Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Akumajō Densetsu or "Legend of the Devil's Castle" in Japanese) is the third NES entry of the epically long Castlevania series, and a prequel to the original. This game chronicles the exploits of Trevor C. Belmont (Ralph C. Belmond in Japanese), ancestor of the original game's Simon Belmont. In 1476, Trevor, who has "a long history of fighting the forces of evil", is called forth by the citizens of Wallachia to defeat Dracula. The game chronicles his journey across the land to the titular Castlevania, and his subsequent infiltration of the castle and battle with Dracula.
Generally considered the best NES Castlevania, and rivaled only by Super Castlevania IV or Castlevania: Rondo of Blood as the best old-school Castlevania. Following the overambitious Simon's Quest, Konami took a back-to-basics approach with this game, sticking to traditional platforming while improving the graphics and music. The result plays almost identically to the original Castlevania.
Nevertheless, there were some important innovations. The path to Dracula's castle frequently branches, and the player will wind up following one of three paths to the final levels, plus an early side-route that is entirely optional. Along the way, Trevor may also pick up one of three companions: Grant DaNasty, a wall-climbing pirate; Sypha Belnades, a sorceress with elemental powers; and Alucard, Dracula's rebellious son. In addition to deepening the gameplay, the latter two would become very important in the series' Myth Arc. In contrast, Grant is rarely seen or heard of today unless in a group-cameo with the other three.
In a technical sense, this was one of the most advanced NES games ever produced. It had a unique memory mapper as well as a special chip which offloaded some of the sound processing from the console. To this day, it remains one of the most technically difficult NES games to emulate due to these factors.
Former Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi said that Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse was his favorite Castlevania game.
In Netflix's Castlevania (2017) show, the first and second seasons revolve around the plot shown in this game. And rather famously, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a follow-up to both III and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, showing Alucard crossing paths with Trevor's descendants Richter Belmont and Maria Renard.
Dracula's Curse contains examples of:
- Advancing Wall of Doom: Several, in the forms of a collapsing tower, a rising water line, and a plain ol' Auto-Scrolling Level in the last stage of the game.
- All the Worlds Are a Stage: It's subtle, but the second to last level is like this. It's an insanely hard gauntlet of many of the challenges from throughout the game on both paths, including a stream full of mermen, Harpies dropping Hunchbacks, spiked crushers, a tower that scolls upwards in jolts, and the stairs.
- All There in the Manual: According to the Japanese version, Dracula gained his powers through the revival of a cult of an evil god, allowing him to summon a horde of monsters from the Demon Realm in a plot to extend his power over all of Europe. After doing so, Dracula forced Alucard into the pact in an attempt to gain more power, with the Alucard becoming a vampire as a result. No such detail is given in the Western manuals, with Alucard instead stated to be the vampire son of Dracula instead of the human-turned-vampire son. Later games would retcon Alucard into being a dhampyr.
- The Evil God itself does appear in the game after defeating Dracula's second form, but it is assumed to be Dracula's third form. The Japanese manual also states that it is a possessed idol of the Evil God, manifesting itself on the mortal plane to attack Trevor and his allies after the death of Dracula.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Many fans consider Alucard the weakest partner in this game, with his ability to turn into a bat his only saving grace.
- "Blind Idiot" Translation: The game's English translation is clunky, to say the least. In particular, the opening scroll tells us that Dracula's goal was to "create a bad world filled with evil," and can't seem to decide whether Dracula was able to conquer just one city or all of Europe before anyone thought to ask Trevor for help.
- Bowdlerise: Lesser Demon was renamed to Leviathan, a statue had a bra added, and Medusa was turned into a male so its bare chest wouldn't bother the censors.
