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Video Game / Castlevania (1986)
aka: Castlevania I

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Castlevania is the first entry of the long running Castlevania series, known as Akumajō Dracula (Demon Castle Dracula) in Japanese.

The player controls Simon Belmont, the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. The Belmonts have kept the peace of Transylvania for centuries by destroying the evil Count Dracula. Dracula, being a sore loser, has risen again to terrorize the countryside of Transylvania with the help of his minions to draw Simon out for revenge. Vowing to end his reign once and for all, Simon takes up his whip and sets forth for Castlevania.

Dracula was originally developed as a Famicom cartridge game, but it switched to the Disk System mid-development, becoming the first Konami game for the add-on. One month after that release, a version of the game also known as Vampire Killer was released for the MSX2 in Japan in 1986 and then Europe in 1987. It features similar graphics and the same general sequence of levels and bosses, but had numerous major gameplay and layout differences, including required exploration of stages to find the key necessary to open the door at the end of every stage. The Disk System version was also converted to its originally intended cartridge format on the NES in 1987 in North America and 1988 in Europe, and on the Famicom in 1993 in Japan. This version has seen several re-releases, including on the Game Boy Advance as part of the Classic NES Series, a PC bundle alongside Contra, and a Virtual Console release.

The game received subsequent retellings on various platforms as Haunted Castle, Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania Chronicles. Castlevania on the Nintendo 64 was not one of these despite the Recycled Title.

Castlevania provides examples of:

