with, but the result was groundbreaking. Symphony is responsible for coining the phrase “Metroidvania,” as it requires players to backtrack through previous levels as new abilities are learned. A great soundtrack, solid level design, and a great plot twist are just icing on the cake.
Symphony of the Night, a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood, ironically didn’t perform that well in the United States when it was first released, but the passage of time has been kind. Symphony of the Night is now considered to be one of the the great cult classics in video game history, if not one of the best video games of all-time.
Jason Gallagher is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.