- Broad Strokes: Trevor can only be accompanied by one partner at a time, and it is impossible for him to meet both Sypha and Alucard in the same run. Despite this, future games imply that all four characters faced Dracula together as a team during this story. Which actually would've been pretty cool. The Netflix adaptation includes Trevor, Sypha, and Alucard despite this normally being impossible but drops Grant, due to pirates in a landlocked nation being considered unrealistic.note
- Broken Bridge: The first path split offers a direct route to the castle by way of the clock tower. Taking it and reaching the top causes the bridge to plunge into the lake surrounding Castlevania, forcing you to turn back and take a (thankfully truncated) version of the other route.
- Burn the Witch!: A common incident that happened to a lot of women in the backstory. Most prominently is Dracula's own wife, which is why he started his vendetta against humanity when previously he was fine sitting back and letting the world corrupt and destroy itself.
- Can't Drop the Hero: No matter what route you take, Trevor sticks with you until the final boss.
- Checkpoint Starvation: In the NES version, dying against Dracula sends you back to the beginning of A-2 (instead of A-3 like in the Famicom version). While this seems bad, A-2's a very short section (the hardest part is the pendulums, which can be skipped if you have Alucard and enough hearts) and has a greater selection of subweapons (Axe and Holy Water as opposed to Knife). The only problem is the enemies can cut down your health before you even reach Dracula.
- Clockworks Area: This game has two of them. The first is the optional Stage 2, which is required if you want to rescue Grant. The second is the final stage, being a hybrid of the Clock Tower and Castle Keep areas of Dracula's castle similarly to the first game. It was also this game that associated the Clock Tower areas with the infamous Medusa Heads, which became a staple of the series.
- Crippling Overspecialization: Alucard can turn into a bat, which allows you to completely bypass what would be arduous platforming segments (such as the infamous Block 7-5 on Alucard's path), and allows you to save yourself from falling into a bottomless pit if you're fast enough to transform in time, even if you were hit by an enemy into one. However his basic attack is very weak and laggy, he doesn't move nor jump any better than Trevor, has access to no subweapons besides the Stopwatch, and can't attack while on stairs.
- Contractual Boss Immunity:
- While Death's second form is considered a step down in difficulty from his first form, he has a unique trait no other enemy nor boss in the game has, in being completely immune to the Cross; the Cross will simply harmlessly bounce off him with a clinking noise. The other subweapons still work fine on him though, making them more ideal to take into the Death fight with you.
- All bosses in the game are immune to the Stopwatch's effect, a part of why it's considered a Power-Up Letdown.
- While bosses can be affected by Sypha's Ice spell, they will only be frozen for a split second, and hitting them while frozen will not do any more damage than usual, when it would be an instant kill on any regular enemy.
- Damage-Sponge Boss: The Leviathan/Lesser Demon you fight at the end of the Sequential Boss on Stage 7 on either path. It has by far the most HP of any boss in the game, requiring 32 full-power whip hits to kill (while every other boss besides Dracula's second form requires 10, 11, or 16), and in the Famicom version it's one of the few enemies in the game that deals 4 bars of damage, while in the NES version it marks the point where all enemies start dealing 4 bars of damage. However it's a huge target that can be struck anywhere to harm and only moves by slow periodic jumps, while doing a fireball attack after every 3 jumps.
- Death Mountain: The Stage 7 you get on the Alucard route. It's notoriously long.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Alucard. Grant is this to an extent, though he was turned into a monster before the events of this game.
- Demoted to Extra:
- Grant was hit with this, barely showing up after this game until Judgement. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow has an unlockable game mode where you control Alucard and descendants of Sypha and Trevor who play like their ancestors. Grant is nowhere to be seen, and nobody fills his gameplay role.
- According to a script buried within the game data, Hammer was originally intended to be playable. Though Hammer and Grant DaNasty look similar, there is little to no indication Hammer would have played like him or is even related to him.Julius: You. Why are you here?
Hammer: Why? I'm here for Soma! My man's in trouble, I tell ya!
Julius: But it's of no concern to you.