  • Animated Armor: The Armors early on, and later on the Axe-Men.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Using a continue takes you back to the start of the area, unless you died to Dracula (or by falling through the stairs leading up to his room), in which case you start back at the stairs instead.
  • Barbarian Hero: Simon Belmont. Later games with Simon would gradually move away from this.
  • Bat Out of Hell: The first boss is a giant bat with a wingspan as long as your whip. You meet five of them in Stage 16, although they only show up one at a time and you can walk past them fairly easily.
  • Beating A Dead Player: One of the most dramatic and creepiest examples of an earlier game.
  • Boring, but Practical: The Holy Water is the least stylish of all the sub-weapons and has the shortest throwing range, but it can do a lot of damage and/or take out several enemies when it hits. Upgrade it with a double or triple shot, and the boss battles (with the exception of the giant bat and the Count himself) become a piece of cake.
  • Boss-Only Level: On the NES, Stage 12 is a short corridor containing only a couple of Skele-Dragons before a Boss Battle, and Stage 18 is the famous stairs leading up to an antechamber to the Final Boss room. Vampire Killer turns these into considerably longer levels.
  • Bowdlerise: The American NES manual calls the Holy Water the "Fire Bomb". It also calls the Cross the "Boomerang", but this might just be to prevent confusion with the Rosary, which has been renamed the Cross here.
  • Continuing is Painful: Should Simon die at any time, he'll lose his subweapon and double/triple shot, go back to the leather whip and his heart counter is reduced to 5.
  • Clock Tower: Stage 17. The gears aren't moving, though.
  • Cutscene Power to the Max: At the beginning of the fourth area, Simon falls down a hole several times deeper than is possible to survive in-game.
  • Credits Gag: The credits to the NES and Commodore 64 versions play on the names of famous Universal and Hammer actors.
  • Degraded Boss: The first boss, a giant bat, pops up as a recurring mook in Stage 16.
  • Dem Bones: White Skeletons (throw bones and jump all over the place), Red Skeletons (revive after being knocked down), and even Skele-Dragons (spit fireballs at you).
  • Difficulty by Region:
    • The Famicom Disk version has a save feature for up to three files that saves your progress at the start of each block.
    • VS. Castlevania, an arcade port of the game distributed only in North America, made the game even harder by increasing the amount of damage the player takes from enemies, making the time limit stricter, and reducing the bonus points awarded at the end of each boss battle (making extra lives harder to come by). While the difficulty level and clear bonuses can be adjusted with the game's dip switches, the VS. version is overall much harder than any of the home releases.
    • The 1993 Famicom cartridge re-release took out the save feature, but added an "Easy" mode featuring weaker and slower enemies and starts the player off with ten lives and 30 hearts.
  • Dual Boss:
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Some of the recurring monsters in the series had different names in this game, such as the Grim Reaper (Death)note , Hunch Backs (Flea Men)note , Medusas (Medusa Heads)note , and Eagles (Altairs). There are additionally Japanese naming inconsistencies between the Disk System, MSX (Vampire Killer), and 1993 Famicom manuals.
    • The way the game treated its lore and presentation also counts. Given how elaborate and serious the series lore would become, it's easy to forget that early Castlevania games were actually send ups of classic horror films. Those white boxes running along the top and bottom of the title screen? Those are supposed to be spokeholes for a film projector.
    • Consistent with its monster-movie-pastiche theme, the end credits have tongue planted firmly in cheek, crediting people such as Boris Karloffice and Christopher Bee. This kind of jokiness was mostly gone by Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and completely absent by the time of Super Castlevania IV.
    • "Theme of Simon Belmont," Simon's distinctive Leitmotif, wouldn't be introduced until Super Castlevania IV. In its place is "Vampire Killer," which later ended up being the theme of the Belmont family in general.
    • Speaking of "Vampire Killer", the whip isn't called that yet in the manual - it's just the "Magic Whip", and there's no indication it's one single Ancestral Weapon (except in the Japanese manual) with Gameplay and Story Segregation in effect for the upgrades, instead of three different Magic Whips. At least in the NES game; it's a bit different on the MSX. The whip only received the "Vampire Killer" name in Castlevania: Bloodlines years later.
    • Simon Belmont is not named at all in the English manual, which refers to the protagonist only as "you". His name is still Simon in the Japanese manual, though.
  • Elite Mook: The Axe-Men; they have a shield that blocks damage and requires 7 full-power whip to destroy while they require an additional 2 hits after their shield is gone to kill them, and they can kill you in four hits with their boomerang axes. They also constantly back away from you while attacking, making them hard to hit in the first place. However Holy Water bypasses the shield, so a single Holy Water will kill them- if you can get them to stand on it.
  • Every 10000 Points: Extra lives are given for your first 30,000 points and every 50,000 points afterward until reaching the score cap.note 
  • Evil Overlooker: Dracula himself, looking more Halloween-ish than in later installments.
  • Excuse Plot: The whole deal with the family lineage didn't really get going until Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.note  Until then, the games were little more than "go into Dracula's castle, defeat his minions, then Dracula himself" - though at least the English manual for this one hints at Dracula wanting a "rematch" for some reason, implying past battles.note 
  • Fake Difficulty: In stage 16, you must cross a bridge and get past four of the giant bats you fought as the boss of stage 1, with them all having the same same amount of health as before, which means the best course of action is to just ignore and run past them. However their movement, when they spit a fireball, and when they charge at you is all random. With how large they are and fast they lunge, they can randomly act in a way that makes avoiding not getting hit impossible, including possibly being hit into one of the bottomless pits across the bridge for an instant death, overall turning this section into essentially a Luck-Based Mission where you run under or jump over the bats and pray the RNG makes them play nice. There is a Stop Watch halfway through the bridge to at least freeze the last two if needed, but this will drain your precious hearts that you don't have much of, and you will really want enough for two more uses to use shortly later in the level in the section with the harpies and flea men.
