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What Is the Best Castlevania? - 20th Anniversary of Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN)

What Is the Best Castlevania? is the 215th episode and the 3rd episode of Season 18 of The Angry Video Game Nerd.


The Nerd: 20 years ago, I said, "This game sucks.", and then launched into a ty-raid, dissecting all the things that were wrong, with Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Because, I'm the Nerd, and my mission is to warn you, that lots of those old games that you look back at with sentimental longing, are actually steaming piles of goat shit. Don't go near them.

The Nerd: The thing is, at the time, I didn't know who I was talking to. It was the summer of 2004, and YouTube didn't exist yet. So I was pretty much ranting into the thin air of sorrow, that lingered over my stale room of dusty game consoles and VHS tapes. In my closet, underneath a pile of socks and underwear, was a shoe box full of old NES games. And there it was, Simon's Quest. Like a call to action, I became somebody you now know, as the Fuckin' Nerd. Back then, I wasn't yet the Angry Video Game Nerd. I wasn't even the Angry Nintendo Nerd. Episode one, I didn't have a name or a face; I was just a voice. Just a voice in your head, telling you to stay away from this filth. Was I even wearing my white shirt when I spoke those words? No. To tell you the truth... it was hot, so, I wasn't wearing anything. Just kidding. So for this occasion, I'm going back to my roots, when I was only a voice.

The Nerd: Simon's Quest was released in North America in December '88. Using some Christmas money, I bought it from Toys "R" Us. I played it constantly and at the time, I noticed nothing wrong. Even though I was endlessly traveling in circles, it didn't matter to me, because I was stupid. No, it was because it was a time of innocence. It was 1989, most likely when I first played it. So by the time I reviewed it, about 15 years had passed. While publicly, 2004 is known as the beginning of the Nerd's era, for me personally, it was the end of the neo-lithic nostalgia age, leaving behind my childhood in a spiteful fart cloud of frustration.

The Nerd: It was like coming out of a hangover, and then realizing how much you drank the night before. Oh, those nights. It all seems like fun and games; your judgment's impaired, you're makin' merry, but afterwards, your head is pounding with humiliating defeat as you begin assessing all the damage you caused to yourself. Honestly, with how many bad games there are, it's hard to imagine why Simon's Quest was the first one I picked. You all know what I picked next: that one where I had to drink a six-pack of Rolling Rock and show you my face on camera for the first time, and after I re-re-re-revisited it so many times, I finally beat the game, with the help of my future self. I exorcised that demon, so let's move on.

What's the Best Castlevania Game?[]

The Nerd: This time, I actually wanna talk about something a little more positive. If episode one was a coin, this is the flip side. If I thought Simon's Quest was the worst Castlevania game, well then, what's the best? Yes, I already answered that in my Castlevania four-part episode in 2009. I said my favorite was Super Castlevania IV. But the question now is, do I still believe that? Are any of the challengers able to claim the throne? Well, first of all, I'm talkin' about the retro era of Castlevania games, on the main consoles. In the four-parter, I mentioned most of them. Some would consider Castlevania III to be better than IV, because of the multiple characters, the forking paths... or maybe just because it came before. Those are all valid reasons, and it's totally legit, if you're more of a Castlevania III kind of person. I replayed it, and I still have to say, I favor IV. The 16-bit graphics and sound are more effective for immersing you into the spooky atmosphere, the control is so much smoother, and not to mention, you can whip in all directions. And it's not as ruthless (In Castlevania III) with so much of that knock-back bullshit. (Montage of deaths) Some would say knock-back is what makes it challenging; I say, that's what makes it cheap.

The Nerd: I mentioned Bloodlines; this would be the Sega Genesis' answer to the Super Nintendo, and Konami's tradition of always making two separate versions during the 16-bit war. I can't ignore that Bloodlines gives you the choice of two different characters, and there's some very interesting level design. But in my opinion, it's not as interesting as the spinning room, and all the things that happen in IV. In Bloodlines, you can't whip in all directions, and this time, I don't see why not, if they would've taken one note from IV. Sure - you can whip down and also diagonally up, but only while you're jumping. In IV, you can do it from the ground. I could go down the list and say the sound effects and music aren't as good, this and that, but the whipping alone is enough to settle it for me. Once again, I stand by what I said in the old video. Bloodlines is a great game, but it's not as good as IV, for me personally.

