Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls
Konami doesn't care much about the Castlevania series at this point. That, at least, is the opinion of fans of the series as of 2020 AD. Once the series saw regular updates, consistent releases that might not have always pushed the series in new directions but did, at least, deliver reliable game play. In recent years, though, the series languished in the hands of the original studio. The last big releases were all part of a barely-connected spin-off series, Lords of Shadow, and the rest of the materials to come out were all pachinko gambling machines or repackages of previous games. The last proper release for the series was Castlevania: Harmony of Despair ten years prior.
But then Konami decided to put out Grimoire of Souls, a game in the vein of Harmony of Dissonance -- a mobile title, yes, but developed for co-op play with plenty of new levels, new action, and much for the characters to do. Yes, sure, it was meant to be a platform for micro-transactions, a way to bleed money out of the fan base, but at least it was actual new content that wasn't going to be Japan exclusive (like the pachinko machines). Surely Konami would finally treat the series right again, in some way.
But then, a year after the game was put in open beta in (primarily in Canada) with only a selection of the planned playable chapters completed, the game was been canceled, consigned to the dustbin of Konami's indifference. What happened? Why has the game gone the way of only a few Castlevania games before it (The Bloodletting, Castlevania Resurrection, and Castlevania '08)?
Well, for starters, the game itself doesn't seem to have been much loved by the fans that played it. The basic action was perfectly, fine, adequate even, with controls that worked well enough considering the medium. As it was a game designed for mobile phones, all the controls are done on screen, with a touch-pad "analog stick", attack, and guard "buttons". Although you could use a plug-in controller for the game, the game play was designed around these on-screen controls and that affected the basic playability of the title.
Because of the controls, much of the series' expected action had to be toned down. Sure, you're still exploring stages, killing enemies with regularity (your weapon dealing damage, slicing off their health bars, as little numbers float up). But when you compare this game to Harmony of Despair, or even any of the classic titles, the levels feel more sparse, the action less intense. The game goes through the motions of a Castlevania title, but the substance in there to make it special is missing.
Likewise the heroes were missing something as well. The characters felt floaty, especially if you got them in one of their air combos. As this was a post-Lords of Shadow title, the game seemed to try and strike a balance between the classic-era heroes and the new-school fighting of the spin-off series. This goes a long way towards explaining why some characters, like the Belmonts, are so combo heavy -- they feel like the vampire hunters from Lords of Shadow even if they look like their classic counterparts. They don't feel like they should, at all.
Like Harmony of Despair, the game does feature equipment and items drops from enemies and plenty of things to collect. Players just couldn't expect to get a lot of the good, or rare, stuff in the game without a lot of grinding. That's because the goal was to get players to pay for all the good stuff -- pay for loot boxes, pay for time, pay for gems. If Konami couldn't milk as much money out of the players as possible there was something wrong with Grimoire of Souls.
And that's probably why the game was canceled: there wasn't enough to do in the game: five relatively short chapters by the time the game was canceled without a lot of new content additions or characters to play with. Players would easily get bored and stop paying (or playing) until the next chapter was added, but the chapters took time and money to develop and, at a certain point the money coming in from players probably wasn't enough for Konami to justify further development. Last report was that there were at least three more chapters that were going to come out, none of which will happen now, so the story of the game will likely never be completed.
It's hard to classify the game as far as the overall series is concerned. Certainly fans of the game got to play Grimoire of Souls... at least, if they played in Japan or Canada. The planned U.S. release of the title went the same way as those three missing chapters, an afterthought that now will never happen. Not that, for all reports, fans were missing much. It was a grind fighter without that much to speak of, a fine and competent game that no one would have paid much attention to were it not for the Castlevania in its name.
At the same time, it's very much a canceled title. It will never be completed, it will never live on in the collections of fans, and it wouldn't surprise us if this game gets swept under the rug, with Konami pretending it never attempted a game called "Grimoire of Souls".
Legacy of Grimoire of Souls:
It's hard to say what the long-term effect of this cancellation will be. Certainly Grimoire is dead and we doubt very highly it will ever come back, in any form. Anyone wanting to play the game had to be quick before the game was removed from Online stores in September of 2020 (and, of course, they'd have had to hack their phones to act like they were in a region that got the game). Or they'd have to find copies of the game floating around Online and find a way to install those on their phone (the legality of which is questionable at best). Of course, with the Online marketplace shut down, who knows how much of the game is really worth playing even after all that effort.
We would have said that the cancellation of Grimoire would spell the end for mobile Castlevania titles, but then along came Castlevania: Moonlight Rhapsody, another mobile-only title this time developed for Chinese markets. Maybe that region will be more receptive to the game than Japan and Canada were or Grimoire of Souls; we'll wait and see.
What we really have to wonder is if Konami even cares about Castlevania anymore? Will there be another game to come out sometime five or ten years from now, or will they just sell the IP (as has been rumored) and move on with their pachinko business? Fans would certainly love to see someone else, someone that cared, take over the franchise instead of seeing it relegated to mobile titles and erotic gambling machines. Until then, who knows what more can come from the Castlevania series?