When Castlevania came out for the NES back in 1986, no one—especially not Konami—anticipated that it would become one of the most beloved game franchises of all time. Indeed, who could anticipate 36 sequels would be released, nor could they anticipate multiple animated adaptations of the Belmont family's eternal struggle against the lord of darkness himself, Dracula.
With its gothic aesthetic, developed platforming, RPG-elements, and action-adventure exploration, the Castlevania series took its throne in the pantheon of classic gaming. The gaming genre "Metroidvania" owes itself to Castlevania's success.
Among the entries of this classic series, there are a few profound gems. Some are among the most noteworthy games in existence, while others are obscure gems with a fierce cult following. Regardless, the best Castlevania games out there are vital parts of gaming history that you need to play.
13 Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Jonathan Morris, son of the same John Morris who kept Dracula and his first World War from casting the world into darkness, is living through the horrors of WWII. As he deals with the reality that his world is falling apart, a trio of vampires use the souls of the fallen soldiers to restore Dracula's Castle. Jonathan, however, as not a true Belmont, requires the aid of a member of the magical Lecarde family to unlock the power of the legendary Belmont whip: the Vampire Killer.
This follow-up to Castlevania Bloodlines takes place in WWII and remains the first of the games to incorporate multi-player elements into the series. While not as fanservice-y and over the top as the later multi-player extravaganza of Harmony of Despair, it served as an impressive entry in the series and a worthy 20th Anniversary release.
12 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Castlevania never really made the transition to 3D. At its core, the series has always been a 2D franchise. But if you're gonna play a 3D Castlevania game, it better be Lords of Shadow.
Existing as a pure reboot of the saga, you play as Gabriel Belmont, a holy knight sent on a mission to combat the forces of evil. Abandoning the platform-heavy gameplay of prior game, this plays like Devil May Cry meets God of War, barreling through the forces of darkness. It's not the best the franchise has to offer, but it was a breath of fresh air the franchise needed at the time. Sadly, while Lords of Shadow landed the jump, its follow-up fumbled.
11 Castlevania (NES)
The original masterpiece didn't even break the top 10...
Simon Belmont, heir to the Belmont family, has come to follow the path of his ancestors by driving Dracula to the grave once again. He has to use his wits and whip to bring Dracula back to Hell.
This masterpiece entry remains one of the best games for the NES. It is one of the hardest games for the original NES, but not due to poor gameplay mechanics or level design. Rather, Castlevania demanded players learn how to play it. It demands you understand precise timing, the precise way to play it. Get hit? Die. Fall down a ravine? Die.
Oh, and you better prepare for the final boss. The original Castlevania's remakes improve upon the original experience, but it cannot be stated enough: the original is a masterpiece.
10 Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
This late entry in the franchise received a mixed response upon initial release. It serves as a multi-player experience, taking elements throughout the franchise—characters, enemy, gameplay components—to craft a unique adventure. It serves as a Best Of collection of sorts.
But what Harmony of Despair does is offer longtime fans of the series a chance to have fun. It remains the best entry in the modern era of Castlevania, and, for many players, remains a breath of fresh air.
9 Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
The Belmonts have gone. Following the events of Symphony of the Nights, a group created to combat Dracula upon his eventual return, the Order of Ecclesia, creates a trinity of glyphs to defeat Dracula. However, before the glyphs can be applied to the hero Shanoa, she is betrayed, forcing her on a quest full of twists and turns.
Order of Ecclesia is the final Castlevania game to incorporate RPG elements. To date, it remains something of a swansong for the franchise. It is the last of the Metroidvania titles to be made as a part of the series, and it doesn't really feature the Belmonts at all. It feels uncharacteristic of the series.
But this part of the franchise goes down swinging. The gameplay is superb, the adventure epic, and it even takes elements that didn't work in prior entries and does them right. Most notably, interesting NPCs add to the cryptic feel of the game. Underrated in its day, Order of Ecclesia deserves to ranked among the best of Castlevania.
8 Castlevania: Bloodlines
Quincy Morris has put Dracula down following the events of Bram Stoker's Dracula (yes, that's canon in the Castlevania universe), which grants Dracula's niece, Elizabeth Bartley, a chance to revive her uncle to his throne of darkness. She only needs to trigger World War I to do it. The only one who can stop him is the descendant of the Belmont and Morris line, John Morris.
This game remains the only Castlevania game for the Sega Genesis, featuring the appearance of two protagonists who are playable from the start of the game — the second being Eric Lecarde. The game is a fun adventure that was a worthy follow-up to Rondo of Blood and Super Castlevania IV but never surpassed them in terms of quality.
