When Bram Stoker sat down in 1897 to write Dracula, did he know he was penning the first ever video game design document?
Okay, so his publisher got him to drop the spike pits and lava level, and during his description of Lucy Westernra's vampirisation he didn't exactly write: "The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness. Also, she had massive hit points." But the simple 'break into Dracula's home to kill him' setup is pure Castlevania.
Technically, the games only clash with Stoker's tale with the arrival of John Morris in Castlevania: Bloodlines. He's the son of Quincy Morris, one of Stoker's fearless vampire killers. Bloodlines - the only Mega Drive Castlevania - proposes that Quincy Morris is a descendent of the Belmont clan, a lineage blessed with beefcake genes that has supplied Castlevania with many of its heroes.
Simon Belmont was the first, but his roots are confusing. His 1986 debut outside Japan was the MSX 2 title Vampire Killer, but this was a port of the Famicom Disk System's earlier Akumajo Dracula (the franchise's name in Japan translates roughly as Devil's Castle Dracula).
What was released in 1987 as Castlevania is the NES port of Akumajo Dracula. While Vampire Killer and Castlevania stem from the same title, the NES and MSX birthed very different games.
The powerful NES delivered Akumajo Dracula's side-scrolling action-platforming, but the MSX broke heftier levels into more manageable chunks. The distinction defines the series to this day: what are the explorable keeps of recent Castlevanias if not scrolling maps chopped into more manageable chunks?
The transition from side-scroller to full-on explorable castle - known as the Metroidvania genre (referring to the similarities between Castlevania and Super Metroid: mainly how the increased move-set opens up new areas of the map) - was gradual, a sense of freedom coughing and spluttering through six iterations.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1988) made a big leap. Travelling the world in an attempt to destroy Dracula's scattered body parts, the journey included Zelda II-like towns and a day/night structure that toughened your foes during nocturnal jaunts.
Two years later, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse hacked out the freedom of movement but bolstered side-scrolling exploration with multiple characters. In the wall-climbing, magic-using and bat-transforming skills of Curse's Grant, Sypha and Alucard we first see the idea of special abilities that now define the DS titles. Shanoa's glyphs in Order Of Ecclesia are the best example, but bat-morphing has been popular since PlayStation's Symphony Of The Night.
Strange then, that in 1991 Konami released Super Castlevania IV for the SNES - an action-platformer as linear as they come. Worked on by many staff who soon left to form Treasure, it's an undeniable visual powerhouse, but a step back to the original Castlevania.
The same year saw Konami let down its hair for a rare spot of silliness in the Famicom's Kid Dracula. Although the cartoonish style was drastically at odds with the grumpy Belmont adventures, elements of it were absorbed into the main franchise - the villain Garamoth was a boss in Symphony Of The Night.
Elsewhere in Non-Official-Vania-Land is the 1987 arcade machine Haunted Castle. Famous more for its unholy cabinet poster than its gameplay, it's notable for also featuring many of Kenichi Matsubara's iconic Castlevania tunes (such as Bloody Tears).
Despite Castlevania IV's attempts to drive a stake through the series' RPG leanings, such mechanics are as prone to revival as the Dark Lord himself. Rondo Of Blood (1993) on PC Engine was the first 'Vania to feature a fully explorable castle. Not released in the West until a PSP port in 2008 (and later on Wii Virtual Console), a watered down version appeared on SNES as Vampire's Kiss in 1995. Kiss offered multiple paths to one location, but the branches were severely trimmed - much to the chagrin of Rondo Of Blood fans who found their shortcuts replaced with death pits.
Symphony Of The Night is where our history bus reaches its highest peak. Considered the peak of Castlevania excellence, it brought together the best ideas of its predecessors: explorable castle, special abilities, tremendous music and lovingly crafted visuals.
Since then the franchise has seen a number of rebirths. Throughout the noughties the series' home was considered Nintendo handhelds, with three brilliant GBA games and a further three excellent DS titles pushing the Metroidvania system to its limits.
More recently, Lords Of Shadow has delivered the rewarding polygonal Castlevania adventure many never thought was possible, and its 3DS spin-off Mirror Of Fate (coming soon to XBLA and PSN) show there's still life in the Metroidvania genre too.
In all there have been 40 Castlevania games, with the upcoming Mirror Of Fate 2 marking game number 41. We hope Stoker's getting royalties
Ask a Castlevania fan what their favourite game is and the response could be one of any number of games, such is the series' diversity and history.
The NES original, Symphony Of The Night, Circle Of The Moon, Super Castlevania IV, Lords Of Shadow - all are memorable games that brought something new to the series.
And yet there are plenty of Castlevania titles over the years that have disappeared into the history books, either because they weren't good enough or because they were mere spin-offs to the main titles.
With that in mind, here are ten of the lesser-known Castlevania games that you may not have had the chance to play.