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Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

悪魔城伝説

Developer / Publisher: Konami
22 December 1989
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse [悪魔城伝説] - cover art
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357 Ratings / 3 Reviews
#711 All-time
#1 for 1989
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1989 Konami  
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1990 Konami  
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Most of the third entries of NES franchises waited until the subsequent gaming generation to correct the mistakes of their sophomore slump, but Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was such a colossal blunder that the series needed to remedy itself as soon as possible. The level of experimentation Konami implemented for Castlevania’s second effort blew up in their faces more extraordinarily than it did for Nintendo when they played with the formula for the second entries of their franchises. Castlevania II diluted the Castlevania gameplay to a hilariously awful degree, turning a series known for its high-octane, action gameplay into a lethargic, unengaging slog. If I had to guess, the reception to Castlevania II at the time was less than favorable, so Konami felt obligated to treat gamers to one last hurrah on the NES to atone for their sins. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse is a thrilling return to form for the franchise, capitalizing on the first game's strengths and augmenting them significantly. This point of evolution with the third entry of an NES franchise should ring a familiar bell for the progress of the indomitable Super Mario Bros. series. The third Super Mario Bros. game became the most impressive game in the NES library simply by expanding on the elements of the first game. Given that Konami did the same for Castlevania’s third entry, did Castlevania III rise above the ranks as the best 8-bit Castlevania game and one of the best games on the NES? Well, not exactly.

The Legend of Zelda is the video game franchise most notable for composing its entries in a non-linear, clusterfuck of a timeline. Still, surprisingly, Konami was one step forward in this regard. Castlevania III is a prequel that is set over 200 years before the events of the first game. Naturally, Simon Belmont is only a mere mortal man who cannot age past one century, much less two, and still vanquish the gothic terrors that lurk in the night. The player instead plays as Trevor Belmont, one of Simon’s distant ancestors who also had qualms with Dracula. Fighting Dracula and his spooky cohorts seems to be a hereditary drive in the Belmont clan, almost as much as the need to procreate. In Trevor’s time circa the tail end of the middle ages, Dracula is unleashing a scourge of demonic monsters across Europe to eradicate the human race, a more vindictive sequel to the black plague. The Belmonts are not a well respected clan, but the church sees no other choice than to enlist their special vampire hunting tactics to dispose of the vampiric threat.

The Belmont family’s genetic material must be as durable as copper wire because even generations onward, Simon is an uncanny dead ringer for his great-great-grand(father?) Trevor. Besides looking exactly like the Belmont we’ve come to know from the first two games, the more important factor is that Trevor plays exactly like his direct descendant as well. Despite the experimental disruption Castlevania II presented, a main consistency across all three Castlevania games on the NES is the control scheme. Whether or not the player is controlling Simon or Trevor, the gruff Van Helsing Belmont figures will always have the same level of control in their movement. They each have a standard pace of walking, an awkwardly brisk single jump, and a wound up whip swing that is restricted to the X-axis. Trevor also gets violently blown back by the slightest of damage, leading me to believe that this is an unfortunate recessive gene in the Belmont family. Trevor also implements the same tactics Simon uses to conquer the legions of Dracula’s underlings. Each weapon from the first game makes a return without any of the tools introduced in Castlevania II crossing over to its sequel. Trevor can lob an axe overhead, fling a straightaway dagger, and use the cross as a boomerang just as we’ve come to know with Simon. Hearts return as ammunition instead of currency which means that the player can no longer use the holy water to their heart’s content (no pun intended). The player must once again use their resources sparingly. Health is restored by finding dusty hams in the cracks of Dracula’s walls once again instead of seeking the healing powers of a church. Everything is as it should be in the realm of Castlevania.

From all of the familiar attributes listed, it sounds as if Castlevania III’s deviation from the previous game is to ape the first Castlevania. The gameplay is the most readily apparent return to form, but a much less obvious aspect that connects the third Castlevania to the first one is the visuals. Castlevania II captured the gothic atmosphere of the first game, but something that I hadn’t noticed about Castlevania II until I played the third game was how murky and dull the visuals were. Just because the atmosphere is intended to be austere doesn’t mean it should also look depleted. The first Castlevania managed to achieve the intended atmosphere along with having some of the most striking 8-bit graphics on the system. Both the foregrounds and backgrounds depict the intricate as ever castles and graveyards, but I never realized how lurid the colors schemes of both the first and third Castlevania’s are. Castlevania III in particular uses the same deep color palettes with striking contrasts, but there is a slightly noticeable brighter tint that makes the graphics pop. Castlevania always carried an aura of grandeur and majesty, and the return of the bright, prominent graphics fully expresses this.