  • Fish People: Fish Men always pop up in the two water segments of the game.
  • Flunky Boss: Frankenstein is accompanied by the invincible Igor.
  • Four Is Death: Starting with Stage 12 (the end of the fourth area), any given attack will do 4 Hit Points of damage to Simon, which is also 1/4 of his maximum health.
  • Game-Breaking Bug:
    • During Death's battle, throwing three items at once with the Triple Shot while Death throws three scythes will likely freeze the game. This was fixed in a later revision; the Double and Triple Shot powers simply vanish once you reach Stage 15. You can even collect randomly dropped Double Shot powerups during that stage, but they won't actually do anything for you.
    • In the hallway leading up to Death with the two Axe-Men and Medusas, if you get both Axe-Men onscreen at once, the game will start flicking badly and may end up crashing from having too much stuff on the screen, especially if you're throwing out subweapons and/or items are dropped in the crossfire. To prevent this it's imperative the first Axe-Man is killed before you get to the point in the hallway where the second one spawns.
  • The Goomba: Zombies are the first enemy type, moving along the ground and dying in one hit.
  • The Grim Reaper: One of the bosses, and what a boss!
  • Hello, [Insert Name Here]: The Disk System version has a name entry function missing from the overseas NES version and later Famicom cartridge re-release. It's mainly there to give your save file a name, but it also affects the ending by having Simon credited under the player's name.
  • Holy Hand Grenade: Literally when it comes to the Holy Water.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The ending to game hits you punny names such as: Boris Karloffice, Christopher Bee, Trans Fisher, etc.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism: Meat (found stored in breakable walls) is the only way to restore health mid-stage.
  • Jump Physics: Your jumps can't be controlled in midair, which only adds to the difficulty.
  • Kaizo Trap:
    • Whenever you defeat a boss, any projectiles that were on the screen at the time (fireballs, sickles, etc.) remain active and will harm you if they hit before you touch the orb. If your health is low enough, it's possible to beat the boss, then lose a life and have to fight all over again if you don't avoid or destroy the projectiles.
    • The MS-DOS version has an unintentional one, thanks to a programming screw-up that means the clock continues to count down even when the "victory" music is playing after you defeat each boss. This means that if you take too long to defeat a boss and have less than around 7-8 seconds remaining on the clock, the timer will run out and you'll die while the victory music plays.
  • Knock Back: One of the reasons why you need to be very careful around holes and jump-heavy areas.
  • Made of Iron: Simon goes to segment 4 of the game by falling down a long pit. In real life, he would've died from breaking his legs (and probably most of the other bones in his body).
  • Monster Mash: Vampires, of course, plus mummies, Frankenstein('s monster), some gillmen, hunchback dwarves, assorted zombies, skeletons, ghosts, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Monstrosity Equals Weakness: Many players, particularly veterans, find the second phase of the Dracula battle to be easier than the first phase.
  • Mutually Exclusive Power-Ups: If you pick up a new subweapon, you lose the one you had (as well as double/triple shot, if you'd acquired them). Woe betide you if you accidentally pick up a Dagger.
  • New Game Plus: If you thought this game was hard the first time around, you're in for a real treat once you beat the final boss. After you see the credits, you get dumped right back into the first level, except now the original enemies deal much more damage. Bats and Medusas are no longer limited to a few areas; now they appear everywhere.
  • Nintendo Hard: First, Simon, besides being unable to jump to save his life, being unable to control his mid-air motion once he jumps, and his whip having a delayed reaction for when its used, not to mention it only being able to be be shot left or right. Second, the enemies are more often than not too fast to easily hit, not helped by that how precisely your whip has to connect in order to hurt them- not to mention, Simon is knocked back when he takes damage, which makes it very easy for him to fall into a pit. Late in the game, all enemies become strong enough that taking only four hits is enough to kill you. Also, when you die, Simon will lose his subweapon and double/triple shot, go back to the leather whip and his heart counter is reduced to 5. Oh, and no password or save featurenote - the game must be cleared in one sitting, although fortunately, the game is gracious enough to give you infinite continues. Finally, the bosses, when fought without (or, depending on the players skill, even with) subweapons, can be downright grueling to beat—standout examples including Frankenstein & Igor, Death, and Dracula himself.
  • Off with His Head!: When you beat the first phase of Dracula, the final hit sends his head flying clean off!
  • One-Winged Angel: Dracula becomes a beefy devil-like creature (or, in Vampire Killer, an enormous living portrait of one) after you "kill" his humanoid form. May be the Ur-Example of this trope for video games.
  • Recurring Riff: "Vampire Killer," perhaps the theme for the entire series.
  • Rewarding Vandalism: You get most of your power ups by whipping candles. And you get items and food from smashing certain blocks.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One of the bonus items you can get is an Easter Island Head.
    • The credits on the first Castlevania for the NES consisted purely of shout outs to classical monster actors and the roles that made them famous. Dracula being played by "Christopher Bee", for example.
  • Spell My Name with an S: According to the end credits, the hero of the game is not Simon Belmont, but Simon Belmondo.note 
  • The Spook: Believe it or not, the identity of the first game's creator is still a mystery.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Bodies of water in this game are the same as pits basically.
  • Telefrag: Even worse, Dracula has a nasty habit of teleporting on top of Simon, and he does it regularly enough it may even be deliberate. It doesn't kill the player instantly, but does take a quarter of his life meter off, and is just one part of what makes the first phase of the boss fight such a challenge. Fortunately, the player gets a bit of warning as Dracula is initially intangible when he ports in, but the player has to be fast to move out of the way before the Count materializes fully.
  • Teleport Spam: This combined with Collision Damage makes Dracula an evil final boss.
  • Timed Mission: Levels have timers.
  • Whip It Good: The Vampire Killer, Simon's main means of offense.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: In official material, Dracula is referred to as the Count.note 

