Dark Souls is the best Castlevania game in ages. AGES. And it is the first good 3D Castlevania game, period. Has it evolved? Is it better than the past Castlevania games?
A Tale of Three Castles
Now, which Castlevania is Dark Souls more like? The PS1 classic Symphony of the Night, or the first Castlevania? I'm going to say it's a successful blend of both. Let's start with the basics, what makes these games alike and what makes them great.
When it comes to exploration, Dark Souls is more like Symphony of the Night, with its "open world." And by "open world" I mean a world with side areas segmented by locked doors. That said, exploration of said side areas is insanely exciting. When I went down into the castle's basement (known as The Depths), it reminded me of going down into the caves in SotN. This is a feeling that the original Castlevania doesn't have. Mostly because it's straightforward and doesn't let you look back. However, the original Castlevania has something else...
Excellent level design that makes combat a riddle, more than it makes it a temporary hindrance. Just look at the medusa head stage, it's perfectly annoying. Look at the enemy placement, it's designed to infuriate you. You have to KNOW the level. The enemy layout, the traps that await you. The timing, the hits, the jumps. This is something that SotN doesn't have. The enemy positioning can be interesting, and can require SOME ammount of strategy, but the "stages" are not as neatly constructed as they are in its predecessor. Dark Souls has that oomph. Around every corner, there's an enemy waiting to bite you in the ass, probably hidden behind some barrels, or skulking in the darkness. On the roofs there are zombies throwing bombs at you just as you are fighting with an undead soldier. The trees wait in ambush as you strike a giant statue monster. Knowing where things are, what they are and how they can fuck you up is key. And they WILL fuck you up. Over, and over, and over again. Which remind me of...
I'm not going to sit here and tell y'all that SotN is an easy game. It's not. I died. I died a couple of times. But that's nothing. You know how many times I died in the original Castlevania? I died more on one stage than I care to admit. Same goes for Dark Souls. It's madening how difficult these two games are. But they are FAIR. The mistakes are your own, it's not the game's fault that you've done goofed. Prepare to die, it's going to happen. A lot.
Arr Pee Gee
Dark Souls is like SotN in this regard. Hell, it's better. The systems are deeper than most current gen RPGs. You've got numbers for days. You're rolling around in stats. Everything is there. And it's not like everyone has a one charater. Nope. You can either be fucking shit up with fireballs, healing and casting miracles, stabbing fools in the back, guarding with a shield or going in with a giant two handed sword. There are no classes per se, but you are making a character. And everything you wear looks different. The loot is great and varried. This game is deeper than anything I've played in the last 5 years.
What's different then? Multiplayer is here, whether you like it or not. You can summon players and cooperate with them to kill tougher enemies, or just to screw around. But you can also be invaded by an enemy player, who will end you and take your humanity (one of two currencies in the game). You can also leave/read signs on the ground that will either guide players, or lead them to their doom. One sign pointed me towards a bug, and I had to use an item to get out of it. I wasn't even mad. I was intrigued.
It's also insanely unforgiving. You die, you loose your souls (you need them to buy items, level up, upgrade weapons and armor... well to do anything), you can corpse run, but if you die the second time, your current corpse replaces the one with the souls. You loose it all. That can suck, but it is also makes the game much more intense.
Play It, Live It, Tell It
Dark Souls is the next step in Castlevania games. It's weird, mysterious, exciting and doesn't bog you down with a story. It's also hard, unforgiving and requires constant vigillance. I was resting by the fireplace (checkpoint), and alt-tabed to a GB video. Next thing I know, my pad is rumbling, I alt-tab back in to see an enemy player kicking me off a bridge. "Dick!" I yelled, and laughed wholeheartedly. I tell this story to my friends. This is how legends are born.