The Castlevania series is one of the best franchises in all of gaming. Beginning with 1986’s initial installment, Konami built an immersive gaming experience that steeped players in the world of Dracula. Players faced numerous fantastic creatures as the monster-brawling Belmont family.
Though perhaps dated by more recent innovations in gameplay mechanics, Castlevania lives on as one of the most influential series to ever grace the industry, with several of the franchise’s titles commonly referred to as the greatest video game ever made.
From the series’ peak in the 1990s to Konami’s later reboot in 2010, find here the greatest Castlevania games of all time, ranked from best to worst.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
A benchmark in Castlevania games, most gamers rank Symphony of the Night among the finest ever created. Following up on the critical success of Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night moved away from the original level-based orientation of its preceding titles, introducing an R.P.G. format that became a commonplace feature in all Castlevania games moving forward. This radical change in gameplay not only shaped the trajectory of Castlevania games as a whole, but also inspired dozens of similar side-scrolling video games that encouraged player exploration and item-based advancement, creating the colloquial “Metroidvania” subgenre in the process.
Super Castlevania IV (1991)
Next to Symphony of Night, fans tend to single out Super Castlevania IV as the definitive entry in the series. Following in the footsteps of the earliest Castlevania games, Super Castlevania IV became the first genuinely great entry in the series, propelling the name Castlevania to the forefront of the ’90s-era gaming industry. Taking advantage of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Konami brought a wave of innovations to Super Castlevania IV, including a more fluid combat style, more textured graphics, and an atmospheric soundtrack that immersed players in the macabre labyrinths of 17th-century Transylvania.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003)
Another classic addition to Castlevania games, Aria of Sorrow returned the series to the same heights as 1997’s Symphony of Nights. Transitioning from the medieval settings of its predecessors, Aria of Sorrow transposed its narrative to the near-distant future of 2035, depicting teenager Soma Cruz’s struggle to ward away the forces of evil. Bigger, bolder, and far more futuristic than any other Castlevania installment before it, Aria of Sorrow‘s drastic changes allowed for a far more creative portrayal of the Castlevania universe.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002)
In the early 2000s, Symphony of the Night developer Koji Igarashi attempted to craft a game on par with his earlier 1997 masterpiece. The results gave way to Harmony of Dissonance, an enthralling Game Boy Advance release that lived up to Igarashi’s ambitious design. A marked improvement over the late 1990s Castlevania titles (especially the 1999 remake), Harmony of Dissonance is the Castlevania game that comes closest to measuring up to Symphony of the Night. With the same basic gameplay structure as Igarashi’s previous game, the more detailed graphics and smoother combat system owed plenty to Castlevania‘s magnum opus.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001)
Though a Game Boy-exclusive release, Konami didn’t phone it in when it came to 2001’s Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Instead, the developers took full advantage of its Game Boy-driven gameplay features, retaining the overall side-scrolling presentation of its sister titles. Through its often-challenging gameplay and boss battles, Circle of the Moon ensured a first-class handheld game characterized by its continuous progression, role-playing statistics, and unique Dual Set-up System (a mechanic not found in other Castlevania games).
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008)
The standout Castlevania game for the Nintendo DS, Order of Ecclesia is an important game for a few different reasons. Most importantly, it’s the final entry in the series before Konami’s hard reboot with 2010’s Lords of Shadow. As sad as it is to note the series’ soft farewell to the original Castlevania games, Order of Ecclesia ends its saga with a bang, delivering a roving action adventure game that pits players against unending waves of difficult enemies.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1993)
Rondo of Blood has a very long and complicated history regarding its availability in the U.S. and subsequent re-releases. Released in Japan under the commonly-accepted title of Rondo of Blood, the original version of the game never made it to America, although two remakes (Dracula X and The Dracula X Chronicles) eventually made its way overseas. As entertaining as those two respective games are, the original Rondo of Blood is the best of the trio, boasting improved graphics, branching stage progression, and its dual protagonists (both of whom maintain their own distinct gameplay characteristics).
