Imagine you're a game director who's just been put in charge of the Castlevania franchise. Your mission: To return the storied series to glory. Faced with that challenge, what kind of game would you make? Would it be a totally new take on the series, a reboot of a classic game, or something else? Whatever it is, we're interested in hearing about it.
While you think about your fantasy game development plans, here's how the USgamer team has answered the question:
Here's the dirty little secret of Castlevania: Making a good — I mean really good, play-it-forever good — Castlevania game is hard to do. Konami published an awful lot of Castlevania titles over the years, and more than half of them muddled along in mediocrity. The hit-miss ratio took a nosedive in the series' latter years as changing tastes and tech caused the developers to question what, exactly, Castlevania is, often without coming up with a satisfying answer.
Only a handful of developers have really seemed to understand what makes Castlevania Castlevania. The trick to making the series worthwhile again would be to make sure it ends up in the hands of someone who gets it, who understands that Castlevania is first and foremost about maintaining a certain rhythm of play. I don't know how many people have told me that Dark Souls is "the modern-day Castlevania," but I've played enough of the series to feel pretty strongly that isn't the case. Yes, it has the unforgiving precision action of the NES games, and it has the expansive backtracking of the Symphony of the Night derivatives… but the thing is, Castlevania never combined those things. It was always one or the other. When the games were doggedly difficult, they maintained a brisk pace so that you'd never lose more than a couple minutes' of progress; when the series took on a more expansive feel, it provided the players with all sorts of tools to mitigate the difficulty level to their own choosing.
In order to unstake Castlevania's heart, I'd want to see it end up in the hands of a developer who wants to preserve the innate rhythm of the series' best entries. Either go all-in on tough old-school platforming or more exploratory modern adventuring. Castlevania only ever managed to do both at once and make it work once, with Rondo of Blood, and personally I'd start there. Rondo had brisk action, stiff difficulty, and tons of incredible secrets. It was crazy hard in places, but when you died you'd lose maybe a minute or so of progress — death never felt punitive but rather like a crucible burning away your imperfections as a gamer. And the more you played Rondo, the more you'd poke at the edges and find crazy hidden secrets and paths. So, yeah, that's what I'd do. Give Castlevania to someone who can make another Rondo of Blood. No biggie, right? I mean, it's only one of the greatest games ever made. I'm sure someone could bang out a worthy spiritual successor, no problem.
It's been a very long time since I seriously played a Castlevania game - the last one I tackled was Symphony of the Night on the original PlayStation, waaaay back when. I enjoyed it greatly, and that's where I'd like to rewind the series - essentially taking it back to its platforming roots. No reboot needed. No new-fangled take on the game. Just a return to its original form.
However, while I'd like the gameplay to echo the past, I don't necessarily want it to look retro. I'd like to keep the Castlevania basics intact: lots of exploration, a shape-shifting character, hidden stuff to find, and plenty of great platforming, but have it all wrapped up in a totally modern-looking package. So that means highly detailed characters that are beautifully animated, proper 3D backgrounds, and lots and lots of fine, near-photographic textures. I'd really like it to feel like you're fighting your way through a highly realistic, gothic nightmare of an environment, with plenty of fire and fog to deliver an atmosphere that you could cut with a knife.
Also important would be a great soundtrack. I'd like it to feel as varied and interesting as Symphony of the Night - indeed perhaps remixing and rearranging some of its most notable tunes for today. That would be a nice nod to the past.
I'm aware that what I'm proposing is something there's no shortage of these days - a Metroidvania - but I think if it was well designed, it could really be a lot of fun to play. Perhaps introducing dynamic saves to offset the tricky platforming, and incorporating really glorious cutscenes to help articulate an interesting storyline. Would it be enough to save Castlevania? I'd like to think so.
Honestly, the first step is seperating Castlevania from Konami. Konami as a game publisher is quickly becoming a fading memory and even if the company was still all about video games, Castlevania is the form that fans want it will never sell in the numbers that a major publisher is looking for. Castlevania, that 2D exploration and action game, is the kind of title that needs to be with an mid-range independent studio.
