Castlevania 1: Not your father’s Dracula
Okay, let’s get this out of the way, I McFreakin love Castlevania the sounds, the music the eye burningly red color pallet (SO MUCH FREAKIN’ RED!) in the 2nd level’s aptly named “Red Brick Cathedral” the choice by the devs at Konami to equip our no pants wearing hero (or just like very short shorts…?) Simon Belmont with a whip that transforms into a flail with a morningstar tip! The sub-weapons; you had your sucky little throwing knife, the ax for aerial enemies, the Holy Water that spread fire on the ground (called the Fire Bomb in the US release cuz Nintendo of America was like “nope you’ll tick somebody off if you call this Holy Water.”) The Cross (again, censored and called Boomerang) and finally the Stopwatch that lets you FREEZE TIME for like 5 seconds everything except Simon and bosses grinds to a standstill. Castlevania is near to my heart, and future releases would expand the lore and even take a fair bit from Bram Stoker’s famous novel “Dracula” with some exceptions like Dracula cant be killed with a wooden stake, and he’s not affected by garlic Nah this aint ya daddy’s Dracula kiddo! But we’re focusing on the one that started it all, Castlevania on the Famicom (Family Computer) or the Nintendo Entertainment System as it’s known in the West. You are Simon Belmont, heir to a holy whip the Vampire Killer the most potent weapon humanity has against the immortal Count Vlad Dracula Tepes and his army of darkness. Equipped with the whip and the sub-weapons your goal is to destroy the newly risen Dark Lord brought back to the land of the living by a dark cult of humans who desire chaos and all that fun stuff, a bit of virgin blood on Dracula’s coffin and ol bat brain rises again to cause mayhem. With the return of Dracula comes the return of his castle, Castlevania or just Dracula’s Castle as its called in most games the castle itself is a living thing able to change its form to confuse and disorient would-be heroes making one’s memories of the previous Castle’s layout quite irrelevant. Castlevania does this by housing a being responsible for Dracula’s unending cycle of death and rebirth, a being named Chaos, but we’ll get into that some other time it’s a whole thing. Also, yeah, there’s a built-in lore reason why each Castle’s layout is totally different in subsequent releases, but none of THIS even came to light until Symphony of the Night on the Playstation, several years after this game’s debut. Anyway, to get back on track, Simon has to take his tree trunk sized legs that could level a building if he kicked it too hard through several levels of Castlevania to defeat Dracula and save the world. But along the way, you’ll meet the Giant Bat, Medusa, Frankenstein’s Monster and his friend Igor, Mummies, and The Grim Reaper. Yeah, nobody said a Belmont’s life was easy kiddos worst of all even when you do defeat Dracula it’s revealed in Castlevania II that with his dying words Dracula laid a curse upon Simon that slowly ate away at him and if he did not cure it he would die and by slowly yall I mean he didn’t even notice till he had like a week to live, devious. Castlevania was a difficult but fair game it was the usual you get limited lives and when they’re gone you game over but unlike most games, you had unlimited Continues but no password system at least not on the NES version, continuing started you back at the beginning of a level with nothing but your whip but you did not need to play the entire game over again unless you powered off the console. Future releases would thankfully include a password and eventually, a full-on Save system, when the US version of Castlevania came out there were already two major games out with the ability to save or at least use a password, Metroid and The Legend of Zelda it’s likely the developers intentionally left these out of CV1 to artificially enhance the difficulty and force people to buy a cartridge rather than just rent the game at Blockbuster or something and smash it in one sitting. Heh, if the devs could see the times Speedrunners have on this game though they’d feel absolutely silly is this was indeed the reason why there are no passwords/save system in the game. Seriously Speedrunners are insane; the World Record held by Italian Twitch Streamer SBDWolf (ahuhuhu, SBD) is 11m 24s! Absolutely crazy!
Anyways, I admittedly couldn’t find much on the development of Castlevania 1; it was developed in house at Konami currently located in the Ginza district of Tokyo, Japan. It was directed by Hitoshi Akamatsu, who approached projects with a “director’s eye” and surrounded himself with people who wanted to express through the game’s visuals and music his love for Cinema; he wanted players to feel like they were playing a classic horror movie. Heh, it seems Konami had a knack for luring in film buffs in the guise of game developers as their most famous (now former) employee, Hideo Kojima of Metal Gear fame says in his Twitter bio that his body is made up of 70% movies. The game released in Japan in 1986 under the name Akumajou Dracula which translates to Demon Castle Dracula the name was changed for the Western release due to Vice President of Konami of America at the time Emil Heidkamp’s discomfort over the name which he believed translated to Dracula Satanic Castle, he wasn’t far off honestly. I could see they also wanted a “catchier” name that still fit the general feel of the game they probably saw that the game takes place in Transylvania Simon Belmont explores a castle, so someone’s like “let’s call it Castlevania!” and they ran with it. I could hear my Dad right now in my head picking up the box for the game if it had kept its original title and going “what the heck is an ahkumahjoe?” so Castlevania? Good move Konami of America, good move.
Castlevania 1 alone would see many re-releases and “reimaginings” or even full-on remakes. There’s a lot of -Re here so bear with me folks. Ported to many many platforms including the current generation consoles and PC with the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, some of these remakes would even change Simon’s look entirely, ditching the Conan the Barbarian style of the 80s in favor of a darker more Gothic look with red hair and black leather armor instead of the brown armor and blonde hair and drawn in the Japanese style “Bishounen” or Beautiful Youth by now-former Konami employee Ayane Kojima. I love her art by the way 10/10 would look at again, MOVING ON!
Now you’re probably wondering “man if the fanbase is so passionate it must have sold a bunch of copies like Mega Man 2 levels millions of cartridges sold right”? Well, I couldn’t find numbers, but Castlevania for all the games in the series and all the passion from the fans in the world never was a strong seller. Unfortunately, Only Symphony of the Night managed to break a million copies sold. A bitter pill to swallow, especially with the current state of affairs at Konami, which are great for them as they’re raking in money with gambling and other ventures. But not great if you’re a fan of one of their legendary franchises as they just don’t release games anymore or if they do they’re cheap little nostalgia cash-ins or turned into a gambling machine or just not good like the latest Contra and Bomberman games. Castlevania may be gone, but its spirit lives on in the form of a game developed by a company founded by a few former Konami employees, headed by Koji “IGA” Igarashi who took the captain’s seat for Castlevania starting with Symphony of the Night and left Konami a few years ago due to dissatisfaction with his role there and a falling out with the big wigs. IGA’s new team Artplay would make Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and release it in 2019 and deliver on the promises made. I will talk a bit about Bloodstained some other time it deserves its own space.