Review by Kwing
"Awesome All-in-One Package! Deliciously Good!"
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is mainly the remake of the game that was previously available only in Japan, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. It has a redone soundtrack, improved 3D graphics, new dialogue and voice acting, and several gameplay tweaks. Throughout the game, you can find and unlock the original 1993 game Rondo of Blood and the original 1997 game Symphony of the Night. I will review both the redone Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night, while also pointing out the main changes between the redone and original Rondo of Blood.
> CASTLEVANIA: THE DRACULA X CHRONICLES
This is an old-style, old-school game. It's frustratingly hard and is subject to lots of quirks (most notably being knocked back into instant-death pits), but stick with it through thick and thin and soon you'll be whipping vampires like a pro. As Richter, you move with the left and right on the D-pad, climb or descend stairs with the up and down buttons, and crouch with the down arrow while on flat ground. You can also jump with X, attack with [_], or perform an item crash with /_\. Your jump is a preset height, and double jumping actually performs a quirky backflip that will take some getting used to. Jumping while holding up allows you to jump onto a stairway above, while tapping X while holding down allows you to drop down from staircases. Your attack is a basic lash with a whip, which can be performed while jumping or crouching. Also, holding up while attacking will allow you to use your subweapon to attack.
Throughout the game you can whip candles and bits of walls to reveal hearts and subweapons. Your hearts act as your ammo, while your subweapons will determine what type of attack you use. Knives fly straight and in a trio of three blades extending outward, while axes fly in an arc and so forth. The item crash allows you to expend a very large amount of hearts to perform an exceptionally powerful attack. An example of this is the knife's item crash, which allows you to throw several dozen knives in a matter of seconds. Also dropped from candles and walls are pot roasts, big pot roasts, 1-ups, and money bags. The first two recover health, while the money bags give you points. Points are gained through defeating enemies and acquiring money bags. Every 20,000 points, you'll gain an extra life. You start out with three but can gain more through both points, 1-ups, or beating a level without taking damage.
You can also play as Maria, whose controls are somewhat different. She double jumps instead of doing a backflip, has subweapons that focus more on summoning animals, can slide on her stomach by holding down and X, and uses birds to attack and thus can do so while running. People say she's an easy mode, but her low health becomes so much of a problem I didn't like using her unless it was to unlock a certain area.
As you go through levels, you mainly fight enemies in your path while avoiding traps and making tricky jumps. Some enemies go down in one hit, while others may take several. The diversity of enemies is really awesome, and every one serves a different purpose, behaving in a different way. Skeletons throw bones at you and go down in one hit, while large skeletons throw barrels at you that roll long distances. Armored knights take many hits to take down and use a variety of slashes and stabs to eliminate you. Blue armor knights throw spinning boomerang blades at you high and low, as well as lobbing them and occasionally rushing you. Some, smaller enemies like bats, will constantly spawn at the edge of your screen and pose the most threat when they can knock you into death pits. All of the different enemies, combinations of enemies, and possible terrains to face them on make a simple game very diverse and adds a lot of strategy to the way you move your character.
Pot roasts are hard to find, so it quickly becomes imperative to avoid taking any hits. The jumps you have to make are tough as nails, and certain traps you have to avoid will have you swearing up a storm. There are spike pits, big rolling balls, and balls on chains that can really make your life hell, but it only serves to add a layer of depth and variety from the constant undead-whipping. You're also timed when you beat a level, so you can always go back and try to beat a level with a better time.
>>> Collectibles and Discovery:
The walls you're allowed to whip and the secret platforms you can reveal aren't always obvious. There's an invisible staircase in one level, as well as certain paths only reachable with a certain subweapon. And unlocking these secret paths are the key to finding soundtrack items and unlocking Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. The soundtrack items are a great motivator, as they allow you to play any unlocked songs in any level you want in the future, and as for the original Castlevania games, I think one look at the score I've given in this review tells you how much you'll be aching to find those. Different paths and optional bosses make this game a ball to play.
At the end of every level you find a pre-boss area with a bunch of hearts, a subweapon or two, and sometimes a pot roast. Prepare yourself, and then enter the door at the far right... The bosses in this game are very tough, but some of the most fun I've ever played. If you're well-equipped to handle the boss, it won't take long either, as I've noticed in many games where it takes forever to take down bosses, even when you're capable of avoiding all of their attacks. The attack patterns they use don't get repetitive at all, and many of them require quick reflexes to evade. Battles don't last very long but are still balanced and provide a very fun challenge.