Castlevania III is not just a rerelease of the first Castlevania with a subtitle and a numerical amount in the title. While Castlevania III diverts back to many of the elements of the first game while completely omitting most elements of the second game, Castlevania III does make strides to expand on what made the first Castlevania so engaging. The biggest expansion to the first game is its length, something the first game desperately needed. Instead of the quasi-open world Castlevania II presented, Castlevania III sticks with a tried-and-true linear course of levels with a beginning and an end. Castlevania III offers fifteen levels, a whopping number compared to the paltry six that the first game presented. Progression in the first Castlevania is a linear climb to the top of Dracula’s throne, and Castlevania III takes a more roundabout approach to the same trajectory. A Belmont still climbs up a meandering piece of towering gothic architecture to face Dracula, but the additional number of levels expands the runtime nicely. The player won’t even get to the castle until halfway into the game, with levels outside of the castle like forests and marshes making up the scenery of the former half. It’s almost as if Konami took the initiative to incorporate a variety of different settings that Castlevania II established and translated them to the gameplay of the first Castlevania. To add an extra layer of elongation, the player can take a series of different paths that will offer a mix of levels before converging to Dracula’s castle. Tripling the amount of levels from the first game is expansive enough, but offering branching paths guarantees that the player will not experience everything the game has to offer in one playthrough. Encouraging an extra playthrough by making the player explore more content is a common practice in today’s multifaceted gaming world, but it was a rare occurrence during the NES. It’s an ambitious way to expand the playtime of a Castlevania game, and it works wonderfully to supplement the short length of the first game.

The developers also give the player an even better incentive to play the levels they missed on their first playthrough. Depending on which path the player takes, they will encounter at least one extra playable character that Trevor will take with him on his journey. At first, these playable characters will serve as hostile boss fights that Trevor must defeat, and they’ll come to their senses and request to join Trevor. There are three additional characters in total, each with special attributes. Grant is a hunchback with the ability to climb on walls, Sypha the magician can use fire and ice magic, and Alucard, the interspecies son of Dracula himself, can transform into a bat. Playing as multiple characters has always been a point of intrigue for me with any video game, and the additional characters presented in Castlevania III are a nifty expansion. However, the execution is a tad faulty. For one, some characters are much better than others, a common flaw in games that provide this kind of thing. Grant’s wall climbing ability seems useful on paper, but I often found that it needed stringent accuracy to use effectively. I’d often be holding down the button needed to stick to the wall and Grant would collapse down a bottomless pit like a ton of bricks. Needless to say, I felt like dying was unwarranted here and was aggravated. Alucard’s transformation ability should allow him to bypass difficult sections in theory, but the parameters of the screen heavily restrict his movement. I suppose it’s keen on the part of the developers not to give the player an easy cop out, but that is another inconsistency. While Sypha’s flame ability is no more useful than Trevor’s whip, her ice ability completely gives the player a breezy way to extinguish enemies with little to no strain. Another disappointing factor is that Trevor also can’t keep all of his imbalanced partners as a vampire slaying posse. The game only allows a single partner at a time, most likely as encouragement to the player to start a second playthrough.

I wish the game allowed the player to keep all of Trevor’s partners because a central aspect of Castlevania III returning to true form is the intense level of difficulty. This notorious factor to Castlevania’s gameplay has also been amplified like many other elements presented in the first game. If you thought the first Castlevania was challenging, let me illustrate just how hard Castlevania III can be. The game is rife with religious symbolism used to deflect the legions of demonic foes, right? Well, the player is going to need a real life cross and pray profusely to help them get through this game. Castlevania III has managed to make one of the hardest games of the NES era even harder, an impressive feat that will cause dread in the hearts of many gamers. Enemies are more frequent and positioned in more inconvenient places, there are more bottomless pits, structures will corrode and crumble on the player, scrolling levels will put the player in a frenzied panic, and the increased number of towering staircases will leave the player even more vulnerable. On top of all of this, Castlevania III is a tad more stingy with its checkpoints. In the first game, the levels were shorter so only offering a couple of checkpoints was appropriate. The accelerated number of levels in Castlevania III are also much more bloated. Each level becomes a painful endurance test, making the player withstand a litany of abuse in longer increments with little respite. The only way the player is going to plausibly withstand Castlevania III’s challenge is to put the ten-life cheat code, “help me” at the beginning.

