Review by Herugrim
"Rough around the edges but a great game!"
After six years Konami finally gets around to producing another Chronicles title, this one focusing on one of the more popular eras in the history of the franchise, the Dracula X games. Dracula X was another game released on a little-known Japanese computer system that never saw stateside release. Instead fans were given a heavily modified port released under the same name for the Super Nintendo. Given the natural limitations of the system, many of the features in the original Dracula X could not be brought over, requiring a pretty heavy rework of the game. Here for the first time international Castlevania fans finally got treated to a translated release of this rare game, but were given much more so.
The core game of Dracula X Chronicles is an entirely new game based on the original Dracula X, now called Rondo of Blood. Using 3D character models and background mixed with classic 2D gameplay (a typical combination for the PSP) developers updated the original game and modified a number of parts for its new release. The original game would be ported to the disk as well, in addition to a slightly modified Symphony of the Night.
Starting with the sound effects, the score in this game is once again top notch. All the themes have been updated and remixed to fit with the new title. Many of the techno/dance elements the original game had were removed in favor of a more symphonic feel with a rock edge. The ability to reassign different songs to different stages can add an interesting bit of customization to players who relish in the rich musical history of this series, it even allows you to mix in music from Symphony of the Night. Rondo Of Blood was the second Castlevania to feature cut scenes like the game that would be ported in the first Chronicles. However this time there are cut scenes featured throughout the game and not just at the intro and ending. Also new to the series, Rondo of Blood was the first game to feature voiceovers for character dialog and throughout combat. These elements remain in the updated Chronicles game with CG scenes and fully recorded dialog. For all the games, you have the option of switching between English and Japanese audio, so even though the original Rondo of Blood game wasn't released in the US you can still have English voice acting for it if you prefer, or you can play all three games with the original Japanese voices. Also of note fans of Symphony of the Night will notice that the English voice actors have all been changed. Reactions to this have been mixed, while most fans are happy since the new voice actors aren't as over the top and theatrical as the old ones. Many of them, however, miss Alucard's original voice actor since his new one sounds rather tired in comparison. However the main reason for changing up the voice cast is that the creative team wanted to keep the voices consistent for certain characters between the two games like Richter, Dracula, Shaft, and Death.
The graphics are pretty typical for this type of game on the PSP. They aren't nearly as good as we have seen the system produce, but they are still much better then the original graphics. Many of the characters have been redesigned in this game to give them a more detailed, Symphony of the Night style look. Richter Belmont no longer looks like Ryu from Street Fighter but rather a younger version of how he looks in the artwork for Symphony of the Night. Dracula has also been redesigned, giving him a younger look with short black hair and a much thinner goatee. This is a very different look then what we see at the beginning of Symphony of the Night, which is supposed to be the last stage of this game reproduced. The enemies all made good 3D transitions and have a good amount of detail. The original Rondo of Blood seems to be pretty lacking in graphics, even in terms of the gaming generation in mind. The last Chronicles game actually looks much better then Rondo of Blood and it's an older game. Also the cut scenes in the original game are more like animated storyboards then real animation. They look like something a fan made in flash. The original game is, however, more consistent with its sequel symphony of the night, so it's up to the individual gamer.
Next is gameplay, always the biggest part. In the evolution of the series, Dracula X Chronicles sits squarely between the first Chronicles game and Symphony of the Night. In terms of changes from the previous games, Richter has a much more controlled jump, though he still can't go very high or very far. His whip never needs to be upgraded and from the beginning of the game is in the fully upgraded form of a very long, flail like chain whip. Worth noting is that new to this game you can jump on steps, so you aren't so vulnerable to flying enemies while climbing stairs anymore. There also aren't so many bottomless pits. Falling into what looks like one usually results in finding a new alternate area. While Richter can still use all the classic Castlevania sub weapons he can also use a special attack know as an Item Crash. This is a more powerful attack that varies depending on the sub weapon on hand and takes up considerably more hearts. It is a skill that can't be used lightly, but is very useful in clearing out a room or laying into a tough boss. Lastly Richter Belmont has a back flip which may seem useless at first but is actually essential in dodging certain enemy attacks and even in plat forming elements since doing it gets Richter a bit of added height.
