Ever since the mid-eighties, the Belmont family has taken a stand against the Prince of Darkness, Dracula.
Others have joined the fight from time to time – the Belnades family, for example, and even Dracula’s son, Alucard – but for some reason the Belmont family has taken it upon itself to stand for humanity time and time again. Like the Joker to Batman, Dracula is a part of them. Without him, they’d be pretty insignificant. But why?
In accepted Castlevania canon, the 2003 PS2 title Castlevania: Lament of Innocence provides the origin of Dracula, and also introduces us to the first named Belmont, Leon. Informed by his close friend, Mathias Cronqvist, that his betrothed has been kidnapped by a vampire called Walter Bernhard, Leon Belmont heads to Walter’s castle in order to save Sara – his wife-to-be. In the process of rescuing her, however, it transpires that Leon cannot defeat Walter through simple means; he need the soul of a vampire to be infused with his whip to be effective.
Coincidentally enough, Sara is slowly becoming a vampire. Wanting her death to serve a good purpose, she insists on her soul being used to create the Vampire Killer. Leon is obviously distraught, but he agrees. With the Vampire Killer in hand, he heads into Walter’s castle and puts an end to him, only for Death to then offer up his soul to Mathias Cronvist – your best friend. He’s orchestrated it all, you see, in order to obtain the power to curse god for taking his wife away many years ago. He also offers power to Leon, but he refuses, being forced into combat with Death as a result. We later learn that Mathias has become Dracula, and Leon vows that the Belmont clan will one day hunt him down and destroy him.
Being a reboot of the series, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow isn’t the most popular Castlevania game ever made, but I feel it offers a more compelling origin story for Dracula. One that also adds more weight to the insistence of the Belmont family of fighting against him rather than just simple revenge. You see, you begin Castlevania: Lords of Shadow as Gabriel Belmont, a man determined to rid the land of evil. As a member of the Brotherhood of Light, that’s his purpose in life. Disheartened by the loss of his wife only days ago, however, he’s clearly now a man driven by grief.
Given hope by fellow Brotherhood member Zobek that he can bring his wife back to life by defeating the Lords of Shadow, he throws himself into his newfound task. What he doesn’t know, however, is that he’s being used. Dark forces are at work, and by the time Gabriel finds out, it’s too late. Manipulated by Zobek, who in turn was being taken advantage of by Satan, Gabriel is left heartbroken and alone at the end of the game. Then, with no further purpose in life, he reluctantly becomes a vampire in the game’s duo of story expansions in order to confront an ancient evil that threatens the safety of the whole world. The rest, as they say, is history, with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow‘s epilogue showing you all you need to know.
While Gabriel Belmont was successful in his task, he’s no longer himself. Now immortal, his life has little meaning. Full of hatred and despair, he isolates himself from the outside world, becoming a mere shadow of his former self. “Eu sunt Dracul!” he snarls at Zobek, who has sought him out over a number of years to ask for assistance, despite once using him for his own machinations. With Satan once again trying return to the world of the living, Zobek knows that Gabriel – no, Dracula – is humanity’s only hope.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, then, paints Dracula as both a scourge and a saviour to humanity. As the Prince of Darkness who has command of the creatures of the night, he is the cause of much misfortune, and must feed on human blood to survive. Without him, however, the world would have, and may still be faced with greater horrors. He is perhaps the lesser of two evils, but still evil nonetheless.
From there, the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series’ story becomes less noteworthy, and to consider it canon really starts causing issues. In both Mirror of Fate and Lords of Shadow 2, Dracula is pursued by members of his own family, Trevor Belmont and Victor Belmont, raised in secret by the Brotherhood of Light and given little information about his origins. As such, they head out to destroy Dracula, believing him to be a true monster. Of course, they find out the truth as they get closer to achieving their goal, but being lied to for most of their lives leaves them more conflicted than anything.
I much more like the idea of the Belmont family knowing full well that they are descendants of the man now known as Dracula, and have taken it upon themselves to keep him in check. As an origin story for the whole Castlevania series, I feel the story of the original Lords of Shadow works rather well. It gives Dracula more personality, making him more than just some figure of evil who must be destroyed at all costs. And it gives a clear motivation for the Belmont family to pursue him century after century, preventing him from causing harm to mankind while also being aware of the hardships he’s endured. He is the originator of their bloodline, after all.
The Dracula presented by Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the missing piece of the Castlevania puzzle. It ties the Belmont family to him, making them duty-bound warriors rather than convenient forces of good who happen to have the right tools for the job. It’s perhaps inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but playing older Castlevania games with the mindset that Dracula was once a Belmont gives them more meaning. Richter, Simon, Juste; they’re not just fighting for the hell of it, they’re fighting because that’s what they do. Dracula is family, and brought back time and time again by those who wish him to wreak havoc on the world, they know what they must do. It’s a part of them.
Protecting humanity isn’t the only reason for the Belmonts to confront Dracula, it’s to also once again give him peace. They know that somewhere deep inside is Gabriel Belmont, a troubled but kindhearted man who did what he could to save the world but paid a grave price. A man who was perhaps further driven to despair by the death of Lisa, a human woman who managed to cool his temperament until she was killed upon suspicion of being a witch. In my eyes, Dracula is a pitiful soul who just can’t catch a break, and the Belmonts are his caretakers rather than murderers.