Review by Robot_Freak_Out
"Chronicles puts two cult classics in the palm of your hands"
Dracula X Chronicles is essentially a three prong deal: the PSP remake of Rondo of Blood, the original PC Engine Rondo of Blood, and an updated (but not abridged) Symphony of the Night. There's also some extra mini-game goodness, such as the obligatory boss rush mode.
The remake of Rondo is, for the most part, true to the original. The enemies have been slowed a bit for our modern fingers, and there's some extra goodies hidden in the levels, but the game play rings true. That being said, the game is hard. I've heard the argument that people don't play games this hard anymore, but I don't really agree. The VC and X-Box arcade sales are solid. Games like DMC and Ninja Gaiden do very well in the market. American gamers have proven our selves a masochistic lot.
However, the method doesn't always justify the means. Richter (our blue coated protagonist) is laughably under equipped compared to other recent castle goers. Even Castlevania 3 for NES offered more modern controls, and more upgrades and abilities. Richter still has to press up if he wants to go up stairs, he still drops like a brick, he flies almost a screen length backwards when hit, his whip is limited to horizontal attacks, there's no whip upgrades, and the standard double jump is replaced with a strange double back flip. On top of Richter's general awkwardness, the enemies are arranged brutally: you will find yourself being knocked back into spikes, pits, and other deadly situations. Unless you are the Castlevania master, you will die and have to replay portions of levels over and over, learning the proper strategy for each situation. This kind of game design was becoming outdated even at the time of Rondo's PC engine release, and the decision to not update the game play probably hinges on a key factor: the game is still good, despite its flaws. The level design, the music (re-arranged beautifully), the dramatic boss fights (digging pretty much all the skeletons out of the classical horror closet), and the sometimes sheer wackiness (skeletons swinging from vines in jungle trees, anyone?) all combine to build a solid game. Could they have made it more playable by modern standards? Yes. But would it still have been Rondo? Who could say? It was an artistic decision to preserve the original game play, and not everyone is going to agree it was for the better.
The only other topic with Rondo's remake is its graphics. The polygons are certainly something to look at; Konami is squeezing out PS2 quality stuff and somehow keeping the frame rate consistent. There's also a nice sprinkling of dramatic cut scenes with equally dramatic voice acting. These usually take the form of boss intros, are fairly concise, and for the most part enjoyable. The voice acting isn't going to change the way you think about anything, but it's how I imagine a man slowly walking into a castle to fight an ancient vampire would talk. For the purists, the Japanese voice tracks have been included as well.
The original Rondo (which, along with SOTN, is unfortunately a hidden unlockable) is everything you'd expect from a PC Engine classic. It's a bit tougher than its PSP counterpart, and you get the original graphics and music. It's a bonus gift from the developers for the fans of the series.
The essential 'other half' of the game, SOTN, is also here in full force. While it's a bummer that you can't play it out of the box (Chronicles is marketed as being a collection of both games) it's still awesome that its here. I could go in depth here about why SOTN is a great game: there's the air-tight controls, the 10 years old and still innovative level design, the great music, the massive re-playability (an inverted castle, 3 bonus characters, and lord knows how many endings, ect.) but the game is known to the point of being entrenched in our culture; any gushing fanboyism in unnecessary. The on thing that's new is the English voice tracks, and they're on par with Rondo's new voice work.
SOTN is a classic, and most American Castlevania fans have already played it. But being able to play Symphony in the bathroom is going to justify the thirty dollar entry fee for almost everyone. There's no argument there, but the question, is how does Chronicles hold up artistically against other games? If it had just been SOTN, would we hesitate to give this game a 9'? Since Rondo is on here as well, and it's too hard' do we have to drop it to a 7'? These numbers represent ridiculous ideas.
At the end of the day what Konami is presenting us with is a labor of love. They didn't have to put symphony and Rondo on the same UMD, and they would've made more money selling them separate. They didn't have to pay for the Japanese voice tracks, or pay for new voice acting in SOTN, either. They didn't want to change Rondo's gameplay to make the game easy, because they wanted people to re-experience a classic game, not play a potential watered down crap-fest. Could they have at least included an easy mode'? Maybe. But this is Castlevania, and Dracula's Castle is not for the weak of heart.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/08/07
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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