From nearly abandoning both Silent Hill and Metal Gear Solid to turning them into bizarre pachinko machines, it’s no secret that Konami has a questionable track record when it comes to preserving their most iconic franchises. Unfortunately for the aspiring vampire hunters of the world, Castlevania is no exception.
It’s now been over 7 years since the last entry in the long-running series, and it wasn’t even a particularly good one. While there’s no predicting what Konami has up its sleeves for the franchise’s upcoming 35th anniversary, the success of Warren Ellis’ incredibly popular Netflix adaptation has gifted us with a legion of new Castlevania fans with no new game in sight.
That’s why I think this is the perfect moment for a new attempt at a 3D Castlevania title. Not only are there fresh fans hungry for more Belmont family shenanigans, but we’ve also seen the rise of new trends in gaming that could help to faithfully translate the monster-hunting thrills of the original series into the third dimension, all while maintaining their retro charms.
From inconvenient cameras to awkward platforming in early third-person adventure titles, there’s no denying that adopting a traditionally 2D experience to 3D is a difficult task. Despite this, I believe that the core mechanics that make a game enjoyable can be universally adapted into any format if the developers are passionate enough about the source material. In Castlevania‘s case, I think the heart of the series is minimalism, with the elegantly simple gameplay and gothic horror backdrop doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to narrative, always making it feel like the player is on a righteous quest through a nightmarish situation.
That’s why I think none of the franchise’s previous 3D experiments are as well-regarded as the 2D games that inspired them. Even back in 1999 with Castlevania‘s first foray into real-time polygons in Castlevania 64, it was clear that something was lost during the transition to large open spaces and locked-on combat. Even so, the game was successful enough to warrant a sequel/expansion and inspire future expeditions into 3D level design, leading to games like Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness (one of my personal favorites). We’d also eventually see a re-imagining of the series in the Lords of Shadow duology, with the second one currently being our last glimpse into the dark world of Castlevania.
While I wouldn’t claim that any of these 3D titles are objectively bad games, they all have one thing in common that keep them from reaching the heights of the franchise’s two-dimensional glory days: they look and sound like Castlevania but play like whatever games were popular around the time they were released. The Lords of Shadow duology is especially egregious in this regard, mixing elements from God of War, Darksiders and even Shadow of the Colossus with little regard to how these ideas might complement the Castlevania experience. That’s why we need a new formula for 3D Castlevania games.
Fortunately, mainstream gaming has evolved to the point where it’s possible for a title to embrace the arcade-y thrills of a single-minded quest while still offering up compelling stories and in-depth gameplay mechanics. The most obvious template for a new 3D Castlevania might just be to make it a Soulsborne game, focusing on methodical progression through a hostile world as the story is slowly revealed to you through cryptic hints and clever level design. Not only would this approach make it easier to focus on the main quest, with the narrative complementing the gameplay instead of interrupting it, but it would also allow for a return to the RPG mechanics of Symphony of the Night.
An emphasis on story isn’t necessarily a problem in a lore-heavy franchise like Castlevania, so Konami could also choose to embrace the narrative side of things by producing a modern horror tale with an in-depth story and creepier presentation. A traditional survival-horror approach could work wonders within the world of Castlevania, with limited item uses, horrific bosses and constant map-checking already being a big part of the franchise. Hell, you could even play around with the timeline to allow for more varied weapons and ammo.
The developers could even take the cinematic third-person adventure route like Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, focusing on down-to-earth characters during an arduous trek towards Dracula’s Castle, maybe even borrowing story elements from the Netflix show. With tortured characters like Hector and Alucard, it would make sense for at least one entry in the franchise to focus on the emotional side of the journey rather than just the constant monster slaying.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges in adapting the original Castlevania formula for modern audiences would be to still have it mostly take place in a single location. Dracula’s castle may be supernaturally massive, but it’s hard to design a three-dimensional setting compelling enough for players to not get bored with it after a couple of hours. Recently, Remedy’s Control proved that clever game design and architectural weirdness can turn even an unassuming office building into a brutal arena for monster-slaying fun. I think that this House of Leaves approach to level design would be a perfect fit for Dracula’s ever-shifting castle and would also make for some mind-bending gameplay opportunities if properly implemented.
Series creator Hitoshi Akamatsu has always claimed that he directed the original 1986 game as if it were a film, relying on visual storytelling and classic horror tropes to provide gamers with a one-of-a-kind vampire-slaying experience. To me, properly adapting the Castlevania games to 3D would just be the next logical step in this thought process, with modern gaming allowing for even more cinematic elements as players hunt down Dracula in a never-ending battle against the forces of darkness.
That being said, these ideas are just examples of the many possible directions that the Castlevania franchise could go in. I’d still love to see more 2D entries in the series, but it’s been so long since Konami has tried something new with everyone’s favorite gothic franchise that I think gamers would appreciate a fresh coat of paint over Dracula’s aging castle. After all, remasters and rereleases may keep us blood-starved fans satisfied for now, but it’s only a matter of time before someone tries to resurrect the old Count for some more whip-cracking fun.