Review by Herugrim
"The best of a Classic!"
Castlevania Chronicles is a slightly updated port of a video game released in 1993. Originally only available in Japan, this long lost Castlevania finally made it's way to other shores in 2001. It has since been re-released again on the playstation network for fans who missed out on it the first time. Personally I always remembered this Castlevania as my last game purchased for the original playstation game system.
For those new to the old castlevania games (or to the series in general), this game is an updated remake of the original Castlevania, which to date has been remade at least four times. This particular title represents the last iteration of the original game. Storyline wise, it takes place somewhere in the middle. At this point the Belmont lineage looks something like this: Leon, Trevor, Christopher, and Simon. Simon is the grandson of Christopher, it's even mentioned as much in certain versions of the game. This game focuses very little on the story, and more on the gameplay. After Super Castlevania IV, there was an outcry from the die-hard castlevania fan base to return to the roots of the series and make a more challenging game. This game, is the result. This version of Castlevania was renown amongst the gaming community as one of the most difficult games to ever exist, luckily the Arranged Mode presented in this port streamlines the game a bit, so those of us that aren't so die-hard can enjoy the game.
Besides being the last Castlevania seeking to reinvent the original, this title is also the most loyal update. Several levels have been ripped right out of the original game, and others were completely reinvented. Visually the game is the penultimate update of the original, true to the source material and still easy on the eyes. For those who might have trouble digesting the extremely dated graphics of the original games, this is the title to go with. In terms of changes made for this particular port, the only visual additions are the character sprites for Simon and Dracula. Simon's doppelganger that you fight in one of the levels gets a makeover as well, but Dracula is a bit lacking. When you first enter his throne room, Dracula's original character sprite is the one sitting in the chair. When he teleports and the fight begins, his sprite magically changes to his updated one. Also, Dracula's transformed state is unchanged, keeping to the lazy looking original design. None of these designs are as bad looking as the original titles, but it still doesn't look nearly as good as Dracula does in newer titles. Also it should be noted that this was the first castlevania with a cutscene to show how the Lord of Darkness was resurrected. It doesn't show much, just a group of cloaked figures casting a spell on an old coffin which explodes with bats, all of whom fly to Dracula's castle. The original ending of the game showed a view over the shoulder of Simon as the castle crumbled. The arranged mode has a full 3D rendering of the opening (which looks fantastic for PS1 by the way). The ending is also rendered in 3D as we watch the castle crumble but in this version it doesn't show Simon.
The sound in the game is the high point by far. The original title released in Japan and ported here featured remixed themes from all of the classic castlevania titles, with slight differences between tracks depending on what sound card the system had. In this port, using a code, you can select with audio you want to play during the game, so you can switch between the various original tracks, though the differences are very small. The Arranged mode features an all new sound track as a severely updated soundtrack of the original game. All the music is fantastic in this mode, top notch stuff easily comparable to the newest Castlevania titles. This music played a large role in establishing the series for the level of excellence it is, and this is the best incarnation of that classic music that set the mood of the series.