Castlevania Chronicles (PlayStation)[]

The Nerd: Now, it's time to talk about the one I missed entirely: Castlevania Chronicles. And it was on PlayStation, so I have no idea how I was completely oblivious to this game's existence. Perhaps I confused it with Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, which was the PSP version of Rondo of Blood, with updated graphics. It also included the original version of Rondo of Blood, and Symphony of the Night. But anyway, the Castlevania Chronicles was originally released in 1993, on the Sharp X68000 computer, exclusively in Japan. So it's no wonder I didn't know about it back then, but it was re-released on PlayStation in 2001, which is the version you're seeing right now.

The Nerd: It's essentially a remake of the original Castlevania, with redesigned stages. I beat it in less than three hours, so it's a nice confined experience. But I'm not gonna lie, I played it on the easiest difficulty setting possible. If I were critiquing the original release, I would probably say it's way too fucking hard, but in the PlayStation version, there's two modes: Original and Arranged. Arrange Mode has some slight enhancements with graphics and sound, but most notably, it lets you adjust the difficulty, and doesn't have the knock-back. Now, if you want the knock-back, if you're a gaming masochist, and love the insane challenge, then you still have the option, and I tip my hat to you. To me, fair difficulty is very important. I don't want it too easy, but not too hard either. For me, Castlevania IV is balanced perfectly.

The Nerd: Chronicles isn't that remarkable, since it's pretty much a remake of the first game. And while IV is also kind of a remake in a sense, as it's basically retelling the events of the first game, it offers a lot of new stages, that bear no resemblance, and is much more original than Chronicles. Again, Chronicles, it doesn't have the eight-directional whipping. It's more like Bloodlines. You can whip diagonally while jumping, but in Bloodlines, it's diagonally upward. Here, it's downward. Pretty strange how they got parts of the controls right, but they just couldn't give us the whole damn thing. Not as good as IV, but it's a great game. It gives you that old-school basic Castlevania experience, and it's nice to have finally played it, after all those years of being oblivious.

The Nerd: The search for the true successor to Castlevania IV led me down an uncertain road. In my four-parter, I talked about Castlevania: Dracula X on Super Nintendo. I talked about how the whipping was a step back to the NES style, and the difficulty was rather sadistic. Especially that final battle with Dracula. I lightly brushed upon the fact that this was a remake of Rondo of Blood, which was on the PC Engine in Japan... but did I actually review Rondo of Blood and include it as part of my Castlevania marathon? No. I didn't. And that... was a fucking shame.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (PC Engine)[]

The Nerd: Ever since the PSP, there's been many ports of this game, so it's not as elusive as it once was. I finally played it all the way through on the PS4, and got a 100% completion for the first time. And now I can see that Dracula X... was definitely not a direct port in any way. Sure - there were some similarities, but Rondo of Blood is a very different game that quite frankly blows Dracula X to smithereens. The graphics and sound effects give you everything you want, the music delivers even more tracks that rank up with the most classic Castlevania tunes... and the natural feel and satisfaction of destroying enemies could never be better.

The Nerd: Right from that opening stage, you're whipping skeletons against a fiery background, before you realize, "hey, that's the first town from Simon's Quest". It's like burning down the memory of a shitty game, with a kickass game. All around, it reminds you of the other classic Castlevanias. Ya have a dungeon, a clock tower, even a ghost ship, and amazing boss characters, both new and old. The enemies might be a little strange. Am I seeing this? The bats... are carrying swords! There's a secret character you can find, Maria. Once you find her, she becomes playable. It's a lot like Castlevania III, where other characters join, but unfortunately, you can't switch between Richter and Maria on the fly. Ya have to choose one or the other on the menu, which is kind of disappointing.

Maria: Yay!

The Nerd: Maria is a very powerful character, and I find myself playing as her, just as much or maybe more than Richter... but man, what a bizarre character. Totally out of place with the franchise. I mean, she's goin' around throwing cats as one of her sub-weapons. And yes, you can explain that four of her six sub-weapons are based on the four guardians of Chinese mythology. As if that makes throwing cats look totally normal. There's also a bunch of prisoners you can find, which are more or less Easter eggs, but none of them are playable characters.

Annette: Thank you very much, Maria.

