Alright folks, now it’s time to get real. As fun as it was to fish around the bottom of the barrel, I have to get serious now. This is part two of our Halloween 2019 Castlevania ranking, which means we’re climbing to the top. Arranged in tier lists to protect myself somewhat from war crime accusations, here are the best Castlevania games. I really put mental effort into this, so I hope you all have fun reading!
As bizarre and painful as it can be, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is responsible for a lot of the series’ identity as it developed. It’s comparable to Zelda II, taking a successful game and making a radically different sequel. Konami added EXP, made the game one huge map with separate “dungeons,” and even included a secret time limit with multiple endings.
Also, all the NPCs lied to you, so figuring out what to do was horrible. Despite how frustrating it can be, Simon’s Quest planted the seeds for the “Metroidvania” era and it’s also the one with “Bloody Tears.” Enough said.
Portrait of Ruin
Bloodlines nearly vanished into the caverns of history, but Iga’s team brought it back for Portrait of Ruin. It doesn’t require knowledge of the original, but it does continue that storyline. Portrait of Ruin is one of the most polished games in the series, but it doesn’t do a lot to stand out. There’s a sort of fumbly two-character gimmick, but it isn’t as fully-realized as it could be.
Harmony of Dissonance
While Circle of the Moon brought Castlevania back from the dead, it had issues. Harmony of Dissonance was a return to the A-team. It also brought the Belmonts back. Developers were still figuring out what the GBA could do, so Dissonance suffered from some jank. Particularly, there was some bad blood between the map screen and a gimmick involving two overlapping castles. That heavy chiptune soundtrack, though!
Lament of Innocence/Curse of Darkness
Handheld Castlevania was king, but Konami didn’t give up on consoles. Iga’s team took its first shot at 3D Castlevania (the Nintendo 64 team was different), on the PS2. With Lament of Innocence, we got a new starting point, with origins for both the Belmonts and Dracula. Curse of Darkness showed us what Trevor Belmont was up to after Castlevania III, and introduced more characters and mythology that might be relevant to Netflix fans.
These games have serious flaws (low budget problems as usual) but have their charm and legitimately solid gameplay ideas. Curse was even on Xbox! They may look like they’re riding on Devil May Cry’s coattails, but they have that “Igavania” spirit.
Order of Ecclesia
Time was closing in on the Nintendo DS and people were getting a little tired of Castlevania. That’s what happens with annual releases! But Iga’s team kept doing its thing, albeit with a renewed sense of experimentation. Order of Ecclesia left the usual story, playing with the idea of what happens to this world when the Belmonts aren’t around.
It also plays with structure, having players tackle smaller chunks of exploration and boss fights before the big castle. A turn back to maddeningly difficult boss encounters made this entry stand out, but harder to approach.
Speaking of hard, here’s Dracula’s Curse. This is the foundation of Adi Shankar’s popular new animated Netflix series, and there’s a reason for that. This may be the most video game-ass video game on the NES, and people love it for that. The levels and bosses are huge, there are branching paths, and even multiple characters to play as. The soundtrack is more bombastic than ever.
While Castlevania hadn’t quite passed the tongue-in-cheek monster movie vibe, we kicked off the timeline here. Unfortunately, the NES version has messed up difficulty due to rental-related politics, so to actually beat it you either need to cheat or dedicate your life.
Dawn of Sorrow
Dawn of Sorrow is a sequel to Aria, meaning it has everything Aria had, but more of it. It even has a lowkey Castlevania III sequel buried in its post-game. However, the DS era was all about that experimentation to boost sales. In this case, we ended up with corny, generic-looking anime art and weird touch screen mechanics that made things awkward.
Bloodlines was the only Castlevania to appear on Sega Genesis, which is remarkable on its own. But it definitely helps that it’s a distinct, memorable Castlevania classic. Swerving the whole Belmont thing, Bloodlines actually nods to Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel.
It’s a fun attempt to declare Konami’s Dracula as “The” Dracula. Thus we meet the Morris clan, somehow related to the Belmonts. While the setup is cool, Bloodlines is also a speedy, responsive, and challenging romp, fitting exactly what you might picture for a Genesis entry.
The original Castlevania is a masterpiece, straight up. It stands alongside Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 as one of the Famicom titans. With all the NES limits, the team at Konami (who tragically remain largely uncredited) was able to establish a sense of place, tone and style, unlike any other title.
That’s on top of laser-focused game design and a gothic metal soundtrack that still slaps to this day. Dracula can be kind of a cheating bastard at the end, but he’s Dracula. It comes with the job description.
Rondo of Blood
Rondo of Blood sent Castlevania on the path it stayed on until the “end,” serving as a bridge between “classicvania” and “Metroidvania.” Originating on the PC Engine (or Turbografix), Rondo has unmatched visuals and sound quality.
It’s also full of branching paths, multiple endings, an unlockable character and more goodies you might not expect from a 90s action-sidescroller. Rondo maintains its vision of what Castlevania meant at the time while offering a more even difficulty balance.
Symphony of the Night
Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night go hand in hand. If Rondo is the stylistic bridge, then Symphony is the promised land on the other side. This is where “Metroidvania” came from. This is where the timeline started to expand. Castlevania truly became a world inhabited by characters and continuity.
Thanks to its insistence on 2D art, Symphony used the PlayStation’s storage space to take the fidelity introduced with Rondo to a new level. Symphony of the Night is the most time-proof game of its era.
Aria of Sorrow
Landing on GBA brought budgets down, helping Castlevania stay a popular niche. Despite lower resources, Koji Igarashi’s team continued to make magic happen. Aria of Sorrow did things on GBA that are still mind-blowing. It’s packed with content, a massive map, new systems, combat mechanics and more lore than ever.
Thus cements the official Xbox Enthusiast Halloween 2019 Castlevania ranking. I have no actual authority to claim it as official, but I’m doing it anyway. I care far too deeply for a storyline that can be summed up as “lineage of aristocratic cave men hit vampires with magic bullwhip,” and hopefully this list reflects that passion.
Feel free to disagree with my choices, and please do so in the comments so we can chat about it! But, again, I’m totally not budging on Lords of Shadow. It’s a horrible night to have a curse, especially when that curse is a bad Castlevania game.