Gameplay wise this title is a mixed bag. For those that love the classic games and their high challenge, this title on Original Mode is the pinnacle of the series. It doesn't get any harder then this. Moreso each time you beat the original game you can start over from the beginning and it gets even harder, six times over. This is what makes this game one of the hardest games ever made. The difficulty comes not so much from the enemies as from how stiff and difficult the controls themselves are. Simon suffers from the notorious Belmont controls. His jumps are small and always the same distance, so you have to be very careful about measuring or timing your jumps, otherwise you'll likely fall to your doom. Also when Simon gets hit, he jumps back a bit which almost always results in death. The stairs are among the biggest hazards in the game. While climbing up and down steps in the game Simon can't duck or jump, and he walks up and down the steps even slower then he walks normally. Sub weapons are also almost impossible to use while on the steps, which leaves you incredibly vulnerable. Given the large number of flying enemies in the game including bats, eyeballs, and the infamous medusa heads, this is a major problem. And despite all this there are more problems with Simon himself. He can't run, but only slowly marches his way through the game. He can only whip straight forward while either standing or ducking. He can whip straight down and down diagonally only while jumping, but given his short height for jumps it does almost no good. You can't flail the whip by holding the attack button as you could in the previously released Super Castlevania. You're whip starts off as a short leather whip but can be upgraded to a chain whip with a spiked ball at the end (resembling a long flail) and once more to an extended version of the flail whip. When you die you lose these upgrades and have to find them again. Simon can collect a variety of sub weapons including the traditional cross boomerang, throwing Axe that goes in an arch, the Daggers the you throw straight ahead, or the Holy Water that creates a blue flame that shoots straight up wherever it lands. These sub weapons are fueled by the hearts you find by whipping candles and defeating enemies. However you can only carry one weapon, and catching a new sub weapon means losing your old one. You can also only throw one weapon at a time, like one cross or one axe, unless you get another rare individual powerup that allows you to throw up to two or three consecutively. Of course you still have to have the hearts for it. Also as with the whip upgrades you lose your sub weapons and powerups associated with it when you die. Given the frequency at which a player dies due to the stiff controls and cheap enemies, this happens often. Also about the enemies, the monsters in this version in castlevania do follow set attack patterns like always, but unlike other games in the series the enemies do actively seek Belmont out. Medusa heads appear in a position to strike you where you are, so if you don't move they will definitely hit you. If you are climbing stairs it isn't uncommon for your enemies to group in a bunch at the top of the steps knowing you can't defend yourself there. Even at the end of the game Dracula aims the fireballs he launches at you and they will even curve to make certain they hit you. Of all this each hit from an enemy takes away one-quarter of your health, so you die with four hits while many enemies take much more then that. There are items hidden in the levels (using in breakaway walls) that restore a portion of your health, but they are few and far between.
As merciless as this game is, with this port you have one advantage, the save feature. The game saves between each level and gives you the ability to pick up where you left off. This way even if you run out of lives, you can still pick up at the beginning of the stage.
The Arranged Mode alleviates some of these frustrations. While enemies still target Simon, they move much slower and so you get more time to dodge. Also you get an options menu for the arranged mode that's available from the start allowing you to set the difficulty between three settings as well as choosing how many lives you start off with. With five lives on easy mode and the save feature to back you up, the game becomes much more manageable. Also enemies generally do less damage when they hit you, about half as much as they do in the original game. The game still has a moderate amount of challenge to it.
Take the clock tower for instance, my least favorite level in each iteration of the games. Besides climbing up this massive tower rotating on gears and jumping on spinning platforms worrying about spike traps and a number of enemies, you still have flying medusa heads and eyeballs to torture you. Then after all the grueling work to make it to the top you face the werewolf who, once transformed, darts around the screen at incredible speed throwing debris at you that is almost impossible to dodge because all Simon can do is walk and hop slightly. Then when the werewolf defeats you, you start halfway down the tower and have to climb back up again and with whatever health you have left defeat this incredibly fast boss. Merciless!
Needless to say when you do finally defeat the lord of darkness, it does leave you with an incredibly strong sense of accomplishment. This is a great game to show younger generations what the spirit of the original game consisted of without having to swallow those awful graphics and music of the old games. It's the ultimate Castlevania 1 experience, rebottled and repackaged for the newer generation. As far as next-generation consoles currently available as of this review: despite being playstation 1 the original game actually looks very good on an HD TV. It doesn't suffer as much as other PS1 games seem to. Like all PS1 titles it can be played on your PSP using remote play but the controls actually seem less responsive on the PSP for some reason. I strongly recommend this game to anyone who's interested in the series! Long Live Castlevania!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/11/10
Game Release: Castlevania Chronicles (US, 10/08/01)
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