The Castlevania series had its humble beginnings as an action-oriented arcade game, complete with flimsy, bare bones plot and high difficulty. The characters, however, were always interesting and the gameplay amazing. This trend continued through numerous games until Symphony of the Night turned the entire series concept on its head.
Sure, Circle of the Moon was fun and Harmony of Dissonance was amazing, but it really was the third Game Boy Advance title, Aria of Sorrow that changed the series forever. Prior to Aria, the series followed the journey of the whip-wielding Belmont and Morris clan as they battled Dracula, with a few notable exceptions (Alucard in Symphony of the night, Nathan Graves in Circle of the Moon).
In Aria, the player is introduced to a brand new character, with a unique ability: Soma Cruz. Soma handles much like Alucard in Symphony, with a few exceptions. Gone are the spells and morphing abilities Alucard had at his disposal. In their place, Soma has the unique ability to steal the souls of various monsters throughout the game and use their abilities. Each type of soul is categorized to red/attack, yellow or blue.
2005’s Dawn of Sorrow is almost like a portable Symphony of the Night. It reuses many of the locations, sprites, enemies and such from other games and relies on a clunky “draw-a-seal-to-kill-the-bosses” system to progress in the game. Soma is more like Alucard than in the previous installment and the game is much longer and feels larger than Aria. The game has much to offer, including non-castle locations, a retro level and special bonuses for players whom collect all souls in the game.
Dawn, like many of its predecessors, has a post-game mode which allows the player to go through the game as one of the supporting cast. It is also here the player learns that Arikado is actually Alucard, in what is essentially an updated version of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.
Konami took a different direction with the next game, Portrait of Ruin. In Portrait, the player takes control of two characters, Jonathan Morris, our whip-wielding (at first, anyway) hero and his friend, good witch Charlotte Aulin. Through the use of many team-based, dual mechanics, players can traverse the castle, venturing into paintings representing other locales throughout.
The game is interesting because it not only uses a dual-player system, but it also features a quest section. A mysterious stranger called Wind assigns various quests for the player to complete. The original DS version had a store system where players could interact with each other and sell/trade in-game items, but that services is now defunct, thanks to the discontinuation of the Nintendo Network.
Portrait of Ruin is one of my favorite games in the series, largely because it hits each aspect of Castlevania I enjoy: there’s action, RPG elements, great music, winks and nods to the other games in the series and a boss rush mode. Sometimes, you just want to battle each boss without the hassle of the quest. It doesn’t hurt that there is an excellent anime-style intro at the title screen.
The third, and final, DS Castlevania game, Order of Ecclesia, is another departure from the series. The game features a map, a completely different set of characters and is strongly reminiscent of Simon’s Quest in both execution and style. The game is long, detailed, interesting and above all, a refreshing take on the series. However, it is also the final “true” Metroidvania game in the main series.
All three Nintendo DS installments of the series are visually stunning, contain excellent music and are great fun to play (and replay).
Castlevania – Journey Through the Years will continue right here on Nerdvana later this week!
Stay tuned for Part 5, where we will wrap up our journey through the classic (pre-Lords of Shadow) series.