Impressions — Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls

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By Josh Nichols on September 24th, 2021

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Some things will eternally rise in the dead of night, and Konami’s action franchise seems to be one of them. Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls is an action-adventure platformer that focuses much less on exploration, which sounds strange given that filling in the map as a percentage increases has long been a staple of the series. More recent entries instead seemed to embody much more of a God of War aesthetic, with more of a focus on action, rhythm, and pressing on. Grimoire of Souls feels like it sits right in the middle of the two common Castlevania types.

Grimoire of Souls carries the role-playing elements from the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance era of games but it has the focus and determination of the later 3D titles. It’s an interesting blend of aesthetics and mechanics that largely works, even if it was a weird journey getting here.

The Grimoire of Souls. Or There and Back Again.

Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls started life as an iOS and Android title, available exclusively in Canada, until it was pulled. Grimoire of Souls was completely discontinued on September 9, 2020. The game was completely removed from marketplaces and stopped existing almost as quickly as it started. And then out of nowhere, Konami announced the Grimoire of Souls was back from the dead, ready to live and fight again, but this time exclusively on iOS devices via Apple Arcade.

I wasn’t able to play the title when it was first available so it’s difficult to make too many comparisons but it seems to be the same game, outside of a few changes. The biggest change from the original release is the multiplayer component has been completely removed, but there’s also another nice change. The newest iteration of Grimoire of Souls doesn’t contain any microtransactions, outside of you know, the monthly fee needed to play the game, but more on that later.

Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls mostly feels worthy of the franchise title. Combat feels smooth, fast, and fluid as you move your character across the bite-sized levels, which is perhaps the largest departure of the core series, particularly the 2D titles. Grimoire of Souls doesn’t have the same focus on exploration. The game still has an exploration-based mechanic but it lives within menus.

Gameplay takes place across levels that are set within Castlevania-esque locations. It sounds like it wouldn’t work but it’s actually quite nice, especially when considering the game’s platform and format. Levels may be largely linear in nature but they contain all the necessary ingredients and flavors for a Castlevania experience; they’re just packaged and framed differently. If you’re looking for a standard Castlevania experience then it might not do but the game feels like Castlevania outside of the framing being different.

Exploring Levels Instead of Maps

Well, and it almost functions as a ‘greatest hits’ of the series, with different characters and locations from across the series. It sounds cliche, especially in an age running rampant with metaverses and IP crossovers, but it’s really not. It just kind of works. The story pulls aspects and inspiration from Harmony of Despair, including the Grimoire itself, and manages to utilize a convincing enough framing for action-adventure buffet.

The story follows Genya Arikado and Lucy Westenra as they fight to contain overflowing amounts of dark power within the Grimoires, magic books that contain details on the past events of Castlevania. For players, this means an excuse to see series favorites, such as Simon Belmont and Maria Renard. For the heroes of the story, it means being able to call for help from allies across time.

It isn’t the strongest story in the series and the lack of exploration feels like a big omission at first, but everything clicks after a few seconds of gameplay, like any great game. As you move through different Castlevania-themed locations and complete challenges, currency and items needed for upgrades and new abilities become available. Different difficulty modifiers can provide additional rewards if players can still survive and make it through levels alive.

I enjoyed running through levels repeatedly. Each level has a few different challenges, like killing every enemy or finding a specific secret treasure chest, and it makes running back areas exciting. After completing each challenge and using the rewards to unlock numerous upgrades, I’d run through levels several more times. This time with the difficulty modifiers active. It’s a fun way to grind for unlocks and gear, which is where the core gameplay loop lies.

Bite-Sized Vampire Hunting

Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls may not be the best title in the series but it’s one of the best mobile titles I’ve ever played. To that end, you may not like this if you’re looking for a traditional Castlevania experience. But what Apple and Konami have managed to do is impressive and quite important. This could be a beacon for the future of Apple’s game subscription, which aims to be a home to smaller experiences that are more refined and polished than a typical mobile title. Grimoire of Souls is absolutely that. It may lack some of the features from a console counterpart, but does that really matter?

Symphony of the Night will always be one of the greatest titles in the series, and it’s still widely available. At this point, I don’t really need another Castlevania experience that’s identical to half the titles in Steam’s storefront. Metroidvanias are everywhere now. Yeah, I still want some big-budget 2D adventures in Metroid and Castlevania, but Grimoire of Souls manages to feel like everything before and something new simultaneously, and that’s kind of nice for a series that’s been in limbo for such a long time.

I can’t recommend Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls to everyone, especially since it’s currently only available on Apple Devices, but I can say that’s worth checking out for anyone that enjoys Castlevania. I think I’m going to stick with it for at least a few months, but I think every fan of the series will at least get a few hours of fun out of the title. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in creativity and its interesting delivery approach. I’m so excited about trying different Castlevania flavors for 20-30 minutes every day for the next few months, and that’s not something I’ve been able to say for a long time.

Use a Controller

Hacking, slashing, and transforming into mist to evade and explore feels just as good as ever. The game supports the use of a controller, which is how I would recommend playing the game, but it’s set up well for touch-screen controls if that’s something you’re comfortable with. The touch-screen controls felt good enough for me but lacked the accuracy and responsiveness I was able to find with an Xbox controller. Apple devices support practically any controller that’s capable of Bluetooth though, so you should have something to use.

Daily unlocks, weekly rewards, and a variety of summons, characters, and abilities should keep players invested for a long time, or until they’ve had their fill. Grimoire of Souls feels like the ultimate Castlevania buffet. I don’t know if I’m going to finish it through all the way but I know I’ll be adding more to my plate for at least a few months. For the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the future of Castlevania games. And I can’t believe Konami made it happen on mobile platforms. Now we just need a large-scale multiplayer Bomberman to make an appearance on Apple Arcade…

Josh really likes video games. Horror is their favorite but they also like other stuff.

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