On the downside, Richter still cannot whip in any direction he so chooses. He can't flail his whip. And he can't even whip down while jumping, although again given his limited jumping abilities to start with it isn't a terribly useful skill.
While the game's basic layout is a linear level design, it does feature many secret paths that lead to new hidden areas with their own bosses. If you take the high road and try to beat the game straight up, you'll get to fight all the classic Castlevania villains in updated form. First there's Death who starts off in the form he appears as throughout the game, but part way through he will summon his scythe and take up a form more alike his classic forms in previous games. Shaft is Dracula's new right hand man. He's the human who resurrected the Lord of Darkness in this age and he's the one who kidnapped Richter's girlfriend Annette. Before fighting Richter he summons four bosses from the original game, The Giant Bat, Medusa, The Mummy, and Frankenstein's Monster. After all that you finally get to kill shaft. The last stage is that dreaded clock tower, and the boss is none other than, Annette! Richter arrives too late and he now has to destroy the one he loves and Annette has been bitten by Dracula and is transformed into a vampire. Finally you get to climb those stairs in the final stage and face off against Dracula and his transformed state, but suddenly the ghost of Shaft appears and saves the Dark Lord! That is just one of multiple endings you can get in the game, something fans at the time this game was first released hadn't seen since Dracula's Curse, and even in that game it wasn't quite the same thing.
To get the real ending you have to rescue Annette before she is bitten. To do this you have to first rescue Tera and Iris, two other women abducted by Dracula's minions. They each give you an amulet that allows you to break two special walls in the clock tower that block off the two buttons you have to press to reveal the path to Annette's prison. Then you need to get the hidden key and rescue Richter's beloved! Also, there's a fourth girl you can free early in the game named Maria. This little girl is actually a playable character, making this the first Castlevania since Dracula's Curse to feature an extra character when the original Rondo of Blood was released. Maria can jump much higher then Richter and can control herself much more during it. She can even double jump. Maria's main form of attack is with two doves that she throws at enemies. The birds fly out a decent range and then return like boomerangs. Because of her increased mobility Maria is generally considered the easy mode' of Dracula X Chronicles. However she can actually be difficult to get used to if you've become too comfortable using a Belmont.
Accomplishing all this replaces Annette with the ghost of Shaft as the boss in the Clock Tower. Defeating the dark priest a second time means he won't be around to interfere in your match with Dracula and you are finally free to defeat the Lord of Darkness. However after beating his transformed state, Dracula surprises you by revealing a third form, far more powerful then the other two. Dracula teleports around the room using very quick spells that you've never seen before and even charges you with his wolf form. It will take you a long time to beat this new form of Dracula but once you do, you get that great feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing the game.
Altogether, this game is far more frustrating then the easy setting and extra lives of the arranged mode on the previous chronicles title. Fans who were introduced to the series by Symphony of the Night or later titles and haven't played previous Castlevania games will find this game extremely difficult, if not neigh impossible to beat. There are tougher Castlevania titles out there, but this one can easily frustrate new fans. I strongly recommend getting the first Castlevania Chronicles to familiarize yourself to the limitations of a Belmont character. Luckily both of these titles are available on the Playstation Network at discounted retail price.
The bonuses for the game, as mentioned, are hidden music tracks and two extra games, the original Rondo of Blood and none other than Symphony of the Night. Rondo is a direct port kept exactly as it was originally released. Symphony gets a few new features that fans have been requesting for years. It adds the extra Japanese/Saturn version features such as the two extra familiars and Maria being a playable character in addition to being a boss. Maria's sprites were redone for the game but remain the same in cut scenes. Also her attack set is based on her Rondo of Blood appearance rather then her Saturn version. It doesn't feature any of the other bonuses the Saturn version got, like the extra Richter sprites or the new areas.
In the end this is a very tough game but when bought together with the first Castlevania Chronicles you get a good comprehensive look at the classic Castlevania games without the incredibly dated graphics and a bit lighter on the frustrating difficulty. Well worth buying!
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/11/10
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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