If Castlevania ’64 and its sequel were not total successes then it stands to reason that the series would either return to its 2D roots or make significant improvements on later consoles. Castlevania seems to have adopted both approaches. While the series continued to see handheld entries in 2D, the series continued in 3D on the Playstation 2. While both of the Playstation 2 entries retain some issues from the Nintendo 64 entries they are much more enjoyable. Commonly cited limitations with the entries are repetitive gameplay, lack of atmosphere and lackluster level design (though these may still be lingering discontent with the 3D entries not being Symphony of the Night). Similarly the series is accused of borrowing from other popular series rather than truly updating the Castlevania formula – Devil May Cry is a comparison that comes up a lot. Whether you accept these limitations or not, the Playstation 2 era of Castlevania marks some of the most ambitious entries in the series. In particular the Playstation 2 era is when the series hits its heights in terms of narrative and plot, expanding far beyond the ‘go kill Dracula’ plot and instead taking place at key points in the series timeline. Whether or not the 3D gameplay is truly your thing, both of these entries compelling plots and rich series lore makes them well worth picking up and playing today.
Lament of Innocence
Prequels can be hit and miss. Sometimes they’re a much needed expansion of a property; answering questions and expanding the lore. Other times they’re cynical attempt to prolong a franchise when fans have become disillusioned with sequels. Thankfully Lament of Innocence is closest to the former. Taking Castlevania back to its earliest entry in the series’ timeline, 1094, Innocence essentially chronicles the very origins of the series. You play as Leon Belmont who sets out to rescue his girlfriend from a vampire. Along the way he’s given a whip. Its all familiar Castlevania stuff, but situating it as an origin does a surprisingly good job of making these conventions actually interesting again. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Lament of Innocence is that the reboot of the series with Lords of Shadow meant that the mythology established here was not referred to in later entries.
Jumping forward significantly, Curse of Darkness takes place in the aftermath of one of the most popular early entries in the series: Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse but with a host of new ideas. Instead of playing a Belmont, you are cast in the role of Hector, a ‘Devil’s Forgemaster’, who left Dracula’s employment due to his brutality. Hector is content to live a life of peace until his wife is killed. Its not the most original of motivations – Castlevania seems to rely on women either being kidnapped or killed so their burly significant others can set out for revenge (even the Netflix series resorts to this). Along the way Hector even runs in to Trevor Belmont (now of Netflix fame). Curse of Darkness built meaningfully on the success of Lament of Innocence, not only in terms of refining and improving its game play, but in building a meaningful original story line with twists and turns that was not reliant on being an origin story.