Castlevania Review (1999)

Konami’s long-running series first appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. Count Dracula, Lord of Darkness, has battled the Belmont and Schneider families for centuries ever since on the NES, Game Boy, Super NES and PlayStation. Now, in the middle of the 19th century, a dark shadow has spread across Wallachia, Transylvania. Yes, Drac is back. This time the adventure has come to N64. The simple title may be shared with the original from a decade ago, but this completely new game brings the series into the realm of the third dimension.

Castlevania for the N64 is a mixture of action and adventure. Many 3D updates have been lighter on action compared to their 2D predecessors. Castlevania stays true to its roots with plenty of whip-slingin’ action and platforming perils. Some levels are on the non-linear side, meaning you’ll go back and forth between sections, and feature regenerating enemies. Other levels are straightforward romps with plenty of traps. And, yes, Castlevania’s legendary boss battles can be found here, too.

Two warriors of fate have been chosen to free the people from Dracula’s rule: Reinhardt Schneider and Carrie Fernandez. Each character takes a slightly different path, with a slightly different story, to the battle with the devil himself. Reinhardt Schneider is an heir to the Belmont clan. His main method of attack is the whip. Carrie Fernandez is a young girl with magical powers. Her main method of attack is a homing energy bullet. Additionally, the characters have secondary attacks. Reinhardt’s second attack is a dagger, whereas Carrie’s second attack is a ring smash. Both are short-range attacks.

Items have been a hallmark of the Castlevania series since the beginning. Items come in the categories of attack, HP restoration, status restoration, and other. Destroying torches, examining furniture, and killing enemies will reveal the items.

Typical Castlevania attack items, such as the axe and cross (boomerang), are included. Each attack item uses a certain number of Jewel Points. Small and large red jewels need to be picked up to add to your total Jewel Points. Two HP restoration items, roast beef and roast chicken, are back, too.

The adventure/RPG element of getting money to buy items was first introduced in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for the NES and was brought back in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for PlayStation. Money plays an important role in Castlevania for N64 too. Gold is the currency used, and you can receive it in $100, $300, and $500 amounts by killing enemies. Then by picking up specially placed “contracts,” which first appear on the third level, a mysterious salesman named Renon will sell you items.

In addition to buying roast beef and roast chicken, you can purchase other items. Some of the status restoration items in Castlevania are purifying crystals (cures vampirism), poison cure ampoules (rids your body of poison), healing kits (completely restores HP and status), and sun and moon cards (to move time to sunrise or sunset). You cannot buy weapons, however.

Furthermore, other important items to find are keys (you must acquire them to open doors) and white jewels. The white jewel allows you to save your progress. Several save points are on each level, and they’re usually around when you’d like to find one.

The control in Castlevania is decent but not great. It’s a combination of the sometimes irritating camera, the tricky hanging/pulling up technique, and the looseness when jumping and moving.

The default A-type controller configuration is probably your best option. First, the Control Stick is used for movement. The Z button crouches or slides. The A button jumps, but you must keep it held down when jumping to a ledge. Then with the button held down, you can use the Control Stick to pull yourself up or advance left or right hand over hand. The B button is your main method of attack. Then you can lock-on to an enemy with the R button, which is like a simpler version of the Z-targeting system in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

If you recall, two other attack methods exist as well. The short-range attack is accomplished with the Left C button and item attacks are used with Bottom C. The Right C button is used to open doors, look at objects, talk to people, and pick-up items. Finally, the Top C button changes the camera perspective. If you keep the button held down, you can look around with the Control Stick. You also can change the camera distance with the Control Pad.

The camera in Castlevania directly follows behind your character from a ground level, back distance. Sometimes the camera automatically swings around at certain points or raises its height when close to objects. But be prepared to press the R button often, which also puts the camera directly back behind your character, and to run and attack from multiple angles.

