Here’s a weird one.
If we can credit me with anything it’s that I can find the origin of heroes, story elements and event sentences apparently. So the question arises: is it possible for me to get stumped?
That answer is yes.
I’ve gone on a fair bit about Castlevania as a franchise and how I find it neat. It’s almost like a gothic horror version of the Raid: Redemption. I especially enjoy the Metroid inspired games for their use of RPG elements. And yet it never occurred to me… okay it totally occurred to me what that might be like as an RPG scenario.
But then I came across Ravenloft. Now to some of you Ravenloft is one of the Dungeons and Dragons worlds that gets mentioned a lot like Planescape or Forgotten Realms. Okay nothing gets mentioned as much as the Realms but you know what I mean.
The premise of Ravenloft is based around the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventure module of the same name. In it you travel to the land of Barovia where you (and your friends) are lured there as part of an elaborate ruse. Your adversary is Lord Strahd a vampire that has gained power over time and controls the land with an iron fist. His castle, the eponymous Ravenloft is full of different monsters that Strahd has collected like zombies, ghouls, all inspired from different sources.
So obviously this rips off Castlevania! After all Castlevania came out in 1986 and the first Ravenloft module came out in 1983 so…
You have to admit, there’s a resemblance.
This is one that I’ve had a devil of a time researching. In my initial investigation I couldn’t find any source that could definitively say that the Dungeons and Dragons Ravenloft adventure was at all inspiration for Castlevania let alone find proof that the fabled pen and paper RPG had any traction within Japan.
Now the best way to figure this out is to look at the Japanese Role-Playing game. Surely if we look at the date of the earliest progenitor of the Japanese RPG (or JRPG) we’ll be able to make conclusions. That is also problematic. Now the obvious contender for the world’s first JRPG would by Final Fantasy but that’s wrong to go with and you’d be wrong to do it. Your second pick, if you’re savvy, would be Dragon Quest being the origin of the JRPG.
And you’d be close.
Dragon Quest was created in 1986 and most, if not all, JRPGS are derived from it. But there are earlier ones. Games like Hylide and Dragon Slayer (both released in 1984) are also RPG games but obviously weren’t of enough quality to be regarded widely as progenitors.
But here is where it gets interesting.
In 1985 a company opened up called Shinwa that imported TSR (Now Wizards, the guys who make D&D) products to Japan that were translated for Japanese fans.
So, there we go. 1985 is a year before Castlevania and Dragon Quest came out, therefore the dates work, right?
Nope, because you forgot development time. According to legend Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii was inspired in 1983 during a trip to AppleFest which he won as part of a contest by Enix. The other winners were also key members of the Dragon Quest team. Inspired by the Wizardry series of games, he wished to bring those elements over to Japan and develop a franchise for it on the Famicom.
You can see the inspiration clearly.
And thus history. But that means that if a Japanese RPG franchise can claim no direct inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons (though it is by proxy through another game series) what about Castlevania? Is it inspired by Ravenloft?
Well if we adhere that Shinwa started porting TSR products in 1985 then that might not be enough time to expect such a game to be produced. But prior, fan translations did occur and saw some distribution but I have no evidence to support that the development team of Castlevania ever played Ravenloft.
Part of the problem is that the majority of the staff for the game are held in mysterious confidence since the game credits for the first instalment are all joke names. The truly famous name behind Castlevania is Koji Igarashia (Iga for short) who would convert the series into its Metroidvania style with his work on Symphony of the Night (1997) which carried forward until Harmony of Despair in 2010. That would conceptually be the closest the franchise would be to Ravenloft with the implementation of a levelling system and the option to explore Castlevania at your discretion. It would also be the most favoured period of the franchise.
Aaand that’s it.
I’m serious. That’s all I could find. Despite rigorous hours of searching, trying to find a clue that ties the two products together, I haven’t gotten one step closer to making a connection. No interview by Igarashi ever mentions Ravenloft and by time he had taken over it was already established that Castlevania had a wide bevvy of famous monsters.
If there was a larger date margin to work with I could assume more but a one year difference isn’t enough to draw a reasonable conclusion when you factor in development time. Even if Simon Belmont looks like a typical D&D warrior with magical equipment suitable for the era the distance is too far and there just isn’t enough proof.
Which, in a rare instance leaves me quite stumped. I don’t know, maybe I’ll come back to this one in the future. Maybe someday I’ll talk to a game developer that will fill in the holes or an archivist with a Castlevania fetish.
Or maybe this might just be the one that goes down in the books as inconclusive. Who knows.
So too does this work exist.