Castlevania first hit the market in 1986, and the series is still going strong. As the games change and develop, they affect the game scene as well. In the panel “Castlevania-Mania: How Castlevania’s Evolution Inspired Indie Gaming,” hosts Mike Levy, Rewind Mike, Pam Dzwonek and Try, took a look at the history of series and its influence on the current indie game scene.
Of course, they began at the beginning, before the name Castlevania was even coined. In Japan the series is known as Akumajō Dracula, when localized for Europe it was called Vampire Hunter, and it never gained its now familiar name until it was being branded for the US market.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest got more attention, as the hosts began talking about what it added to the original game’s formula: there’s NPC interaction, Simon Belmont can enter towns, the changing game mechanics thanks to the curse, leveling up, gathering items to pass certain areas, and a decreased focus on boss battles. They moved next to Symphony of the Night, which added a more RPG-like hit point system, a nonlinear system, and restricted the game entirely to a castle setting.
Here there was a brief pause from the listing of games and attributes to talk about Koji Igarashi, the creator of Castlevania and the more recent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which plays pretty similarly to the best of the best in the Castlevania library. Castlevania and Metroid are often grouped together in the same game type, known among fans as “Metroidvania,” and thus are often compared. However, Mike Levy described an interview he had interacted with where Igarashi said that Legend of Zelda games were the big inspirations for the development team rather than Metroid.
Levy didn’t quite buy this, nor did the rest of the panel, but they were able to justify it in the presence of areas that can only be accessed by obtaining and using certain items. Of course, it was added, that this is a feature in the Metroid series as well.
A few handheld additions to the series were mentioned, but the next game that got a lot of attention was Castlevania for the Nintendo 64. It gets a lot of flak among both serious and casual fans, but the panel seemed to have a lot of affection for it overall. Some positives? You actually get to fight vampires, the day/night cycle from Simon’s Quest returns, and that this appears to be the most accurate rendition of the “Metroidvania” style in 3D. They pointed out that the problems the game suffers from, like a bad camera and sometimes clunky controls, are issues that almost every N64 game suffers from on some level.
Lament of Innocence was cited as being maze-y, with a somewhat generic design, and although positive in some ways, retconned Castlevania Legends and the start of the family line, Sonia Belmont. A few other innovations in later games were discussed, with Order of Ecclesia rounding that section of the panel out, as the “Igavania” portion of Castlevania ended at that point, according to the hosts.
What is Igavania, you may ask? The common term for the style of games is Metroidvania, but the hosts talked about several alternate names. Igavania appeared to be the preferred term, presumably because Igarashi’s Castlevania games are the ones that best uphold the expected values of such a game type, though that name, unfortunately, downplays Metroid‘s influence.
The subgenre itself is contested, with all four hosts giving varying answers to how they would define it. Try said “interconnected worlds” were necessary as if the game was “one big level.” Levy said if it played like Symphony of the Night, it made the cut, and Desiderio agreed that there had to be an interconnected world, but that there also needed to be RPG elements and the ability to customize stats. Dzwonek gave Ori and the Blind Forest as her prime example of the subgenre.
They discussed a few other games that could fit in the genre, such as Monster Tale (“baby’s first Metroid”), Dark Souls, Cave Story, and some games in the Shantae series. Kirby and the Amazing Mirror got a dishonorable mention as being not only Igavania at its worst but also being the worst Kirby game.
The panel closed out with a trivia game for a copy of Simon’s Quest that was signed by James Rolfe (the Angry Videogame Nerd), the entire panel, and fellow convention guest Yahel Velazquez. How hard were the questions? One game and the anime under your belt wouldn’t be enough to answer more than two, barring sheer luck.
The panel ended up being extremely informative and certainly produced a great checklist of the hits for both the Castlevania series and other games of its subgenre. If you’re interested in hearing more from “Castlevania-Mania’s” hosts on other topics, you can check out more from Desiderio here, more from Levy here, more from Pam here, and more from Try here. If you’re interested in learning about other panels and events from RWX, you can check out its hub page.