It’s hard to overstate the impact of a video game franchise that helped inspire a genre that’s still thriving today. Castlevania didn’t pull it off alone, of course. Samus Aran’s own 2D shenanigans helped light the way toward today’s Metroidvanias, with the stoic Chozo survivor and the vampire-hunting Belmont clan both making their debut on American Nintendo Entertainment Systems in 1987. Of course, at that time, Castlevania was a much different franchise.
Still, of the pair, Castlevania is arguably better known today. Konami’s sometimes frustrating genre shifts and silent treatment of the franchise made its fans all the more noisy, and there’s an acclaimed Netflix animated series turning complicated lore into something breezily entertaining. But it’s the games themselves that stick in our memory, with literally dozens of entries for aficionados to pick through. To help dig through the history of the Belmonts, we’re going to take a look at what we think are the twenty best Castlevania games of all time… or at least, so far.
20. Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls
It’s not so much about whether this Apple Arcade-exclusive mobile game measures up to our invisible standards. It’s fine, with familiar platforming elements translating decently well to what’s still an awkward handheld for action games (especially if you connect a third-party controller). It’s more about how the fan service on display actually feels like it cares about the characters, after years of being stuck in the pachinko dungeons of Konami.
As of May 2022, it’s also the first attempt at actually pushing the canon lore of Castlevania forward post-Dracula’s Curse, much less any Castlevania lore since 2008’s Order of Ecclesia. Top of the pack? No. Worth it if you can get a free Arcade trial, or you’re eyeing Pocket Card Jockey, too? Absolutely.
19. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness
Legacy of Darkness is a must-play if only to remember that the Nintendo 64 had some genuinely great games on it beyond the usual suspects. It’s also the first Castlevania game to plant its stake (tee-hee) in offering a 3D platforming and exploration experience. It’s chunky, and its male protagonist is named Reinhardt Schneider, which is the sort of European filial cruelty you usually only get in costume dramas.
This game also offers a second protagonist: the franchise-obligatory magical girl Carrie Fernandez. Both characters are more awkward to control than their 2D siblings, and exploration feels truncated due to the inability to dig through earlier levels. There’s also a time limit mechanic that affects the ending you receive. For all its flaws, though, it’s definitely a Castlevania worth exploring.
18. Kid Dracula
If you can’t have fun and be yourself, what are you even doing on this Earth? Konami answered this question for themselves in 1990 with the original Japan-only version of Kid Dracula. We all eventually got a chance to check this oddity out in 1993, with a Gameboy edition that functions as a sequel-remake. You’re not missing much from the previous release, although the original chibi cover is a huge upgrade over the clip art nightmare we received.
As Drac Jr. (I choose to believe this is Alucard in his precocious preteen years) we collect spells and abilities. It’s all to get back at Galamoth: the demon Lord of Space, who’s trying to usurp our zaddiest of daddies, Dracula. Bolstering our headcanon is the fact that Galamoth is an optional battle you can uncover in Symphony of the Night.
17. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge
Not to be confused with the seminal Castlevania II: Simon’s Revenge (which will get its proper due later), Belmont’s Revenge is a comfy little platformer from later in the GameBoy’s life cycle.
A full improvement over its predecessor (the original GameBoy game Castlevania: The Adventure), it also seemingly got hit with that weird religious censorship that was all over Nintendo at the time. The cross weapon is replaced with an axe (along with musical track names being fully replaced), but hey, at least the game’s daddy issues came through intact. Christopher Belmont is out to rescue his demon-haunted son from Dracula’s clutches, and you know he’s gonna die at least ninety times to some incredibly hard final bosses. Look, we’re not all twitch reflex gamers, okay?
16. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
At this point in the list, every Castlevania game we’ll be discussing is a banger of some renown. The only thing holding Order of Ecclesia back from the higher ranks is that it is so god damned hard.
Order of Ecclesia steps away just enough from Symphony of the Night’s more breakable RPG aspects to surprise fans who didn’t cut their teeth on the original, more platformer-focused entries. If you’re stubborn, though, you’re in for a treat. Shanoa is as pretty and fierce as Miriam, from the no-serial-numbers ‘vania Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and her Glyph techniques are more than up to the task ahead of her.