Still, for kids during the console wars who had to pick a Genesis over a SNES, this was a great introduction to the classic saga.
7 Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
Soma Cruz has returned, this time to stop an evil cult from stealing his soul to restore Dracula to his former glory. Fighting for his eternal soul, Soma has to stop a cult wielding the flickering remains of darkness left upon the Earth.
This DS sequel to Aria of Sorrow isn't exactly the most beloved entry in the franchise. It trades the gothic monsters of prior games to a hardcore anime aesthetic. However, that doesn't lessen Dawn of Sorrow's value in the Castlevania series. It features the same exploration elements of its predecessor, with an extra dose of over-the-top antics and bombast. While it's never scary, this Castlevania game allowed fans of the GBA adventure a chance to cut loose and carve a path through the forces of evil. Not to mention, it really does serve as a breath of fresh air to take place this far in the series's future.
6 Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Dracula has taken revenge on the country of Wallachia. The exiled son of the Belmont family, Trevor Belmont, is forced to defend the countrymen who cast him out by throwing himself against the forces of evil. But he is not alone. An enigmatic sorceress, a stealthy pirate, and the son of Dracula, Alucard, have come to aid Trevor on his quest to put Dracula in the ground.
Easily the best of the NES Castlevania games, this game is fan favorite. It introduces multiple playable characters, all with a unique gameplay mechanic to make each one useful in different situations. It refined the 8-bit gameplay, featured an epic scale plot, and offered context for Simon Belmont's later streak of vengeance. And it isn't the first prequel, but it is the one that codified the plot elements of the Belmont family's grudge against Dracula.
And, yes, the Netflix series is based on this game.
5 Castlevania Chronicles
Simon Belmont, an heir to the Belmont family, has come to follow the path of his ancestors by driving Dracula to the grave once again. He — wait, haven't we heard this before?
Castlevania Chronicles is often written off as just a remake of the original Castlevania. However, by drawing on gameplay components of earlier entries like Rondo of Blood, this game refined and honed what made the original game a masterpiece. It's slick and stylistic without losing the challenge of the original game. For players who want an updated version of the original NES classic, but find Super Castlevania IV a little too easy, Castlevania Chronicles should rank above all the rest of the series.
4 Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Richter Belmont, son of Simon Belmont, has a problem. Dracula has taken his girlfriend. Considering he was already destined to slaughter the dark lord and all his minions, this seems an ample amount of motivation to go to his castle, and kick the snot out of the old Vampire Lord
Many purists contest that this game ought to be in the top spot. There is a good reason; any of these four Castlevania games could rank best among them all, but Rondo of Blood is unique in that, for years, it was never released stateside. For that reason, it never gained the cultural significance of many of the games that rank above it.
Still, this game remains a masterpiece. Stylistic, epic, and stunning, this game offers a gothic tale of love and vengeance, featuring some of the grimmest and intense visuals to appear in the franchise to this point.
3 Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Dracula is dead. But in the future, a new castle emerges during a solar eclipse. Teenager Soma Cruz is drawn to the castle, and, in order to understand his strange connection to the fallen Dracula, must combat his way through the legions of Hell.
The Gameboy Advance is not a console often associated with great original RPGs, but Aria of Sorrow may be the best of the Metroidvania-games to follow Symphony of the Night. The game is a refined masterwork, combining exploration and RPG elements to craft one of the finest mobile adventure games ever made.
Plus, Soma is just cool.
2 Super Castlevania IV
Super Castlevania IV is one of the last old-school Castlevania games. A complete remake of the original masterpiece, Super Castlevania IV uses the SNES's hardware to expand the gameplay dramatically. The ability to whip in every direction allows a new level of gameplay that simultaneously keeps the game fun and keeps the game challenging.
This is one of the last games to depend on pure skill. No RPG elements. No real upgrades. While purists argue that the gameplay made the game easier, it offered players a power trip through Dracula's castle unlike any other.
1 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
There is simply no other title to match.
Alucard, the son of Dracula, has returned to finish the job he started years ago: to put his blade through his father's breast until the monster breathes his last. The only problem is he has to carve his way through Dracula's castle first.
Most Metroidvania games owe Symphony of the Night a great deal of debt. After all, without it, it wouldn't exist at all.
Symphony of the Night is a perfect amalgamation of RPG gameplay infused with extensive exploration, incredible pixel art, music, and, above all, a sense of fun. The game has an incredible replay value, unforgettable boss fights, and — you know what? Just play it. There's a reason Symphony of the Night is remembered as one of the best PlayStation games to ever exist.
It isn't just a great Castlevania game. It's a great game.