Review by CrimsonGear80

"*de de da da do* Crack that whip! *de de da da do* Classic gaming whip!"

Castlevania fans rejoice! Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP not only contains the long sought after 1993 PC Engine CD game (or TurboGrafx CD for you Americans) Castlevania: Rondo Of Blood that was previously only available in Japan, but it also contains a fully remade 3D version of the same game! The goodness doesn't end there: how about a fully remasted version of Rondo Of Blood's sequel, a little know gem called Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night! Old-school gaming fans have a lot to be excited about, but some of the modern gamers who might want to give The Dracula X chronicles a try may find themselves a tad bit frustrated. Since everything that has to be said about Symphony Of The Night has already been said, my review will focus more on Rondo Of Blood.

OLD SCHOOL STORY

Dracula has once again been raised from the dead, and of course decides to take out all of his anger from being dead on humanity. So he unleashes all kinds of creatures of the night on them, and even kidnaps some beautiful maidens who could potentially become his new bride. One of the maidens he kidnaps, however, is the girlfriend of Richter Belmont, the latest in the long line of Belmonts who have sworn to destroy Dracula and his armies whenever they appear. Armed with only the Belmont clan's vampire-killing whip, he sets out into the night to destroy Dracula and his armies and save his girlfriend.
Old-school game, old school story. Excellent.

OLD SCHOOL GAMEPLAY

Initially, only the all-new 3D version of Rondo Of Blood is available at the start. To unlock the original Rondo and SOTN, you have to find a couple of hidden items in two of the 3D Rondo's stages. Some hardcore gamers may feel better earning them in this way, but I would have preferred to have these classics unlocked from the beginning.

Playing Rondo is about as old school as it gets. Although it is in 3D, Rondo still plays just like a 2D side-scroller. Richter has two means of attack: his basic whip attack and his sub-weapon attack. He can also jump by hitting the X button, and do a backflip by double-tapping the same button. Hitting triangle will cause him to do an “item crush”, which is basically a special attack with whatever sub-weapon he is currently holding (or with his whip, if he's holding no sub-weapon). You get your basic life bar, score count and heart count (which regulates your sub-weapon use) as well.

Rondo takes place through one prologue stage and 8 regular stages of gameplay. You as Richter go through each stage defeating all manners of beasts, including skeletons, vampire bats, floating eyeballs, mermen, and other Castlevania staples. Besides his whip, Richter can use the classic Castlevania sub-weapons including knives, axes, holy water, and stopwatches. When you get to the end of a level, you face off against a menacing boss, which you must defeat to move on. Level designs are pretty straightforward and are pretty cool, with some branching paths in a few of them. One of the best things is that for levels 2-5, you can find alternate paths that lead to entirely different bosses. Beat these bosses, and you'll go to an alternate version of the next level. It's a nice feature that gives you even more reason to replay levels over again.

You can also unlock another playable character, a young Maria Renard. By saving her as Richter in stage 2 (she's hidden quite well), you can then select to play as her at the stage select screen. Maria moves a little faster than Richter, can double-jump, and her main attack consists of throwing white doves at her enemies O_O. Her sub-weapons are also various forms of critters she can use to help her destroy evil. She is definitely very fun to use and mixes things up quite a bit.

It's not all whips and doves, however. While this may not be the hardest game I have played in the past few years (glares angrily at Viewtiful Joe 1 and 2 and Killzone: Liberation), this game is old school hard. H-A-R-D. Expect to die multiple times very often. The games continue system isn't very forgiving, either. You start off with 3 lives, and when you die you get sent back to the last checkpoint in the level that you passed (usually when you come to a doorway). Problem is that some checkpoints are placed few and far between; so many times you may wind up dying and being sent back almost to the beginning of a stage. Lose all your lives, and it's always right back to the beginning of the level. I can see how hardcore gamers won't see this as much of a problem, but the bigger sized casual gamer population may find the difficulty just way to frustrating. One good thing that comes out from all this dying is that you'll probably have each stage close to memorized as you keep going through them, making them easier with each continue. I also found that you'll have an easier time when playing as Maria, since she's more agile than Richter, a smaller target, and can attack more often. I suggest that if your having trouble playing as Richter, to switch to Maria and try her out.