Hammer: Heck yeah, it is! Soma's my pal, after all. Laying his life on the line for a pal... That's what a man does.
Julius: Wrong. An ordinary human is no match for a foe like this. Being a man has nothing to do with it.
Hammer: Hey, bud, I served in the military! I know weapons a whole lot better than you! And I'd like to think I've got enough sense to retreat if it gets too crazy.
Julius: Fine, then. But if you ever fear for your life, get out immediately, understood?
Hammer: Loud and clear. You have my word.
- The only reference to Grant in the Netflix series is a character mentioning that he heard a rumor about a pirate who put wheels on his ship to pillage on land, and only as a nod. Warren Ellis didn't think a pirate in a landlocked nation made any sense, even though Grant retired from piracy to move back to Wallachia. In the fourth and final season, Greta of Danesti, headwoman of the village of Danesti, becomes a prominent character, finally (somewhat) bringing Grant in.
- Difficulty by Region:
- The American version made multiple changes to ramp up the challenge from the Famicom release. Enemies were altered so they deal more damage in the later stages of the game, extra enemy spawns were added, some enemies take more damage, various bosses were changed in some way to make them more difficult (e.g. Dracula's laser attack is larger and can fire at more angles), and many sub-weapon spawns were removed or changed to the dagger.
- The European version is slightly easier than the American version, but still harder than the Japanese ones: enemies do less damage in early levels and the stopwatch lasts longer.
- Drowning Pit: The second half of the Sunken City level on the Alucard route becomes this. Once you get the Bone Dragon King's health below half, it'll flee and break through the cave wall, causing water to start pouring into the city. When you catch up to the Bone Dragon King again at the very end of the level, it'll still have whatever HP you left it with, but the water will still be rising, effectively turning the second part of the fight into a Time-Limit Boss.
- Dual Boss:
- Dub Name Change: Ralph C. Belmond to Trevor Belmont.
- Early-Installment Weirdness:
- Alucard in this game looks like a middle-aged man and has a traditional vampire look, unlike in future games where he is a Bishōnen. Additionally his only means of attack is shooting fireballs while using no weapons at all, who fares poorly in combat in general. Fans from Symphony of the Night onward playing this game for the first time will find Alucard off-putting and probably wouldn't even recognise him.
- Years later, one of the game developers confirmed that Ralph/Trevor's middle initial was intended to stand for Christopher, the name of Simon's predecessor in the original game's backstory. This and Castlevania: The Adventure starring "the" Christopher Belmont were produced around the same time (and the latter was released first by a few months), so some overlap may have happened in the planning stages.
- Every 10,000 Points: The extend system from the original game returns. Your first extra life is given at 20,000 points, which is 10,000 points earlier than in the original. However, the game is less generous with bonus points than the original, giving the player fewer opportunities to milk their score.
- Evil Laugh: Present in the theme "Epitaph". Death also lets out a few of these in his second form.
- Faction-Specific Endings: There are 4 different endings to the game, depending on which of the three companions Trevor takes with him; the fourth is if he takes none of them and finishes solo.
- Fragile Speedster: Grant. He can climb up walls and along ceilings, allowing him to avoid enemies and skip a few level segments. He also moves the fastest, jumps the highest, has a smaller hurtbox than the rest of the characters, and is the only character to actually have control of his jump in mid-air. However, he takes an additional bar of damage when hit, and his basic attack in the NES version, while a lot faster than Trevor's Whip, is weaker with almost no reach to it; Grant has to be nearly touching enemies to hit them with his stab and thus often get hit himself in the process.
- Gangplank Galleon: Stage 4 on the Sypha route.
- Glass Cannon: Sypha. Her spells can dish out tremendous damage, and can cover much greater range than everyone else's attacks (with her Lightning spell in particular shooting large orbs that home in enemies from anywhere on screen). However, she also takes an extra bar of damage when hit by any attack like Grant does.
