Don your best Dracula cloak; it’s time to check out the best Castlevania games of all time!
Since the very first Castlevania game released on the NES in 1986, the series has evolved from a fairly straightforward, side-scrolling action adventure style to a more RPG-esque, albeit still side-scrolling – series.
Along with Metroid, it’s been the basis of an entire genre (with the genre itself being known by the portmanteau combining the names of both series: Metroidvania).
With RPG elements being introduced as early as the very first sequel, 1987’s Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which was a little too ambitious for its own good, the series doesn’t always fit neatly into a genre, however.
Initially the games cast players in the role of vampire hunter Simon Belmont, with Dracula as an antagonist in many of the games.
But the series lore and timelines have expanded way beyond the Belmont clan and even beyond series big bad Dracula himself, spanning hundreds of years of history.
The series is so popular that it’s spawned manga and even a Netflix adaptation of the material.
Konami’s Castlevania games set such a high water mark for quality regardless of genre that it’s a genuinely tough call as to what games we should include as the very best!
In any case, that’s what we’re here for, right? Let’s see what we at Retro Dodo consider to be the best of the best when it comes to Castlevania games.
The second of three original Game Boy Advance Castlevania titles, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – while still an excellent game in its own right – doesn’t quite measure up to the others.
Though still preferable – in our opinion – to any of the 3D Castlevania entries, where Harmony of Dissonance falls down slightly is in too much backtracking over its convoluted castle map, lack of save points and very few secret rooms to discover.
However, Harmony of Dissonance is still a brilliant game with an awful lot of gameplay hours packed onto the tiny GBA cartridge – and it’s well worth spending time with.
It just goes to show that even the slightly disappointing entries in the Castlevania series are still head and shoulders above similar games in the Metroidvania genre.
And this one makes it onto our Best Game Boy Advance games list too!.
Also known as Castlevania: The New Generation in PAL regions, Bloodlines is one of the more action-oriented titles in the series.
This game was released prior to the evolution to exploration and RPG elements that occurred with series milestone, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
It’s an excellent game too: set around the events of World War I, Bloodlines is surprisingly gory for its day – and fell foul of censors in PAL territories.
Hence the name change – the reference to ‘blood’ in the title wasn’t even acceptable for us vulnerable Europeans and Aussies!).
Unusually for the earlier Castlevania titles, Bloodlines features two characters to choose from – each of which has unique abilities that’ll determine their path through some of the stages.
It also added a slightly less linear feel than the other action-focused titles in the series up to that point. Naturally, it also appears on our very own list of the Best Sega Genesis games!
A continuation of the story from Castlevania: Bloodlines, Portrait of Ruin moves the action ahead in time to World War II.
One of the most interesting features of Portrait of Ruin is the ability to freely switch between two characters, who can also combine their powers in order to progress through the story.
Interestingly, the ‘Portrait’ of the title comes into play with the characters able to explore beyond the traditional castle setting by entering different paintings.
Plus, there’s a great deal of variety in the environments on offer.
A Boss Rush mode, a number of single player variant modes and even a co-operative multiplayer mode are included.
The main story has multiple endings and even unlockable characters that can be used in the separate modes too.
All in all, that makes this second DS Castlevania title a fully featured package and undoubtedly one of the best Castlevania games.
Here’s where it all started!
Though dated in many ways by today’s standards, the three-and-a-half decade old Castlevania still plays surprisingly well and isn’t as unfairly tough as many games of the era.
Though it plays fair in terms of its challenge for the most part, it’s actually still a pretty difficult game.
It’s a compelling experience though – and series mainstays such as the whip, multi-directional stage design, interesting secondary weapons and even hidden collectables all made an appearance here.
Despite the limitations of the hardware, the soundtrack is also superb.
Though Castlevania hasn’t aged as gracefully as the other games featured here, it’s still a game that’s well worth playing – and has more than earned a spot on the Best Castlevania Games list, as well as featuring in our Best NES games list too.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was an impressive but overly ambitious attempt to bring non-linear gameplay and RPG elements to the series. It also suffered from poor Japanese-to-English translation, making progress all but impossible unless players used a guide.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, however, took the series back to its roots.
However, despite a more action-oriented focus, Castlevania III features branching paths and even multiple endings.
It’s an impressive feat for a game of its era. Story-wise. Castlevania III is, perhaps confusingly, a prequel to the very first game – with superb visuals and music that really push the 8-bit hardware.
As a swansong for the series on the NES, Castlevania III makes sure that it goes out with a bang!
The first Castlevania game on Nintendo’s DS handheld, Dawn of Sorrow is a sequel to the 2003 GBA game, Aria of Sorrow.
It’s another example of the exploration-based, RPG-style gameplay that the Castlevania series came to be known for.