One other thing that troubled me was jumping. Sometimes even perfectly timed precise jumps can lead you to plummet to your death, causing you to waste much gaming time. It doesn't help that most precise jumps must be made with dozens of enemies attacking you. Stairways can be a problem as well. To go up and down stairways you have to hold up or down on the d-pad near them, so if you jump to them and forget to do this, expect to become street pizza.

Then of course you have the “extras”, the original Rondo Of Blood and Symphony Of The Night. The original Rondo was the first Castlevania to feature full voice work and orchestrated music, and it holds up quite well. It's pretty amazing to play the 3D Rondo and then the original one, as level designs, enemy placement and the like are all copied down in the remake to a T. The original Rondo also moves a lot faster than the remake (it runs at 60fps, while the remake runs at 30fps), and that makes it even harder as well. Still, it's a great blast from the past that fans will be glad to finally have without spending god-awful amounts of money on ebay. Symphony Of The Night is still the awesome, groundbreaking 2D action title it always was. It runs, looks, and plays pretty much the same. There are some sound changes made to it, but I'll get to those in a bit. Also, the original Rondo and SOTN aren't tailored to play in widescreen, so they will be cropped when you play them. Kind of expected, so don't worry too much about it.

OLD SCHOOL GRAPHICS

Ok, the Rondo remakes look isn't old school, but it's still pretty nice for a PSP game. Levels have their own unique looks to them and can really come to life. Animations are top-notch. There are neat effects as well, especially with item crushes. Creature designs, especially bosses, are also very good. Character models are okay, but nothing special. Overall, the remake shines on the PSP. The original Rondo still has slick 2D animations and graphics after all these years, and Symphony Of The Night never fails to impress. An excellent package.

OLD SCHOOL SOUND

What else can be said about Castlevania soundtracks: it's phenomenal. Plug some headphones into your PSP and hear the beautifully orchestrated and synthesized music the way they were meant to be heard. Both Rondos share the same music, and Symphony Of The Night retains its awesome soundtrack as well. Voice work for all three titles is still pretty corny, though. As a matter of fact, Symphony got totally rewritten and revoiced dialogue! So instead of “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!” you get: “HA! Mankind! A cesspit of hatred and lies!” So…it's still pretty corny, but I found them to be a bit better than the original dialogue.

WE'RE GOING OLD SCHOOL!!

Both Rondos are pretty short and take around 6-8 hours to beat, but I'm sure their difficulty coupled with trial and error will spike those hours up a bit. You can also go back and select any stage you want to play from the main menu, as well as unlocking a boss rush mode after you defeat the game, which can be played over ad-hoc with a friend. Throw in sound unlockables you can find in each stage, the alternate pathways and stages, and two different endings, and you'll be playing Castlevania till your eyes bleed. There is also a neat feature that lets you assign music from any of the three games in the collection to the Rondo remake's stages. Symphony Of The Night also retains its tremendous replay ability, and adds in the older Maria Renard as a playable character just for kicks!

Like I said before, Castlevania fans rejoice! You get what are considered to be two of the greatest Castlevanias of all time plus a cool remake all in the same package. Most modern and casual gamers may be turned off by the unforgiving difficulty, but the hardcore wouldn't have it any other way. Add this to your PSP collection if you want some old school action gaming in your life!

KEWL
+Rondo Of Blood, it's remake, AND Symphony Of The Night in the same package!! Yes, please!
+Old school gameplay will please old school gamers.
+Phenomenal music score
+Excellent 3D and 2D graphics
+Loads of replay value
+Adding Symphony Of The Night to anything is just a good idea

LAME
-It is a difficult game, and it may turn off the more casual gamers out there
-Jumping can sometimes be a pain
-Unforgiving checkpoint system
-The original Rondo and SOTN should have been unlocked from the start
-Voice acting, even though it's rewritten and revoiced, is still corny


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/07, Updated 04/16/08

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


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