Taking place post-Symphony, it posits a new group trying to take up the Belmont mantle without relying on the Belmont clan’s famous whip. They’re poised for future success after Shanoa’s journey. Unfortunately, the game’s brutal difficulty and lessened exploration in favor of action meant this became the last 2D Castlevania game to date. No fair, Konami.
15. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Beloved series producer Koji Igarashi refined the franchise’s earlier jump to 3D with the first Playstation 2 entry, Lament of Innocence. Baron Leon Belmont winds up on a Bone Tomahawk-style rescue mission, attempting to free his fiancee from the clutches of a vampire named… Walter? Yes, this Castlevania is an origin story, revealing the tragic birth of the Vampire Killer whip, the rise of Dracula from a friend’s betrayal, and enjoying a hearty amount of weird alchemy (which is an odd staple of the franchise),
Like its predecessor, Castlevania 64, Lament of Innocence‘s pivot to a three-dimensional space does make exploration more frustrating and less satisfying on occasion, but it also does the most with the graphical engine. Best of all, this game renders Castlevania Legends (a title notably absent from this list) non-canon. Thank Death for that.
14. Castlevania: Bloodlines
The funniest thing about Bloodlines is that it’s one of two Castlevania games to actually lean into Bram Stoker’s Dracula canon, and this one does it with its whole heart.
Here, it was Quincey Morris (that tough-talkin’ but smartly sensitive Texan that Dracula Daily fans fell in love with) that ended Drac’s reign. It’s up to his son, John, and John’s bestie, Eric, to stop Dracula’s revival at the hands of (*checks notes*) the historical blood-bather Elizabeth Bathory. The translation mucks the last name into Bartley, but that’s her all right.
Set against the backdrop of World War I, Bloodlines uses the Sega Genesis hardware to turn itself into a zippier action platformer than its predecessors. The result is a classic Castlevania that’s easy to miss today. It’s available in the 2019 Anniversary Collection, and definitely worth a visit.
13. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Igarashi followed up his Playstation 2 premiere with Curse of Darkness: a game that had the schnutz to make its lead some random guy that can create demonic minions. Yes Netflixers, this is the origin story of Hector and Isaac: the dudes that started to steal the show from the Belmonts in season 2.
The switch from whip-play to a version of Alucard’s diverse armory (and the addition of familiars for exploration and combat) helped make this entry genuinely fun to play. It helps that Hector’s continual emo torment (it was the height of the Fall Out Boy era, kids) is buttressed by good writing. Granted, the game is held back by some occasionally crappy level design and, arguably for purists, by the relatively offhanded treatment of Trevor Belmont. Trevor came out of this just fine, folks. And Hector, beloved anime fans? Yeah, he’s genuinely that sad and floppy inside.
12. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Despite being declared non-canon and contributing to the surgery we did on our GBAs to install a backlight kit, it’s hard to give up on the nostalgia that lofts Circle of the Moon into the midlist.
Circle of the Moon was a launch title for the Game Boy Advance, and some of us nerds ran into a Toys R’ Us the second they opened to scoop up both a purple GBA and this little cartridge. The world went to hell a few months later, but at least we enjoyed our summer with Nathan Graves: a vampire hunter who earns access to the divinities of Mediterranean myth.
It’s a great platformer that builds on the RPG freedoms of Symphony of the Night, even if it’s not a ‘true’ Castlevania anymore. Probably our greatest gripe? Holy stake-splinters, can we get a couple more save points in this place?
11. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Harmony of Dissonance is a straight upgrade to Circle of the Moon. Iga takes back the reins and disassembles the previous card system into a blend of relics and magical grimoires to revamp Juste Belmont’s (Huzzah, we’re back to the Belmonts!) whip abilities into a charcuterie of possible combinations. Exploration is a treat, especially once the reveal about the twin Castles hits you.
The game never explores why Juste looks more like Alucard than his predecessors, Simon and Trevor, but Sypha Belnades probably doesn’t want to talk about that. Meanwhile, the story goes back to the delicious bit of puzzle-solving that nets you a small variety of endings. Like Symphony, you’ve got to go a little out of your way to earn the best one, but it’s worth the hustle.
10. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
This is it, folks. This is where the Castlevania series starts to warm up its wings. Simon’s Quest slaps that healthy layer of RPG depth atop its platformer exploration and combat, with villages to explore, a day/night cycle that changes up the areas and dangers you’ll face, capitalism (baby needs to get that bread for a new whip), and a teeny version of a leveling system.
It’s also “remember-to-unclench-your-jaw” hard. Not in the combat sense, which is smooth, but in interpreting the various puzzles you’ll need to solve to get anywhere. A chunky translation provided action fans with the nightmares classic King’s Quest fans dealt with. Are the hints accurate? Are there hints? Probably not. Download a GameFAQ while the site lasts and dig in.
9. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
Call it Rondo of Blood (a rondo is a Baroque musical style that contrasts several musical couplets together into something lively) or call it Dracula X. Actually, scratch that. Dracula X is a stripped-down Western remake of the original Rondo, which follows Richter Belmont as he rescues yet another endangered beloved maiden. Along the way, Richter also unseals his magical girl cousin Maria, who summons spirits to help her on her version of the trip through the castle.
The confusion is further deepened by Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles including a remastered version of the original Rondo. Whatever. The point is, this is a rock-solid Castlevania entry that makes the classic whip fun to use, and introduces the item crash mechanic, allowing the player to pull off really cool-looking moves. This gimmick would continue on, and its plot, with the villainous Shaft (God, that’s still funny) and his manipulations setting the stage for the best game to date.
8. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
My biggest gripe with Dawn of Sorrow is the steep art downgrade, which sidelines the gothic art of Ayami Kojima in favor of the plainest anime art an unloving god could unleash upon us. More impactful to the gameplay of Castlevania (yet not as personally annoying) was the Magic Seal system. Nintendo really wanted its DS stylus shtick to work, and the result was a slightly less crampy version of the PSP claw.
That said, Dawn of Sorrow is a delightful chunk of “more” for post-Symphony fans who enjoyed Soma Cruz’s first outing on GBA. That’s higher up on the list, but Soma’s talent for absorbing and using the skills of defeated monsters evokes a lighter version of that chewy, serotonin-gifting grind for the right enemy drop we love from Monster Hunter. Just remember to do some hand exercises before you settle in.
7. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Portrait of Ruin goes back to that saucy Bram Stoker flavor and continues the Morris bloodline with John Morris’ descendants, Jonathan and his sister Charlotte. It then doubles down on the weird by making the real-life Romanian painter Victor Brauner one of its vampire foes. It’s implied the surrealist Brauner is the guy who’s left the magically interactive paintings around for the siblings to fuss with.
The sibs have most of the now-comfy Castlevania RPG staples at their disposal as you figure out how to unlock the various endings, and the need to combine Jonathan and Charlotte’s powers to solve certain puzzles is a refreshing addition. You can also swap between the two on the fly, and the brutally cold anime aesthetic of its predecessor is softened by a warmer palette. A tasty bistro cheeseburger of a Castlevania. Order up!
There’s no choice but to respect your elders, and without the original Castlevania, known in Japan as Akumajo Dracula, we simply wouldn’t be here. The basics begin here. Difficult but satisfying platforming shapes the journey Simon Belmont and his Vampire Killer whip undergo deadly trials to end Dracula. As the castle falls for the first time (weird design choice to key the load-bearing supports to a vamp’s unlife) but it’s too late to complain now. A franchise is born.
It’s being a cultural landmark that earns the game its lofty place. Newer fans may find going back to this chunky old lad a bit too old-timey, like Dad’s Dinah Shore records. Give it a shot, though, as it’s easily available in the Anniversary Collection. At worst, consider it proof that evolution is a good thing. At best, it’s still a great game for its time.
5. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
With Hideo Kojima on the team and a shadow-bright horror aesthetic that would slot nicely in the basement of Guillermo Del Toro’s magnificent residence, Bleak House, Lords of Shadow’s quality as a game and as a Castlevania belies how hard this reboot will crash and burn in its sequel outing. It’s honestly shocking to compare its successor’s failures to a game whose biggest sin is trying to do familiar things in new ways. It’s a stumble that undercuts what’s genuinely a great attempt at revivifying old vamps with new tricks.
