Review by Aganar
When I first started to play this, I was very disappointed, because of all the amazing things I had heard about Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. But apparently this port took out a lot of the features that made the game one of the best out there. There were no more anime cutscenes, MUCH less alternate paths, less weapons, Richter was harder to use, and the secret character was taken out. And when I originally wrote this, it was nothing but a comparison of the game to Rondo of Blood or Castlevania 4. But I've decided now just to rate this just as its own game.
Unfortunately, at least in this game, the story seems nonexistent. You're searching for two people, although you're not really sure who they are or why. Since I know of the story, the characters are supposed to be Richter's girlfriend, and Maria, her little sister. You are Richter Belmont, the latest and most powerful Belmont, and arguably most powerful vampire hunter to date. Dracula has kidnapped your girlfriend and Maria and taken them to the castle. Determined to get them back, Richter must travel to the castle and kill Dracula once and for all. Worth noting is the fact that this is the last game that will feature the Bela Lugosi looking Dracula. But more importantly, this is also the first to feature the demon Dracula.
When you look at the first level of Dracula X, the game looks amazing. The level had 3 layers, the town behind you was burning with a really cool layer of flames, there was the extremely detailed monster chasing after you with his legs gone. If every level was as cool as the first, there would be no contest between it and Castlevania 4. But unfortunately, as you go on the levels seem to get less interesting, which kinda bugged me. They did such a great redux on the first level I wish they‘d done as good a job on the others. But that is not to say that the graphics look bad at all. Even at the later levels, the backgrounds are still very detailed, as well are the characters.
The other area of the graphics I should mention is the art-style, which definitely was advanced for the time. Richter has a Ryu-ish look to him, but nonetheless looks a hell of a lot more interesting than Simon. The rest of the game has a very anime-ish look to it (possibly taking influence from the anime cutscenes that were in the original or vice versa). The monsters new versions all look pretty cool, and Dracula's demon form looks awesome. So, the artistic value of the game is definitely quite high. Overall, this makes the graphics pleasing, well done, and creative.
On to the gameplay. Like the older Castlevania games (excluding 2) you walk through a series of levels, collecting hearts, money, and killing whatever gets in your way. Also like in the old ones, you play as a vampire hunter with a whip. In Castlevania 4, the controllable whip was introduced. Well, that's gone, which is a bit of a bummer. But it was for a good reason. In the old Castlevania games, you would press up to use your special items. In CV4 it was changed to an alternate button. You're back to pushing up to do it. However, this was to make room for Richter's ability, the item crash. When Richter uses an item crash, it uses 10 hearts instead of one or 3, but more importantly whatever item you had floods the screen in some sort of fashion. Using the axe's item crash causes a wave of axes to attack everything on the screen. Daggers cause Richter to fire a fast stream of daggers in front of him. A stopwatch causes a barrier to form around Richter, etc. Each item has its own unique item crash, and even if you DON'T have any items, but still have 10 hearts, you can activate it to give Richter a quick burst of power and a fire whip.
I actually really like the item crash. It seems like a pretty cool idea, and I much prefer it to controllable whips. If it were up to me, I would just like to have item crashes, but with Simon's controllable whip when you're standing still (and I've heard this was actually in the original). But nonetheless, it still works quite well. Sometimes the item crashes work much better if you just want to deal some quick damage to a boss, or just to wipe out everything on the screen. There's a good amount of difficulty in Dracula X, but most of it is actually challenge instead of cheapness combined with incredible frustration. The control still leaves a bit to be desired, but it's not terrible. Overall, the gameplay has some new elements (for the time) but still is predominantly old-school.
I want to say that the soundtrack is the 2nd best Castlevania one out there, but they all seem so close after Symphony of the Night it's hard to pick. On the upside, some of the tunes are really amazing. Alot of the original tunes are really well-done (1st level really standing out from the bunch). And, the remixes are really good. However, the music's shine seems to be more remixes than actual themes, which is a little disappointing. I wish they had more original tunes that were good. It was a really bad idea to take some of the tunes out from Rondo of Blood (I want my creepy chanting, damnit!). But, the sound is still pretty good, so I guess the overall sound score still remains solid.
There is some replay value, but it seems to be really dumbed down. The levels aren't nonlinear at all anymore; so getting to Dracula any other way than the path set in stone is impossible. Saving the characters only changes your ending, so there goes the extra character. I guess getting the different endings would count, but in all honesty they really feel more like a chore than an extra challenge. First you spend a long time searching for the key to open a stupid door to get Maria back, only to have her tell you her sister is in a totally different area. So, you go searching for her door, only to find out that you need a different key and look around for several hours searching for a damn key until you stop caring and leave her to explode with the Castle, leaving Richter to die a lonely man with some bratty little kid with no powers in this version, then later grow up to randomly wander around the same castle again, be played now by a horrible voice actress, and encounter the son of Dracula whom she grows to love in the 5 minutes that she is in contact with him, but never confess and also die a poor and lonely old woman. Aaaaanyway, the replay value still exists, but it too had been significantly dumbed down.
Overall, this is still an underrated game. If you just skim over it, it will seem fairly disappointing and nothing more than adequate. But if you actually play through it, and can see it without thinking of what is missing or what was changed, then it is still a really good game. Some things I still couldn't look past, so the score is what I feel it deserves. Thank you for a great game, Konami. Shame on you for a horrible port, Konami.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/02/03
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