Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
As a follow up to Castlevania II, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Akumajo Densetsu in Japan, translated as "Legend of the Demon Castle") takes a more "back-to-basic" approach. Featuring a new hero for the series -- Simon Belmont's many-times-removed ancestor Trevor Belmont -- Castlevania III forsakes the innovations of the previous NES entry, returning us to a (more-or-less) linear adventure to destroy Dracula in his castle. No searching for body parts, no upgrades to purchase, no RPG elements.
And yet, despite what it removes, Castlevania III is not a step back for the series. The game features a drastically expanded adventure, with most of the game happening outside of Dracula's castle grounds. The adventure begins in Warakyia Village, and Trevor has to venture from there through the lands of Romania, over multiple different potential paths, to get to the castle. It's a substantial quest, with plenty of areas to explore especially if the player wants to see everything the game has to offer.
Along the way, Trevor will encounter three other heroes -- Grant DaNasty (a rogue), Sypha Belnades (a sorceress, although the English translation of the game made her male), and Alucard (Dracula's son) -- all willing to aid Trevor in the defeat of Dracula. Only one of them can adventure with the Belmont at a time, leading the play to strategize about which character would work best for their play style.
On top of the substantial quest and options, Castlevania III featured improved graphics and sound (especially if you have the Japanese edition with featured an additional sound chip built into the cartridge to substantially boost the music of the game, a chip that didn't work in the American version of the NES console). No one is going to claim the NES was a power house, but for it's time Castlevania III made the best of the little system, creating one of the best capstones for any trilogy on that console.
What is interesting is that, for this third NES adventure, the Castlevania too inspiration not from the Metroidvania titles Konami was cranking out but from another game within the company: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yes, that game, which gives you four heroes to choose from, and switch between on the fly, along with a large, interconnected, but linear world, served as the bar to beat when developing Castlevania III. The goal was to create a game that not only played better than the Shellheads' first NES adventure (which this game easily does) but also outsold that title as well (of note, from Konami's own numbers, the first TMNT was their most successful NES title). On that latter count, the game sadly did not manage to best the Green Wonder's numbers.
In every regard, Castlevania III is an improvement over the original Castlevania. While it takes a more familiar path than Castlevania II, it does so with great skill and aplomb, learning and improving from all the Konami games that came before. As the last of the Castlevania series for the NES, Castlevania III is a fitting finish to an era of gaming.
Unfortunately, as far as sales were concerned, this game underperformed in comparison to even the 800,000 copies sold of the original NES title (although those numbers have gone up with re-releases and the beloved legacy of the game). This led Konami to break up the original Castlevania team, spreading its members to various other groups within the company (with some of the leaders of the group, such as series creator Hitoshi Akamatsu, leaving the company entirely). From this point forward, even as the company continued to explore the series, Castlevania would end up feeling different as it passed among very different hands within the company. That makes Castlevania III a conclusion to the series in a number of ways, leaving it as a bit of a bittersweet grace note for the end of the NES saga.