Vampire Killer provides examples of:

  • Ancestral Weapon: The roots of the later lore can be seen in the MSX game's manual, which says that Simon's "mysterious whip" was handed down from his father. This also implies for the first time that Gameplay and Story Segregation is in effect for the whip upgrades.
  • Barrage of Bats: Dracula's second form (a large portrait of a vampire) opens its mouth and spits out streams of bats against the player.
  • Country Switch: Similar to other Konami games released on the MSX, the title screen will be Akumajō Dracula if played on a Japanese MSX and Vampire Killer if played on a European MSX.
  • Dungeon Shop: The merchants, which were not present in Castlevania. Each one sells a single item for a certain amount of hearts.
  • Flip-Screen Scrolling: The MSX wasn't capable of horizontal scrolling like the NES, meaning that each stage now consists of a series of stand-alone screens, giving the game a bit more of a puzzle feel.
  • Game Mod: While quite a handful have been made for the NES Castlevania, the MSX Vampire Killer has two notable ones: a level layout hack which removes the exploration and makes it almost identical to the NES version, even renaming it to "Castlevania", and a music mod done by the programmer of the MSX port of The Great Giana Sisters, making use of Konami's SCC sound chip, at the same time restoring the opening part of "Wicked Child" that was missing in the original MSX release.
  • Interchangeable Antimatter Keys: Collecting keys is an essential aspect of this version. Yellow keys open treasure chests containing valuable items, while white keys open the exits to each stage. There are also magic canes sold by certain merchants that can open up to three treasure chests in a row.
  • Magical Mystery Doors: Stage 12, which was a simple corridor in the NES version.
  • Mutually Exclusive Power-Ups: Averted with the sub-weapons. You can have the holy water and hourglass at the same time, along with the map and one of two types of shields. Played straight with your main weapon: you can upgrade to a chain whip, throwing daggers, the battle axe and the battle cross.
  • Poison Mushroom: Picking up a black bible will raise item prices from merchants by twice the normal amount. To undo the effect the player must pick up a white bible, which reduces prices by half during normal circumstances.
  • Power Up Let Down: The battle axe is the most powerful weapon of your main weapons, able to destroy most of the stronger minor enemies in a single blow. However, if you fail to catch it on its return patch, you'll revert back to the regular whip. Likewise for the battle cross.
  • Precision-Guided Boomerang: Both, the battle axe and battle cross, function as boomerang-type weapons (in contrast to the NES version, where the axe is thrown at an arc angle). The axe has a shorter range than the cross, but does more damage.
  • Reformulated Game: Vampire Killer was developed alongside the NES version at the same time as a parallel project.
  • Timed Mission: Averted. You're allowed to explore each stage at your own pace.

Alternative Title(s): Castlevania I