The original Castlevania trilogy was a huge deal to me when I was a kid. Those NES games were mind-blowing. Given that I was nine years old when the third one was released in the US, it felt like the equivalent of getting my hands on an R-rated horror movie or something. It felt unbearably cool.
My love for Castlevania has never waned over the years. And that original NES trilogy is still a super nostalgic thing for me. And each of them feel really special in completely different ways. Truthfully, each of them could probably be my favorite, depending on when you're talking to me.
Let's rewind. The first game is well, the first game. So it's super important. It's the one I was first introduced to. The one that made me a fan. It's linear – sort of built from the mold of an arcade style game. It's amazing. The second game adds in all these RPG elements, and soul-crushingly difficult and obtuse BS. But I also love it, and even powered my way through to the end, which was a gigantic moment for me as a gamer, so again, I kind of love it.
Castlevania III is a unique successor to these games because it kind of meshes the cool things from the first two games. It goes back to being more linear; it strips out the RPG stuff. But it introduces three other optional playable characters and offers branching paths, which makes it feel more open-ended. It's interesting, because it seems evident that Konami was really trying to learn from their previous games, and make something perfect. And it almost succeeds.
From a history point of view, it's hard to undermine just how big a deal Castlevania III is. Perhaps the most obvious thing to point out is that it was a huge influence on Symphony Of The Night. And I mean, Alucard is actually a playable character in Castlevania III. If you love Sympony Of The Night (and who doesn't?) and you haven't played Castlevania III, then you're just doing it wrong.
Castlevania III is also the clear inspiration for the two (and counting?) Curse Of The Moon games in the Bloodstained series. Bloodstained, of course, is the "new" Castlevania series in all but name that Koji Igarashi created... he himself the creator of – wait for it – Symphony Of The Night. He also did all those portable Castlevania games that continued the Symphony Of The Night style. So yeah, kind of a big deal.
Anyway, I've gotten a little off topic here I guess. But I decided to replay Castlevania III this week. Something I've done many times over the past few decades. And I think that if I had to put the trilogy in order of rank, it'd be release order. The first game is my favorite, the second is in the middle, and the third is my least favorite. But that doesn't paint an accurate picture, because I think they're all classics that deserve to get played (and replayed).
I think the coolest thing to me is the branching paths. This makes it feel like each replay is slightly different. Sometimes I might feel like tackling the clock tower, while others I'll take the low road. The upper path is usually considered the "easiest," probably based on its relative brevity. But it also features the aforementioned clock tower which is a jerk. And so is the boss of that level. The lower path is longer, but offers up more options to recruit other characters.
When I was a kid, I thought Sypha was the coolest. And she is awesome. And even now, the variety of playstyles opened up by having multiple characters really does separate this one and make it special. Sypha uses magic, Grant can climb stuff, and Alucard can turn into a frigging bat!
Probably my biggest issue with Castlevania III in 2022 is that frankly, it's a game from 1990. Which means there's been a lot of time to iron out the wrinkles. The game is still incredibly challenging, which is not a complaint. But the checkpoint system can be a pain, and when you compare it to the Curse Of The Moon games and all of their quality of life improvements, you start to miss that stuff.
But whatever. That’s sort of unfair, and its neither here nor there. The game is still a straight up classic than influenced so much in the series (and outside the series proper) that came after. It's still an awesome game, and even if it is my least favorite of the original series, it's still unique and keeps me coming back to play it again year after year.