Following the non-canon exploits of Circle of the Moon, series producer Koji Igarashi took control of the next Game Boy Advance entry, bringing on-board Symphony of the Night artist Ayami Kojima to handle the character design. As if this reunion wasn't enough, protagonist Juste Belmont looks a lot like Alucard, which got a lot of people excited that this would be the true successor to Symphony of the Night.
Unfortunately, in a lot of ways, Harmony of Dissonance is a step backwards from Circle of the Moon. The sprites are larger, sure, but the garish visuals are quite jarring – an attempt by Konami to avoid the criticisms levelled at Circle of the Moon regarding its dark graphics. Dracula's castle is also quite dull to explore, and the game feels empty and uninteresting as a result. It's still enjoyable if you're a fan of the Metroidvania entries, but it's perhaps the weakest of the lot.
Available on Switch as part of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, as well as with the NSO Expansion Pack, Castlevania: Bloodlines — or Castlevania: The New Generation as it was known in Europe — has the distinction of being the only series entry to grace SEGA's 16-bit console.
While Dracula X would show the world what Konami could achieve in the realm of CD-ROM, Bloodlines – which was released around the same time – would prove that the company's staff could make Sega's 16-bit hardware sing. Konami pledged its support to the Mega Drive / Genesis around this time after years of being committed to Nintendo, and while this instalment feels slightly different from what went before, it's still an utterly fantastic take on the series. Set around the period of World War I, it attempts to link up the Castlevania narrative with the events of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel.
However, it's the globe-trotting nature of the game – levels take place across Europe, including Greece, France and finally England – which makes it stand out. Michiru Yamane – whose compositions have become synonymous with the series – began her association with Castlevania here, and despite the comparative weakness of the Mega Drive sound hardware compared to that of the SNES, she delivers some of the best tunes in the franchise.
After the deviation that was Simon's Quest, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse returns to the level-by-level approach seen in the 1986 original, but evolves the concept in every conceivable way. There are now four characters to control – Simon Belmont's ancestor Trever, female magic-user Sypha Belnades, pirate Grant Danasty and Alucard, the half-vampire, half-human son of Dracula himself. Trevor can switch to one of these companions during a level and benefit from their unique powers.
This adds to the gameplay considerably, as does the fact that your path through the game branches in places, offering plenty of replay value. Add in some of the best visuals and music ever seen in a NES game, and it's easy to see why so many Castlevania fans consider Dracula's Curse to be the pinnacle of the series, at least in terms of the more 'traditional' entries before Symphony of the Night shook things up in 1997.
It’s mostly the sublime Aria of Sorrow that’s doing the heavy lifting with Castlevania Advance Collection; it really is one of the best entries in the entire Castlevania series. Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance are alright but on a lower tier, while Dracula X is middling even on its own standards. These are still very much worth playing, though, and this collection makes for an essential purchase for both longtime Castlevania fans and newbies.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a 2.5D remake of the legendary 1993 PC Engine title Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, which, for a long time, was totally exclusive to Japan. The core game is retooled drastically, with the anime art style of the original being replaced by Ayami Kojima's more mature designs. While the new visuals arguably haven't aged as well as the 2D graphics of the PC Engine version, it's still well worth a play – and even if you don't fancy the remake, the fact that Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night are included as unlockable extras makes this an essential purchase for Castlevania fans, and followers of the action-adventure genre in general.
Following the footsteps of Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin positions itself as a sequel to the Mega Drive title Castlevania: Bloodlines, and is set in the aftermath of the First World War. It's a 'Metroidvania' again, but this time, the game is sub-divided into various worlds which are accessed by jumping into various pictures. Because the developers aren't limited themselves to the traditional castle, it means they can be inventive with level designs – one stage takes place in Egypt, for example.
Another neat touch is the fact that you're controlling not one character, but two; Jonathan Morris is your typical whip-wielding Belmont–alike, while Charlotte uses magical attacks. You can toggle between them at will, and there are some puzzles that require the use of both characters. There's definitely the feeling that Portrait of Ruin contains a lot of needless padding-out, but like all three of the DS Metroidvania efforts, it's still worthy of your attention.
Is this really a Castlevania game? Fans might argue that point either way, but, after being starved of 2D vampire-hunting action for so long, we'll happily consider it part of the lineage. Dead Cells: Return To Castlevania feels like it’s primarily made for Dead Cells fans who also happen to like Castlevania — it's unlikely to convert Castlevania aficionados who don’t get on with Motion Twin's roguelite. At any rate, we loved it, and it's great to see Castlevania back in video games again.
In Europe, Super Castlevania IV actually released before Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, which gives you some indication of why so many fans directly compare them, despite the power difference between the NES and SNES. On many levels, Super Castlevania IV – which is essentially a retelling of the original game – scales things back. There are no branching pathways and Simon Belmont is the only character you get to control.
However, in practically every other respect, Super Castlevania IV is the better of the two games. The visuals and music are taken to an entirely new level thanks to the power of the console, with the soundtrack, in particular, being one of the best you'll hear on any cartridge-based system. The gameplay – which makes good use of the SNES' Mode 7 capabilities – is also tight and engaging, even if it's perhaps a little less challenging than the NES entries. A true classic.
The Nintendo DS trilogy of Metroidvanias is rounded off by this offering, which features a female protagonist and a structure that calls to mind the likes of Simon's Quest. Ayami Kojima wasn't hired to do character designs but replacement Masaki Hirooka does a good job of mimicking the style, avoiding the anime-like art seen in the previous two DS adventures. Order of Ecclesia was something of a divisive release at the time; many hailed it as the best of the DS trio, while others bemoaned the fact that the format had become very stale by this point, and that Ecclesia was too reliant on quests and its map was too disjointed to be satisfying to explore.
Over time, it has become one of the most well-respected of the handheld Castlevanias and is worth a look – if you can pick it up for a reasonable price.
With two brilliant retro games in one bundle, the gameplay in Castlevania Requiem is excellent. As a starting point to the 1792 Dracula X story-line, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is a fantastic 1993 example of the traditional NES Castlevania's arcade, platforming template, which shouldn't be missed. However, Castlevania Requiem disappoints with a lack of extras like developer interviews, or an art museum.
It's contentious that Castlevania Requiem is based on the Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles' version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, because it alters the original PSone's voice acting and script, although pleasingly the PSP version enables you to unlock a playable version of Maria Renard. The PS4 Trophy list deserves special mention for giving extra incentive to explore both games more thoroughly. The simplest way to recommend Castlevania Requiem is by acknowledging that it includes one of PSone's best ever games, in 1997's frightfully superb Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.