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It’s ironic that we only now have time to delve deep into the original. Castlevania after diving into the retrospectives of its two suites. At 35, the series has had its ups and downs. The current trend seems to be lamenting “the good old days” when Konami first made Nintendo’s Famicom disc system big in 1986 and then ported it to the NES. And given the current outlook for many classic Konami series, that’s not out of the question. But hey, instead of mourning what might have been, instead think back to what we got in the original. Castlevania.

Directed by Hitoshi Akamatsu, Castlevania (known as Akumajō Dracula in Japan) was approached with the cinema in mind. Akamatsu wanted Castlevanias visuals and music to feel “cinematic,” with the idea that players would feel like they were in a classic horror movie. And while it wasn’t exactly horror, when the question arose as to why Simon wielded a whip, Akamatsu simply replied that he was a fan of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indeed, when you start Castlevania for the first time, the title screen mimics the sprockets found in film reels. Pressing start to begin your journey featured a scene with Simon walking to the gates of Dracula’s Castle in an iconic scene that has since been reproduced several times in the series.

Once the game has really started, players truly experience the iconic music of the series for the first time with “Vampire Killer”. Kinuyo Yamashita worked with Satoe Terashima on the game’s soundtrack, which remains one of the best soundtracks in all video games. Like all good music, the Castlevania soundtrack enhances the playing experience, evoking a variety of emotions and feelings with every step. Of course, in keeping with Akamatsu’s cinematic feel, Yamashita was credited under the pseudonym James Banana for the North American version, which like most endgame credits is a play on the names of real people. associated with the horror genre. In this case, James Banana was a reference to James Bernard, who composed the score for the years 1958. Dracula’s Horror.

Graphically, while Castlevania doesn’t hold up quite as well as later NES suites, the quality of the art is still evident even today. There is a lot of detail that has been put into each step, each having its own color scheme (however limited it may be) to give each area its own unique look and feel. Obviously, there are no rotating gears or swinging pendulums that you can jump on like in Castlevania III. But again, the journey through Dracula’s immense Castle, through the claustrophobic caverns below, to the Clock Tower and the Steps of the Castle Tower is equally exhilarating, thanks again in great part to the Yamashita soundtrack.

One of the common themes at the time for many video games was the concept of “NES difficult” difficulty. While Castlevania is not an easy part, it is far from the frustration of something like Ninja gaiden would produce. Part of the perceived difficulty is Castlevania’s control scheme, which is admittedly steep. Of course, you can counter that with players who have no problem with Mario’s sliding control in the original. Super Mario Bros., which is perceived to be “easy”. Simon is admittedly slow and deliberate in his movement, with the inability to control your distance or direction once you’ve engaged in a jump. There is also a “wind up” when Simon attacks, whether in the air or on the ground. For novices, this can certainly be a frustration. However, on closer inspection, Akamatsu and his company have deliberately built the game around this limitation so that players learn the mechanics of the game.

Take candles, for example. Yes, they do hold the whip upgrades and cores of your sub-weapons, but their placement is key. Castlevania forces you to some sort of pace when it comes to jumping and attacking. It’s all about timing. You will have to learn how and when to jump, whip a candle, grab the object and continue. This is also suitable for enemy spawns in later stages, where the platforms they reside on leave little room for you to land. You will again have to jump, whip, land, and in some cases, whip again to defeat your enemies. Castlevania is not a game where you walk through the levels. You will need to actively think and memorize when and where to jump. Eventually everything becomes second nature.

Another element of the controls (and gameplay) is the use of sub-weapons. Just like with the whip, you’ll need to learn which sub-weapon is best for the situation and hold onto it (don’t accidentally pick up another one!) While maintaining your heart. The other strategy is to kill enough enemies with your secondary weapons to collect the multipliers that will drop candles, or find the multipliers that are sometimes hidden in the levels. Each sub-weapon has its own uses. The dagger (which Akamatsu wanted players to use first to bypass the secondary weapon concept) flies quickly and directly across the screen on striking once, while the Boomerang (or the cross, depending on its shape) can be thrown and can strike multiple enemies with a single throw, hitting even on trips back to Simon. The ax is primarily used to strike enemies above Simon, given his arched flight path. The stopwatch freezes time, giving you the ability to bypass enemies. Finally, there is the holy water, which can be thrown in front of you, springing from a small flame. While that may not seem like much, grabbing the multiplier and learning how to stun enemies with holy water can allow you to “manage” your path to victory with certain bosses, including Dracula himself!

However, to minimize the difficulty of Castlevania would be foolish. It is not an easy game. After the first stages, the difficulty increases, with enemies being more resilient and dealing more damage. In fact, in the final stages, you can only take a maximum of four hits from enemies before dying. Getting back to the idea of ​​actively planning your moves, you’ll need to recognize and learn enemy patterns, especially with more annoying enemies like Fleamen or Medusa Heads. Boss fights also increase in difficulty, culminating in death and its continued generation of scythes that fly randomly from all angles, forcing you to stock up on hearts and the appropriate secondary weapon. In fact, Death presents more of a challenge than Dracula if you play your cards right.

In fact, when you think about it, the final battle against Dracula predicts the events of Simon’s quest! After defeating the first form of Dracula, his head flies up and his body separates to reveal his demonic form. Asked by a former colleague about the reasoning behind Dracula’s soaring head, Akamatsu replied that it foreshadowed Dracula’s resurrection. As for the demonic form of Dracula, Akamatsu stated that it was not Dracula himself, but an “embodiment of the curse of man.” Therefore, why after defeating Dracula, Simon is cursed. And we know what happens after that.

It is certainly a testament to Castlevania and Konami that we’re still talking about the first game to this day, and how it’s still highly revered by critics and fans alike. Without Castlevania, there is no doubt that Konami would have had such a great influence in the following decades. We also wouldn’t have had things like the recent Castlevania Netflix series, or the possible concept of “Metroidvanias”. While Konami seems to be content with releasing collections of past glories for the present moment, it is hoped that one day the series will return in a meaningful way. Action-platform games like Castlevania are still very popular today, as is the idea of ​​creating a ‘throwback’ that expands the classic mold while adding modern touches. At any rate, Castlevania remains the epitome of the genre and one of the greatest games of all time.

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About Angelita A. Blanchard

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