The Nerd: It's nice that it gives you save slots, so, unlike the earlier games, you can keep your progress. Also, if you accidentally get a sub-weapon that you don't want, you still have a chance to pick up your old one again. That's really nice of them. The earlier games would've just said "fuck you, you're stuck with it!" On the other hand, the whipping is a major downgrade, even from Bloodlines and Chronicles, because now, you can't even whip diagonally at all. What's the deal with that? The pause feature is a little bit dysfunctional, because the music keeps playing. I don't understand the reasoning. The whole point is to pause everything. Your mom calls you or your dog starts barkin' at somethin'; you wanna stop and hear what's goin' on. So, you gotta pause, put down the controller, pick up the remote control, and hit mute. What were they thinking? So, this is the first Castlevania game on a CD, so the sound capabilities are a major advancement. But this also gives it a field day... to incorporate a lot of really weird voice acting.

Maria: Who are you... mister?

Richter: I am Richter Belmont... vampire hunter.

Dracula: You proved amusing to me.

Maria: It's your fault, for being so mean to everyone! (Close-up of Maria holding a cat, hearing screaming meowing sounds three times, then close-up of Richter, laughing twice.)

The Nerd: This is also the first in the series where the anime aesthetic is so prevalent. While made in Japan, I always assumed that the earlier games were going more for a... Bram Stoker, or Hammer Films influence, so it definitely strayed from that.

Maria: Ahh! It's crumbling! Everyone, run for it!

The Nerd: Look at Maria's ending. (Scoffs) If you would've shown me that screenshot, I would've never guessed that's a Castlevania game. The question remains, is it as good as Castlevania IV? Well, it's gotta be close, right? It's linear, for the most part. It's old-school, how I like it. The advancements such as the save slots, the opportunity to keep your old items, the secondary character, should all give it the added bonus points to overtake IV. But the stiff horizontally restricted whip, is a major setback and for this reason alone, I do not like it as much. But, there's a whole other factor that threw my decision into further question. Something so perplexing, that it nearly turned my opinion into a neverending stalemate. Nearly half the game... is hidden.

The Nerd: I thought it was kind of short until I realize there's all these secret levels I didn't know about. And when I say secret, I mean secret. It's not like in Castlevania III, where you come to a forking path, and decide which way you wanna go. This is more like the cryptic bullshit you'd find in Castlevania II. You might have to break through a random wall, or hit a certain spiked ball so that it falls and opens the path below, or you might have to kill a certain enemy to reveal a switch that opens a staircase, or, most of the time, ya have to take a leap of faith and drop down a pit, that would normally send you to your doom. How would you ever know to do that without looking it up? You'd either have to fall by accident, or deliberately drop down every pit you see. (Scoffs) And here I am trying to evaluate whether or not I think Rondo of Blood is as good as IV, and, I nearly miss half the game because I didn't know about all the hidden paths. I have never been more confused with my own opinion. On one hand, this means it's a much bigger game than I was going to give it credit for. It even has a cemetery stage, which I said I wish the series had more of. But on the other hand, the game is like one big giant Easter egg hunt. This is the reason I criticize Castlevania II so much! So, what am I tryin' to say here? Is Rondo of Blood the best, or worst? It has all the things about Castlevania that I love... and hate. And if you have such a great game in there, why keep so much of it hidden? The final nail in the coffin, is all the sadistic knock-back shit, which is just plain cruel. Fuck. Fuck! FUCK! Nope. Castlevania IV, all the way.

The Nerd: So, while it seems that's the end of the road, that IV is my undefeatable champion, Symphony of the Night, I think, is worth a rematch.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Revisited[]

The Nerd: Just to recap things I've said before, this is the first Castlevania that said, "hey, you know what? We're gonna be like Metroid from now on, except for the occasional 3D." And you'll be going through Dracula's gigantic castle, for the entire duration of the game. No outdoor scenes, or very little. I mentioned how every time you die, you have to endure an excruciatingly long Game Over screen, only to send you back to the main title, and load the game all over again. Fuck that. I mentioned how I preferred the common sense challenge of IV. There's no tricks. You can't turn into a bat and fly over shit, you never have to think, which way am I supposed to go here, which item should I use, am I equipped properly, should I grind and level up... none of that. You just run through and play.