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989)
Like all great sequels, Dracula’s Curse retains the overall spirit of the series’ original installment and expands it in all the right ways. Returning to the platform presentation of the first game in lieu of R.P.G. mechanics of Simon’s Quest, Dracula’s Curse offers a fantastic prequel story to the narrative events of the original Castlevania. Though mired by some overly-challenging enemies for players to face on their quest as Trevor Belmont, the game’s branching paths storyline and inclusion of allies makes Dracula’s Curse a revolutionary entry in the annals of Castlevania games.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (2005)
A direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow blends the various gameplay styles of its predecessor into one cohesive experience. Borrowing the Tactical Soul mechanic first presented in Aria of Sorrow, Dawn also cobbles together the R.P.G. and platform presentation of Castlevania’s earlier releases, creating a satisfactory combination that paid homage to every game that came before it. Rather than stringing together a bunch of conflicting gameplay designs, though, Dawn of Sorrow also weaves in a variety of new mechanics, like the “Magic Seal” system and a time-based multiplayer mode pitting players against one another.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (1991)
Rebounding from the polarized response to Castlevania: The Adventure, Konami returned with the better-than-average sequel, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge. The second Game Boy-exclusive addition to Castlevania games, Belmont’s Revenge made for a major improvement over its immediate predecessor, with players using a number of items taken from mainstream Castlevania console games. The sharper graphics, element-oriented levels, and implementation of sub-weapons all went a long way in establishing Belmont’s Revenge as an exceptional entry in Castlevania’s Game Boy releases.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (2006)
A sequel to 1994’s Castlevania: Bloodlines, Portrait of Ruin demonstrates Konami’s consistent ability to utilize new industry advancements regarding the series’ continuing battle between humanity and the hordes of the undead. Moving its action to WW2-era Europe, Portrait of Ruin is well-known for being the first Castlevania to introduce cooperative multiplayer, courtesy of the game’s Boss Rush Mode. As with most of Castlevania’s Nintendo DS and Game Boy releases, Portrait of Ruin is yet another enjoyable release for handheld devices, taking the basic gameplay features of Castlevania games and elevating them to new heights.
Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)
The first Castlevania released for the Sega Genesis (before Bloodlines, Castlevania saw exclusive releases for Nintendo), Konami made the bold decision to push the universe of Castlevania forward with Bloodlines. Leaving behind the series’ trademark settings of Dracula’s Castle, Bloodlines takes players on a globe-trotting tour across Europe, adding even more references to Bram Stoker’s original version of Dracula.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (2010)
In 2010, Konami provided a fresh start for the Castlevania games franchise with their ambitious reboot, Lords of Shadow. With its 3D graphics, third-person combat system, and retconned storyline, Lords of Shadow seemed to spell the beginning of a new era in Castlevania’s history. As disappointing as its subsequent sequels were, the opening chapter in this stalled reboot series is nothing short of pure gothic fun, featuring a depiction of the Castlevania universe as players had never before seen it.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003)
Debuting to the brand-new PlayStation 2 in late 2003, Lament of Innocence is also the first Castlevania game to feature fine-tuned 3D graphics, redeeming the so-so design components of Legacy of Darkness. From a chronological standpoint, it also provides a feasible origin story for the entire Castlevania mythos, taking place in the early 11th century. Mired by level progression that feels more or less interchangeable throughout, Lament of Innocence nevertheless deserves praise for its captivating story, stunning gameplay, and its gothic musical soundtrack.
Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (2009)
One year before Lords of Shadow, the Castlevania franchise released a remake of their underwhelming Game Boy title, Castlevania: The Adventure, 20 years after the original hit gaming shelves worldwide. An immaculate example of a remake done right, The Adventure ReBirth fixed all of the inherent problems associated with the first iteration of Castlevania: The Adventure, giving way to an addictive Wii game players had trouble putting down.