Castlevania Review – A Must Watch

“I’m Trevor Fucking Belmont”

I’m a massive Castlevania fan. I don’t mean that in a sense that “Ah yeah, I enjoyed a bit of Symphony of the Night.” No no. I’ve clocked at least 200 hours of Harmony of Despair on Xbox 360 from back in the day, sleepless nights grinding for items with buddies. I’ve got a tattoo of the box art from Chronicles on my shoulder, so needless to say I kind of like Castlevania.

That isn’t me waving my Castlevania ego around either, to be honest, writing it out I think I may have a bit of an obsession. Regardless, I was rather apprehensive at the announcement of the Castlevania Netflix series. To say Konami have somewhat mistreated the IP would be a bit of an understatement. The core creator left the company, the attempt at turning the series into a modern action game was backpacked, and a last ditch effort to create the ‘classic’ Castlevania feeling by that same team fell pretty flat.

A Pachinko game is the most recent thing Konami has done with the IP. The faith in Konami was lost, and I feared the worst for the series. I woke up this morning and used my half hour before I had to catch the bus to watch the first episode.

After finishing it, I knew everything would be just fine.

The Story

The Castlevania Netflix series combines a few elements across the board. It’s based on Castlevania 3 but uses the Alucard design from Symphony of the Night. It adds a layer of familiarity for just about every generation of Castlevania fan. Like the NES game? We’ve got references for you. Only love SoTN? We’ve got your back. No idea what Castlevania is and don’t care about the lore from the games? Fret not and sit back.

It’s an easy to understand story that gives fan service, but also a simple jump in. My wife has never played a Castlevania game from the classic days, just Dawn of Sorrow on the DS. She sat with me in the morning and came to the same conclusions I did. It was a neat experience, as I got to see someone with 0 expectation from the show, and sit there with my nerves and worry for the worst. Every time I smiled, she did. Every time I grimaced, she did.

You expect to watch a show about a whip-wielding hero fighting a big bad guy. But instead, Castlevania introduces us to Dracula and his motivations. We find out why the land in the game is overrun with monsters; there is a reason for it. The cannon fodder beasts have a reason behind their existence. It’s a story of a man and his anger against the folly of man and how he feels they’ve wronged him. You get to see the effects of his rage, what cities are affected, the innocents suffering for it.

Castlevania’s story is simplistic to understand, but rich with subtext and references for fans and newcomers alike.

The Characters

Characters have never been the strongest point for the Castlevania series. At least to the general public, if you take the dip in and look at the lore behind the Belmont Clan and Dracula, there is quite a bit to enjoy. But on the surface, most people don’t realise there are other Belmonts beyond Simon. It’s a sad factoid, but one that the TV series looks to rectify that quite a bit. The opening of the show alone establishes Dracula as someone you can relate to.

But the real star of the show is as he puts it in a drunken bar fight, Trevor Fucking Belmont. Easily one of the best characters ever put to film, a trope done before. Yet done incredibly well in this instance. Trevor is pretty much a sarcastic bastard wronged by the world, and yet there are so many layers to him! You’ve got a few other great characters, and if you’ve played Castlevania 3, then you’ll know in advance who Trevor’s party will end up being. If you do know the full cast, know that they do them all justice. We won’t spoil one of the best members of the team, but rest easy knowing that you’ll be wanting to see more of him.

The characters have the benefit of being voiced by a great cast of actors. Sometimes. Why did I say sometimes? Actors versus Voice Actors can be a bit… hit and miss. So while we have people like Graham McTavish killing it as Dracula, there are instances where their acting background does not fit with the voice acting role they have to do. Brief grunts or battle sounds just sound a bit strange, simply because they aren’t used to mimicking a grunt without doing the action. Often in Animation, a head turn is accompanied by a slight “Nnnh.” or something of nature. In Castlevania, these actions just sound a bit strange.

Otherwise, the characters have been written very well, look fantastic, and sound great.

The Animation

Fans of anime will be at home with the animation of Castlevania. I grew up watching things like Trigun, Hellsing, Orphen, and Vampire Hunter D. The TV series continues this tradition of style that has a level of edge and realism that establish the show as something an adult can enjoy. This isn’t just something they decided on a whim either; the Castlevania series has a history of being stunning. Ayame Kojima and her self-taught artwork built a foundation for how the series would look, staring off during Symphony of the Night.