The run of Castlevania games on Nintendo's portable platforms stretching from the Game Boy Advance to the DS is probably my sweet spot. Circle of the Moon, Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia were all solid games. Dawn of Sorrow is the high point, but there's still something to enjoy about all of them. They're the kinds of games that are made by indie studios or developers like IntiCreates. That's where they belong these days and I don't think the series can really hold onto much more than that.
Really, most of the work in "saving Castlevania" is already being done in other games like Guacamelee!, Teslagrad, Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, Heart Forth Alicia, or Chasm. They all have the spirit and mechanics of those classic Castlevania games. Beyond that, Koji Igarashi is currently working on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night with IntiCreates and he looks like he's headed in the right direction. Hand him the official name and saving Castlevania is closer at hand than we think.
Assuming they actually want to keep making Castlevania games, Konami can take the series in a couple different directions. One is the 3D route, though they would have to contend with the fact that Bloodborne kind of owns gothic action at the moment. The other is full retro.
Given current trends, they're probably best-served going with the latter. A new 2D Castlevania in the spirit of Symphony of the Night would garner instant hype, and it would garner further visibility from comparisons to Koji Igarashi's new project. And with all that, I would put it on Steam.
As Stardrew Valley recently showed, there's a healthy market for a well-made throwback on Steam. Stardrew Valley exploded because it filled the gap left by Harvest Moon with an exceptionally well-made farming sim. Assuming that this new Castlevania was good, it would probably see similar results.
At a guess, Konami would retort that 2D is small-time and they want a major franchise. But if we're being honest, the ship has sailed on Castlevania being anything resembling triple-A. Thankfully, though, it's not 2008, and a 2D Metroidvania can be much more than a niche success in this day and age. Konami's going to learn that the hard way when Igarashi earns the success that might have otherwise gone to Castlevania.
The good news is Castlevania's kinda saved already—with Koji Igarashi's Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night currently in development, we'll soon have his next take on the series, even if the names have been changed to protect the innocent. But if we're talking authentic, Konami-made Castlevania, that's a tougher nut to crack. Granted, Konami's no longer in the business of making expensive, triple-A games, so fans of Castlevania's pre-Lords of Shadow makeover no longer have to worry about the series heading further down that path. Honestly, the best thing Konami could do for Castlevania at this point is farm it out to one of the many indie developers who've already proven they can make games with an old-school bent. Even if this new game lost some of its RPG-ness, I'd love to play an NES-style follow-up to Castlevania III—one without the difficulty cranked up to combat the rental market. In any case, plenty of developers are worthy of working on Castlevania, so it'd be nice to see the brand used for more things than erotic pachinko machines.
To save Castlevania, I think we have to reach back into its past. Then we have to take one step forward and re-visit the formula established by Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.
Wait. Before you throw that phial of holy water at me, hear me out.
When we hear the term "Metroidvania," our minds slip back to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. We think about how Castlevania's PlayStation premiere let us backtrack and explore already-trodden areas with the aid of new powers.
That's all true, but Castlevania and deep exploration first bonded in Simon's Quest, which lets the titular Simon tromp all over the Translvania countryside in search of Dracula's bits. The game manages to be non-linear and adventrous without sacrificing any of that sweet whipping action the first Castlevania introduced us to.
I believe a game in the vein of Simon's Quest would satisfy just about everyone pining for a Castlevania game. It wouldn't alienate people who want to return to the series' roots, but folks who've gotten used to exploring strange new places with Alucard, Soma, Shanoa, et al would still receive a potent injection of what they love best.
Of course, Simon's Quest has major flaws, but there's certainly nothing that's beyond a couple of passes by a competent translator. At any rate, there's nothing wrong with the game's core formula. I believe another adventure with Simon can vanquish Castlevania's horrible future.