Castlevania is one of the most iconic names in video games, so to honor the long-running, vampire-ridden series, we decided to put together a guide to the best Castlevania games of all time.
Unfortunately, Castlevania’s early days are messy, with a handful of slightly altered ports released for different platforms and regions. For this guide, we’re skipping Vampire Killer and Haunted Castle, as well as the Castlevania port for the Sharp X68000, which was later released for the PlayStation and eventually the PlayStation Network as Castlevania Chronicles. All of the aforementioned titles are ports or re-imaginings of the original Castlevania. Although they differ in a handful of ways, they’re not distinct enough to warrant their own spot. Still, if you’re a fan of the original game, Vampire Killer and Haunted Castle provide a unique spin.
It’s hard to talk about Castlevania without mentioning one of the best PS1 games, Symphony of the Night. As the directorial debut for Koji Igarashi, Symphony of the Night has become a defining title in the Castlevania series, ditching the more linear gameplay of previous titles in favor of Super Metroid-style exploration — making it a solid Metroidvania game.
Symphony of the Night isn’t just the best Castlevania game, but one of the best games ever released. Instead of focusing on subpar 3D visuals like most other PlayStation titles at the time, Symphony of the Night perfected 2D platforming, offering a much-needed change of pace for the series as a whole.
Aria of Sorrow is another Koji Igarashi-led Castlevania game, and like Symphony of the Night, features open-ended exploration. It does so on the Game Boy Advance, however. Although there were other titles similar to Aria of Sorrow on the GBA, none of them got as close to the Symphony of the Night experience as Aria of Sorrow.
Mechanically, Aria of Sorrow is similar to the GBA games that came before it. That said, most reviewers at the time found its story, graphics, and music superior, if only by a small margin. Regardless, if you’re looking for a go-to Castlevania game on GBA, it should be Aria of Sorrow.
Circle of the Moon was the first Castlevania game released on the GBA. Much like Aria of Sorrow, Circle of the Moon mirrors the exploration of Symphony of the Night, though it isn’t as refined as the GBA titles that would follow. In particular, Circle of the Moon doesn’t take full advantage of the GBA’s graphical capabilities.
The graphics are dark and, as a result, difficult to see. Although the core gameplay is some of the best the Castlevania series has seen, the overall experience isn’t as fluid as Aria of Sorrow. Still, if you like open-ended Castlevania games, Circle of the Moon is a must play.
Dawn of Sorrow was the first Castlevania game released as a Nintendo DS game, giving core gamers a reason to upgrade to Nintendo’s latest handheld. Like our previous picks, Dawn of Sorrow was headed by Koji Igarashi, leaving intact the Metroid-esque exploration seen in previous titles.
In many ways, Dawn of Sorrow feels like a refreshed Aria of Sorrow, just with better visuals and the convenience of two screens. As for other differences, Dawn of Sorrow features a few new gameplay mechanics, but cuts down the length significantly; Dawn of Sorrow is one of the shortest games in the Castlevania series.
Breaking from the Koji Igarashi-led Castlevania games, Dracula’s Curse is the first title in the series that shows what it would eventually become. Castlevania III combines all of the best elements of Castlevania and Simon’s Quest into a single game, expanding the RPG elements seen with the second release while not letting platforming fall by the wayside.
Like Simon’s Quest, Dracula’s Curse features multiple endings depending on the paths you take throughout the game. Although easy to take for granted nowadays, it’s important to remember that Dracula’s Curse was released as an NES game in North America 30 years ago.
Harmony of Dissonance sits in between Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow on the GBA. Although more refined visually than Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance feels like a step back mechanically, trying its best to mirror the Symphony of the Night experience. It’s still a great Castlevania game, just not as good as Aria of Sorrow.
Portrait of Ruin was the follow-up to Dawn of Sorrow on the DS. The game features most of the gameplay mechanics of the original DS title, but tries to build upon it in various ways, sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. For the most part, Portrait of Ruin is yet another great Castlevania game, though with some occasionally awkward gameplay.
Rounding out the Nintendo DS lineup of Castlevania games — and the latest original 2D game in the series — is Order of Ecclesia. Upon its release in 2008, Order of Ecclesia received mostly positive reviews. However, with the increasing discontent in the stagnant nature of the series, Order of Ecclesia was overshadowed by the titles that came before it.