Once you beat a boss you can face it in Boss Rush Mode, whether it's Random Rush (8 random bosses), Normal Rush (8 primary bosses), Boss Rush Dash (8 optional bosses), or Full Boss Rush (all bosses). My only complaint with the bosses is that they're all extremely easy to beat with the Grimoire subweapon, which creates a huge spiral around the screen damaging pretty much everything and dealing almost as much damage as your standard whip. If a particular boss is giving you too much trouble, you can also use money earned in levels to buy a video of how to beat it without taking damage, as well as buying a very pricey secret.
It's also worth mentioning that you can play Boss Rush Mode cooperatively with other players. This allows you to get much smaller completion times, and is very fun! I notice absolutely no lag during gameplay, and having an extra buddy helps a lot! My only criticism is how often one player can knock an enemy back into their partner, damaging them on accident.
Every Castlevania game seems to have some sort of musical pun or reference in the title. Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night, Lament of Innocence, or Harmony of Dissonance, the entire Castlevania franchise would make a complete fool of itself if it didn't have good music. Fortunately, this is some of the best music I've ever heard in a video game. The composition, timbre, and audio quality are excellent and fitting for each level. Depending on the song, some of the original Rondo of Blood music sounds better in 8-bit, while some of the music sounds better remastered. You get both, plus the music from Symphony of the Night, once it's unlocked, so it's really a treat.
The SotN music isn't always great, though; most of the songs aren't quite as good as those from Rondo of Blood, but it has three or four songs that are my favorite of all three games. Pitiful Scion, Master Librarian, and Abandoned Pit are all exquisitely good. The musical style is strangely modern, though. Between this and the Final Fantasy Tactics soundtrack, for instance, I can't really decide which I prefer; the musical style of Castlevania is strangely western, while Tactics has tracks that sound as if they were composed in the era in which the game takes place. The contrast in Castlevania between modern music and old plotline (1700s if I remember correctly) is a definite contrast, but works out alright.
The sound effects are great, and you can also hear the characters and enemies groan a little when they take damage or unleash an attack. The quality is high, and the cutscenes have great voice acting with high quality... Except for Maria's voice in the redone Rondo of Blood, which is squeaky and horribly annoying. For her, it sounds like the game designers wanted her to sound like a total ditz. The great voice acting, coupled with great dialogue, if a rather lackluster storyline, really adds to the experience. Unfortunately, all of the voice acting for the older games has been redone for this version, so such lines as, "What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets! But enough talk; have at you!" will not appear in-game.
As I've already stated before, the game has excellent voice acting and dialogue. However, the main plotline for Rondo of Blood is rather bland: Dracula appears every century by the hand of dark priests, and the House of Belmont has sworn to vanquish him every time. Dracula has also had four maidens abducted, one of whom is Richter Belmont's girlfriend. If possible, Richter will save them all, but that's really the player's choice. Dracula is designed very stylistically, but there simply isn't enough dialogue or character development to salvage it. Overall, poor storyline.
The redone graphics look amazing during gameplay, and the animation has been boosted a lot as well. The cutscenes before every boss battle are also very well done and atmospheric. I don't know what else to say about it, but the 3D visuals are several giant leaps ahead of the old Castlevania releases. My only complaint here is the faces, which are flat. The graphics are basically 2D graphics plastered over 3D models, which works just fine for the small view of everything you get while playing, but during scenes the flat faces of the characters are hard just to look at, especially because the expressions never change, even when they jump back.
>> Replay Value:
You can't actually beat Dracula until you rescue Richter's girlfriend, but once you do, and you beat all three of Dracula's forms, you can go back and collect all the sound items (there are a LOT!) as well as beat all of the optional bosses and beat Boss Rush Mode as well! And since everything is timed, you can always try to one-up yourself by doing it faster. Times are tracked separately between Richter and Maria as well, giving you twice as many times to compete with. The storyline also has several possible outcomes depending on who you talk to and what you do in what order, so if you want to start another file to see all the different cutscenes, you can replay the entire game there as well. Tons of replay value!!
> CASTLEVANIA: RONDO OF BLOOD
>> Gameplay: The controls are the same, only double jumping has to be done quickly, otherwise you just fall back down. The original Rondo of Blood, though, is tough as nails, and it will probably do you in very early; watch yourself! The original bosses are much tougher, and the attacks give you less breathing space with which to attack. While it's the same game, you'll definitely notice changes in the game engine and the way it plays, and beating it will be an entirely different ball game, even if you know where everything is.
>> Sound: I described the music earlier, but the sound effects are much lower quality. There's even a blip when you break open the candle. Very 8-bit, but if you like old-school this will be your cup of tea.
>> Story: The same as the remake.
