Castlevania is the first 3D game in the Castlevania series. The player selects one of the game's protagonists to control: Carrie Fernandez, a young orphan gifted with magic powers, or Reinhardt Schneider, the whip-wielding heir to the Belmont clan (the series' recurring protagonists). Carrie and Reinhardt set out on a quest to stop Count Dracula's impending return to power after a century of dormancy. The characters travel to and explore Dracula's grand estate in their mission to defeat the count and his horde of undead minions.
Dracula reawakens in 1852, after nearly sixty years of enforced slumber, as a result of humankind's descent into vice and wickedness. Two young heroes sense his return: Carrie Fernandez, a girl gifted with magic powers, and Reinhardt Schneider, heir to the ancient Belmont clan of vampire hunters. The two set out to storm the Count's castle in the Transylvanian province of Hungary and vanquish him.
As they penetrate the castle walls, an aristocratic vampire appears to warn Carrie and Reinhardt that "all who oppose the Dark Lord will die". The two then come upon a decrepit villa, where they meet the elderly vampire hunter Charles Vincent, beautiful yet unwilling vampire Rosa, demonic salesman Renon and young boy Malus. Beneath the estate's maze garden lies a subterranean path to the castle's center, where Dracula's servants (Actrise and Death) attempt to waylay the heroes by pitting them in battle against their loved ones (the Fernandez warrior and Rosa).
Carrie kills her vampirized kin while Reinhardt beats Rosa in combat. The heroes then climb several of the castle's towers before confronting Actrise and Death atop the Room of Clocks. With their defeat, the heroes climb the Clock Tower to the Castle Keep.
If the hero took sixteen or more "in-game" days to reach the second chamber on the stairs to the Castle Keep, Vincent will have arrived before them, been defeated by the aristocratic vampire assumed to be Dracula and turned into a vampire (thus triggering the bad ending). The hero will then have to battle Vincent. Without Vincent's intercession, the hero will not discover that Malus was indeed Dracula reincarnate – not simply possessed by him – and receive one of the bad endings in which the hero rescues the boy.
If the player took fifteen or fewer days to reach the second chamber on the stairs to the Castle Keep, they will arrive before Charles Vincent (thus triggering the good ending). After fighting the vampire disguised as Dracula they will encounter Malus, who transforms into an adult and defeat him atop the Clock Tower. After his defeat, Malus will regain the form of a child. Attempting to dupe the hero, he will pretend to have no recollection of the battle, but Vincent will arrive and douse the boy with holy water. Vincent explains that Malus was not possessed, but was in fact Dracula reincarnate. Malus then transports the hero to an alternate realm to battle his true form, a centipedal dragon. After Dracula's defeat the player will receive one of the good endings: in Carrie's ending, she places a nosegay on her stepmother's grave. In Reinhardt's ending, Rosa, who sacrificed herself for him atop the Room of Clocks, is revived and her humanity restored.
Castlevania made its first public appearance in the form of a "sneak peek" at the April 1997 Tokyo Game Show, under the title Castlevania 64. Later in development at Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe (KCEK), it became known as Dracula 3D. United States news media referred to the game by this title as well as Dracula 64. When the English name was revealed to be simply Castlevania, fans and media alike nicknamed it Castlevania 64 to differentiate it from previous games bearing the same title.
In September 1997, the game was approximately 10% finished and was 20% complete in February 1998. In October 1998 the game was again featured at the Tokyo Game Show; several levels were playable and the game was a hit with the crowd. Later that month, it was revealed that KCEK decided to drop two of the planned four characters from the game "in favor of focusing the programming team's development efforts and moving completion of the game forward." In January 1999 a Japanese release date was set for March 4, 1999 and Castlevania won the "Game of the Month" award at IGN.com. On the 18th, it was announced that the U.S. release date for the game would be January 26, 1999. On that date, the game shipped as planned and was available the day after at a MSRP of $49.95.
The character design and artwork was created by Yasuomi Umetsu in an anime style.
Architecture in the game is predominantly inspired by French castles: The Villa's exterior is based on the western façade of the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau in France's Loire Valley. Dracula's castle drew inspiration from the famous Mont Saint-Michelon the coast of Normandy.