- Godzilla Threshold: The Belmont Clan was banished from Wallachia long ago out of fear of their "superhuman" strength. Who better to take on ol' Drac than a badass Belmont?
- Hard Mode Mook: On starting a New Game Plus, the medusa head enemies (themselves notorious Ledge Bats) are replaced by flying skulls. Whereas medusa heads move in a predictable wavy pattern, the flying skulls have a much more erratic wavy pattern. Every 'wave' they make can be one of four sizes, selected randomly at the end of the previous wave, making them incredibly unpredictable and difficult to either dodge or kill.
- I Hate You, Vampire Dad: Alucard's conflict with his father started here, and only got worse in later games.
- Jack of All Stats: Trevor. He has the same abilities as Simon Belmont in the original game.
- Jump Physics: Grant is the only character that can control his jump.
- Kaizo Trap: When you defeat Dracula's final form, the platforms floating around must complete their cycle before the orb appears for you to touch and finally claim victory. During the wait for the platforms to land, you can still fall into the Bottomless Pits that formed from the platforms flying around, thus dying and having to fight Dracula all over again. And it can take a few seconds for the platforms to land too, meaning time could run out before you can even touch the orb if you have little time left.
- Kill It with Ice: One of Sypha's subweapon freeze the opponent which then allow you to defeat them in a single hit while they are in this state.
- Lost in Translation: The English manual calls whip-wielding skeletons "Gates of Death". While this is a literal translation of their Japanese name "Shimon", it misses the Punny Name of them being skeletal Simon Belmont due to their whips.
- Mutually Exclusive Party Members: Besides the limit of only taking one at a time, you have to choose between Sypha and Alucard's routes.
- Named by the Adaptation: The Evil God seen after defeating Dracula's second form is named "Sarnath" in the Nintendo Power guides, based on the name it gives to Stage 6 as "The Sunken Shrine of Sarnath". Normally the location is called the "Sunken City of Poltergeists".
- Grant's basic attack in the Famicom release is to throw a dagger, effectively giving him the dagger sub-weapon for free without consuming hearts. The NES release changes it to a short-range stab attack.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Grant is a Pirate Acrobat Thief, being able to climb walls and ceilings and fighting with a dagger - specifically as a thrown and spammable dagger in the Japanese version, basically giving him a free version of the typically heart-consuming subweapon.
- Nintendo Hard: The stairs are worse than the first game. You used to be able to hold right/left plus up/down to walk smoothly onto stairs. Here, you have to stop and hold up/down. Damn You, Muscle Memory! makes this EVIL if you played the first game. It's also harder to use powerups on the stairs, being almost random whether pressing B while holding up (to go up the stairs) will use your subweapon. Also, lurching screen vertical Auto-Scrolling Levels where enemies appear out of thin air after part of the space necessary to see them is already visible, levels where you have to go upstairs with a dozen turrets and Gargoyles, not starting on the stairs before Dracula when you die (you go back to BLK A-02) like in most other Castlevania games, at least one ridiculously stretched jump, etc. Oh, and there's two levels where you must fight 2 and 3 bosses in a row, respectively, and that's not counting Dracula, who has 3 forms. You have to beat BLK A-02 and three sequential bosses in the form of Dracula and the Evil God on the same health bar and time limit. It's much harder than the first game in many ways.
- Nostalgia Level: The entrance to Dracula's castle is very similar to the first stage from the first game, complete with an updated version of "Vampire Killer", titled "Deja Vu". The layout resembles the fifth stage of the original as well, complete with the fight with Death.
- One-Winged Angel: Dracula has two such forms in the final battle; after you defeat his first form he turns into a floating five-headed monstrosity that vomits acid on you. Then, after you defeat that, he turns into a huge gargoyle-like creature that fires lasers at you, while you have to maneuver on floating circling platforms that rise from the ground over Bottomless Pits.
