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Castlevania Legends (Game Boy) artwork

Castlevania Legends (Game Boy) review

"'An embarassment' - Koji Igarashi"

Originally developed for use by the Symphony of the Night team but later refined for public distribution, the Castlevania timeline has a number of omissions. Circle of the Moon (a GBA launch title), Castlevania on N64 (originally intended to be the next flagship game in the series), and Castlevania Legends (next title after Symphony) are all absent. Thereís a number of explanations for this. Publicly, Igarashi--who oversaw the Castlevania series after Symphony--has stated that they were excluded at the request of the development teams as they were side-stories that were never intended to be canon. Circumstances suggest otherwise though, as the excluded games were by rival teams within Konami that were later absorbed under Igarashiís oversight. The team that created Castlevania Legends, KCEN, also created the technically inferior port of Igarashiís magnum opus Symphony of the Night to Sega Saturn, adding new apocryphal content without his consent.

Beyond company politics, another reason was suggested in an EGM Interview before the release of Lament of Innocence. Igarashi was asked directly about creating a Castlevania with a female protagonist, to which he said this:

EGM: Would you make a Castlevania with a female main character?

IGA: Hm, there are difficult problems with that. As a gamer, I think that you become one with the character, and since Castlevania has a lot of male players, it's natural to have male characters. In Rondo of Blood, Maria was a silly, cute aside, but you still had Richter to make it serious. [...]

EGM: After Tomb Raider, don't you think a female character is more acceptable?

IGA: It's possible I guess. Although, I purposefully left the Sonia Belmont character (from Castlevania: Legends for GBC) out of the official Castlevania chronology. (laughs) Usually, the vampire storyline motifs, females tend to be sacrificed. It's easier to come up with weak, feminine characters. I'll think about it more in the future, though. It's tough to fit a female hero into the early history of Castlevania, but as you move into the modern day, females can then more easily become a hero.

While there are some sexist undertones here, itís made more complex that Igarashi went on to direct Portrait of Ruin, Order of Ecclesia, and Bloodstained--all which have strong female leads. Simply having a female Belmont does not seem like a reason Legends has been written out of the Castlevania series.

A straight-forward reason for removing Legends from series canon is that itís story makes no sense. Legends heavily implies that Sonia Belmont has a child with Alucard, which would make the future Belmont clan descended from vampires. I donít think thatís as head-scratching as anything else in the series, but it does make it impossible for the Belmonts to use the Vampire Killer, their signature weapon that is a bane to all creatures of the night that should touch it.

Iíd like to offer a new reason for keeping Legends out of series lore--a reason that Igarashi ignored it while he was with Konami and why Konami has not re-released it any compilations or collections. A reason that does not rely on politics, sexism, or fictional lore about killing vampires with a magical whipwhip.

Because Castlevania Legends is terrible.

To be more nuanced, Legends is embarrassing. It calls back to nothing that makes Castlevania unique, nor does it understand what makes a game good in general. While the fantastic art of the intro screens make a nice impression, the first stage does not. The largely flat level with falling spiders and floundering sausages (?) is as uninteresting as it is long, unlike the grating 20 second rendition of Blood Tears that accompanies it. There are some branching paths that donít lead anywhere interesting, hearts that donít do anything, and a blandness not seen in any other game in the series.

Castlevania Legends screenshot Castlevania Legends screenshot

Deceptively impressive sprite art (left); attacking a flopping sausage thing (right).

Legends completely misses what makes the pre-Symphony Castlevania games great--their deliberate and careful design. The first Castlevania is pain-stakingly designed to have enemies in interesting places, to give players tools for these challenges, and to frustrate players in a way that feels like the game can predict what they are going to do. When you look at the pattern of a medusa head or the movements of an axe armor, itís clear that a lot of effort was spent studying the playerís abilities and to base challenges around those.

Legends fails to understand the design of its predecessors. For example, the first level of Legends has a lot of overhead enemies falling from trees. Since Sonia can only attack horizontally, she has to stop and wait for them to come down before she can do anything about them. In other games in the series, a careful player could find an axe or a cross sub-weapon to approach the problem in a more interesting way. Instead, Sonia needs to constantly stop and wait. Stop and wait. Stop and wait. This slows down the already long levels in a way that is boring rather than tense.

Castlevania Legends screenshot

Sonia has no abilities to deal with situations like this, which is frustrating rather than challenging

Sub-weapons are actually completely abandoned here, replaced with some fairly useless magic abilities that are received after defeating each boss. Some of these are redundant (such as a projectile, which Sonia can do natively with a powered-up whip) and none of them supplement Soniaís abilities in a meaningful way that would encourage using something other than standard attacks.

Making magic even more useless is Soniaís innate agility compared to Belmonts before her. She can change trajectory in mid-air and even walk while crouching. This makes some parts of the game easier, but also makes the action less interesting than other pre-Symphony Castlevanias since there is less commitment to movement, a defining trait of the series. Replace Sonia with a rabbit whipping a carrot and I could be convinced that this is some generic licensed game instead.

Boring and frustrating are the best ways to describe Legends approach to level design. The same amorphous enemies populate each stage, often approaching from above where Sonia needs to just wait for them. Sometimes striking a candle (which usually provides hearts you donít use anyway) will transport Sonia to a trap room, where enemies respawn continuously for a brief period of time. Sometimes an enemy comes out of a candle instead. These are brain-dead tricks that underscore the lack of design creativity in Legends.

Castlevania Legends screenshot Castlevania Legends screenshot Castlevania Legends screenshot

Sonia being attacked by penises that rise out of the floor (left); a "trap" room with constantly spawning enemies (middle); Dracula dressed as David S. Pumpkins (right)

While levels will sometimes branch in different directions, donít expect to find anything interesting at the end. Sometimes thereís a collectable, non-useable item; other times thereís just health that barely makes up for the health you wasted getting there and you have to back-track anyway.

Bosses are also incredibly dull and incredibly easy provided you still have burning mode available, a 10-second invincibility power that can be used once-per-life. The challenge is not the boss but preventing yourself from inadvertently activating and burning through burning mode before getting to the boss, since it is activated by pressing A and B together--you know, the two buttons the player is pushing all the time. Even without burning, most bosses are still a breeze thanks to the healing magic ability--what else are you going to do with all those hearts?

I came into Legends bent on liking it. The female protagonist, the apocryphal story, and contempt it receives made me think Legends suffered in the same way as Castlevania II: Simonís Quest did--misunderstood and the subject of unquestioned Internet ridicule that it might not deserve. I was hoping to find a hidden gem, sandwiched between the masterpiece that is Symphony of the Night and the venerable guano storm of Igavanias that were about to follow on GBA. Released months before the Game Boy Color, Castlevania Legends underperforms to the standards of 1997 and arguably would not have met the standards of 1990 either. It is neither innovative nor interesting.

Igarashi was being tactful when he said ďLegends remains something of an embarrassment for the series.Ē There is no ulterior motive, sexism, or narrative reason Legends was swiftly forgotten by fans and ignored by Konami. It's just a boring, bad game.

dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (October 07, 2021)

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