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Castlevania on the N64: Vampire hunting in 3-D

On 10/20/2020 at 05:46 PM by SanAndreas

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As much as Nintendo struggled with third party support on the N64, especially in Japan, they did have a fair amount of support from one major publisher, Konami. Konami developed and published some of the best output on the system that wasn't made by Nintendo's in-house developers, though they were not without their stinkers.

Among their more interesting games were the Castlevania games. Unlike Symphony of the Night on the PS1, however, Konami chose to develop Castlevania in 3-D rather than 2-D for the N64. Originally announced as Dracula 64 at TGS 1997, Konami's original concept was for a full-on adventure game with four playable characters, day/night cycles that changed the nature of the game world profoundly, and a huge explorable open world. It was almost like Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.

Targeted for a 1998 release, it got bogged down in development hell as Konami's team was unused to working with 3-D graphics. Konami eventually focused its efforts on two of the four main characters, in order to get something released. This game, simply titled Castlevania, launched in the US in January 1999, with Japanese and European releases to follow afterward. 

Castlevania transports Reinhardt Schneider and Carrie Hernandez to Dracula's castle in Transylvania in 1852. Reinhardt is the Belmont heir in this game and wields the family's famous Vampire Killer whip, along with a short sword. Carrie uses magical energy balls that can home in on enemies but are not as strong as the whip. They are in a race against time (counted off by the in-game clock with day/night cycles) against another vampire hunter, Charles. Along the way they meet a few vampires, a demonic salesman named Renon, Malus, a young boy who is first seen in the title screen playing the violin (a rendition of "Bloodlines" from Rondo of Blood/Dracula X) who has his own dark secret, and a witch named Actrise. Eventually they have their confrontation with Dracula after exploring his castle and the surrounding grounds, with the good ending being triggered by reaching Dracula before Charles does. 


Having released the first Castlevania game, Konami Kobe continued to work on the engine to try and bring the vision they originally promised to life. That game was released near the end of the year as Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. It starred Cornell, a werewolf, and Henry, a gun-toting knight. Originally, the Gardener, a chainsaw wielding enemy based on the Frankenstein Monster who chased Henry through a garden labyrinth as a child during Cornell's storyline, was meant to be a playable character named Koller. Reinhardt's and Carrie's quests were also included, though you had to finish Cornell's and Henry's quests in order to play those.  Legacy of Darkness supported the newly released N64 Expansion Pack for better textures. Konami also refined the controls and camera, which were common complaints about CV64. 

The games were a mix of 3-D platforming, adventuring, and even had a few light RPG elements and other challenges like transporting a container of highly unstable nitroglycerine without it exploding. Player characters could be vampirized by vampire enemies, which would disable many of your abilities and result in an instant Game Over if you failed to cure vampirism by the following midnight in game time. Gold could be exchanged for healing items and spells sold by a demon named Renon, who seems to have been a sort of precursor to the menacingly jovial Merchant ("What're you buying?") from Resident Evil 4, but spending too much money on Renon's goods apparently gives Satan a claim on your soul.

Technically, the games were a mixed bag.  The textures tended to be small and blurry, especially on the first game. The environments were expansive, if somewhat empty.  The platforming controls and 3-D camera gave gamers a lot of frustration with perceived cheap deaths, though Konami did try to fix the camera in Legacy of Darkness. However, the sound was top-notch. Other than perhaps Nintendo itself, Konami had the best handle on the N64's limited sound hardware. Besides lacking redbook CD playback, the N64 also lacked a dedicated sound chip, which meant that sound processing was handled by the CPU and GPU, which took processing power away from the graphics and the game engine. Having created two musical numbers with full Japanese vocals for Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, Konami was able to create beautiful, haunting melodies and atmospheric sound on a system known for having weak sound. The intro was very well done, with thunder, lightning, and a haunting violin solo. For Legacy of Darkness, a beautifully somber version of one of Castlevania's most well-known soundtracks, Sinking Old Sanctuary, was created as the background music of the Art Tower.

Unfortunately, by the time it finally released, Castlevania did so in the shadow of one of the most lavishly produced and critically acclaimed games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Compared to how intricately Hyrule and its denizens were crafted by Nintendo, Castlevania couldn't hope to compete. Castlevania 64 and Legacy of Darkness were also compared unfavorably with the critically acclaimed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for PS1, which was a 2-D sidescrolling adventure that lent its name, along with Super Metroid, to the "Metroidvania" genre. Today, CV64 and Legacy of Darkness are mostly forgotten. Though Konami did try, somewhat more successfully, to bring Castlevania to 3-D with the Igarashi-produced Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness for PS2, and the Mercury Steam-produced Lords of Shadow games, Castlevania was not seen as a successful transition for a legacy series from 2-D to 3-D in the way that Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, or (eventually) Dragon Quest were.

Regardless, I enjoyed these games. They were deeply flawed, but they still had a lot of good ideas behind them. Konami's goal seems to have been to bring a Tomb Raider style experience to the N64. They mostly seemed to have fallen victim to the lack of experience in programming in 3-D, although this team at Konami also produced one of the best third party N64 games, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. It would be nice if these games were brought back in a new Castlevania collection. 




10/20/2020 at 06:25 PM

The Tomb Raider influence is strong in many games of the time. I remember everything seemed to be apeing Tomb Raider. I was not pleased, especially when Duke Nukem went that way. 

Cary Woodham

10/20/2020 at 09:59 PM

I never played the N64 Castlevania games.  I never saw them to rent anywhere, and I certainly wasn't going to pay full price for them.   I'm not much of a Castlevania fan anyway so they were never on my radar.  But I'd be willing to give them a try given the chance. By the time the N64 came out, I was reviewing games for the newspaper, but I don't remember reviewing too many Konami games outside of a couple of Yu-Gi-Oh titles.

The only Konami N64 games I really regret not playing were the Goemon ones.  Mystical Ninja 64 came out early in the N64 life and was a 3-D title.  It was pretty commonplace in stores, but I was a poor college student at the time and couldn't afford to get all the games I wanted.  The second game was a 2-D platformer and was called Goemon's Great Adventure.  I would've been willing to pay for this one, but it was extremely rare and I never saw it in a store to buy.

Super Step Contributing Writer

10/21/2020 at 03:06 PM

I never really noticed how good the sound is. That's cool. 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

10/24/2020 at 05:19 AM

I've heard of these, but they definitely didn't cross my path back in the day. They sure are ugly looking though, but I guess that's the old curse of the N64. 


11/11/2020 at 07:41 PM

Bad reviews scared me away from these games back in the day. I don't think any of the 3D Castlevania games have knocked it out of the park, handsomely produced as some of them may be. 

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