Connect with us
Advertisement

Games

30 Years Later: From Nintendo to Netflix, ‘Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse’ Unfolds a New Legacy

Dracula’s Curse’s legacy changed in the most unexpected way possible for a video game series: exploring a different medium of storytelling with pristine success.

Published

on

Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Thirty years ago on December 22nd, 1989, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan. The third chapter in the story of the Belmont family would be thrown into old and new directions as Konami’s home console development teams continued to explore a variety of ways to reconstruct the two-dimensional platforming genre of the Castlevania series that had previously been turned into a melting pot of side-scrolling and role-playing in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. After the first entry’s experimental sequel, the series rediscovered its footing and focal points by unearthing its roots beneath the catacombs of Dracula’s castle and recreating the classic point A to B gameplay style that Castlevania received universal praise for three years prior.

By revisiting the first game’s simplistic yet challenging platforming focus that many would brand as a linear adventure game, the masterminds behind Dracula’s Curse crafted one of the finest games in both the Castlevania series and the platforming genre by aiming to incorporate new elements that the original entry was never able to envision due to a prior lack of deeper technical understanding for Nintendo’s first home console. A story with more depth than the previous two entries and a cast of alternating playable characters that would be interchangeable depending on the route players choose to explore after completing a level were just two of the few new additions that helped Dracula’s Curse solidify itself from the other two pillars of the 8-bit Castlevania trilogy. The foundation that Dracula’s Curse had established helped pave the way for the ambitious additions the series could adopt in entries such as Bloodlines and Rondo of Blood before completely moving forward with the Metroidvania style of gameplay that Symphony of the Night revolutionized.

For Japan, Dracula’s Curse was classic Castlevania with newly added gameplay elements, enhanced graphics, and the best sound design that the Famicom was able to output thanks to the disk system and cartridge’s unique capabilities and upgrades that the Nintendo Entertainment System had been lacking in other territories. When it came to the overseas markets, however, Trevor Belmont’s quest to defeat Dracula had unknowingly created a completely different public consensus when the game hit store shelves a year after it’s Japanese release.

The Real Curse of Dracula

In a turn of events, the overseas localization team for the game created what some die-hard fans of the series would consider being a downgraded port of arguably the best retro Castlevania game to date. Due to hardware limitations, several of the visual and audio enhancements were cut back in the overseas release. While this was not a huge issue at first glance, it became clear that Japan’s version of Dracula’s Curse had practically been a different game due to critical changes in the core gameplay experience.

The developers drastically enhanced the overall single difficulty of the game with several classic gaming tropes that plagued the 80s decade of home console video games. These aspects were included for the sole purpose of ensuring that customers would keep their games for longer periods of time due to their completion playtime lengths being artificially increased by making games more difficult- and Dracula’s Curse was no exception to this trend. Through features such as absurd enemy spawns, questionable hit detection ranges, lack of available lives, unfeasible bosses, missing checkpoints, and the rest, Dracula’s Curse became definitively harder then what the original developers had intended. The overseas release of the game had a difficulty that was more in line with the arcade cabinet version of the first Castlevania game, Haunted Castle, meanwhile, the Japanese version of the game is more comparable to the first Castlevania game.

For years, Dracula’s Curse had unjustifiably lived in the shadows of Simon Belmont’s historic gaming legacy for audiences outside of Japan. The third game in the series has always been deemed as being one of the highest quality NES games available in the console’s library despite its unprecedented difficulty spikes, but for the longest time, it never received the recognition it truly deserved- as expected from a game that the majority of buyers could not even beat with the help of the famous Konami Code or menu cheats that allowed players to breeze by the earliest levels with the unlockable characters from the get-go.

The notably high critic and audience appraisal for the game were never enough help for it to reach the high pedestal that the first entry in the iconic vampire killing franchise stood on, but Castlevania III eventually found justice in a saving grace that is quite possibly the most unexpected way for a video game to rise from the grave: a good adaptation in a different medium of storytelling. It only took an entire decade to come into fruition, but the Castlevania movie trilogy revival helped bring Trevor Belmont’s first adventure back into the light.

From Nintendo to Netflix: A Change in Legacy

Up until 2017, this particular entry of the franchise was mostly only acknowledged by the hardcore fandom of Castlevania. Dracula’s Curse saw a substantially low amount of rereleases compared to its previous two entries, especially in the United States and Europe when it came to Konami compilation titles, plug and plays, and the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console. It was even missing in action when the miniature NES Classic console arrived in 2016 which included both Castlevania and Simon’s Quest.

