-[The Aberrant Gamer is a weekly, somewhat NSFW column by Leigh Alexander, dedicated to the kinks and quirks we gamers tend to keep under our hats-- those predilections and peccadilloes less commonly discussed in conventional media.]

There are some twenty games in the Castlevania family released in the U.S., and the series is relatively simple thematically in comparison to some of its other long-standing contemporaries. The premise from one game to the next is generally simple, and yet the series is beloved for a certain flair. Even in its more primitive days, it added atmosphere and a certain sense of dread thanks to several key elements that repeat in most, if not all, of the titles in the quintessential gothic horror franchise.

For example, the resurrection of a dark lord along with his avatar, a castle so grim and dread it almost seems a living thing, is the usual fashion. It’s usually a safe bet these days that a Castlevania game will likely feature Legion as a boss, that fleshy orb swathed in an army of shambling corpses. One can expect to find oneself in a chapel in the Catholic style, and probably in a clock tower, too. A veritable menu of gourmet comfort foods, from pasta to sushi, is inexplicably dropped by ghostly creatures of myth. Most of all, the majority of the games share monsters in common, and a brush with Death is usually king among these.

But it’s Castlevania’s cruder beasts who are most responsible for its style – even in the earliest eras of the most basic sidescrollers, the elaborate, haunted bestiary set the game apart. Many a button-mashing eighties baby who stayed up late exploring the infested annals of Dracula’s castle found himself unable to sleep, wondering at the creepy, cursed history of those gruesome monsters that was explained in more detail – often one or two unsettling sentences – in the bestiaries of later titles, a cast of characters that, in large part, survives numerous revamps to return, reviled and welcomed, in Castlevaniatitles to date.

Some of those monsters just happen to be really, really cute chicks.

Symphony of the Night, widely regarded as the crown jewel in the Castlevania franchise, added more of the lush and rather gruesome detail to the franchise's creatures of horror – which might have seemed slightly more ridiculous if exaggerated in favor of the beautiful. A gothic zombie-hacking vampire sidescroller could have easily been silly, a running gag, but this depth gives the series gravity. Each monster has always been, and continues to be in the modern installments, complex in its own way, with an unusual amount of both visual and contextual detail.

It’s a strange sort of honesty – with a monster compendium comprised of creatures rooted deeply in myth, history or human superstition, the fact the game didn’t shy away from bare-breasted harpies or seductive succubi imbued it with a certain maturity. Though far more graphically complex, the God of War games also come to mind, with their hideously exposed Greco-Roman Medusae – but unlike those, whose necks Kratos so viciously breaks, the girls of Castlevania are, impossibly, outright adorable.

In a homage to a series whose bestiary has become a beloved part of the gamer’s visual lexicon, Aberrant Gamer presents to you the five cutest, creepiest, most aberrant female monsters from Castlevania. Aren’t you just loath to kill ‘em?

“A demonic maid in the employ of an earthly baron.” It’s so easy to fetishize maids that this column mentions it regularly, but Persephone in particular stands out. After spending time cleaving through hordes of rotting zombies and swooping devils, the sight of this traditionally-uniformed, frilly-capped little lady executing a charming bow is pleasantly incongruous, momentarily disarming. The unarmed Persephone will attack with a little bit of karate when you get close enough, and another incarnation will assault you with a vacuum cleaner made from bones. What's really frightening - and titillating - is the idea of a monster that resembles nothing more than a human girl, in immortal, automatic servitude to a grim, invisible master, conjuring a despair that rings in the broken cry of Persephone when she falls to her knees in defeat.

-Frozen Shade
“Ice-wielding female spirit.” It would be quite clear that the blue-skinned, glistening wraith is indeed female even if the bestiary did not clarify this point, because the shimmering slice of her figure is unclothed. It’s a graceful, classic silhouette, though the ice crystals that surround her – and the huge pillars of ice she summons – don’t make her a promising romantic partner. Frigid and forbidding, she nonetheless retains a touchstone of female concept in the way her hair swirls about the arch of her nape.

“Demonic Puppet From Hell.” In Dawn of Sorrow, she’s called Demon Doll, and described as “a murderous doll that wanders about in search of living bodies.” These nude and ball-jointed blond mannequins lurch ominously toward you by way of attack. It’s not a stretch to see how these pale, womanly mannequins are frightening – and even without their vaguely erotic howling, it’s not too hard to see them as sexual, either. Especially if you’ve played Silent Hill 2.

-Venus Weed
Though her bestiary descriptions and even her name vary (she’s called Alura Une in the portable games), it’s made clear that this flowering plant is raised on blood. She’s not a venus fly trap -- her sudden, seductive emergence, shrouded only in her hair, from the center of a rose is more evocative of the goddess Venus than of the deadly plant. She’s often shown with pink hair, and a cute, child-like face, and arches her body and flips her hair as she attacks, not doing much to attempt to cover herself, unlike the caricature image here.

“Female demon. Invades men’s dreams.” Long-standing mythology is explicit about what it is succubi do in men’s dreams, and the Castlevania succubus doesn’t make any pretenses, either. Scantily clad (a variation on the succubus sprite, Lilith, has no top on), she attacks by blowing kisses, always shimmying just out of reach. Her low purrs and giggles – and the moan rent from her throat upon being defeated – are enough to make anyone blush. In Symphony of the Night, Succubus was a boss, famously confusing Alucard, (who could be said to have some Oedipal issues), by posing as his mother. In Dawn of Sorrow, the succubus appears disguised as Yoko Belnades– the blonde bombshell who is not Soma Cruz’s sweet little girlfriend – wiggling her hips, and only ditching the misleading disguise when you get close enough. In Portrait of Ruin, upon defeating a Succubus, the player is left with the echo of her last words as she fades away -- a low, sensual refrain of, "I'm so lonely."

Honorable mention goes to the beautiful, coquettish little Witches, the smaller and more charmingly incompetent Student Witches, the adorable Valkyrie and Erinys who appear as a radiant woman's face when summoned as a soul, and, of course, Portrait of Ruin's demon nurse.

Sexuality and horror have often gone hand in hand. When taken out of context, all appetites are frightening, placing blood lust on equal footing with lust of other kinds. Charm and poison are cousins -- both figuratively and as fellow status effects in common RPGs, to make a literal analogy. In the high-ceilinged steeples and lushly-appointed towers that form the backdrop of the Castlevania worlds, the bare flesh becomes a sinister portent, as if mocking the character's vulnerability, and the echoes of those eerie, feminine little cries and hollow, bubbling laughs become as darkly haunting as the sound of zombie flesh tearing. The tired stereotype about gamers is that they're all boys who are afraid of women -- but as charming and cute as they appear in a sprite retrospective, the girls of Castlevania are, in their own right, quite scary indeed.

[Leigh Alexander is the editor of Worlds in Motion and writes for Destructoid, Paste, Gamasutra and her blog, Sexy Videogameland. She can be reached at leigh_alexander1 AT yahoo DOT com.]