Both Reinhardt and Carrie start out in the forest and work their way to the Castle of Death. A spoken text introduction sets the scene. From there, a few very brief cinematic sequences will pique your interest. Reinhardt remarks, “Courage, don’t leave me,” as he says a prayer. And Carrie says, “Whatever awaits, I have no regrets.”

They both go from the Forest of Silence to the Castle Wall to the Villa and into the Castle Deep. Once you get into the castle, Reinhardt and Carrie then start to take separate paths that will take you through a few different levels. Once you get inside the Castle Wall is also when the story starts to get good. This is the first Castlevania game since Nintendo liberalized its policies, so expect to see and read much more about religion, demons and death. The story certainly isn’t for kids.

Graphically, Castlevania falls short because many of the system’s most aesthetically impressive games (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Turok 2 and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron) were released only two months earlier. All the textures have a washed out, grainy look. The character models are bland and simple, but they are animated well, with blowing clothing/capes and realistic movement. Clipping is a minor problem, and fogging is used to cover up noticeable pop-up in large areas. The graphics are most impressive in the areas of texture variety and bosses.

Sound is the Achilles heel of N64 games, but Castlevania breaks that mantra. Used to digitized, low-quality monaural music? Or maybe repetitive techno beats? Forget about it. Full-blown orchestrated music, with realistic-sounding instruments, represents the sound. It nice to hear distinct violins and choir samples in a cartridge game. Sound effects are good as well. You’ll find speech in the introduction and the first time you meet Dracula, but the majority of the story is text-based. Moans, monster groans, mood-inducing sounds, and the rest of the sound effects are what you’d expect.

Castlevania for the Nintendo 64 has made successful jump from 2D to 3D. Yes, the graphics are less than desired and the camera and control can be bothersome. But the quest as a whole — action, platforming, story and challenge — is so satisfying that the problems can be overlooked. Be sure to give it a shot.

Graphics

Awesome bosses, realistic animation, varied environments, and interesting cinema scenes are the pluses. On the negative side, everything has a low-res grainy look. Furthermore, fogging is used too much, clipping is a minor problem, and detail isn’t high enough.

Sound

Orchestrated stereo music on the Nintendo 64? Apparently, it’s possible. Sometimes the musical pieces aren’t very complex, but the quality is high and the mood sets the scene. Sound effects, ranging from lightning strikes to spoken text to enemy sounds, are very good, too.

Enjoyment

In addition to being the first Castlevania game on a Nintendo system with a mature storyline, the overall feel and fun factor associated with the game are high, especially once you get a few levels into the game. Imagine old-school Castlevania in 3D, except with less-than-perfect control and camera movement.

Replay Value

The two characters provide slightly different paths with slightly different stories, but only die-hard fans will want to play through twice. The quest may pale in length compared to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but it’s fine otherwise.

Documentation

Manual design is lacking, as the layout isn’t attractive. Information on individual topics, such as story or control, can be too inadequate or too encompassing.

Platform: Nintendo 64

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness Review

Less than a year after Castlevania first hit the Nintendo 64 comes the prequel, which is known as Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. The original plan for Castlevania was much more ambitious, with four playable characters and a larger cartridge size. That didn’t happen because of time constraints, so many have unaffectionately referred to this follow-up as a “director’s cut.” Upon closer inspection, however, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness has more value than initially meets the eye. Don’t dismiss this game just yet.

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness plays very similarly to its predecessor. Item and control information, therefore, can be gleaned from that review. The only differences are an extra attack (Cornell’s werewolf attack with the L button) and a few other items that are linked to events and secrets during your quest.

For starters, only one of the four characters is initially playable in Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. Cornell, a.k.a. Blue Crescent Moon, is a man-beast. He looks like a mortal and lives in harmony with humans. But he has tremendous physical ability and is almost immortal. When he returned to his village from a year of ascetic training, it was engulfed in flames and his closest blood relative, his sister Ada, was missing. Through the magic of the Ancients, which gives him his magical sickle throw attack, he vows to rescue Ada by tracking her scent.