It was not until Netflix unexpectedly swooped in to save the live-action movie trilogy stuck in limbo since 2007 based on Dracula’s Curse from British comic book writer Warren Ellis that the spark for the third game’s fandom would be once again ignited. Netflix gave Dracula’s Curse a second chance in the form of a short animated four-episode pilot that would have consisted of the entire first movie’s script.

The reception the show received was nothing but exhilarating for everyone involved with the project as it quickly went on to become one of Netflix’s most-streamed shows available. Castlevania on Netflix is by far one of the most successful original animated shows the streaming service has ever put out since its debut, garnering in nearly thirty million viewers by the time the second season was able to release according to Netflix analytics. Castlevania broke the video game curse of mediocre video game adaptations as it was one of the first to reach a universally positive reception from both critics and audiences. Dracula’s Curse’s legacy changed completely by exploring a different medium of storytelling with pristine success.

Netflix and avid Indian-American filmmaker Adi Shankar allowed the game to breath new life as it rose from holding the title of the unrecognized main series entry to one of the most beloved Castlevania games in the franchise’s history for many fans. In a matter of weeks after the pilot season of the animated series released, the legacy of Dracula’s Curse found its turning point as it quickly became one of the most popular Castlevania games to discuss in recent years as the fandom still faces a drought in new games as Konami has heavily shifted from console games to the mobile device market and pachinko slot machines.

From visuals that can be considered a pure spectacle to merely watch such as the fight scene between Trevor and Alucard (as depicted above) to the lovable protagonists and antagonists that have become pop culture icons including Dracula himself, the Netflix series contains something for not only fans of Castlevania to write home about but for any fan of the phantasmagoric genre to simply sit back and enjoy. This vampire versus human blood bath will hopefully live on to be as successful as other Netflix exclusive productions such as Bojack Horseman and Voltron.

If it were not for Netflix’s hit series, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse would still be the hardcore outlier of the Castlevania fandom. With an upcoming season three on the line and a rumored fourth renewal, it is no surprise how this particular entry went from faulted to famed despite its history of regional flaws that seeped into its unfortunate history. For those looking to play both the Japanese and overseas releases of Dracula’s Curse, both versions can be purchased today as part of the Konami Castlevania Anniversary Collection that is available on PS4, Xbox One, Steam, and the Nintendo Switch.

Journalist major and part-time film writer. I have always held high interests in the fields of professional writing and communications. You can find me with my head deep in the espionage genre, on a collectathon, or in a kayak upstream. I’ll always be first in line for the next Hideo Kojima or Masahiro Sakurai game.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Rogerio Andrade

    January 8, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Ah… such good memories of playing Dracula´s Curse with my brother on our old NES …
    We played that game so much that we pratically memorized all stage and boss patterns. So much that the game actually doesn´t seem as hard as we often hear. This is kind of puzzling to me, because for us, popular games like Mega Man, the first Castlevania, Ghouls´n´Goblins, TMNT felt way harder than Dracula´s Curse, so much that we were never able to beat any of them (not beating a single MegaMan game is a huge dissapointing for us) but somehow, we did not find the same difficulty when playing and beating Dracula´s Curse. Maybe we loved the game so much that its difficulty never bothered us.
    The Netflix series is awesome. We watched every episode several times, just to find easter eggs and references to other games of the franchise. There´s a lot of them scattered in small pieces and details. I hope Netflix comes with new seasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

Games

‘Atelier Ryza’ Warms the Heart No Matter the Season

Atelier Ryza excels at creating a sense of warmth and familiarity, and could be just what you need during the winter months.

Published

on

atelier ryza

The Atelier series is something of a unicorn in the JRPG genre. It isn’t known for its world-ending calamities or continent-spanning journeys; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The small-town feel and more intimate storytelling of Atelier games has made them some of the most consistently cozy experiences in gaming, and Ryza is no exception. No matter if it’s this winter or next, here’s why Atelier Ryza is the perfect type of RPG to warm your heart this winter.

Ryza starting her alchemy journey.

Like a Warm Blanket

Unlike protagonists from other entries in the franchise, Reisalin Stout (or Ryza for short) has never stepped foot in an atelier or even heard of alchemy at the start of her game. Instead, she’s just a fun-loving and mischevious girl from the country who spends her days in search of adventure with her childhood pals Lent and Tao. It’s this thrill-seeking that eventually leads the trio to meet a mysterious wandering alchemist and learn the tricks of the trade.

The entirety of Atelier Ryza takes place during summer, and it’s clear that the visual design team at Gust had a field day with this theme. In-game mornings are brought to life through warm reds, yellows, and oranges, while the bright summer sun beams down incessantly in the afternoon and gives way to cool evenings flooded by shades of blue and the soft glow of lanterns. Ryza’s visual prowess is perhaps most noticeable in the lighting on its character models, which are often given a warm glow dependent on the time of day.