- Power-Up Letdown:
- Alucard's fireballs each deal a third of the damage that Trevor's whip does, resulting in them failing to one-shot numerous Goddamn Bats that it would have otherwise been useful for, and hitting with all fireballs will only deal as much damage as Trevor's whip, except you'll have to be considerably closer to enemies than the whip's maximum range to hit with all three fireballs, which with the attack being laggy will likely result in you getting hit in the process. Plus if you immediately fire again after hitting something, the subsequent attack may not spawn all the fireballs. But most aggravating, the attack inexplicably can't be used on stairs, leaving Alucard helpless if he doesn't have a Stopwatch with enough hearts to spam.
- The Stopwatch, due to it costing 5 hearts instead of 1 per usage unlike other subweapons, its complete inability to affect bosses, and other subweapons being able to easily handle regular enemies without costing you so much hearts.
- The Knife; while it does give Trevor a projectile that goes across the screen pretty fast, each Knife deals about 2/3rds as much damage as Trevor's full power whip, which has far reach as it is. Additionally the Knife can only hit a single target, so it can't go through multiple enemies nor projectiles like other subweapons, and it can't be used to hit enemies above or below Trevor that he would really need coverage for. Having the Knife is better than nothing, but players will almost always opt for other subweapons, especially for bosses, and avoid the Knife like the plague when they have another subweapon.
- The Invisibility Potion; it's an Invincibility Power-Up that makes you temporally invulnerable, but its effect is very brief in a game where you move slowly, so when you get it you'll barely get to utilise it. Additionally there's only a single instance in the game where it can be found (near the beginning of the Pirate Ship), in an easy level section you won't need it for at all, while it'll never appear as a random drop from destroyed enemies to potentially help you elsewhere. It's a wonder why the developers even bothered to include it in the game when its use is so limited and it's practically Dummied Out.
- Progressively Prettier: This is the only game where Alucard is depicted as a brunette with a more rugged appearance. His next appearance, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, made him a young-looking Bishōnen, the sequel radio play's artwork made him even prettier, and the two Sorrow games made him look more "normal" by having him disguising himself to look like a model for a men's suit company. Castlevania: Judgment, on the other hand went full Dude Looks Like a Lady.
- Put on a Bus: Grant and the DaNasty family, besides brief mentions and doppelgangers and his drastically (unneeded and unexplained) redesigned appearance in Judgment. The DaNasty family has never appeared in the proper games since Dracula's Curse. Dawn of Sorrow has a mode where you can play Alucard and descendants of Trevor and Sypha - Hammer was originally intended to be playable here, possibly implying something, but that was cut, and there's no mention or sign of him being a DaNasty anywhere else. Most brazenly, the cartoon based on this game, at least in its first two seasons, has further ignored Grant (and with season 2 ending in Dracula's defeat, Grant seems to have officially missed the bus on being part of it).
- Since Grant's motivation is that Dracula killed his family, not being mentioned ever again might be a sign that there isn't a DaNasty family anymore.
- There is an obscure novel that took place after Dawn of Sorrow which features a girl coming from the DaNasty clan, thus Grant managed to settle down and have descendants.
- Recurring Boss Template:
- Alucard's boss battle is the same as the boss fight against Dracula's first form in the original Castlevania, but significantly easier; Alucard's fireballs can all be destroyed by a whip swing the instant Alucard fires them, Alucard transforms into slow moving bats to move around the field that gives the player a lot more time to react instead of disappearing and suddenly reappearing, Alucard deals less damage, and Alucard requires 10 whip hits to defeat as opposed to Dracula's 16.
- The Leviathan/Lesser Demon is pretty much the same boss fight as Dracula's second form in the original Castlevania; he even deals 4 bars of damage regardless of the version you're on like Dracula did and like Dracula's second form is the only boss in the game with a double health bar that requires 32 whip hits to deplete. Unlike Dracula he doesn't require being struck in the head to harm without Holy Water, and in the NES version, he only does high jumps but gets compensated by shooting out much larger fireballs than Dracula did.
