Just Another Video Game Blog: Ranking the Series: Castlevania (Part I)

Blogger’s Note: When I decided to do regular “Ranking the Series” posts, I knew that I wanted to cover Castlevania. What I didn’t consider is how many Castlevania games there are. In order to make the series manageable, I’ve decided to break down the rankings between handheld games and console games. Part I will be focused on handheld titles. And please note, I’m considering how the game initially launched. I understand that many of these are now available on consoles due to re-releases, but if a game debuted on a handheld, I’m considering it a handheld title for the purposes of this post.

10. The Castlevania Adventure

I’m very forgiving of early titles in a series, and such is the case here. This isn’t a bad title, but it is both limited by the abilities of the Gameboy and being the first handheld Castlevania title. A rough first outing, but still quite playable.

9. Castlevania Legends

Only slightly better than Adventure, Legends feels like it should have been better, being the third Gameboy entry, yet it’s just not. Almost everything in the title is a step back from Belmont’s Revenge, which makes no sense at all.

8. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Originally launched for the 3DS, Mirror of Fate is a bridge title for the two Lords of Shadow console titles. The game is very nice to look at, but the gameplay feels very stiff and deliberate, which clashes with the smoother gameplay of the Advance and DS titles. There’s fun to be had here, but all too often the game seems to get in it’s own way.

7. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Portrait of Ruin is a fun game, but is a little forgettable, hence its ranking. Portrait utilizes a character swapping mechanic which allows you to switch between your two main characters (Johnathan & Charlotte) at any time. This is used in multiple puzzles found throughout the game and allows for a bit of strategy in battles. Portrait is also unique in that you access different areas via paintings, meaning that there are multiple maps to explore versus one large map as in most of the more recent Castlevania titles.

6. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge

Belmont’s Revenge greatly improved on its predecessor in practically every way. Gameplay felt much smoother, sub-weapons were added, the music is very good (all things considered). Revenge also allowed you to pick the order you complete the initial four levels, or castles. Revenge may look dated, understandable given its age, but the gameplay still holds up and it is still a very enjoyable playthrough.

5. Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Harmony of Dissonance’s spot at #5 is testament to the high quality of the Castlevania series. Harmony is probably the closest title to Symphony of the Night that Konami made. As Juste Belmont, you are tasked with exploring two castles, one the reflection of the other. Actions you take in one castle can affect the other castle, which is part of the puzzle of the game. While your primary weapon is the whip, multiple sub-weapons are included as well as spell books used for magical effects. Harmony is an excellent entry in the Castlevania series.

4. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow

While using the now classic Metroidvania design, Aria of Sorrow creates its own identity by utilizing the Tactical Soul system. Essentially, most of your attacks, abilities, etc.. are all acquired by absorbing souls from defeated enemies. But, the rate at which an enemy will drop its soul varies. More valuable souls will have a much lower drop rate, but may very well be worth the time it takes to finally obtain them. For example, while you’ll collect multiple Bat souls rather easily, you may have to defeat over one hundred Peeping Eye’s before seeing a soul drop.

3. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

Order of Ecclesia manages to feel very much like a Castlevania title, while also being very unique. First of all, Ecclesia does not have a large, inter-connected map, but instead shows areas you can visit on a map screen. It’s quite reminiscent of Simon’s Quest on the NES, if that game had had a dedicated map. These locales include a town that you can populate by finding citizens and, via a quest or battle, sending them to the town. Doing so will almost always benefit you in some way. Secondly, Ecclesia uses a glyph system for attacks and abilities. While similar to the Sorrow titles’ souls system, the glyph system is different enough to feel fresh. And while not unusual for a Castlevania title in general, the soundtrack of Ecclesia may be the best of the handheld titles.

2. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

The first side-scroller to follow Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon gives the popular PlayStation title a run for its money. With fantastic level design, allowing you to explore the castle as you wish, limited only by your current abilities, Circle of the Moon is simply a joy to play. While you are limited to your whip and a handful of sub-weapons, Circle of the Moon uses a Duel Setup System with a total of ten cards that can be found in game. Ten action cards can be paired, one at a time, with ten attribute cards, resulting in a total of one hundred magical effects, such as a flame whip or a poison, thorn whip. Discovering the cards and testing their effects adds a another level of excitement to an already exciting game.

1. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow

Aria of Sorrow is a very, very good game. Dawn of Sorrow is fantastic. Serving as a direct sequel to Aria, Dawn of Sorrow has practically no faults. The level design is seamless, the music is and sound effects are fantastic, and the souls system is, much like in Aria, the star of the show. Functioning almost exactly as in Aria, you’ll obtain most (if not all) of your abilities via soul absorption. Getting a new soul is always an exciting prospect. Also included here is the use of the touch screen on the DS to draw a seal to fully defeat bosses. This does require a bit of memorization, but is also oddly satisfying. Dawn of Sorrow is my most re-visited handheld Castlevania title, and, in my opinion, is the class of the handheld titles.