The cozy sensibilities of the countryside can be felt elsewhere as well. The farm Ryza’s family lives on aside, the majority of environments are lush with all manner of plant life, dirt roads, and rustic architecture. Menus feature lovely wooden and papercraft finishes that simulate notepads or photos on a desk. Townspeople will even stop Ryza to remark on how much she’s grown and ask about buying some of her father’s crops. Everything just excels at feeling down-to-earth homey.

The titular Atelier Ryza.

An Intimate Take on Storytelling

Kurken Island and the surrounding mainland feel expansive as a whole but intimate in their design. This is partially due to the readily-accessible fast travel system that Atelier Ryza employs; instead of a seamless open world, most players will find themselves jumping from location to location to carry out quests and harvest ingredients for alchemy. However, there’s still strong incentive to explore the nearby town thanks to tons of random side quests and little cutscenes that trigger as players progress through the main story.

It’s an interesting way to tackle world-building. Instead of relying on intricate dialogue like The Outer Worlds or massive cinematic cutscenes like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Atelier Ryza lets players get a feel for its world rather naturally through everyday conversations. These scenes run the gamut from Ryza’s parents yelling at her to help more around the farm to running into and catching up with old friends who’d moved overseas. They’re unobtrusive and brief, but the sheer number of them gradually establishes a cast that feels alive and familiar.

The town drunk and Lent's father, Samuel.

Of course, post-holidays winter is also the season for more somber tales. The relationship between Lent and his alcoholic father is striking in its realistic depiction of how strained some father-son relationships can become.

The narrative escalates subtly: An early cutscene shows Mr. Marslink stumbling onto Ryza’s front lawn thinking it’s his. Then an event triggers where the neighborhood jerks tease Lent about being the son of the town drunk. Lent’s house is a small shack pulled back from the rest of the town, and visiting it triggers one of the few scenes where Ryza can actually talk to Mr. Marslink himself. The situation eventually reveals itself to be so bad that it completely explains why Lent is gung-ho about being out of the house whenever he can.

Though Lent’s general character motivation is wanting to get stronger and protect the town, it’s the heartfelt insights like these that make him much more relatable as a party member. Atelier Ryza features no grand theatrics or endless bits of exposition, but instead favors highlighting interpersonal conversations as Ryza continues to learn more about the people and world around her.

Atelier Ryza

Cozy games rarely get enough credit. Just like the Animal Crossing series or Pokemon: Let’s Go provides players with a warmth that can stave off the harshest of winters, Atelier Ryza succeeds in being the lighthearted, touching JRPG fans wanted. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and heartwarming in the way it builds out its world and cast of characters, and seeing Ryza gradually grow more confident and capable is a joy unto itself. If you’re in need of a blanket until Animal Crossing: New Horizons comes out in March, you can’t go wrong here.

Continue Reading

Games

PAX South 2020 Hands On: ‘The Artful Escape,’ ‘Foregone,’ and ‘Tunic’

Published

on

PAX South

This past weekend, PAX South 2020 brought a huge variety of promising indie games to the show floor in San Antonio. Here are just a few of the most remarkable games I got to try, including a hardcore action game, a classic adventure, and an experience that can only be described as dreamlike.

Tunic

Simply put, Tunic is a Zelda game, but foxier. Tunic takes significant inspiration from the classic Zelda formula, complete with an overworld to explore, puzzles to solve, enemies to fight, and a protagonist clad in green. My demo even began by leaving me weaponless and forcing me to venture into a nearby cave in order to discover my first weapon.

Yet there’s nothing wrong with following such a traditional formula. At a time when Nintendo has largely stopped creating new games in the style of its classic Zeldas, it’s left up to other developers to rediscover the magic of the original gameplay style. Based on my time with the game, Tunic achieves exactly that, reimagining the charm of A Link to the Past for the current generation with gorgeous visuals and modern design sensibilities. The biggest difference from its predecessors is its green-clad hero is a fox, and not a Kokiri.

All, that is to say, is that if you’ve ever played a 2D Zelda, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from Tunic. It starts by dropping the foxy little player character into a vibrant, sunny overworld, and true to form, your inventory is completely empty and the environment is full of roadblocks to progress. Simple enemies abound, and although its greatest Zelda inspirations lie with those from the 2D era, it also includes an element from the 3D games due to its inclusion of a targeting system in order to lock onto specific opponents. What followed next was a linear, straightforward dungeon that focused on teaching the basics of exploration and item usage. It was extremely simple but hinted at plenty of potential for the full game later.

