Although most of the content on this site is written assuming a passing familiarity with the Castlevania series, it's important to take a moment, at the start, to establish just what this whole game series is about. To that end, we present a basic primer on what you need to know before jumping into the world of Castlevania:
A Land of Monsters
The Castlevania series was inspired by the classic movie monsters produced by Universal and Hammer films in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. These horror films told tales of Frankenstein (and his monster), the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon (over at Universal), Carmilla Karnstein (at Hammer), and, the big one, Dracula. Dracula's name is even in the Japanese title for the series: Akumajo Dracula, translated as "Demon Castle Dracula".
Based on these inspirations, the Castlevania series draws not only monsters but also style and substance from the Gothic horror movies that came before. This created, as the developers on the originals titles described it, a "cinematic experience". A hero goes to Dracula's castle, located in Romania, a crumbling edifice filled with evil monsters (like Frankie and Mummy) and dastardly traps, all to reach Dracula at the top of the castle. Although in the movies Dracula is shown hiding in the dankest depths of the castle's cellars, in these games Dracula hides out at the top of the Castle Keep, awaiting the heroes that will try to stop him.
Of course, once the heroes have defeated the Dark Lord, the Prince of Darkness, Dracula, the vampire lord is sent to his final resting place... which is vastly less final than advertised. As in the movies that serve as Castlevania's inspiration, death is but a revolving door for Dracula; in the series, it is expected that Dracula will return every 100 years. His magic builds, the stars align, and Dracula rises from the grave. It can happen more often, though, if his minions are involved. They can perform rituals, find bodies to serve as hosts for Dracula's power, and bring the Dark Lord back pretty regularly. That 100 year deadline is set in stone, though -- no matter how many times he's been resurrected in the interim, once the 100 years has passed, Dracula pops up like a spring flower, ready to once again take over the world.
A Family of Heroes
Since Dracula's return from the grave is all but a certainty, heroes are needed to defeat him and save the lands of Romania. Thankfully, there's a family of heroes who train specifically for that task: the Belmonts. For centuries (either starting in 1094 AD or 1450 AD, depending on the version of continuity you accept), the Belmonts have stood as the single line of defense against Dracula's dark and evil magics. They're sworn to go to Dracula's castle each time it appears high on the Borgo Pass (the mountainous lands of Dracula) and fight their way to the Dark Lord himself, sending him back to his (temporary) grave.
To do that, the Belmonts wield a powerful, magical whip, the Vampire Killer. Although traditionally vampires are killed via a stake through their heart, the Belmonts rely on the holy damage of their whip, which can cut through even the strongest of dark magics. They will supplement the power of the whip with other battle relics, like a holy cross and holy water, to aid in their battles with the evil of the land. If Dracula is back, it can be trusted that a fully-equipped Belmont will appear on the scene to rid the land of evil.
Well, that is until the 1800s. At this point in the timeline the Belmont family mysteriously disappears. During their absence, other protectors of the Vampire Killer arise, the power of the holy relic entrusted to them along with the mission to protect Romania from the evil of Dracula.
A Series of Games
The Castlevania games, all published by Konami (although sometimes developed with external teams), are primarily side-scrolling action-platformers. As the Belmonts use weapons in their fight against Dracula, emphasis in the series is put on enemy placement as well as traps. In contrast to a game like Super Mario Bros., the heroes in Castlevania have to manage their health wisely -- they don't have to worry about losing their weapons or abilities if they take damage (unlike Mario), but they also don't have to use enemies to reach higher places (no jumping on enemies for extra height).
Many of the original games in the series follow this basic action-platformer template. Later games in the series, though, put additional emphasis on exploration, mixing in RPG-style elements and item collection so that players are forced to grow their characters as they search the castle. These games are considered part of the Metroidvania genre, and this trend was cemented with, perhaps, the most popular game in the entire Castlevania series, Symphony of the Night.
Spin-offs and Reboots
There are over 20 games in the main Castlevania series. However, there are also two spin-off series worth mentioning. The first is the Kid Dracula games, parody games made by Konami that star Dracula's son as he leaves the cozy confines of the Demon Castle to prove himself the biggest villain in the land. Like the main series, these games are side-scrolling platformers, and they nicely poke fun at the conventions of the main series while still playing well within the general outlines of the parent games.
Later, Konami also produced a set of three games that completely reboot Castlevania continuity. Titled Lords of Shadow, these three titles (later joined by a non-continuity pachislot game) follow the the rise, fall, and rise again of new protagonist Gabriel Belmont as he fights against the growing evil of Satan. These game are action adventures, with the first and last being fully 3D games (the middle entry, Mirror of Fate is more of a Metroidvania title by comparison).
Of course, if we look further afield, there's also the Bloodstained series, a series of games produced by one-time Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi (aka IGA). These games are essentially Castlevania in all but name and, for those interested in the series, they are a great next stop to get your gaming fix.
Basic knowledge in hand, it's now time to go explore the whole site. Although everything is open to you, with plenty of cross-links to other content provided throughout the various articles herein, we invite you to start with The Castlevania Series. That section will take you through each game, providing context and illustrating how it fits into the overall series. There will also be cross-links to take you to deeper articles on the stories of the various games as well as reviews by the Inverted Dungeon staff. It's all you need to learn about the series and become a Castlevania super-fan.