Castlevania is one of those titles that truly deserves its classic video game status. The horror-themed action-adventure series kicked off in 1986 when Japanese studio and publisher Konami launched the eponymous first game, and has been around ever since. Selling in the millions to a worldwide audience, and successfully branching out into anime and manga, Castlevania seared itself into the collective memory, forever a pop-cultural reference for each and any medium offering vampire hunting at the loud crack of a whip.
The series’ initial appeal isn’t hard to see. One of the very first games to offer a combination of a platforming mechanic with a certain difficulty and a dark(-ish), gothic setting, it tickled not only those who looked for games that challenged them, but also those who liked the theme and atmosphere. The side-scrolling adventure of Simon Belmont hunting down Count Dracula in his demonic castle, lashing out his whip as he climbed stairs and traversed dark corridors, all combined into an experience that at the time was unique.
Even though the Castlevania experience was first created for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), an 8-bit computer system that came with many limitations compared to today’s computers, it was obvious Konami’s artists had pushed the game’s style to its limits. In an era when video games were mostly colorful toys for kids, Castlevania’s horror-theme was seen as a ‘mature’ offering. Despite the NES’ limitations in graphics, Konami’s artists produced a convincing set of dark castle corridors and cellars, packed them chock full of monsters, bats, spiders and skeletons for the player to fight, and decked them out with props like cobwebs, holy water, crosses, and chandeliers. The atmosphere was further embraced by the game music. Although the composers suffered from the same technical limitations of the NES as the visual artists, they succeeded in bringing something fresh to the table: music written in minor keys, enhanced with gothic and baroque motifs.
The ruleset put in place by the first couple of games would inform much of what followed over the years. The visual baseline would be found in time-worn Hollywood tropes considering haunted castles and monsters, and yet over time Castlevania would develop a visual identity of its own. Much of this is owed to the work of famed character designer Ayami Kojima, on board since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997), one of the standout titles in the long line of games. A self-taught artist with a knack for finding strong character designs that complemented the established line-up of Medusa’s and Frankenstein’s, she brought the Japanese Bishōnen aesthetic of youthful and androgynous characters to Castlevania’s design style, but without turning it into the kind of teenage-romantic camp that give Bishōnen such a bad reputation in the West. Applying Japanese elegance to European vampire fantasies, she redefined Castlevania’s visual style to astonishing effect, creating a coherent artistic whole that has lasted ever since.
Because of this lasting appeal, Cook & Becker worked together with renowned digital artist Kilian Eng under official license from Konami to create a Castlevania tribute print in two variations.
Kilian Eng (also known under the moniker DW Design) is a popular digital illustrator with a large fan and collector base. “The Castlevania video games have always fascinated me”, Eng says. “From the amazing music, beautiful detailed settings, and its myriad of iconic enemies, to the inspiration the games find in mythology, horror literature, and film.” In his Castlevania tribute artwork, Eng sought to capture these elements and to present a setting “full of detail and mystique”, while also focusing on the final encounter with what he calls “the ultimate nemesis”, Count Dracula. Eng: “[In this work] Simon Belmont has climbed the steps of countless staircases on his journey through the castle, to finally meet his foe. It’s final boss time!”
The offical Castlevania tribute prints by Kilian Eng are now available in our online gallery.
The Gothic Success of Castlevania
News article by M.J. Brands
16 Nov 2017 13:00
Updated: 01 Feb 2019 16:01