Tunic’s gameplay may hearken back to the games of old, but its visual presentation is cutting edge. It features gorgeous polygonal 3D visuals, loaded with striking graphical and lighting effects, making its quaint isometric world truly pop to life. My demo didn’t last very long, but the little bit I played left me excited for Tunic’s eventual release on Xbox One and PC. It could be the brand-new classic Zelda experience that fans like myself have long waited for.

Foregone

Foregone

These days, nearly every other indie game is either a roguelike or a Metroivdvania. Just by looking at Foregone, I immediately assumed that it must be one of the two based on appearances alone. Yet when I shared those assumptions with the developers, Big Blue Bubble, the response in both cases was a resounding, “No.”

Foregone may look like it could be procedurally generated or feature a sprawling interconnected world, but that simply isn’t the case. The developers insisted that every aspect of the game world was intentionally crafted by hand, and it will remain that way in each playthrough. Likewise, although there is some optional backtracking at certain points in the game, Foregone is a largely linear experience, all about going from one point to another and adapting your strategy along the way. In a generation where nonlinearity reigns supreme, such straightforward design is refreshing to see.

If there’s any game that seems like an accurate comparison to Foregone, it would have to be Dark Souls. From the very start of the demo, the world of Foregone is inhabited with fearsome enemies that don’t hold back. If you don’t watch what you’re doing, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and fall under the pressure. Thankfully, there’s a broad assortment of abilities at your disposal, such as a wide area of effect move that can stun enemies within a wide radius, and a powerful shield that can block many attacks. I fell many times during my time with the game, but it never felt unfair. Rather, it merely felt like I wasn’t being smart enough with my own ability usage, and I was encouraged to keep jumping back into the world for just one more run, this time armed with better knowledge of my own abilities and potential strategies.

And it’s a beautiful game too. Rather than featuring the typical pixelated aesthetics often associated with platformers, the world is actually built-in 3D with a pixelated filter applied on top of it. This allows for a uniquely detailed environment and distinctly fluid animations. Foregone looks to be a worthwhile action game that should be worth checking out when it hits early access via the Epic Games Store in February, with a full release on console and PC to follow later this year.

The Artful Escape

Bursting with visual and auditory splendor, The Artful Escape is easily the most surreal game I played at PAX South. The demo may have only lasted about ten minutes, yet those ten minutes were dreamlike, transportation from the crowded convention to a world of color, music, and spirit.

As its name would suggest, The Artful Escape is an otherworldly escape from reality. Its luscious 3D environments are populated with 2D paper cutout characters, its dialogue leans heavily into the mystical (the player character describes his surroundings with phrases like “a Tchaikovsky cannonade” and “a rapid glittering of the eyes”), and its music often neglects strong melodies in favor of broad, ambient background themes. This all combines to create a mystical, almost meditative atmosphere.

It only helps that the platforming gameplay itself is understated, not requiring very much of you but to run forward, leap over a few chasms, or occasionally play your guitar to complete basic rhythm games. This gameplay style may not be the most involved or exciting, but it allows you to focus primarily on the overwhelming aesthetic majesty, marching forward through the world while shredding on your guitar all the while.

This Zenlike feel to the game is punctuated with occasional spectacular moments. At one point, a gargantuan, crystalline krill called the Wonderkrill burst onto the screen and regaled me with mystic dialogue, while at another point, I silently wandered into a herd of strange oxen-like creatures grazing in a barren field as the music began to swell. The demo was filled with such memorable moments, constantly leaving my jaw dropped.

For those who think that games should be entertaining above all else, The Artful Escape might not be so enthralling. Its platforming is extremely basic and its rhythm minigames are shallow at best. For players who think that games can be more than fun, however, The Artful Escape is set to provide an emotional, unforgettable experience, an escape that I can’t wait to endeavor.

Continue Reading

Games

PAX South Hands On: ‘Boyfriend Dungeon’ Wields Weapons of Love

A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend, and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

Published

on

Boyfriend Dungeon

In most games, weapons are straightforward objects. Sometimes they can be upgraded or personalized, but at the end of the day, they function as little more than tools for a single purpose: to cut down enemies and make progress in the game. Boyfriend Dungeon, however, proposes a different relationship with your weapons. They’re more than just objects. Instead, they’re eligible bachelors and bachelorettes that are ready to mingle.

Boyfriend Dungeon is a dungeon crawler and dating sim hybrid all about forging an intimate bond with your weapons and, after demoing it at PAX South, this unique mix seems to be paying off.

