Review by Seto Kiaba
"A decent game that seems to be still trapped in the past"
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a compilation of a remade version of Rondo of Blood, the original Rondo of Blood, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, all for the PSP. The release of this game is particularly significant for North American gamers, because this marks the first time Rondo of Blood has legally been available for western gamers, much like Final Fantasy III released for the DS a year before. And just like FFIII, it falls into the same pitfalls when it comes to remaking games over 15 years old.
*NOTE: For the rest of the review, I will primarily be talking about the remade version of Rondo of Blood. I will give a brief overlook of the other games at the end. Refer to reviews for those individual games for further detail*
For those who are familiar with the original Castlevania games from the NES/SNES will fit in just fine with this game. You play as Richter Belmont, the whip-wielding, vampire-hunting adventurer of 1792. As usual, Dracula is revived and starts terrorizing the countryside just enough to get your attention (and nothing more, because that's just how Dracula rolls), including kidnapping your main love interest, Annette. This requires yet another venture into Dracula's castle, battling monsters and demon galore, and generally just saving the day. Though the plot is a bit more detailed than some of the older Castlevania games, it still pales a bit compared to later games like SotN or the portable Castlevania games. Then again, Castlevania games have always focused more on gameplay then a detailed story.
For those who did not grow up with the original games, one thing that needs to be understood is that this isn't a Castleoid (or Metroidvania, whatever term you prefer). Unlike Dawn of Sorrows or Symphony of the Night, which focused on exploring a huge map and finding powerups, Rondo of Blood has a level system like the original Castlevania. You play through individual levels, which are normally very linear, reach a boss, and continue to the next level. You have a set amount of lives, and whenever you lose one, you start back at the last checkpoint. Lose all of them, and you have to start the level all over again.
Each level is filled with a wide variety of demons and ghouls that Richter must overcome to finish the level. To do this, he is equipped with the Vampire Killer, the Belmont clan's signature weapon. On top of using his whip to attack enemies in front of him, Richter can find a wide variety of sub weapons throughout the levels. Though Richter can only use one sub weapon at a time, they add quite a bit of power to his arsenal. Each normal attack with a sub weapon uses a small amount of hearts, and a new feature of Rondo of Blood allows you to use a large amount of hearts to unleash a powerful attack. Fans of previous Castlevania games will recognize the majority of the powerups, like the knife, axe, and cross, and will realize that their true power lies in their attack ranges. Since Richter's whip leaves him very much open from many different directions, and at times is hard to hit certain enemies with it, these sub weapons become very valuable.
Rondo of Blood does add some exploration and variability to the basic formula, which gives each level a little more replay value. Each level has two bosses, a normal one, and another one that normally requires a hidden or more indirect route to reach. What level you reach next depends on the boss you defeated; defeating the normal one will lead to the regular version of the next level, while beating the optional one will lead you to the gaiden version of the next level, which is a completely different level then its counterpart. These different routes will mean that you will play every level at least twice in order to do everything, and some routes will be better hidden than others. On top of that, a lot of hidden items are scattered throughout the levels. Some items are health pickups, some are abilities to overcome barriers, and some are unlockable music tracks for the music player. In fact, both Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood need to be found within the levels, which is a drag if you bought the game to play one of those games first.
Though the gameplay seems solid and simple enough, playing the game for a few levels will make you realize that this is a remade 14 year old game. The first problem is Richter himself: the Belmont moves like a turtle. Richter is incapable of running for some unexplained reason, and instead moves at a slightly below average walk. He turns just as slowly, making movement a pain in the ass, and you really cannot count on Richter to dodge anything unexpected. The next problem lies within Richter's jump. Let's say Richter's normal jump is 3 meters forward. If you want to jump 1 meter forward, you will be disappointed, as Richter will always jump those 3 meters. If you hold the arrow over, Richter jumps a bit farther, but not much. This makes dodging attacks harder, as you have very little control on where you jump too. The real shame in this is that, compared to other platformers at the time of the release, like Megaman X, or even older platformers like Super Mario Bros, all these movements seem very restricting. Sure, you can play the game a bit and get use to the restrictions, but it is still a major flaw. To compensate, you normally have to take it slow and memorize enemy attacks, especially bosses, meaning that you might be through levels a few times just to beat it once.
As hinted earlier, Richter's attacks leave him open to attack from a number of directions. Since he can really only attack along two lines in front of him with his whip, you rely heavily on sub weapons to cover yourself. Some enemies always attack from above or diagonals, and if you don't have the right weapon to deal with them, defeating one enemy can be quite a pain. On top of that, even the weakest attacks will take off about 1/6 of your health. True, there are health powerups throughout the levels, but they are normally very well hidden. To find them, you pretty much have to swing your whip at every wall in the level with the hopes of one of them breaking and revealing food. All of this means that you have to be very careful as you play, and unless you are a Castlevania veteran, you will be restarting quite a bit. I feel like, if you are going to remake the game, you should at least try to touch up the gameplay a bit to reduce these flaws. Instead, they just redid the graphics and ignored the gameplay, and so the flaws remained.
One nice thing about the game is its presentation. As stated before, Rondo of Blood was completely remade using 3-D models and backgrounds, making it a 2.5-D game, much like The New Super Mario Bros or Megaman: Maverick Hunter X. On top of the nice visuals, the game is fully voiced, which isn't bad at all. They also completely remade the Rondo of Blood music, and did an excellent job of it. To make the music even better, you are allowed to rearrange what music is played with what levels, meaning that, hopefully, you will always be slaying zombies to the music that really gets you pumped. That was really a nice feature that other games should implement.
Included with this game is the original Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. Though they can be a pain to unlock them (it requires you to do some exploration in places that might not seem obvious at first), they are very decent games. Rondo of Blood is the original PC version, so if you liked the remade version, you will probably like the original. Symphony of the Night is considered by many to be the best Castlevania game ever, and it is the one that drove away from the level system and towards exploring a giant castle. Personally, I think SotN is the better game of the two, especially if you never owned it on the Playstation.
For those speed-reading through this, a quick chart of the pros and cons:
+Great visuals, music, and overall presentation
+Classic Castlevania gameplay
+New features not included in original Rondo of Blood
+Two extra games included
-Gameplay flaws make the game much more difficult than it should be
-Extra games are annoying to unlock without a walkthrough
If you are a big Castlevania fan, I would suggest you get this game, as it is classic Castlevania at its finest. If you have never played a Castlevania game, or have only played the newer games, I would suggest renting or borrowing the game, if possible. If you think the games of old are bad because of their difficulty level, then this will probably not be the game for you.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/26/07, Updated 12/18/07
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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