Review by LordShibas
"My new, favorite portable Castlevania game"
After a brief sabbatical, Konami released a second Castlevania game for the DS, in the form of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. While Dawn of Sorrow was more of a follow up to Aria of Sorrow on the GBA, Portrait of Ruin is a brand new game in the series. Portrait of Ruin has some new features that set it apart from previous games in the Castlevania series, namely, the ability to control two characters during the game. It may seem somewhat odd at first, but Konami has done a wonderful job of including a second character into the standard Castlevania gamepaly, and when all was said and done, Portrait of Ruin is now my new, favorite portable Castlevania game. Portrait of Ruin just seems to flow much smoother than Dawn of Sorrow and you won't be combing Dracula's castle for endless soul drops.
The Belmont bloodline takes a back seat again in Portrait of Ruin, and you will now be controlling Jonathan Morris as the main character. The Morris family is somehow related to the Belmont family, and they seem to bear the same burdens of the Belmonts. Meaning that purging Dracula's castle of evil is the main goal. However, this time you won't be doing it alone. Jonathan will be accompanied at all times by a fellow adventurer named Charlotte Aulin. I'm not really sure how Charlotte fits into the existing Castlevania mythos, but it's not really important.
You will start the game as Jonathan, but you will quickly get the ability to summon Charlotte to help you out in any given situation. You can also have her at your side for the entire game if you want to, and she will be controlled by the computer's AI. At any time during the game, you can switch between Charlotte and Jonathan. You can also send the other character away and just run through the castle solo if you choose to.
At first, Charlotte might seem more like a hindrance than anything else, but as you progress through the game, you will slowly learn to rely on her more and more. Despite her coy disposition, she is a magic user that is capable of raining destruction down upon your enemies. She can also provide you with buffing spells, transform you into different forms, and even cure you of status ailments.
One final advantage to having Charlotte around is the Dual Crush ability. Dual Crushes are a separate list of spells that require Jonathan and Charlotte to be on the screen at the same time and consume a significant amount of magic points. Dual Crushes may not seem like much at first, but as you get more of them, they become integral to fighting some of the later bosses.
One reason that I really liked the two character setup is that you can choose Charlotte's level of involvement. You can have her follow you the entire game if you choose to, or you can send her away with the click of a button and play the game solo if you want. You can also play the entire game with Charlotte being your main character. It would probably be much harder this way, but it's nice to have the additional options.
Portrait of Ruin also has an interesting set of antagonists. Dracula is no longer the lord in the castle, and you will now be searching for a vampire named Brauner and his daughters Loretta and Stella. Brauner's charade takes a turn for the different once you realize that he is controlling the energy flow of the castle with various paintings that can be found in the castle. In order to stop Brauner's madness, you will need to enter these portraits and destroy the evil within. This provides a few little nuances that really make the game stand out from previous Castlevanias. Going into the portraits will transport you to other areas that are not reminiscent of the castle's design. One may take you to a sandy grave, another may take you to a marketplace area that's filled with enemies, and others may take you to an abstract circus-type location.
As different as the new areas are, they fit into the game well, and offer quite a bit more to explore than previous Castlevania games. How much you might ask? Well the total map coverage in Portrait of Ruin is not 100%, it's not even 200%, it's a whopping 1000%. It will take some thought and effort to get the entire 1000% and the added areas make it the longest Castlevania game since Symphony of the Night.
Overall I really enjoyed Portrait of Ruin, and I found it much more interesting than Dawn of Sorrow.
Konami cleaned up the graphics a bit in Portrait of Ruin, and the animations look much better than they did in Dawn of Sorrow. Even when you have both characters on the screen, things never slow down, and the signature, screen filling bosses of Castlevania fame return in all of their glory.
The Dual Crush spells result in some impressive pyrotechnics as they blaze across the screen. Anything from watching holy lighting saturating the screen to giant meteors falling from the sky are all fair game. These spells are powerful, but they require a lot of magic points, so you can't just endless spam them to no end. You need to strike a clever balance between the spells and physical attacks to make sure your journey is not curtailed.
There are also some nice little graphical touches that pervade the game. Walking on shelves in the marketplace will result in items falling from the shelves, Jonathan will kick up sand as he runs across the desert, and enemies will usually have some cool death animations as they topple over in defeat. The castle design is pretty standard for a Castlevania game, but it gets the job done pretty well.
The boss battles are probably the highlight of the game, and while some are lackluster, many of them are riveting experiences that go beyond anything in Dawn of Sorrow.
Portrait of Ruin looks a little bit better than Dawn of Sorrow, and I'm glad that Konami went through the extra effort to make it a more colorful and varied experience than Dawn of Sorrow was.
Sounds and Music 9/10
Portrait of Ruin has an incredible soundtrack that is without a doubt the best of the portable Castlevania games. Even though the portrait areas are somewhat different in design, the music still matches them perfectly. I really liked the music in the Nation of Fools and the Sandy Grave portraits.
The sound effects have not changed much, but they retain the fastidious nature of the Castlevania series. There is only a little bit of voice acting, but it's done well for the most part.
Castlevania games are not really known for their stories, but Portrait of Ruin does a decent job of keeping things interesting. As the game goes on, you will find out the true identities of Brauner's daughters, and discover what his true intentions are.
A character named Wind will also be helping you along the way. Wind will provide you with quests that you can embark on during the game. While it may not seem like a questing system would work in the standard Castlevania gameplay, it's actually pulled off quite well, and it seems to cohesively fit into the existing gameplay style. There's nothing really special about the quests. It's pretty much a go do this or go find that kind of questing system, but it's another way to keep the exploring fresh and give you some short term goals to strive for.
As vexing as the two party setup may seem at first, it will not take you long to become adept to the new style of play. As Charlotte gains more spells, she becomes vital to your survival, and controlling both of them is very simple.
One feature that's gone from Dawn of Sorrow is the sealing of bosses. I'm kind of glad they took this feature out since it was kind of an annoyance in Dawn of Sorrow. In fact, there are almost no stylus controls in Portrait of Ruin at all. You can drag your other character around manually if you want to, but it's not necessary when you can just send them away if you want to.
Portrait of Ruin also has the ability for you to level up your sub-weapons. Once you get a certain amount of kills with your sub-weapons, they will become mastered, and get an added effect, such as your holy water traveling longer and higher, or your bibles increasing in size.
There is also a full range of equipment options in Portrait of Ruin. You can now equip items for your head, body, legs, and two accessories in addition to you weapon and sub-weapon. This requites a little more micro-management since you will need to update the equipment of two characters, but the interface is nice and easy to follow.
Portrait of Ruin plays very well, and the new features only seem to enhance the already superb gameplay.
Longevity and Re-Playability 9/10
If you are looking for a portable Castlevania game with lots of things to do, then give Portrait of Ruin a try. The good thing about the game is that the extra content is not simply soul farming. There are quests to complete, sub-weapons to master, and 1000% of the castle to uncover. I was able to uncover 1000% of the castle in a little under 14 hours, but I didn't even do half of the quests, which would have taken quite a few more hours.
There are also some additional modes to unlock and many secrets that can be discovered. Portrait of Ruin is one of the longest Castelvania games out there.
The added features in Portrait of Ruin really make the game worth checking out, and I can't recommend this game enough to Castlevania fans. It's without a doubt my new, favorite portable Castlevania game.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/30/09
Game Release: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (US, 12/05/06)
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