>> Graphics: Primitive, pixelly, and 8-bit, with a somewhat out-of-place color scheme. It looks old, so it's the perfect thing for a little nostalgia. Not sure what else to say about it. Oh, and Richter looks more buff in this version.
>> Replay Value: Less intriguing than the remake, as you unlock all the sound tracks in the remake only. All the optional bosses are still there, though. Moderate replay value.
> CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT
The controls are mostly the same as Rondo of Blood, only the main character Alucard fights barehanded, with a knife, or with a sword depending on what you equip him with. The subweapons are pretty similar as well, but work differently. For instance, you can mash the [_] button while holding up to completely obliterate an enemy with a flurry of knives. [_] allows you to use whatever is equipped in your right hand (whether a weapon, usable weapon, shield, or recovery item), while O allows you to use whatever is in your left hand (another slot the same as the right). Triangle makes Alucard dodge backward, and the [L] and [R] shoulder buttons allow him to transform into a Bat, Wolf, or Fog, once you obtain the required relics. Select allows you to view the map.
Eventually you'll gain the ability to double jump and perform other actions, too, and there are also spells activated by a certain sequence of buttons. Executing spells takes a lot of practice and gets really annoying, but you'll get the hang of it. Relics you gain also allow you to bypass certain areas you couldn't before, as well as summon Familiars that will eventually begin to help you out in battle. You can also customize the color of Alucard's cape, and the color of the pause screen. Once you beat the game you can also play as Maria and Richter, who act more like magic and ranged fighters, respectively, but I won't go into them.
>>> Game Flow:
Basically your objective is to get to the end and beat Dracula. You can teleport from orange room to orange room once you find the teleporters, and save at red rooms (also restoring your health) to keep you in top shape. Every time you get a relic, you unlock several new areas that weren't available before. One usually leads toward your goal, while the others lead you toward optional battles, equipment, or areas, oftentimes giving you a Health Max Up or a Heart Max Up. Gaining abilities throughout the game will really help you out both in progression and your fighting ability, as each new area will have new threats for you to overcome, but also new treasures to find to boost strength, defense, intelligence, luck, etc. All of your basic RPG stuff.
Eventually you'll get a map to help you out in the castle, but most secret areas won't appear on it so you'll still have to do a fair bit of exploring. You also have special abilities tacked on to certain items to spruce up gameplay a little (status infliction, draining). Rondo of Blood has lots of secret areas but Symphony of the Night really allows you to go and explore and come back, all on one huge expanse. The fighting is really fun, but the platforming, traps, and death pits from Rondo of Blood aren't there at all; the games are pretty different, especially owed to the fact that you can use recovery items whenever you want to make the game a bit easier. The boss battles are fun, but oftentimes you'll unwittingly run into one while you were searching for a save point, which is one major pain in the butt. You can overlook it most of the time, though.
>> Sound: I described the music earlier.
Four years after the events from Rondo of Blood, Richter disappears, and Dracula's castle reappears mysteriously. Maria Renard explores the castle in search of Richter, and Alucard wakes up from what was meant to be an eternal slumber to destroy Dracula's castle once again. Alucard and Maria meet up with each other several times inside the castle, but not a whole lot of dialogue takes place. The plot is one of the more interesting ones, even incorporating a plot twist, but sadly it un-twists itself, if that makes any sense. I didn't dislike the plot, but a lot more effort could have been done in adding more scenes, more dialogue, and a better ending.
High-quality sprites with excellent animation to boot. Not much else to say, but I really like the graphics, even if they are somewhat primitive. Excellent use of transparencies, and the backgrounds really set the mood. The pause menu is really bland though; the windows have plain rectangular outlines that I couldn't stand for the longest time. Nice visualizations, though, and the game is easy on the eyes.
>> Replay Value:
Most of what comes out of Symphony of the Night is in jacking up your map percentage. There are two castles, and the highest percentage you can get is something like 200.6%, and exploring every little bit takes a very long time. You can also do the same with both Richter and Maria after beating the game, each of whom play VERY differently from Alucard, although sadly they don't use equipment, spells, familiars, etc. and you start off with all relics. Still, that only makes the game harder, so you have a lot to do in Symphony of the Night alone!
> FINAL RECOMMENDATION
Wow, what can I say? This is an absolutely amazing game. The Dracula X Chronicles fill two huge niches in gaming, in both an action platformer and action RPG that is not soon to be forgotten. Excellent music, fresh gameplay, and beautifully remastered graphics make this game a must-have. The only thing keeping this from a 10/10 is a deeper storyline and more dialogue. You get three games in one, plus multiplayer if you want to tackle bosses with a friend. An amazingly good game, and a great deal.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/21/11
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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