Castlevania may be one of the most recognizable 8-bit video games ever made, but its creation is as shrouded in mystery as the titular castle at the center of its mythos. Castlevania was creepy, uninviting and a little be strange, but somehow it managed to spawn one of the most prolific, complex video game franchises of all time. Here’s a few interesting tidbits you may not know about Castlevania…
1) Castlevania might be the most remade game of all time. The story of Simon Belmont’s first assault on Dracula’s castle has been retold numerous times. The NES Castlevania was followed shortly by Vampire Killer, a somewhat more Metroid-like take on the story for Japanese MSX computers, then there was an arcade version of Castlevania called Haunted Castle, then we had Castlevania IV for the SNES, which was a straight up remake of the NES game and finally, Castlevania Chronicles for the Playstation. Five games, all unique, but all telling the same story and having the same basic level layout.
2) Castlevania was inspired by classic Universal and Hammer horror films. Later Castlevania games tended to draw heavily history and folklore (with a lot of anime silliness mixed in) but the early games were purely tributes to the cheesy horror movies of the 30s through the 60s. You can see it in bosses like Frankenstein, who is unmistakably based on the Boris Karloff version, and in the oft-overlooked film perforation holes on the top and bottom of the game’s title screen. Sadly the series has since lost most of its campy personality.
It blew my mind when I first noticed those film holes on the top and bottom of this screen.
3) Castlevania’s credits are all references to people tied to classic monster movies. Another hint that the makers of the original Castlevania were having some fun with the game — the title’s credits are full of wacky names like Vran Stoker (Bram Stoker), Christopher Bee (Christopher Lee) and Boris Karloffice. Gotta love Japanese guys trying to make English puns.
4) The credits also screw up the main character’s name. The credits refer to Simon Belmont as Simon Belmondo, the character’s name in Japan. Whoops.
I suspect this game was written by guys who didn’t have English as a first language. Or second language for that matter.
5) Nobody’s quite sure who created the original Castlevania. One of the unfortunate downsides of those amusing punny credits, is that nobody actually knows who created the Castlevania series. During the 8-bit era all Japanese video game developers had to go by pseudonyms because, well, publishers thought if people knew who these guys were, they’d have to pay them more. In most cases, these pseudonyms left a hint as to who these folks really were, so we now know who created the likes of Mario, Sonic and Mega Man. Castlevania’s credits were so silly they really left no clue.
The best guess is a Mr. Hitoshi Akamatsu, but unfortunately he seems to have disappeared from the face of the planet sometime in the early 90s. John Szczepaniak has attempted to track Akamatsu down for a book on underappreciated Japanese game developers, but has had no luck. It seems the creator of Castlevania is as ethereal and hard to pin down as Dracula himself.
6) The Castlevania team worked on the largely forgotten, non-canonical Metal Gear sequel Snake’s Revenge. By all accounts, the original Castlevania team disbanded after the making of Castlevania III. The only non-Castlevania game they ever made was Snake’s Revenge, a sequel to Metal Gear designed specifically for western audiences. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima wasn’t even told the game was in production, and when he was found out he decided to make Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for Japanese MSX computers in retaliation. Snake’s Revenge is now considered non-canonical, and Kojima has bashed it as a “crap little game” in interviews, but honestly, in my opinion at least, it’s actually better than the original Metal Gear.
Also, you can’t not love Snake’s Revenge boxart Snake.
7) You could save in the original Japanese version of the game. Getting through Castlevania in one go sometimes seemed nigh impossible, but it was your only option, or at least it was if you were American. The original Japanese game was made for the Famicom Disk System, a floppy-drive add on to the Japanese NES, and featured the ability to save. Just another example of everything being cooler in Japan during the 80s.
8) Parts of the original Castlevania’s castle return in almost every 2D Castlevania. At the heart of every 2D Castlevania you always have a) Dracula (of course) and b) the castle. While the castle morphs from appearance to appearance, it never completely changes — its basic layout remains similar, and certain rooms and areas would appear again and again. In particular, the castle’s initial zombie-filled entrance hall is usually more or less identical.
Not the last time you’d see this.
9) Castlevania is one of the few NES titles to feature blatant religious symbolism. Nintendo’s American branch censored the hell out most NES games, striking down any strong violence, sexual content or salty language. One of their odd hang-ups was any sort of overt religious references, so most American NES games were scrubbed of any crosses, churches or priests. Actually, Nintendo still does this to this day, removing religious references from games like Animal Crossing and barring games like The Binding of Isaac from being published on their systems.
Anyways, somehow someway Castlevania got around Nintendo’s ban and is probably the most religious-symbol packed NES game ever. Crosses are everywhere and holy water can be used as a weapon. I guess Nintendo figured if they were as heavy handed with Castlevania as they were with most games, there’d be nothing of the game left.
10) The game continues Konami’s weird moai obsession. Konami has a thing for moai, the mysterious giant stone heads found on Easter Island. They’re always front and center in the Gradius series, and they’re also hidden in many other classic Konami titles. If you beat Castlevania and go for a second playthrough, you’ll find a number of hidden moai heads scattered throughout the game.
Konami’s moai obsession is as mysterious as the heads themselves.
11) Unfortunately the Konami code doesn’t work in the game. Castlevania may reference Gradius with the hidden moai heads, but sadly you can’t use Gradius’ most famous secret, the Konami Code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A) in Castlevania. The first Castlevania game to use the code is the Game Boy’s Kid Dracula, and all it gets you is a message saying “Sorry, that won’t work.”
12) Some interesting items were cut from the game. Folks poking around the game’s ROM have discovered a few strange items were cut from the game. These include a love letter, a pair of high-heeled shoes and…a basket of kittens? Or is that a cupcake? Either way, not your typical Castlevania stuff.
Second from the right — is it a cupcake? A basket of kittens? Two hamsters on a cake plate?
13) Konami were shy about calling Dracula by his real name at first. For some reason, the Castlevania manual and all promotional material for the game refused to use the name “Dracula”. The game’s antagonist was instead simply referred to as “The Count”. This was also the case on the Captain N TV show.
Oddly the name Dracula is used in the game itself, so it can’t have been a legal thing. It was probably just another example of Konami’s American branch not taking their jobs particularly seriously — they usually wouldn’t pay the slightest heed to a game’s original Japanese names or story, simply coming up with their own nonsense. For instance, in manuals for the NES Metal Gear games, Big Boss is referred to as “Higharolla Kockamamie”. Maybe they assumed without bothering to check that Dracula was still copyright protected (it hadn’t been since the 60s).
14) There’s a connection between Castlevania and the Underworld series. Speaking of Captain N, Andrew Kavadas, the guy who did the voice of Simon Belmont on the show also had a role in the Underworld series.
Yup, I found a way to work vinyl-clad Kate Beckinsale into this article. This is why I get paid the big bucks.
15) ‘Vampire Killer’ is the best 8-bit song ever. Truest fact of this article.
So there you have it, 15 things you might not have known about one of the NES’ spookiest games. What are your favorite memories of the original Castlevania or the Castlevania series in general?
As always, thanks to Joel Stice for lending me the Fascinating Facts format!