Close your eyes.
Imagine something that terrified you when you were young. Replay the image in your mind and remember what that fear felt like. After years, it is difficult to reenter that exact frame of consciousness but you can recall pieces of it. Let them flash against the backs of your eyelids like an old projector would flicker a film in a theater. See the colors of your fear. Hear the sounds that echoed around you. Remember the sinking feeling in your stomach as you could do nothing but endure and wait for the moment to pass by.
Thirty years later, it’s probably difficult to find yourself afraid of the same thing that you once feared as a child. Yet you still remember being afraid of it and what that felt like to be afraid of it. Time has a way of erasing that feeling as you become more comfortable with what strikes terror into your mind. Long exposure will eventually make you numb to that which imbued horror before.
I don’t remember when I last felt genuine fear. As a child, your mind imagines something scarier than reality when your eyes see something unusual for the first time. Typically, the fear you feel is the result of what your mind can yet to make sense of. As time passes, the same images are less and less scary because you come to understand what they truly are.
When I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, I received a cartridge as a gift. It never worked. Every day that I sat down to play my NES, I’d try it in the tray knowing well that my results would not likely be any different today. Yet the image that adorned the front of the gray, plastic cart that sat before me was compelling and intriguing; it continued to beg of me to see what was awaiting me inside.
It started as a deep fear. The image of Dracula floating above his castle in the sky, his skin a blueish-green, and his fangs hanging between an evil grin sent my body into complete panic. Crippled by fear, I couldn’t look at the image for a while. Every time I tried to pick it up, I’d find something new to be scared of. I could picture the bats flapping around me. The moon painted the sky in a way that made it seem like night would never end. The castle climbed high into the sky, likely holding inside of it the worst things imaginable.
Everything I had learned to fear would inhabit the walls of this castle and I never wanted to see what was behind the doors. Until of course, I continued to return to the image in front of me. The more that I looked at the front of the cartridge, the less scary it became. The more I saw of it, the more that I just wanted to go inside. It didn’t matter what horrors were there, because I started to notice the hero at the bottom of the image. The hero that I would control, the hero that I could be.
Castlevania was first released on September 26, 1986 for the Famicom Disk System. After thirty years, the series has appeared on nearly every video game platform and has seen over thirty major releases plus rereleases and spin-off titles. It began as a stage-based action platformer and would later become popular for its exploration-based platforming, as in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The latter style was first seen in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and even earlier in the MSX version of the original title, Vampire Killer.
Themed in horror, Castlevania has built its saga around the resurrection of Dracula every hundred years or so, and those who have vowed to destroy the vampire. The hero of the story is usually a descendant of the Belmont family, although many games have featured protagonists that do not share the name.
The early titles pulled heavily from classic horror movies, such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, and of course Dracula. Later titles would create enemies from a wide variety of horror, including mythology from many cultures. The NES trilogy of games even played on the motif of film, displaying credits in similar fashion to film credits.
Castlevania also contains some of the best music in video games. The first game introduced the idea of a video game having a complex and well-written video game soundtrack. Usually, games featured a central musical theme that would repeat itself throughout the game, but they were simple in nature. Each of Castlevania’s distinct stages were accompanied by a compelling piece of music that varied drastically from its predecessor. Later, Konami would include special hardware in cartridges, specifically for Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, that would allow for a wider range of sound. The company too took advantage of the extra sound channels on the Famicom Disk System, creating a much more dynamic soundtrack than what its contemporaries had been creating at the time.
Later games would uphold this level of achievement, continuing to create and iterate on existing themes. Two of the series staple pieces, “Bloody Tears” and “Vampire Killer” have been remixed many times across the history of games in the series. Additionally, Michiru Yamane would create a sound for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that she would bring to future Castlevania titles. This new approach added elements of jazz, metal, and classical sounds to blend into a soundtrack as diverse as the game’s visual style.
Castlevania has inspired development of countless games and its influence and legacy can be felt today in many ways. Yet for as much as it can and has influenced, nothing quite compares to the feeling of a Castlevania title. There is a perfect blend of the right ingredients that goes into the creation of a game in the series.
I’ve grown into someone with a strong appreciation for dark themes and spooky aesthetics. I’d offer even that I obsess over a certain style or feeling. October is incredibly special to me, as the leaves start to change color and fall from their branches; as darkness comes earlier in the day and there is a certain smell in the air. It’s when we can all be something that we are not and when pumpkins wear faces that we create.
October is the month where we can believe that there is something hiding under our bed; that the dark corner of a room hosts evil in its shadows. It’s the month where we linger in what that sound could be rather than what it really is. Where vampires and werewolves can walk the earth and the chill of the wind is a ghost passing through you. A late night story transforms an old building into a haunted castle of nightmares.
October is Castlevania. After thirty years, its legacy continues to live within us. It created within me a love for the eerie and for the unknown. It established a longing for the possibilities over the realities. It taught me to love what I would otherwise fear.
Castlevania taught me to believe in…