There are two main activities in Boyfriend Dungeon: exploring the loot-filled dungeons (referred to as “The Dunj”) and romancing the human forms of your weapons. There’s been plenty of great dungeon crawlers in recent years, but Boyfriend Dungeon sets itself apart by humanizing its weaponry. This concept may sound strange on paper, but Kitfox games director and lead designer Tanya X. Short is confident that players have long been ready for a game just like this.

“A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend,” and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

“I think the fans of Boyfriend Dungeon have been out there for years, waiting. I remember when I was in university ages ago, I was sure someone would have made a game like this already… but I guess I needed to make it myself!” She adds that “A weapon is an adventurer’s best friend,” and Boyfriend Dungeon is focused on deepening that relationship.

Boyfriend Dungeon

My demo with Boyfriend Dungeon began simply enough. After a brief character creation phase where I chose my appearance and my pronouns (he/him, she/her, or they/them), I was dropped into the stylish, top-down hub world of Verona Beach. Here I could explore the town and choose where to date my chosen weapon. I decided to head to the public park to meet Valeria, a swift and slender dagger.

“Today I’m writing dates with a scythe, and that’s beautiful.”

Upon reaching the park, I discovered Valeria in her dagger form. When I picked up the weapon, a beautiful anime-style animation commenced in which she transformed into her human form. What followed was a visual novel-style date sequence complete with detailed character art and plenty of dialogue options to help romance your date.

The dialogue is full of witty, self-aware humor and charm – there were more than a few jokes about axe murderers along with other weapon-related puns, for example. Short herself put plenty of love into the writing. “Writing dates with weapons is a joy I never knew could be part of my job, but here we are. Today I’m writing dates with a scythe, and that’s beautiful.”

Boyfriend Dungeon

I loved my date with Valeria, but she’s not the only potential mate in Boyfriend Dungeon. Rather, there’s a cast of five potential partners in the game, each of them hailing from distinct backgrounds and identities. “When I was coming up with the cast for Boyfriend Dungeon, I tried to imagine as many kinds of people and personalities that I could be attracted to as possible.”

Short drew from her own personal experiences in creating the cast. “I was very lucky to meet my partner many years ago, so I haven’t actually dated many people in my life, but I become fascinated with people I meet very easily, and they can provide inspiration. Whether they’re upbeat and reckless, or brooding and poetic, or gentle and refined…there’re so many kinds of intriguing people out there. And in Boyfriend Dungeon, I hope.”

After building up this bond during dialogue, it was time to put it to the test by exploring the Dunj. Of course, this isn’t the typically dreary dungeon found in most other dungeon crawlers. Instead, it’s an abandoned shopping mall overrun with monsters to slay and loot to discover with your partner weapon.  

Boyfriend Dungeon

Combat is easy to grasp, focusing on alternating between light and heavy attacks and creating simple combos out of them. Just like how the dating content aims to be inclusive for people of different backgrounds, Short hopes for the combat to be accessible for players of different levels of experience as well. “Hopefully the dungeon combat can be approachable enough for less experienced action RPG players, but still have enough challenge for the people that want to find it.”

Based off the demo, Boyfriend Dungeon seems to achieve this goal. I loved learning simpler moves and discovering new combos with them. Movement is fast, fluid, and intuitive, making it a pleasure to explore the Dunj. Succeeding in dungeons will also result in a stronger relationship with your weapons, so it’s in your best interest to perform well during combat. Of course, your weapons don’t simply level up – instead, their love power increases.

An arcade environment

“Our approach has been that the point isn’t the destination — it’s the journey you take, and who you choose to take it with.”

Fighting and dating may seem like two disparate concepts, but in practice, they manage to mesh surprisingly well. “The game is mostly about switching from one [gameplay style] to the other,” Short says, “and it’s nice for pacing, since you often want a breather from the action or get restless if there’s too much reading.”

The overarching story and general experience remain relatively firm throughout the whole game regardless of your decisions, but Short encourages players to enjoy the ride they take with the weapon they choose. “Our approach has been that the point isn’t the destination — it’s the journey you take, and who you choose to take it with.”

In Boyfriend Dungeon, your weapons can wage more than just war. Rather, they can spread love and lead to deeply fulfilling relationships. Boyfriend Dungeon is one of the most refreshing games I played at PAX thanks to its engaging dungeon exploration and combat and its surprisingly positive view of weaponry. That’s the mission of peace that Short had in mind with the game: “It feels like a difficult time in the world right now, but that’s when we most need to find love and compassion. Let’s try our hardest to be kind.”

Continue Reading

Popular