The three other playable characters are Reinhardt, Carrie and Henry. Reinhardt Schneider and Carrie Fernandez were fate’s warriors in the original game. In Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, their quests are eight years before the first game, which will reveal even more truths for die-hard fans of the N64 incarnations. The fourth character, Henry, is a holy crusader sent on a quest to rescue six children in seven days while Reinhardt and Carrie battle Count Dracula. You need to complete the game with Cornell first to enable the other characters to be playable.

Cornell’s quest will take him through somewhat familiar and very unfamiliar territory. His adventure starts on a ship destined for the Forest of Silence. But once he finds his way off the ship, he will take a different trip through the forest, making the quest completely different at first. Then, just like before, he’ll have to scale the Castle Wall and enter the Villa. But traps and events have changed, leading Cornell on a different yet familiar looking path. Once inside the castle, there are completely new levels and a few of the same levels with completely different layouts. It’s like a completely new quest, which is even longer, but similarities (texture design, same items, returning characters) will give you a sense of déjà vu.

Story is once again a strength in Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. Much more impressive introductions and endings only fall below The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Rare’s latest efforts (Jet Force Gemini, Donkey Kong 64) in terms of presentation. The movie-like introduction, complete with opening credits, uses cinematic techniques, choreographing, and timed sound to revel Cornell’s story. The story isn’t moved along as much during the actual quest as the original, but it’s more inspiring overall.

Both control and the camera system are improved, too. The control isn’t as loose, and the character seems more responsive and seems more accurate with his or her attacks.

Veteran fans of the system’s first Castlevania game will notice the much-improved camera. The camera is closer to and a little higher off the ground compared to Castlevania. It now swings around behind the character more quickly, too. Most importantly, however, “auto cam” is now used quite often to give you the best fixed view possible when navigating platforms and other events.

Graphics weren’t overly impressive in the original, but they’re noticeably better here — that is, if you have the Expansion Pak. Without the Expansion Pak, the graphics are still low-res and blurry. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, however, does move more quickly and smoothly thanks to a better frame rate. With the Expansion Pak, expect much clearer graphics and much less fogging. The disadvantage is that it doesn’t move as fast. Still, the clarity of the high-resolution mode is worth the slightly slower speed, which is equivalent to the original, anyway.

The sound in Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness ranks among the system’s best. Instrument sample rates seem higher, making the music sound even better. The music ranges from remixes of tunes in the first N64 game to completely new compositions to exact replicas. Sound effects are more numerous and realistic, lending even more to the audio. Voice plays a less prominent role in this prequel, however, which is the only slightly disappointing part.

Is Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness worth the full price of admission for owners of the original Castlevania? That depends on how much you enjoyed the game. Big fans of 1998’s game will appreciate the new back-story and the challenge of new level layouts. And the game is just so much more polished overall. Others will see Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness as a “director’s cut”-type game that should have been released as the original in the first place.

No matter how you feel about this, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, on its own, is a great game. The excellent story, good level design, and amount of action add up to engrossing gameplay. Any way you slice it, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness is a winner.

Graphics

The graphic design is starting to show its age, but the visuals have been improved drastically with the Expansion Pak.

Sound

Better instrument samples and more realistic sound effects help this category keep with the times. Voice is used in a more limited way, though.

Enjoyment

The story is presented more impressively. Additionally, the so-called “familiar” levels aren’t quite so similar once you play through them. But Cornell’s quest isn’t quite as enjoyable compared to the first time going through as Reinhardt in the original.

Replay Value

Two brand-new quests with Cornell and Henry exist, and Reinhardt and Carrier are here to reveal the shroud of darkness surrounding the “truth.” The only question is, do you want to play through that much with a feeling of déjà vu?

Documentation

The design and layout of the manual are much, much better. One only wishes there was more information about our heroes and the monsters.