The lack of checkpoints probably wouldn't be so much of an issue if this also didn’t factor in the bosses. Similarly to the levels in the first game, a boss will be ready to duke it out with Mr. Belmont and company. Familiar faces like Frankenstein’s monster, mummies, and the Grim Reaper make an appearance to solidify themselves even further into the canon of Castlevania’s movie monster bosses. Castlevania III also includes new formidable foes such as the cyclops, the bone dragon king, and even an evil doppelganger of Trevor and or his partners. Each of these bosses are just as brutal as the ones in the first game, and the dearth of checkpoints in this game just makes these encounters even harder. Some of the bosses are strictly endurance challenges in which the player has to fight up to three different bosses at once without a checkpoint before the fight. The worst case of this is definitely with Dracula, the obligatory final of any Castlevania game who menacingly sits at his throne waiting for Trevor to face him. For those who have played the first Castlevania, Dracula’s second form is no longer a surprise as they prepare accordingly for a tough bout with the count. However, the developers caught on to the player’s anticipation and added another phase to Dracula’s fight. Dracula’s final phase in Castlevania III is a painstaking test of accuracy, quick dodging reflexes, and a meticulous effort not to fall into the pits. It is the most hectic, ruthless form of Dracula in the series, and Konami doesn’t offer a checkpoint before this fight if the player dies. Is mercy a virtue for the weak, Konami?

As often as Castlevania III punished me like the seven circles of hell, I suppose it is what I and several other Castlevania fans wished for. The vast majority of Castlevania fans were severely underwhelmed at the new direction Konami put forth when developing Castlevania II, even if deviating from the foundation of the first game of a series was popular at the time. Each third entry of every game that experienced a sophomore slump during the NES era threaded back to the first game of their respective franchises and expanded on the elements that made the first game an era-defining sensation. One of the defining components of Castlevania is the high level of difficulty, and the natural course of building upon a foundation is to augment everything to a point of refinement. Castlevania III magnifies all of the properties from the first game to the point where it seems like a bigger version of the first game. The significant number of levels and their length along with the additional characters add an incredible amount to satiate any fan of the first game. However, bigger isn’t always better because I am thoroughly convinced that the average player could not get through the game without putting in the “help me” life code to alleviate their agony. Being bigger isn’t always synonymous with being better, but Castlevania III might get away with surpassing the first game with this merit on an objective scale. For me, I might still prefer the simpler trek up to Dracula’s lair in the first game.
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Erockthestrange 2017-09-06T16:48:12Z
2017-09-06T16:48:12Z
7.5
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After the ambitious, yet ultimately large misstep of Simon’s Quest, Castlevania III sees the series go back to its linear action-platforming roots, building upon the already established formula, rather than trying anything new and outrageous. What this led to is core gameplay that overall remains the same, but generally feels more refined, and with greater variation to the environmental obstacles thrown in the player’s way spicing things up nicely. That said, along with greater variation, I’ll quickly touch upon the fact that this game’s difficulty is also significantly higher than past games, like, seriously, this game is insanely tough.

One of the more noteworthy points of interest in this game is the fact that your can switch between characters, each of which providing different mobility and/or combat benefits to provide additional potential solutions to certain parts of the game, 2 of them tied to specific routes that the player takes at specified parts of the game. Not only does this make each area of the game more interesting to take on, but it also gives the game some great replay value, since it’s impossible that the player will play every level in a single run, given how many branching paths there are. This of course wouldn’t matter if not for the fact that just like the original Castlevania, this is a game that makes simply being able to see a new level a reward in itself, with absolutely incredible atmosphere combined with often creative level design that manages to make each part of the game charming and distinct. This once again goes all the way down to each enemy requiring slightly different approaches to kill them, making each encounter something that requires a lot of split-second planning and strategizing, especially with the classic, stiff Castlevania mobility making each input potentially lead to your death. One of my personal favourite instances of this is in a section where the player is forced to walk across a series of platforms that will flip and cause the player to fall to their deaths if they jump, requiring them to carefully navigate around the constant onslaught of flying medusa heads, requiring prediction on the general pattern of each of these enemies along with apt reaction time to be able to quickly move back and forth.

