Review by shenmuer2001
""I'm Richter Belmont. Vampire Hunter.""
It was some time in 2005, and there I was, a man in Japan with nothing to do. My French and American friends and I, bored out of our skulls and lovers of video games that we were, decided that we would try to do something difficult: try to beat the original Castlevania. Three men, one controller, one emulator. We passed the controller around every time we died and found... that we still couldn't get very far, even with save states. "This game is too [damn] hard," my friend said. "Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (CSotN) is a lot better." Soon afterwards, I would experience my first playthrough of that game.
CSotN had me from the start. The game starts off right where every Castlevania game ends: a fight of Belmont against Dracula. After an exchange of spoken dialogue that is just cheesy enough to be awesome, Belmont (first name Richter) is able to defeat Dracula easily*, and Dracula vanishes with his castle. The game then moves ahead five years, and Dracula's son, Alucard, who appeared earlier in Castlevania III, arrives to Dracula's castle to determine why it has reappeared so quickly. This is where the game gets good.
Before this game, the Castlevania formula was relatively simple: a member of the Belmont clan would go through a series of stages armed with a whip and a sub-weapon (such as an axe or knife), beat a boss at the end of each level, and then beat Dracula at the end. CSotN, however, changed this formula completely. Levels were replaced with one continuous dungeon that could be revisted over and over again. The whip was replaced by a sword or a mace that could be equipped at will like an RPG. Armor could also be equipped, and levels could be gained**. In effect, it made the game more accessible for people (such as myself) who generally suck at video games that require skill. If a section of the castle is too difficult for you, you can explore a different section to gain more levels and become stronger or find better equipment to prevent you from dying. There are also countless save points that refill your life when you save, which makes it even harder to lose. Despite losing much of its difficulty, this game was (rightly) praised for its design and for reinvigorating the Castlevania series. It would go on to become the stuff of Castlevania legend, and it would lead to the creation of a thousand sequels that would try to follow CSotN's pattern ("if it ain't broke, don't try to modify it too much.")***
A few years after I played this game and many years after it was first made, CSotN was included as part of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. However, the draw of this game is not the inclusion of CSotN, but of the inclusion of the game's predecessor Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (CRoB) in its original and remade form****. CRoB was and (according to the other reviews on this site) is lauded as one of the greatest Castlevania games of all time, despite the fact that prior to this release most people had never played it before. It was the stuff of legend. Now, it can finally be judged for what it is.
CRoB is hard. At least, it's hard to those CSotN loving men and women who aren't good at this type of game. However, even I was able to beat this game with 100% completion*****, which is to say that it is not impossible. The main mode is enjoyable, and the possibility of two final bosses at the end of most levels adds multiple pathways and explorability to each level. The original seems to be harder than the remake, but I'm not sure if it's because the remake is a bit more fluid or if the bosses have slightly different patterns, meaning that all the practice you put into beating the remake bosses is worthless when playing the original version.
The gameplay is just like this game's predecessors. You take your flail (whip with a spiked ball at the end (we can't stray from the formula too much)), beat a bunch of monsters from various mythologies******, rescue some maidens (if you look hard enough), and defeat Dracula. After you beat all of the bosses, you can compete in a boss rush mode that lets you beat a series of bosses in a row and earns you some (practically useless) sound files. You can use those sound files to assign different songs to the levels, but I never bothered to do that.
Overall, the remake is the more enjoyable version of CRoB, but the original has one thing that makes it awesome: cutscenes. The remake has some cutscenes too, but they don't compare to the awesome early-90s 16-bit wonder of the original. I would play this game just to watch the cutscenes alone (almost an exaggeration). Still, it's interesting to play both versions just to compare/be frustrated with the differences.
And what of CSotN, you may be wondering? Well, it's pretty much the exact same game that was released over a decade ago. What makes it great to have in this collection is that after playing CRoB, you are able to understand who Maria is and see how many of the monsters have come back to this game. The only thing that might be annoying to fans of the original is that the script has been redone and re-voiced, meaning that Alucard sounds less macho and more like a pretty boy, and the librarian sounds less psychotic. Still, if you liked it before, you'll like it now, and if you've never played it, then you'll probably enjoy it and won't care about the difference.
This collection is a powerhouse of an enjoyable traditional Castlevania and the founder of the new order of Castlevania. Just play it and you'll see why people have lauded the series. Be careful, though, that CRoB is difficult for the non-experienced Castlevania player.
*In fact, it is impossible to lose this battle, due to the fact that a fellow vampire hunter named Maria will revive you if you die. Since this battle was actually the end of the game Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and deals with what already happened, it would make no sense if you could lose.
**Yes, levels could be gained and the world could be explored in Simon's Quest, but it took CSotN to make these ideas into a staple of the series.
***As of writing this, I've never played any of the sequels, so any thoughts I have on them only come from hearsay.
**** Also included was CRoB's bastard son, Akumajou Dracula X Peke, which is not so much of a game as it is a warning. It could originally be accessed on PC-Engines that were not updated, and it would tell you at the end of the "game" that you needed to update your system. It's included more for nostalgia and complete-ists than for anything else.
***** This leads to my diatribe on 100% completion. Personally, I think that having the designers show you how much of any part of the game that you've completed is the worst idea in the history of video game design. Knowing that you have a certain percentage to complete only adds extra, unnecessary time that makes playing the game feel more like a chore than a game. Why do I have to fight every single monster in an RPG just to complete a bestiary and get 100%? Why do I have to find a bunch of sound files that I won't listen to and just end up looking at an FAQ to get? Even worse, having the percentage visible forces me to become obsessed with it. At least the original RoB gives you percentage points only for finding the maidens and beating every level.
******Seriously, why are a succubus, minotaur, and werewolf hanging around the same area? Is Dracula really so powerful that he can recruit all of them AND Death? For that matter, how can Death die?
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/20/09
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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