Review by burningfleur

"A little too old school for its own good."

Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of the Castlevania series, from the SNES to now. As a devoted PSP owner I was thrilled that a Castlevania game was finally being released on the system. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is, at heart, a reworking of Dracula X: Rondo of Blood which was never released stateside. The game also contains unlockable versions of the original Rondo and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Because of this, it becomes difficult to review as it seems unfair to classify this as anything but a collection. Even the back of the box features both Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night equally.

So, you are asking me, why the lower score?

SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT - 9/10
I will begin by saying that the good part of this game is Symphony of the Night, one of the best Castlevania games ever released. Now you can take Symphony of the Nigh with you wherever you go, complete with a quick save option. The voice acting has even been reworked and you can play it using essentially the exact same control scheme it originally had. The gameplay is still a blast. The graphics are still beautiful, as is the music. Extremely unfortunately, the game was not updated for the PSP screen so there are borders on the edges. However, they aren't huge and don't get in the way.

If Symphony of the Night were the main feature here and it had been optimized for the PSP I would have awarded this game a much higher score. I must also add here that though Symphony seems to be billed as half of this collection the method of unlocking it is strangely bizarre and complicated. Really, it ought to have been available from the start and some people might never find it without consulting a guide/the internet.

RONDO OF BLOOD - 6/10
The main game, instead, is the remake of Rondo of Blood. Graphically, it is beautiful. Gameplay-wise, it is entirely too old school for its own good and serves as a reminder of why Symphony was such a big deal and such a huge step forward for the series.

GRAPHICS - 9/10
Some people might not like the 2D-3D style used in the new Rondo of Blood but it is hard to find fault with the graphics overall. Everything is detailed and Richter animates well. Cut scenes are especially nice and there are the sort of giant and impressive enemies you've come to expect. The only real complaint is that the backgrounds in many areas appear fully 3D but the candles and torches required for gaining hearts and items have to remain in th same place. This often gives the image of candles and torches floating in midair with the wall way off in the background. Not a huge fault, I know, but it's a little too silly. The subweapons could also have done with some better effects, especially the holy water.

GAMEPLAY - 1/10
The gameplay of Rondo of Blood has not changed at all to fit the new graphics, music, voices, etc. This would not be such a bad thing if the gameplay were not simplistic, clunky, and psp-snappingly hard in comparison with any more modern entries in the series. Please, do not get me wrong. I enjoy a good old-school or retro game as much as the next person but there are some problems in old games that I am glad have been resolved as games have evolved.

Do the following things sound fun to you:
-Staircases that are extremely difficult to navigate properly
-Dying if you touch water
-Walking extremely slowly through stages
-Short and extremely linear levels

The single most disappointing part of Rondo's gameplay is that poor Richter has not been given a single new move or update. Poor guy, he can't even run. After a couple of stages you are going to be sick of the slow movement. A 16-bit sprite shuffling along was fine when the original game was released but not even allowing the character to run/move faster in the remake is ridiculous. Continuing our tale of poor Richter, he has not gained access to any of the moves of other Belmont heroes. There is no ability to spin his whip to hit all of those enemies that come up behind him. Whipping upwards would have been nice too, sadly there's none of that. There is no double-jumping here, no back-dashing, and no upgrades to equip. He also seems to have neglected to learn to swim during the 10+ years since the original.

To make things worse, the game is played in stages/levels with a limited number of lives. When you run out you will find yourself starting over from the beginning of the stage. You will die. Often. And then it's time to WALK back to the boss fight, playing the whole difficult level completely over again. To top that off, there aren't even that many stages and the game can be finished in a sitting.

In comparison to the more recent incarnations of Castlevania (and the 10 year-old Symphony of the Night) this gameplay simply does not hold up. Where is the giant castle to explore, the levels to gain, the upgrades to collect that the rest of this games elements deserve? This is purely a 16-bit Castlevania game draped in a pretty coat which looks constrained and seems to want to be something more. Considering that the original version of Rondo of Blood is unlockable for those who have been itching to play it for years... what reason is there for not having the remake be fully realized? Instead, you can play Rondo of Blood in 3D or Rondo of Blood in original 2D.

Branching paths in the stages do help the game somewhat but, of course, they are plagued by the same gameplay issues.

MUSIC - 10/10
The new reworking of Rondo's soundtrack leaves nothing to be complained about. For Castlevania, the voice acting is surprisingly quite good.

STORY - 7/10
Castlevania is not something you play for the story so a solid average score is to be expected. However, being able to see the storyline that unfolds between Rondo and Symphony is very nice.

REPLAY VALUE - 10/10
You will come back to this game... if only to play Symphony of the Night. The Rondo remake is a short game and if you can tolerate or somewhat enjoy the old-style gameplay it is the sort of game you can play over and over. There is the 2D version of the original game to unlock and different characters to play as in all of the games. Of course, there's boss rush mode too. As far as replay value goes it doesn't get much better.

CONCLUSION
Castlevania was good series but the changes made in Symphony of the Night made it truly great. For its time, Rondo of Blood was a great game. Now, even with shiny new graphics, it feels dated and frustrating. I can't help but feel that Richter deserved better and seeing how the games were packaged together it would have been amazing to see two games on the level of and with the scope of Symphony, two games with some of the best characters in the series.

Those who love purely retro gameplay or preferred the pre-Symphony Castlevania games will doubtless find more fun here and enjoy this entry into the series more. For those who love the exploration elements and RPG elements in the newer Castlevanias and have less patience for some of the truly frustrating aspects of older games you might want to avoid this one.

PROS:
+Three games on one UMD
+Beautiful graphics
+Play Castlevania on the go
+Play Rondo of Blood which was never released in the US
+Lots of unlockables

CONS:
-Gameplay was not updated to match graphics
-Symphony of the Night not optomized for PSP
-Very high (possibly frustrating) difficulty level
-Symphony billed as half the game but method of unlocking is obscure
-Old school platforming problems that shouldn't happen these days


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/29/07

Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)


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