The Nerd: In Symphony of the Night, the main character is Alucard, who mainly uses a sword. So, the eight-directional whipping isn't even applicable at this point. You only play as Richter in the very first scene, and as sort of a bonus after you've beaten the entire game. In fact, you even have to beat the damn game upside-down before you get that far. But after so many years have passed, I found the real secret to enjoying the fuck out of Symphony of the Night. I say, beat the game, unlock Richter, and then take a break. Take a good long break, and come back. NOW... you're playing Castle-fuckin'-vania!

The Nerd: First of all, I wasn't aware or had forgotten that Richter had so many moves that aren't immediately apparent. It still bugs me that they never brought back the eight-directional whipping, but for some reason, they still included that limp twirl, or whatever you wanna call that. But with all the new moves, it kinda makes up for it. Richter here... is just as much fun to control as Simon. First, there's that cool little backflip thing, and then there's the sliding kick. Man, I love that. I love it so much, it has become an addiction. I mean, why just walk into the next room when you can slide kick? Yeah! It never gets old. Then there's the dash attack, which is kinda neat, whenever you have time to pull it off. You have to press up, down, down, forward, forward, attack. What is this? Fuckin' Street Fighter? Down-up jump, makes you do an upper-cut, which is not just a great attack, but it also serves as an infinite jump to reach higher places. Unfortunately, it's extremely awkward to pull off. Any move that makes you hit down-up, while you're in mid-air, is fucked as hell. And I think there's a certain speed to it; you can't hit it too fast or too slow. I don't get it; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But you absolutely have to do it A LOT, because it's the only way you can reach certain spots, especially when the castle goes upside down again. Yes, it's like replaying the entire game, so all those spots with Alucard where you had to turn into a bat and fly, now ya have to upper-cut into the air over and over like a madman. You still have your sub-weapons, but unlike Alucard, Richter doesn't have any items to equip. No inventory whatsoever. But after all, that is basically what I wanted. To return to Castlevania's simpler routes, as opposed to a more complicated RPG system.

The Nerd: Playing as Richter is an entirely different experience, and is like a mandatory second half of Symphony of the Night. And in the Saturn and PS4 port, you can also play as Maria. Damn. Well, maybe I'll have to try more of that next time. But after fully experiencing it as Richter, I can say... I definitely enjoyed it a whole lot more than the main Alucard game. Did I enjoy it as much as IV? In a lot of ways... yeah. I think so. This past playthrough was the closest I ever came, to replacing IV as my number one favorite Castlevania game. All they had to do was this: make Richter the main game, and then have Alucard be the second half or, as a secondary character. In that case, I would've found this contest to be a lot easier to decide. But even then, all the ungodly time spent reloading whenever you die, is a major strike against it.

Death: Game... Over!

Final Thoughts[]

The Nerd: Sometimes, it comes down to the simplest things. In IV, I can never forget that feeling of gratification, when you land on a stairway and moonwalk, or when you latch on to something with the whip and feel that momentum build as you swing yourself back and forth. How 'bout the appealing sound of those golden platforms and treasure chests spilling coins as you walk across them? Or the sound of the bones collapsing when ya hit the skeletons? It's countless little things like that. And why is the eight-directional whipping so important? It's because it gives you the feeling of freedom. When you engage with an enemy, you can decide whether you wanna strike from the air or hit him from below. Your instincts take over, rather than trying to adapt to some clumsy limitation. Maybe this game spoiled me, and maybe you'd say the full whip directions... make it too easy. How does the whip save you from all that crazy shit near the end, like when the giant sprocket's chasing you up the stage? It still gets pretty damn hard. The full whip controls just give you a fair chance to hit anything on the screen. You and the game, are in perfect competition. No cheap shots. You're not fighting with one hand behind your back. You're in full control, so, when you die, it's on you.

The Nerd: Some things stay the same, and Castlevania IV is still my favorite. And other things vary, such as my complex thoughts about Castlevania II. Even though it pissed me off, I was still able to look back at it again and realize, there's much I appreciate. So I can change my mind a little. But one thing I can say, if it wasn't for Simon's Quest, you might not have ever known about me, and, I might not have ever known about you. Why else would I still be doing this? This battle against shitty games has been quite a ride, and all the memories created since, to me, have gone far beyond... just Castlevania. This has been 20 years and counting. So godspeed... and fuckballs.

(Ending montage plays of black-and-white clips showing past Nerd episodes from 2004 to 2023, then the final image appearing with the Nerd, overlooking the LJN logo passing by on the sunset sky with the caption stated, "Thanks for watching all these years!")