- The Mummies from the first game reappear as bosses in the first phase of the Sequential Boss fights against the Spirit, being the exact same in the NES version except with less health, but were made a lot easier in the Famicom version as their bandages fire in a straight line instead of in an awkward wavy pattern.
- Death's first form is the same as his boss fight in the first Castlevania. This time though you fight him in a room where you have more maneuverability, Death requires 11 whip hits to defeat instead of 16, and he has a new second form you must fight upon defeating his first form.
- While Frankenstein's Monster returns as a boss in this game, this is averted as it's a completely different boss battle from the fight against him in the first Castlevania. This time he's a slow lumbering monster who fights by stomping the ground to make blocks from the ceiling collapse on you while periodically throwing a block at you, instead of just moving around while being accompanied by an Invincible Minor Minion that assaults you. Dracula also averts this, as his first form functions differently from his first form in the original Castlevania, while his second form and the demon following that are completely new.
- Regional Bonus: The NES version has a number of Cheat Codes that don't exist in the Famicom version, such as the "Help Me" code that grants 10 lives. It also has a secret hard mode.
- Samus Is a Girl: Sypha. In the original Japanese version, the prompt to take someone with you uses gender neutral pronouns, while the English version uses the masculine "he". However, it's revealed in the ending that Sypha is a woman and she and Trevor lean in on each other, having fallen in love.
- Sequence Breaking: Grant and Alucard can bypass the intended level progression thanks to their ability to crawl on walls and turn into a bat, respectively. Sypha can as well with well-timed uses of her ice spell to freeze enemies and use them as platforms.
- Sequential Boss: You fight an evil spirit that can bring to life up to three monsters: A cyclops, a pair of mummies and a Leviathan/Lesser Demon.
- Shared Life-Meter: Both Trevor and whoever he's traveling with share a life bar.
- Sleeves Are for Wimps: Grant doesn't wear sleeves in his artwork or his in-game sprites. In fact, in-game, he doesn't wear a shirt under his vest. (see Walking Shirtless Scene below...)
- Spell My Name with an S: Due to the game spelling out names with the Latin alphabet. They remain the same in Japanese, though. Overlaps with Early-Installment Weirdness.
- Grant's last name is spelled differently depending on the source (DaNasty in the English manual and DaNusty in the game ending)note
- Sypha Belnades' full name is spelled "Syfa Velnumdes" in-game.note )
- Due to "Blind Idiot" Translation, Wallachia is also misspelled "Warakiya" in the English manual.note
- In the Famicom version, the name of the Belmont clan is given as "Belmond" instead of the standardized spelling of "Belmondo" used in the other Japanese games.
- Squishy Wizard: Sypha Belnades. She has equal, if not lower, constitution than Grant, but her spells are damn powerful!
- Taken for Granite: Sypha before you rescue her. In the backstory for the Famicom version, she was aware of being petrified this whole time. How long she's been stuck there is anyone's guess.
- This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: The Stopwatch is usually considered a Power-Up Letdown, but is very helpful for helping you get past level sections that combine difficult platforming with infinitely spawning flying enemies; it's absolutely vital if you're playing the NES version's hard mode to get past level sections with the Skull Heads without tearing your hair out.
- Underground Level: Most of the Alucard routes. Half of Stage 4, all of Stage 5, all of Stage 6 (one of them, anyway, considering you could opt to play the Sunken Ruins instead), and several sections of Stage 7.
- Walking Shirtless Scene: Grant is usually depicted◊ as◊ one◊ in◊ artwork◊ (both Japanese and American), even though he's clearly wearing a vest and/or undershirt in-game (more accurate artwork here◊).
- Wall Crawl: Grant can climb walls and ceilings, making him useful for grabbing out of reach 1-Ups or effortlessly outrunning advancing walls of doom.