Her work was like a Mucha painting combined with Japanese anime, elegant, dark, and engaging. Konami did mess around with the formula a bit, like the god awful conventional anime designs for Dawn of Sorrow on the DS. Castlevania is best when the characters invoke a feeling tragedy and realism. Dark palettes for the tragic characters, and lighter palettes for those who still hold hope in light of the horrors of Dracula.

While the design and tone are on point for the show. The actual animation is a bit… hit and miss. You’ve got instances of the classic Flintstones walking cycles, where you take a still image and move the image up and down to simulate walking, chest upwards so you don’t see the actual movement of the character’s hips and feet. Some scenes didn’t feature 2 shades on their characters, making it feel unfinished and rushed.

While fight scenes were captivating at points, it took some getting used to. While I enjoyed the battles I was treated to, it felt like watching a fight at 20fps. Trevors whip will look majestic in motion, but Trevor himself will take a full second to jump away from danger. It’s hard to explain really, but you get the feeling that the show was animated by a team who were given a modest budget, told what scenes need the most focus, and cut corners where they could.

This is in the way a fault to the show unless you need to be watching a show with such fluid motion that it might as well be a live action movie, no no. Castlevania gets by just fine, and at times I found myself admiring just how much design work had to go into making the skies, buildings, and more look so damn nice. Just be aware that it might look a bit stiff at times.

The Sound

The TV series does not ride the coat tails of the games when it comes to the soundtrack. You’ll not find any Vampire Killer tracks here, instead, you get a decent enough score, but nothing you can really take away and go “Ah, that is the definitive sound of the Castlevania TV series.” No no, sadly the show sports a very modest soundtrack. The opening even is a generic sounding piece that you could find in just about any standard fantasy show.

Now, that does not mean I hate the soundtrack. It wasn’t grading or anything it got by! Voice acting I already touched on, packing fantastic performances all around from the cast barring a few hiccups that you’ll find from any actor who decides to do some voice acting. However mixing in the show could use a little bit of work, the final battle, for example, feels a little odd. Depending on your audio set up, you’ll more than like desire more echo or ‘oomph’ behind the exchanges.

It’s sad to say, but while the sound of Castlevania isn’t doing anything right, it doesn’t do much in the first place.

Overall Thoughts

The Castlevania TV series is great. Simple as. It’s a treat all the way through, despite a few hiccups, all of them are easily ignored in favour of the things it does right. Design, Characters, and Story. It has these traits in spades and executes them so darn well. I never thought we’d see a TV show based on Castlevania 3 show up in 2017, but it’s easily one of the better projects brought to use by Netflix. But why is that? Because it was made by a fan of the games.

Adi Shankar is the man leading the charge. He got the likes of Warren Ellis to write the story, and the fantastic cast of actors to partake in this great project. Adi has been dipping his fingers into every manner of geeky passion that he has. Judge Dredd fan films, even did Power Rangers in a gritty fashion before the proper movie came out! He is no stranger to wearing his geeky loves on his shoulder and doing everything he can to bring the series some acclaim.

Thank you Adi, you glorious eccentric bastard <3

Anyone who wasn’t a fan wouldn’t think to pick Castlevania 3 as their structure. More than likely, if it wasn’t Adi, we’d have some bog standard adventure with any member of the Belmont family trying to defeat Dracula and forced themes of morality shoved in there. It’d be cringe and wouldn’t work at all. Probably end up over-complicated down the line as well. Thankfully though, Adi knocked this out of the park. Because he got the freedom to do so.

The main issue I have with the series is how short it is. You get the feeling that Netflix didn’t want to commit due to the niche nature of Castlevania, and while Adi has confirmed we will see more episodes in the future, it feels a bit… well, small. The celebration we get is nought more than 2 hours, and that is it. I loved Castlevania, and I want to enjoy it more! But for now, all we’ve got is this short but sweet little series.

Beyond that, we’ve got the crown jewel at last. A video game adaptation is faithful and just works. Why on earth did it take so long?

That was our review! What did you think of the new show? Let us know in the comments!

Fan of Retro Gaming? Then visit FunstockRetro.co.uk – The #1 for Retro Gaming in the UK and Europe!