It boasts some superb use of the double screen console’s capabilities, including the use of ‘Magic Seals’, which see players using the DS touchscreen to actually draw patterns to a time limit in order to fully defeat the game’s bosses.
As with the other games in the series from the PS1 and beyond (arguably even going back to the SNES and Genesis entries), the pixel art visuals are absolutely beautiful, though they’re in a slightly divisive, more animé-esque style.
The inclusion of a ‘Julius Mode’ unlocks when the story is completed. It slightly remixes the game with a new choice of playable characters and gives Dawn of Sorrow great longevity.
This one even features on our Best Nintendo DS games list!
As the first Castlevania title on the GBA and the first Castlevania to adopt the ‘Metroidvania’ style of RPG-esque exploration and upgrades since 1997’s Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon had a lot to live up to.
It’s a testament to Konami’s developers that it truly did achieve its full potential – despite the visuals initially being a bit too dark for the vanilla Game Boy Advance.
With the lit screen of the Game Boy Advance SP giving the game a new lease of life, it ensured that the Symphony of the Night-style gameplay was here to stay for the series.
Circle of the Moon has a unique gameplay feature – not seen in any other Castlevania title – called the Dual Set-up System.
Essentially, this sees players combining magic cards found on their adventure to activate unique powers for use in battling the numerous enemies in the castle.
Additionally, four extra gameplay modes are included, with the first unlocked after completion of the main story, which add further twists to the main gameplay.
Considering that Circle of the Moon is one of the earliest releases for the then-new Game Boy Advance, it’s an impressively fully featured title. It goes without saying that it remains one of the best Castlevania games of all time.
The third GBA Castlevania title – after Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance – Aria of Sorrow is the absolute pinnacle of the series on Nintendo’s handheld.
It introduced a new feature – the Tactical Soul system – which saw players absorb the souls of enemies to collect and use new abilities, which gave Aria of Sorrow a unique and addictive feel.
The visuals, audio and level design are superb – with gameplay that is less challenging than many titles in the series, given how powerful the character can become over the course of the game.
Of course, in our opinion this just makes Aria of Sorrow even more fun to play.
As with the other GBA titles, Aria of Sorrow also features numerous bonus game modes to keep players going even after the relatively short – by Castlevania standards – main story is completed.
In terms of the more ‘Metroidvania’ style titles, Aria of Sorrow is easily one of the very best games in the series.
It definitely earns its place in the top three on the list of the best Castlevania games (it’s also featured on our Best Game Boy Advance games list, fairly unsurprisingly!).
A much more straightforward and linear hack ‘n slash title than even Castlevania III on the NES, Super Castlevania IV doesn’t feature the branching paths of its predecessor.
Neither does it champion the more RPG-style elements of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.
Yet Super Castlevania IV – the first 16-bit Castlevania title and one of the earliest games for the SNES. It makes such great use of the added audiovisual capabilities of its host hardware that it’s impossible not to be drawn in by its incredibly atmospheric visuals and superb soundtrack.
There are gameplay innovations here too: it’s possible to have control over Simon’s whip to a far greater extent than in the previous games and it can even be used defensively.
The graphical effects made possible by the SNES – such as impressively dizzying rotating stages that take advantage of Mode 7 – also give the game a unique look and feel, marking it out as a unique entry in the series and the undoubted high point for the more action-oriented entries in the Castlevania series.
Not only one of the very best Castlevania games, but also one of the best games of all time, period – so you won’t be surprised to find it on our list of the Best SNES games either.
It’s almost unbelievable with hindsight to think that the news of a new 2D Castlevania being released in 1997 wasn’t treated with universal excitement or anticipation.
In the mid to late 90s, 2D was being treated as old fashioned and dated; as far as the gaming media and many players were concerned, 3D was the present and the future. And that was that.
This meant that sales figures for the game initially showed a lukewarm reception too.
Yet Symphony of the Night was such a triumph of artistry in terms of audio, visuals and gameplay design.
It didn’t just completely revitalise and change the future of the Castlevania series – it actually helped to spawn an entire gaming genre (as mentioned several times in this very article: Metroidvania).
The gothic visuals have aged as gracefully as a centuries-old vampire and the melodramatic storyline and dialogue have even become meme-worthy (see our ‘What is a Man’ in Castlevania? article for more on this!), further cementing Symphony of the Night’s position in popular culture.
It was a triumphant return to form for the series, which made awkward strides into 3D on the N64 (though since found its feet in the third dimension with games such as the Lords of Shadow games. t
Still, these are more action-oriented in style) – and absolute proof, at exactly the right time in history, that 2D gaming was still a viable choice for the industry.
Symphony of the Night quite rightly occupies one of the top spots on our Best PS1 games list and is regarded as an absolute masterpiece these days.
It’s undoubtedly the most important and influential game in the Castlevania series – the rightful owner of the top spot on the Best Castlevania Games list.
Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.