Castlevania is not known for it's 3D installments of the series. For the most part they have not garnered much of a fan base and tend to be lambasted in the gaming media. A lot of it has to do with this game which is continuously criticized by the gaming media and crazy fanboy people for having crappy graphics and control. It is true the latest console entries in the Castlevania franchise have not been exactly up to par for such a high profile series. However the reputation of this particular game is highly unfounded in my opinion, and is a good example of why the gaming media has it's head up it's ass.
The game centers around the usual whip wielding hero, named Reinhardt Schneider in this installment. A second character choice is Carrie Fernandez, who is this little witch girl who dresses like a circus acrobat and attacks with Chakrams (bladed throwing rings, although she doesn't throw them.) Carrie's main attack actually is pretty weak homing magic missile thingy. Each character has a first and secondary attack (knife slash for Schneider, ring slash for Fernandez,) and can slide, sidestep, crouch, crawl, hang onto ledges, etc. The R button centers the camera behind the character and locks onto the nearest enemy. You also have access to the traditional Castlevania subweapons, dagger, axe, holy water, and boomerang cross. Throughout the game you can save only at certain points where you find a "save crystal," also when you find a shop scroll you can summon Rennon the demonic shop keeper, who's most memorable quote is "...One needs gold even in Hell these days."
Each character has their own storyline and also progress through different levels. The game is a little more story orientated than past entries in the series (although it's become the standard for Castlevania games now.) FMA cut scenes tell the story of our heroes' attempt to save a kid named Malus who actually ends up being Dracula in disguise. The designers do a pretty good job of making you sort of care about the supporting characters as you end up having to kill most of them. Life in Transylvania is tragic indeed.
One criticism I always see about this game is that it's rather boring. Well boring? No. Slow moving? Somewhat. The first few levels drag out longer than they need to be. You spend a lot of time running through nondescript caves and caverns, climbing up rocks and crap like that. The third level has this hedge maze where you will get lost, in the meantime this invincible crazy Frankenstein-thing with a chainsaw chases you around. At first it's pretty frightening (and cool) but trying to navigate this maze while this thing continuously nips at your heels gets old pretty quick.
Thankfully once you get into the castle proper things improve a lot. Once you get inside the levels become more puzzle orientated and less linear, with a good assortment of enemies and larger, more challenging bosses. True there is a lot of switch hitting and key grabbing, but at the time when this game came out that was par for the course. Even the graphics and music improve significantly.
I think people don't like this game mainly because it's not easy. While most of the bad guys aren't too tough it can be a long way inbetween save crystals or shop scrolls. Some of the later puzzles are downright frustrating as well. There's this part where you have to carry this bottle of "Magical Nitro" in order to blow up this door (which also awakens the giant undead raging bull boss monster.) Thing is the stuff explodes due to the slightest vibration. So not only can you not take any hits while carrying it you also can't fall off a ledge or even jump. Of course they make you traverse these tiny narrow pathways where one screw up means instant death. So yes the puzzle is hard, thing is back then games were supposed to be hard. A game threw you to the imagination of sadistic designers who expected advanced players to have sufficient skill enough to defeat whatever they came up with. Not like today where they lead you through the nose and bathe you in powerups to the point where your retarded four year old brother can beat it. This is one of the reasons why people always go back to the classics.
As the very first game in 3D in the series (or in fact, that Konami ever made) a lot of things can be forgiven. The graphics are primitive by today's standards, very blocky with low res textures on the characters (although you won't find very many N64 games that look much better) however they are good enough to communicate what is going on clearly and even have a bit of style. Later on in the castle they look a lot better, some of the boss battles are downright amazing (such as against Death or the Leviathan.) The controls are strange, but not enough to blame sucking on once you learn them. Gameplay is decent and increases in intensity the closer you reach to the end. However compared to the excellent Symphony of the night that predates this game by a year there is a lot to be desired.
Graphics: Somewhat clunky, with low res textures in some places. The player characters are generally of a higher poly count and look better. Character faces are actually pretty detailed and there's a few areas (such as the raging skies, and particularly the bosses) where the graphics excel.
Sound: Excellent music which by this point was a hallmark of the series. Good voice acting and dialog throughout.
Gameplay: Slow at first but increases steadily as the game goes on. There are some areas that are frustrating and difficult but it's nothing that a little dedication can't handle.