Review by InfernalLurker
"Those used to the current generation Castlevanias are in for a shock, but don't easily dismiss it."
I'm going to forgo traditional review formats as well as not discuss the storyline as almost everyone is well familiar with the endless, doomed cycle of Dracula and the hero destined to put him back to his slumber, and instead, talk about my experience with this particular game.
Those of you who did not already know, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, extras aside, is a remake of a never-released-outside-of-Japan Castlevania game, Rondo of Blood, on the PC-Engine CD system. Many consider it the best in the older series, truth be told, I've never played it.
My path of Castlevania is as follows: Simon's Quest (NES), Bloodlines (Genesis), Symphony of the Night (PSX), then subsequent releases on GBA and the DS. Although I have played Simon's Quest long ago at a very young age, I have far more vivid memories of it compared to the much more recent (relative to Simon's Quest) Bloodlines, and I suspect the gameplay mechanic and style format is the culprit.
If you only know Symphony of the Night onwards and I have lost you, let me explain. The current Castlevania games follows the shift in format started by Symphony of the Night. Although Simon's Quest is a pre-cursor to that, it was SotN that fully cemented the shift in gameplay style to the much-loved exploration and RPG-elements of Metroid, common in Castlevania games of today.
The original format of the Castlevania games are stage-based, short platformers. Proceed through the stage, fight an end-boss, repeat until you face-off with Dracula. Rondo of Blood follows this original Castlevania formula, and those accustomed to the long exploration and leveling up found in the current generation will be initially blindsided with the "old-school" gameplay mechanics found in Rondo of Blood.
Although many series vets might pick this game up for "nostalgia", let's be honest, how many people have actually played the original Rondo? I have not, and actually, I asked everyone I know who plays videogames and no one has answered "yes" to my question. And such, I suppose the nostalgia is for the old-school Castlevania gameplay, but those few people who did in fact play Rondo will be privileged with a new, shiny remake of their old favorite. A rare treat in video gaming. But for the rest of us who picked this up to relive the nostalgia of the spirit, well, for me at least, it was a cold shock to my system. I was unable to slip this game on like a glove. Since I have no attachment to the game having never played it, I found it frustratingly hard and cheap. Although I come from an older generation, starting with NES and Master System games, I have lost all skills in 8-bit platforming, or at the very least, forgotten them. I am settled and comfy with modern games with ultra-tight, ultra-plush controls and luxuries.
I was ready to put the game down and let it collect dust, but was this game really that hard, or was I just a little bit rusty? Having rarely set aside games to be forgotten, I decided to stick with it, and I was fortunate enough having done so. After a few hours in, I seemingly have gotten back into the old-school groove and the game has thus become very enjoyable.
If by chance you did not play the stage-based Castlevanias, or not even played as Richter on Symphony of the Night, you will find the game slow and cumbersome. Alucard, Juste, Soma, to name a few of the latter heroes, play silky smooth and after unlocking ability upgrades, become lush, elegant warm little beings at your command. Richter Belmont in comparison is a slab of frozen, hard meat. Clunky and slow, the way he plays at the start of the game will be exactly the same when you finish the game as there are no character upgrades. Well, perhaps that isn't entirely true as you can slightly unlock 2 abilities if you meet certain conditions, but it does not make you stronger or better. If you've never played the old Castlevanias, you may detest how he controls. But even so, if you do throw in the time (let's say, 2-4 hours), you should eventually adjust to him (hopefully) and you'll be able to proudly control him with ease like an older generation gamer who once was.
So, playing as Richter, you use only one main-weapon, his whip. And you don't do anything fancy. You either strike normally, strike while crouching, or strike while jumping. You advance forward through a set amount of stages, occasionally meeting a mid-boss, but always concluding with an end-boss until the final showdown with Dracula. To aid you, you collect hearts to serve as ammunition for your weaker but versatile sub-weapon which usually is projectile-based and all have special attacks called "Item Crash". These are strong offensive screen destroyers, but some provide other effects as well. Healing items are few and far between, and are only found by destroying hidden sections in the walls.
The game itself is fairly short, but luckily it throws you branching paths which are easy to miss, so when you decide to go back to an earlier stage, you can explore a bit until you end up in a completely new stage from your last game as well as defeating a different boss. If you use up your last man, you can continue, but also you can save and quit which tracks your progress. The next time you start up the game, you'll be at a launch hub where you can choose which stage to start at based on which ones you've already passed so you can look for the other paths at your leisure, which character to use if you've unlocked Maria, and the various other modes available.
The game itself does not have an adjustable difficulty. Although you may find it hard to begin with, repeated sessions of trial and error, as well as coming to grips with the controls will make the game easier. But choosing to use Maria is like changing the difficulty of the game to an easier setting. With her, It does indeed becomes considerably easier. Truthfully, it may serve you well to use her upon her unlocking. She has a double jump, allowing for an easier air navigation, as well as a much needed save from chasms of death, and her attack is quicker and you can attack while walking, allowing for more offensive hits for faster damage, as well as defensive barrier to protect you from enemies and projectiles while on the move. Her sub-weapons, although weak for the most part save for the heart-costly Dragon, have much more damaging Item Crash attacks, and certain ones make difficult bosses much more easier to beat.
If you find the main course a little too light on your stomach, the game is packed with a good amount of bonuses as well, including the original PC-E version of Rondo, and a emulation of the old PS-X Symphony of the Night (which is slightly buggy), which is a nice little addition in itself, and if for some reason you've never played it, be prepared for a delicious treat. It is interesting to note after playing the remake of Rondo and going back to the original version, you will find a fair amount of difference between the two. Some bosses in the original are far more easier, while others are harder. The remake has extra dynamics such as having to rescue two maidens to be granted the ability to destroy 2 different types of obstacles (the 2 abilities I mentioned earlier) that hold additional background music, as well as very slight changes to stage layout, and maybe minor additions as well.
Overall, if you have a fondness for Castlevania and are either an old-school gamer, or someone very interested in freshening up on your history of older-styled platformers, so long as you have the patience for all the trial and error involved with it, not to mention the full version of Symphony of the Night packaged in for your portable gaming pleasures, this UMD is well worth the price.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/01/07
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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