Once again, exploration gets cut in favor of puzzle platforming, but in its defense, this is the best a 3D-style entry can get. We can quibble over its “pure” Castlevania-ness, but the overwrought plot is sold so well with Patrick Stewart and Jason Isaacs in the voice cast. It’s hard to have a bad time with these two stentorian hams eating the platform right out from under you.
4. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Get over Soma Cruz’s plump Macklemore coat. This unlucky young soul gets to hang out with undercover Alucard in a retro-future vision of 2036, complete with Japanese shrine imagery and a total lack of laser beams. The twist behind who and what Soma Cruz actually is (it’s not hard to guess) adds meaning to an out-of-left-field but super-fun tactical soul system that drags our dark little collect-em-all poke-hearts into the burning light.
The limitations of the GBA hardware compared to its successors mean that there are no gimmicky bolt-ons, save for a half-assed attempt to make the Link Cable popular. That means this is a pure post-Symphony, RPG pajama-wearing, Castlevania. Its lack of forced innovation in favor of a lighter take on the standard plot makes this simply the best of the handheld games.
3. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Every one of our top three games is a must-play. The numerical order is utterly subjective for Castlevania devotees, and Dracula’s Curse III takes the lowest spot on this one only because I’m not as into the old-school originals. Skill issue, if you will.
But of that pedigree, this is the apex. Pure platforming skills are needed to hike you through this labyrinthine castle, and if you’re up to the task, you’re going to meet the most iconic crew in Castlevania history. Trevor Belmont is your protagonist, and willing to join his cause are Sypha Belnades, Grant Danasty (yeah, it’s weird he’s not in the Netflix anime), and best suck-boy Alucard. I’m sorry for writing it like that. Okay, not that sorry. Anyway, with this ragtag crew and a system that requires multiple playthroughs to catch all the endings and all the different levels, this is the greatest game of the first generation of Castlevania, hands down.
2. Super Castlevania IV
Of the second generation, Super Castlevania IV is going to be the watershed moment of many a late Gen X/early Millennial Castlevania fan’s life. It’s a top-tier remaster of the original Castlevania, returning to the original hunter, Simon Belmont. Though the manual tries to sell it as a sequel, nah, my friends, this is the Star Ocean: Second Story R of vampire hunting.
For old-school fans, probably the biggest chest-clutch moment is realizing that, along with Simon’s expanded mobility, this Vampire Killer whip goes all eight directions. No more getting cheesed out by bats and mudmen this time. If you suck, you suck. Comfortingly, it’s hard to suck that bad at this baby. The difficulty mostly lies in platforming your way to the end without tanking too much damage from the mooks. The bosses are chill enough to beat that you can enjoy taking in the delicious atmosphere while you whip their asses, literally. This game also does everything it can with an extensive color palette and the upgraded musical chirps of the SNES. Utterly fantastic.
1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
There are two perfect protagonists in a fledgling goth’s life, and they’re both dhampires. Weird. Igarashi even admitted the devilishly pretty Alucard is inspired by Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaka Amano’s vision of Vampire Hunter D. But drooling aside, Symphony of the Night pulls everything to love about Castlevania into a perfect package that’s still hard to compete with.
Alucard is slick to handle with level-ups that add heft to his abilities. He’s got hidden spells, he collects cool stuff like a pack rat, he gets to explore a sprawling castle full of secrets (twice, if you do it right) is joyfully easy to overpower, and hates his dad so much. Even Alucard’s American voice acting is a treat, and rare is the fan that doesn’t use his unlockable mist form to trap him in an elevator to hear him pissily yell “WHAT?!” a few times.
Symphony of the Night isn’t just the apex Castlevania experience. It’s a delight that transcends genre. Even if you don’t like platforming games, you may click with this one. Like Ridley Scott’s Alien, it’s as fresh as the day it launched. If you haven’t played it, you owe it to yourself to at least try it out. It’s that good. We promise.