With that said, despite the fact that the game is in a lot of ways a more interesting one, it also has the same glaring issue as the first Castlevania, but to even greater lengths, that being that this game tanks DRAMATICALLY past a certain point, where the late game feels more focused on beating down the player rather than providing a fun, fair experience. There’s one big difference between the approach to difficulty in this compared to Castlevania 1 however, as while Castlevania 1 began to throw short bursts of stupidity and near unavoidable bullshit, Castlevania III demonstrates more of a gruelling endurance match, where the player will have to go through a great deal of obstacles before they progress to the next area. While I initially considered this a good thing, as the level design became far less overtly unfair in this, it also required too much of the player and became a tedious slog to go through so much just to get another shot at trying the latest thing you’re stuck on, which you’ll almost undoubtedly die on a few times until you learn what you’re meant to do.

The biggest example of this was the entirety of the 7th area, the sunken ship, which had multiple parts dedicated to waiting for falling blocks to land in order to be able to slowly inch your way up to your destination, with one section taking about 2 or 3 minutes of waiting that’s mindless enough to be painfully dull, but just difficult enough to make it that they can’t zone out, lest they likely get hit by one of these blocks and are sent of a cliff to their death. While this on its own is bad, the issue is exacerbated by the fact that there are still multiple parts past this point that will ensure that if the player dies, they’ll be right back at the bottom of this section. The most obnoxious part about all of this is that after another couple of autoscroll sections with every possibility to kill you, the player is then put up again an onslaught of 3 boss fights, each one almost certainly requiring a few shots at before the pattern can be learned, especially with each of them only needing 4 hits to kill you.

Another particularly egregious example is the fact that the 3 phase final fight against Dracula doesn’t heal you in between each phase, and doesn’t even have the courtesy of giving the player a checkpoint anywhere even close to the fight, causing the player to have to go through a run back that will once again take a couple of minutes, but this one could also kill you at the drop of a hat, as you’re forced to jump between swinging pendulums over more bottomless pits while bats fly at you from all directions, a single hit surely sending you falling to your doom and potentially making the player go through even more tedious bullshit if they run out of lives. To make matter worse, the fight against Dracula is once again one that feels quite cheap, with many situations causing you to almost certainly take damage unless you’ve ascended and become a god, all made especially worse when the final phase introduces more pits that you can fall down and die. This last set of levels ended up making the game a borderline miserable experience to play through, new areas no longer felt fun, everything just seemed to test my patience more than any sort of actual skill, almost everything felt as if it had to initially be trial and errored through, which would’ve been cool if not for how damn long it took to get back, everything about these final levels genuinely felt as if the designers wanted the player to hate this game, and to an extent, I feel like it worked, because it made me have no desire to play through a lot of this second half again.

Overall, it’s hard to deny that in quite a few ways, this game nicely improved upon the first game, with the greater variation that almost always felt meaningful providing the player with even more potential challenges as they explored the atmospheric world of Castlevania. That said, while the first half to two thirds of this game was 2D platforming in top form, that last portion of the game hurt this to such a horrible degree that I ended up liking this somewhat less than the first Castlevania. Despite how much potential even this part of the game had, it just seriously had some terrible decisions compounded with asking far too much from the player to feasibly do without cheating in some way, at least not without utterly demoralising them by the end (as a note, I beat this game completely legitimately, not even using save states). I definitely like a lot about this game, but overall find it to be quite flawed and frustrating, ultimately making my experience far less enjoyable than it potentially could have been.