Moving away from the more modern titles, Castlevania: Bloodlines is the first of the series to show up as a Sega Genesis game. As the only Castlevania title on any of Sega’s consoles, Bloodlines is often overlooked with most players pointing toward Super Castlevania IV as the best 16-bit option. For classic Castlevania gameplay, however, it’s hard to beat Bloodlines.
Following closely behind Bloodlines is Super Castlevania IV. Despite being released three years prior to Bloodlines, Super Castlevania IV is actually the better-looking game. Still, it has a few issues. Super Castlevania is a straightforward 2D platformer, and although the gameplay is excellent, it doesn’t feature many of the RPG mechanics that the series is known for.
By modern standards, Castlevania has a handful of problems, especially compared to later entries in the series. Still, it’s tough to write a list of the best Castlevania games without paying homage to the original. Known for its knuckle-busting difficulty, Castlevania set the tone for a series that’s now more than 30 years old.
With Belmont’s Revenge, we have our first taste of Castlevania’s confusing naming conventions. It’s actually the fifth game released chronologically, but the name comes from the fact that it was the second title released as a Game Boy game. Although lacking compared to later Castlevania titles, Belmont’s Revenge is the best game the series has seen on Game Boy.
Breaking from the 2D sidescrolling roots of the series, Lords of Shadow is a 3D action-adventure game originally released as an Xbox 360 game and PlayStation 3 game in 2010. Hideo Kojima, director of the Metal Gear series and Death Stranding, actually helped produce Lords of Shadow, and although it’s a break from Castlevania tradition, it’s one of the better action games of the era.
Slightly before the release of Lords of Shadow, Konami released The Adventure ReBirth exclusively for WiiWare. ReBirth is a re-creation of the first Castlevania title released on Game Boy, The Adventure. Often hailed as one of the worst Castlevania games of all time, The Adventure features dated visuals and unforgiving difficulty, both of which were fixed with ReBirth.
Following Symphony of the Night as the second Castlevania title on a Sony platform, the anticipation for Lament of Innocence prior to its release was through the roof. Although an excellent 3D action game, Lament of Innocence breaks from the platforming seen in Symphony of the Night in favor of a more traditional third-person experience. Like many of the best PS2 games, it was one-of-a-kind.
Not to be confused with Belmont’s Revenge, Simon’s Quest is the second game in the Castlevania series. Ditching the action-platforming of the first game in favor of more RPG mechanics, Simon’s Quest is a snapshot of the series in limbo. Although the first showing of many mechanics that would later define Castlevania, Simon’s Quest focuses too heavily on them, hurting the game overall.
Mirror of Fate is the sequel to the original Lords of Shadow, though it was treated as more of a spinoff. Released originally for the 3DS in 2013, Mirror of Fate tried to re-create all of the wrong parts of its console predecessor. With little in the way of exploration and a redundant combat system, Mirror of Fate feels like no more than a slightly above-par action game.
Unfortunately, Castlevania’s latest showing is one of its worst. Lords of Shadow 2, despite being six years old, is the last true Castlevania game Konami released. Although a fun hack-and-slash game, Lords of Shadow 2 doesn’t live up to the original game. The graphics feel outdated, the level design is basic, and the gameplay, although fun, is mindless.
Like Lords of Shadow 2, Curse of Darkness is a decent action game, but a poor Castlevania game. Released for the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 in 2005, Curse of Darkness features similar 3D action gameplay to Lament of Innocence. However, its lackluster level design and monotonous encounters leave the entry feeling stale.
Legacy of Darkness is an expansion of the original Castlevania N64 game, remaking the original game and adding a prequel. Despite Konami’s best efforts to enhance and build upon the strengths of the original 3D Castlevania game, Legacy of Darkness is yet another N64 game that doesn’t measure up to the current competition. The overall game is simplistic and shallow, with outdated, low-quality visuals and a clumsy gameplay experience.
It’s difficult enough to understand the complexity of a game like Symphony of the Night, and even Legends outdoes them for the lowest bar on game ratings. Rounding out the Game Boy lineup of games and released just months after Castlevania’s best title, Legends feels outdated in every way. Even the Castlevania franchise’s creators and faithful fan base don’t dispute Koji Igarashi’s rather harsh review of Legends being “…an embarrassment for the series.”
Rounding out our list is Castlevania’s first foray onto the Game Boy: Castlevania: The Adventure. The Adventure would have been a great game if consoles properly supported its design. Gameboy sets the bar pretty low on visuals, and this game is no exception. The real dealbreaker, however, is that The Adventure is nearly unbeatable, and its impossible level of difficulty just makes for frustrating gameplay.
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