It’s often said in fiction that a setting can have a personality of its own. This usually means the place feels real and lived in, and its very presence evokes emotions we can identify with. Very rarely is this idea taken literally outside of the occasional haunted house. That said, the idea of a place that is truly alive, and evil to boot, evokes an incredible sense of menace. Living beings are one thing, as they can be killed, imprisoned, or outwitted. A location with sentience and malevolent will, especially one that cannot be escaped, is a much more difficult challenge, because where does one strike? What can anyone do to a place without seeming like a madman? How can one destroy such a setting when it is guarded and surrounded by endless waves of servants? One of the most powerful and terrifying malevolent settings is Dracula’s Castle, otherwise known as Castlevania, from the eponymous game series.
Castlevania is described by several characters in the series as a living creature of Chaos, with the ability to manifest from Hell at least once a century. Each time it returns it is slightly different, but many aspects remain the same. It always has legions of horrible and powerful monsters willing to do its bidding, many of which respawn through the castle’s power (this is obviously a game mechanic, but nevertheless it serves as a nice way of explaining it). The castle also has more permanent residents as well, such as the Grim Reaper, not to mention its Dark Lord, Dracula himself, who always seems able to return from death, no matter how often he is destroyed. Without Dracula, the castle crumbles to dust, but its power is such that it never truly dies, and finds its way back into the world in a scant hundred years.
While Dracula is usually referred to as the master of Castlevania, and there seems to be at least some sense in which this is true, I don’t believe the matter is so clear cut. Dracula’s death and resurrection is remarkably similar to that of many of the other monsters who appear and reappear throughout the centuries, in that his personality and powers change throughout time. This seems to suggest that the castle is using Dracula as much, if not more, than he uses it. The castle exists before Dracula as well as after him in the Castlevania timeline, so his presence can’t be that crucial to its existence. It’s as though the castle needs some sort of host, a human will or intelligence to guide it, but it pushes this host to carry out its will. What would happen to the Dark Lord if the castle ever succeeded in its dark designs is difficult to say. Would Dracula rule the world in its stead, or would the Dark Lord eventually give way as the castle’s power grew? Having a figurehead like this would also be useful to a creature like Castlevania because it tricks the heroes into focusing on the lord rather than it, and assume the threat is gone when the lord dies. It is stymied by this, but obviously never dealt any long-term harm.
This brings us to motivation. What possible motivation could a place have? It seems to want to manifest on Earth, for certain, and it’s suggested by Dracula at times that he wishes to remake the world with “searing flames of Chaos”. What this means is up for debate, but given that the castle is referred to as a creature of Chaos, the connection seems obvious. It could be seen as some sort of intelligent virus, attempting to spread from its own world into ours, and rewriting our world to be more like itself. It tries to accomplish this by luring in powerful heroes, often by capturing their loved ones. While this seems at first glance illogical, the series sometimes refers to a cosmic balance of good and evil, and as the castle falls squarely on the side of evil, perhaps it must eradicate those who represent good in order to shatter the balance and make way for spreading its presence in the world. Difficult to say with any certainty, but the evidence presented suggests as much, and gives reason why Dracula continually targets the Belmont clan, who have a weapon capable of killing him.
Castlevania is terrifying because it is initially easy to overlook, but ultimately, when one begins to consider it the threat, the puzzle pieces fall together and becomes frightfully disturbing. While the Belmont clan and their allies battle the lord of the castle, they never think about how the castle itself might be defeated, and in truth, there probably is no way they could. Sadly, this leaves them fighting the symptoms, while the disease waits patiently, watching for the heroes to inevitably fall away, and its time to finally arrive.