Scattershot statements:

The music isn’t quite as good as the previous 2 entries for me, but this is still top notch stuff once again

Playing through the game with Alucard as your partner has the benefit of turning into a bat, but it also means taking on that stupid ship level

The bosses in the game tended to be more interesting than in Castlevania 1, with some genuine pattern recognition and skill being required to get past them, with them almost all feeling as if they were designed with the sluggish mobility in mind

Subweapons remaining entirely unchanged for most of the cast felt like a missed opportunity

The fact that the Doppelganger fight seems to be built around the concept of exploiting its AI is something that I absolutely love, as it makes it a really unique, challenging fight, even if it’s placed at the end of a garbage-fire area.

The game seemed to have even more focus put into the art than in the first game, like, this game is downright gorgeous in places despite fact that it’s 8 bit.
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Kempokid 2021-06-26T08:36:54Z
2021-06-26T08:36:54Z
3.0
1
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For some people this is when Castlevania started really taking off. The first game was solid for its time, but it was a bit difficult and had some cheap design and was a bit too brutal for most casual players. The second game took the formula and completely changed everything, and ended up being one of the worst games of all time with terrible design and difficulty. This is sort of a Castlevania 1.5. It goes back to the original formula of levels broken up into multiple screens you progress through in a linear fashion. What makes III unique though is there are points in the game where you can branch off into different paths and this completely changes the game. You'll go through completely different levels and fight new bosses when you take these new paths, which I think is pretty damn cool and unique for a NES game, which for the most part had super linear games that followed single paths. Castlevania III still has some annoying design where enemies will come off screen and take a good chunk of your health and segments that will make you want to slam your controller against a wall, plus some brutal boss fights that almost feel they require luck to beat. But this is the point Castlevania started to really improve and the design of this is a lot better than the 1st game and full of less bullshit and annoyances. And IV even improved further on this one. But III is easily the best of the NES Castlevania games and still a decent game that is worth checking out.
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jweber14 2019-10-08T00:57:29Z
2019-10-08T00:57:29Z
3.5
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Catalog

Arschooo 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-26T17:56:55Z
2022-11-26T17:56:55Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
ChuckB 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-25T20:22:37Z
2022-11-25T20:22:37Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Dan_Chavez9117 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-21T00:16:21Z
2022-11-21T00:16:21Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
bci9215 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-16T13:13:24Z
2022-11-16T13:13:24Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
CrashV1978 Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse 2022-11-14T02:06:13Z
NES • XNA
2022-11-14T02:06:13Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
ToastyLoaf 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-12T20:32:57Z
2022-11-12T20:32:57Z
1.0
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Baller16 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-05T01:27:34Z
2022-11-05T01:27:34Z
4.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
508LoopDetected 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-03T03:21:59Z
2022-11-03T03:21:59Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
GiornoMio 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-02T16:01:10Z
2022-11-02T16:01:10Z
9.0 /10
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
FleegalFlargel 悪魔城伝説 2022-11-01T21:30:32Z
2022-11-01T21:30:32Z
3.5
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frank79a 悪魔城伝説 2022-10-30T20:10:49Z
2022-10-30T20:10:49Z
3.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
_moonchild_ 悪魔城伝説 2022-10-30T01:15:22Z
2022-10-30T01:15:22Z
2.0
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Note: Unlike reviews, comments are considered temporary and may be deleted/purged without notice.
  • dr0pside 2018-04-06 12:31:35.023981+00
    Japanese version's soundtrack is among the best ever video game music.
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  • Starburstman 2020-12-26 23:21:50.668422+00
    The stairs in this game can go fuck themselves. Other than that, pretty goddamn classic title.
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  • warioman96 2021-01-09 23:43:29.4196+00
    does this have some of the best graphics on the NES or is it just me?
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    • heavymetalthunder 2021-04-06 15:04:17.751673+00
      nah i agree
    • slib 2021-09-23 09:14:09.953863+00
      It ain’t just you, game is utterly gorgeous for the NES
    • SemtexRevolution 2021-10-08 17:14:15.889693+00
      The Japanese version has added graphical effects too
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  • Triturate 2022-05-28 07:14:56.818742+00
    this game is ridiculously hard, i could see myself beating the first game on original hardware but probably not this
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  • KesiMiao 2022-10-23 11:50:58.399554+00
    The US version is essentially a child torture device, do yourself a favor and play the JP one.
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  • FleegalFlargel 2022-11-02 09:45:10.254283+00
    Stage 9 is a strong contender for the hardest part of a game I've ever played
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