Castlevania, Where Have You Been?

With another Halloween in the books, I think back on some games that have dwelled in the horror and I think about Castlevania, a series seeped with mythological monsters, a long line of heroes, and Dracula at its core.

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I have enjoyed many different style of Castlevania. From the side-scrolling action of Castlevania III and Super Castlevania IV, to the Metroid-Vania exploration games like Symphony of the Night and Dawn of Sorrow, and the more recent Lords of Shadow sub-series. There’s also been some smaller games outside of the longstanding lineage of games, like the fighting game Castlevania: Judgement, the multiplayer combination of Harmony of Despair, and even a mobile puzzle game called Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night.

Why has it been missing?

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Castlevania evokes a bit of nostalgia for those NES players who are expecting a limited color palette, arcade action, and a brutal learning curve. The terror from the genre lies in both the unpredictability of the game’s level design and enemies and also the horror infused levels that use monsters, demons, spirits, and abominations to hunt down the player. While the series has shifted to from action to exploration and then regressed back to action, the formula became stale. Since Symphony Of The Night, 6 of the 7 following games stuck with the Metroid-vania style gameplay and have used a good formula until it ran dry. Lords of Shadow changed all this up by immersing into the popular action-adventure genre that God of War, Assassin’s Creed, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and many more flourished. As a soft reboot, the Castlevania series now lies in wait for what comes next, as Lords of Shadow 2 did not perform as well as Konami expected.

What could be in the future?

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Abysmal, to be frank. Lords of Shadow was a new way to transition the series into a genre that was growing and continues to, even into different sub-genres. However, with Lords of Shadow 2 not performing as well commercially and critically, Konami will reassess the franchise. To add to the fire, the struggle and division of Hideo Kojima and Konami, which hurts due to Kojima’s contributions to the first title, and the overall attitude to returning to the 2-D roots of the series lacking enthusiasm, and it seems Castlevania may be lost in the mix for awhile.

Some games have worked well to transition with their franchise by fusing the two separate sub-genres together. Take Mario’s New sub-franchise, which is a bold welding between the 2-D platforming with 3-D mechanics. Other games have pressed forward with what has made them great while expanding on what works, like Metal Gear Solid‘s expert craft in the stealth genre imbued with dramatic and cinematic story that rivals many movie franchises. With the horror and action seeming to take hold of the series, I think the franchise could venture into a strictly horror-focused game and explore a more chilling relationship between Dracula and the Belmonts. The alternate endings in Dawn of Sorrow had me in shock, as Soma’s action or inaction could cause history to change completely and I think that gravity could be employed into a new title.

All in all, I would love to see something new that does not follow the current generation of games and see an oddball Castlevania that explores the franchise in unique ways. While I think horror could work, I would be open to new directions for a series that has survived so long.

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