Konami’s illustrious Castlevania series is one of the most well-known and beloved side-scrolling series in gaming history. Starting with the NES Castlevania, the series evolved from a difficult 2D platformer into a Metroidvania which invited exploration and RPG elements. Not only is Castlevania known for its stellar soundtrack and gameplay but features a remarkable history of boss battles as well.
However, it’s worth noting that the series’ boss battles evolved over the course of decades. While Castlevania was always known for its difficulty, the boss fights themselves only offered a simplistic variety of attack patterns. Rather, once the series debuted on the Nintendo DS, Castlevania boss fights quickly became tougher.
Note that this list will cover the 2D Castlevania titles from the NES (1986) to Harmony of Despair (2011). This list is meant to cover the evolution of the boss fight creativity within the Castlevania series over the years. With that being said, please be mindful of the Castlevania series spoilers below.
Traditional Platformers – NES
1986’s Castlevania featured boss fights from horror novels, movies, and even the Christian Bible. Among them included Vampire Bat, Medusa, The Creature, the Mummy, Death, and Count Dracula himself. Each boss featured considerably simplistic patterns. However, Simon Belmont’s limited movement made evading their attacks difficult.
Castlevania III featured several characters including Grant Danasti. This agile pirate could freely control his jump movement in midair. In the Japanese version, he could also throw Knives while also equipping another sub-weapon. Grant could trivialize most boss fights including Dracula.
Traditional Platformers – 16-bit era
Super Castlevania IV gave Simon free movement control. However, unlike Grant, Simon was considerably larger and thus not quite as agile. Boss fights still played as they did in past games with large health bars but limited movements and simplistic patterns. Despite some bosses being tougher, they could still be trivialized with proper methodology.
Castlevania Bloodlines featured two characters – John and Eric – while Rondo of Blood also featured two characters – Richter and Maria. In Bloodlines, the final boss fight was blocked with a major gauntlet of boss battles including Death, Elizabeth, and Dracula himself. Rondo of Blood also featured a boss gauntlet against the original four bosses from Castlevania before fighting the dark priest, Shaft.
Metroidvania Era – Symphony of the Night
When Symphony of the Night came to PlayStation in 1997, players gained control of a new character: Alucard. Son of Dracula, who originally appeared in Castlevania III for NES, this revamped design of Alucard could equip swords, magic spells, and summon familiars. The Metroidvania era meant the game progressed akin to titles like Super Metroid which featured a map and free exploration. However, you needed to gain certain powerups or keys to gain access to another part of the castle.
Alucard’s free movement, his equipment, the item inventory, and RPG leveling mechanics gave the player new ways to conquer bosses. While some could pose a challenge to the player, proper equips and well-timed dodges could trivialize most of them. Particularly, weapons such as the Valmanway (aka Crissaegrim) or the Alucard Shield + Shield Rod combo effectively rendered all challenge null.
Granted, it took a bit of time and work to even access these items. Symphony of the Night allowed the player a bit of a challenge up until a little past the first half of the game. But with such equips, even the game’s superboss, Galamoth, could fall within seconds.
Metroidvania Era – Game Boy Advance
Years later, Circle of the Moon, which came to Game Boy Advance in 2001, offered a bit harder of a challenge. I daresay you needed to grind levels in order to take out Adrammelch, Zombie Dragon, Camilla, and Dracula. Nathan needed to find DSS cards in order to cast magic and summon creatures. In my case, I just used a DSS glitch to summon Cockatrice to level the playing field against the bosses.
Neither Harmony of Dissonance nor Aria of Sorrow presented much boss challenge in their Normal difficulty modes. Bosses still moved with their stiff movements. Rather, only the rival battles against Maxim and Julius, respectively, could really be considered challenging for the player. Julius in particular dealt out harsh damage and could use multiple sub-weapons in his boss battle.
Metroidvania Era – Nintendo DS
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow continued the Game Boy Advance titles onto the stronger hardware of the Nintendo DS. Dawn of Sorrow was in fact a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow. However, the spritework and use of 3D backgrounds, thanks to the stronger processor of the latter handheld, ran more in line with Symphony of the Night on PlayStation.
However, what stands out here is the particular design of boss battles. Players who failed to read and memorize its pattern would end up punished and lose tons of health compared to past games. Whereas it might be easy to be a bit overleveled in the GBA titles, the DS games knew how to punish the player’s mistakes and give them the right challenge for their approximate level in line with their location.
Order of Ecclesia took it a step further. Released in 2008, the final true Castlevania title by series producer, Koji Igarashi, offered an even more difficult challenge than its predecessors. In addition to bosses that dealt hard damage to the player, hoarding items was scarcely an option.
Players needed to rescue the villagers of Wygol Village and complete side-quests in order to unlock shops and items from them. In addition to the challenge, you could kill bosses using unique methods as well. Climbing an elevator to kill a giant enemy crab or fighting several phases of a powerful mech golem painted Castlevania’s noteworthy boss fights in a new light.
Extra Modes and Other Titles
While players may debate on the difficulty of Symphony of the Night, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow, keep in mind it offered unlockable character modes. Richter, Maxim, and Julius could all be unlocked from these respective games. Moreover, they could not take advantage of the RPG elements such as inventory and equipment. While they could dish out powerful attacks, they were also subject to greater limitations than their respective game’s main protagonist.
Harmony of Despair
Finally, Koji Igarashi’s last game for Konami was Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. Playing as an online multiplayer dungeon crawler, the 2011 title featured a series crossover involving protagonists and stages across multiple games in the series.
Largely taking cues from the DS titles and Symphony of the Night, these bosses required proper strategizing among teammates thanks to their high HP count which could take minutes of dealing damage to finally slay. Furthermore, certain bosses, such as Galamoth and R.Count (from the retro Castlevania stage) could even send out projectiles to attack players outside of the boss room!
Final Thoughts on Castlevania
Castlevania and its boss fights evolved with the times. Throughout the years, it went from bosses with fairly predictable and stiff movements to boss fights against powerful demons and even mechas. Their ever-changing patterns and high damage punishment made games in the latter titles even greater than their predecessors. Furthermore, the boss battles against rival characters, such as the Belmonts themselves, usually ended up being among the hardest.
Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained Series
Koji Igarashi formed his own studio, ArtPlay, after leaving Konami. Having developed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, you can find more of his genius designs in this game. Additionally, Inti Creates developed two 8-bit retro spinoffs, the Curse of the Moon series, to accompany Ritual of the Night.
These games offer their own twist on the Castlevania boss formula with a more elaborate pattern akin to something like Shovel Knight. WayForward also developed the Classic Mode in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night which featured a major throwback to the original NES Castlevania.
There’s nothing bad to take away from the original boss fights. However, after the fairly easier titles in the original Metroidvania (or IGAvania) titles, the DS titles easily had some of the best boss fights in the series. I daresay they set a new standard for boss fights in platformers thanks to their challenging, yet balanced, level of difficulty. Their quality spritework, animations, and creative ways of defeating them left DS fans some of the best boss fights in gaming history. But until Konami ever revives the series I recommend investing time into IGA’s Bloodstained titles.
Which Castlevania game do you believe had the best boss fights overall? Let us know in the replies below. Finally, be sure to Like our main page and follow our social media channels for more quality gaming content!
Until next time!