Castlevania is one of Konami’s best and longest-lasting games. It has used the same strategy of climbing castles and killing vampires for almost 50 years. The mix of gothic horror and action-adventure was a hit when it was first released on the NES in the 1980s. It’s still popular today, with annual sets and a Netflix series coming out in the 2020s. Starting with straight action platforms, the series went on to create a whole new genre with Symphony of the Night, which was a groundbreaking game in its own right. Over the past 40 years, video games have changed a lot, and one of the most noticeable changes is how hard they are.
The original game for the NES came out at a time when coin-op arcades were popular. This is the exact opposite of how games are made today, where they are open-ended, encourage exploring, and let you save quickly. Castlevania has gained fans and praise over the years in part because it is hard to play. Here are the hardest games in the series, ranked by how hard they are.
1. Castlevania: The Adventure
Assuming the role of Christopher Belmont, ancestor to both Trevor and Simon, the player must conquer four levels to bring down Dracula. Released on the Gameboy in 1989, Castlevania: The Adventure was the first time the franchise came to portable systems. While this idea sounds appealing, the execution here is dearly lacking. Unfortunately, the infamously slow stride of the Belmonts is brought to an unbearable lag in this offering. Christopher Belmont does not possess the same hitboxes of ancestors to a gameplay-sabotaging extent.
The traditional health system is swapped for using hearts and, the length of the levels shows up in this new system rather than complement it. Moreover, levels are given a less than lenient time limit. What could have been a fair opening entry on handhelds for the series is severely dampened by technical limitations and is frustratingly difficult thanks to them.
2. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
A Japan-exclusive that arrived in 1993, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is one of the franchise’s very best offerings and the finest game of the 16-bit offerings. Making the most of PC Engine’s CD format and superior processing power, the pixel art and soundtrack are among the very best of the series. Playing as Richter Belmont, the player must venture on a quest to save his abducted lover Anette from the clutches of Dracula. For all its ample quality, Rondo of Blood remains one of the hardest games in the franchise.
The boss battles are intense and challenging, the difficulty curve is ever-rising and the controls of Richter harken back to the NES offerings – a slow purposeful stride, horizontal-only attacks, and an elaborate black flip for a dodge. This is not a game to miss in the franchise. Its blend of arcade pacing and path branching is seamless and paved the way for Metroidvanias to come.
3. Castlevania X
The story of Castlevania X is a curious one. Following the wholesale success of Super Castlevania IV, an inspired entry in the franchise, Super Nintendo gamers were only happy to hear more Castlevania was coming to the system. However, many were disappointed as Castlevania X was no follow-up to the previous game, and was markedly more difficult. A remake of Rondo of Blood on the PC Engine, Castlevania X had to make some serious concessions for it to run on the SNES. Nothing short of an oddity, the game is bright and colorful, using much of the PC Engine assets.
The plot is the same as Drift Hunters, yet the AI is wonky at best and the levels have been re-arranged… and not for the better. Some boss battles here will leave the player scratching their head, but if they want a hard Castlevania experience on the SNES, this is the one.
4. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest
In an era where sequels to original titles were treated as a chance to attempt a whole new direction, Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is a prime example. Akin to Zelda 2 and Super Mario Bros. 2, this entry in the franchise is standalone to this day for offering something not seen before and not seen since. The player must talk to NPCs, and uncover information about what to do and where to go as well as how to even get there. Core gameplay mechanics of striding, whipping, and jumping remain untouched, but are applied here within an entire exploration and RPG design. In a curious remix, the player takes the role of Simon Belmont, searching for pieces of Dracula’s remains to bring them back to the ruins of his castle.
Having done so, Simon can destroy him and lift the curse upon him. Simon’s Quest is a fascinating entry, and there is a great game in here, it’s just hampered by such a puzzling, cryptic design that one can’t possibly get through without a guide.
5. Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
Assuming the role of Trevor C. Belmont on a quest to defeat Dracula, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse is the best entry on the NES. Consistently seen as one of the platform’s very best games, Castlevania 3 offered things unseen in its two predecessors. This chronological prequel is non-linear with branching paths for the player to choose from at different points. These different paths offer a variety of challenges and difficulties. Dracula’s Curse is also the first offering to give the player the option of assuming the role of several characters with unique and ranging abilities.
Taking the series to new heights this entry is an unmissable title with so much to be enjoyed and definite replay value. There is but one possible critique – difficulty. Some paths the player may well pick by accident can be unrelenting in their challenge and the late game of this entry is one of the franchise’s hardest.
6. Castlevania Chronicles
Exclusive to Japan on the Sharp X68000 gaming computer in the 90s, Castlevania Chronicles is a clear love letter and dutiful remake of the NES game. It would find a Western audience and a new breath of life with its 2001 PlayStation release, yet this is a game purely for diehard Castlevania fans. Using the updated hardware the game was built on, the visual update is expansive and remarkable. The original game became famed for its application of stairs and how rigidly Simon would climb them. Castlevania Chronicles delivers staircase, after staircase, after staircase in huge levels along with pervasive enemy placement.
Couple this factor with vintage Castlevania knockback and disparate checkpoints and this quality remake is hard as nails. A game for those who love the original and the franchise as a whole, the Arrange mode on the PlayStation release is a slightly easier edition, but only slightly.
7. Haunted Castle
An arcade release in 1987 following the initial NES game, Haunted Castle is simply the masochist’s Castlevania through and through. While the game possesses large and colorful sprite work befitting its arcade origins, the gameplay can only be described as Castlevania with none of the joy. Once again, the player assumes the role of Simon Belmont, saving his wife Selena from the dastardly designs of Dracula. However, the fast, pattern recognition and level learning mastery of the original is bludgeoned by a merciless difficulty presumably to rake in coins at its initial arcade home. Enemy placement and pop-out are not to be learned and overcome but just to be endured.
Technically a remake of the NES original, this game is only a curiosity for the most die-hard franchise fans. Its one redeeming feature is its soundtrack, which stands out to this day. The same cannot be said about the stodgy and brutal gameplay experience.