Review by Tenshi No Shi
"A classic game finally sees the light of day."
I can't believe it finally happened. My favorite game- ever- finally released outside of Japan for the first time. You see back in 1993, when I first started importing games, I decided to give Dracula X: Chi no Rondo a go since playing imports on the Turbo Duo was so incredibly easy. Being a huge fan of Castlevania, a game that was likely to ever reach North America (the TurboDuo was already all but dead in the United States at this time), it just seemed like a perfect fit. Years later while in college, I imported the sequel (Symphony of the Night) the second it hit Japan and of course loved it, but couldn't help but feel that Konami missed a golden opportunity to release Richter's first adventure to a system with a much larger user-base. Still, at least I had my precious PC Engine copy in my collection. Now, nearly fourteen years later, Castlevania fans everywhere will finally get a chance to play the finest traditional Castlevania game ever created without forking over nearly $300 just for a used copy on an obsolete game console.
Dracula X Chronicles is a 3D remake of the classic PC Engine adventure and, as such, has a far more expanded story than the original release through the much more liberal use of cut-scenses. In this tale set in the year of 1792, we follow the adventures of a young vampire hunter of Belmont lineage by the name of Richter as he sets out to rescue his fiancee Annette, who was kidnapped (along with several other female villagers) by the Dark Priest Shaft. Shaft, it seems, has been a very busy man, performing a dark ritual that has resurrected Dracula well before his 100-year cycle. With the infamous Vampire Killer in hand, Richter begins his journey to confront the Dark Lord himself and, ultimately, the destiny of his bloodline. Sure the story isn't anything new to Castlevania enthusiasts, but the addition of hostages that actually aid you (and advance the story) if you rescue them, plus the multiple endings depending how much work you put in to the game makes this a far less linear adventure that most of the games in the series that came before it.
Graphically, Dracula X Chronicles both succeeds and fails at the same time. As a 3D remake of a classic 2D game on a portable system, Konami attempts to capture the essence of the original game and make it work in these more technologically advanced times. However, in IGA's efforts to preserve this beloved classic, a few of the stages end up with rather drab, unimaginative backgrounds. For the most part, many stages have interesting bits of interaction or tiny snippets of fan-service carrying on around you while you play the game, but for every two stages that are fun and creative, there seems to be one that utterly fails to inspire. Surprisingly, the characters and enemies, while updated, manage to look and feel identical to their 2D counterparts, right down to the frames of animation. In this respect alone, IGA and his team have achieved the goal of bringing a rather obscure (outside of Japan, at least) entry of one of the best video game franchises to the masses with its integrity in tact.
I've said it before, but I think it bears repeating- I love Castlevania soundtracks. While many long-time fans have bemoaned the remixed music of Dracula X Chronicles, I almost instantly fell in love with it. Sure a few of the songs aren't as good as the originals, but the overall soundtrack is every bit as good as the 8- and 16-bit classics that came before it (and most certainly worlds better than most of the portable games to come out in the past five years). But there's more than just the music to talk about here; The audio effects are typical to a Castlevania game, which isn't by any means a bad thing, but nothing you haven't heard before so it isn't really worth going in to any detail about. That just leaves the voice acting. Now it goes without saying that there hasn't been a genuine effort put forth in this department ever since it was first introduced in Symphony of the Night (and there haven't been many Castlevania games since that have actually had this as a feature), but clearly Konami wasn't too concerned with impressing anyone with their obviously amateur attempts when these games were released in English. Dracula X Chronicles changes that. An obvious focus on properly translating the script and hiring actual talent to voice the characters was a a priority with this release, and the final product reflects that commitment. Sure purists may complain about the alterations performed on their beloved Symphony of the Night, but I, for one, welcome the audio face-lift, having played the game dozens of times across four other platforms.
It really shouldn't surprise me that Dracula X Chronicles controls as well as it does. After all, Mega Man, Mega Man X and Ghosts 'N Goblins all made the 3D jump to Sony's portable with great success, so why shouldn't Castlevania pull it off? Quite honestly, the game plays a helluva lot better than I dared to even hope for- the controls are tight, responsive and precise, all crucial elements for a good platformer. IGA and team even managed to reproduce the infamous Richter "strut" without the frames of animation compromising the precession required for some of the trickier jumping bits found later in the game. Of course the game is far more comfortable to play on the newer PSP Slim model than the original version, so that does actually factor in to my review of the controls, but not enough to make a significant impact on the final score.
I'm actually a tad disappointed with the overall design of the game, and it pains me to admit that. Sure, when you're in-game, the menus are slick, the map is well-designed and the level layouts are great. But when you first boot up the game, the initial start screen is rather plain, and selecting any of the extra games (see below) requires going in to a rather convoluted menu that is over-animated for the (ultimately) four choices it gives you. This may seems like a minor thing to knock a game for, but when so many other areas of the game received so much attention, why wouldn't you make that extra effort to have a decent looking starting screen and menu structure? It's like they woke up the morning before the disc went gold and realized they'd forgotten to tie everything together, so they quick cobbled together a menu. All right, maybe it isn't that bad, but I wanted this to be a perfect game so I can't help but be disappointed by the few flaws that are present.
As far as Rondo of Blood goes, there are several unlockables and secrets to be discovered. Perhaps the best known extra is Maria as a playable character who you'll most likely find on second stage. Once you rescue her, she'll be selectable on the stage select and basically acts as the game's Easy Mode. You'll also need her to access all of the secret areas in the game (if you plan on unlocking everything), so it's best to get her early. Naturally a Boss Rush Mode is present, complete with co-op gameplay so you can shatter time records (and unlock more goodies) with a friend. Also scattered throughout the game are icons that, for the most part, represent tracks for the music mode. Collecting these are crucial if you want to rearrange the soundtrack so that you can set your favorite songs as the background music to whatever stages you please. There are, however, three other icons to be found which unlock the original Rondo of Blood, it's sequel Symphony of the Night and a joke game called Akoumajou Dracula Peke (which was booted in lieu of Rondo of Blood on the TurboDuo if you had the wrong System Card inserted). All in all perhaps the best collection of unlockables in a portable Castlevania yet, but only because two of the best games in the series are included.
Without a doubt you must have this game in your collection if you consider yourself even a casual Castlevania fan. While most purists don't like the 2.5D makeover, I found myself enjoying it. Maybe it's because I've played the original Rondo of Blood at least once a year since it's debut, or maybe it's because I love Castlevania just a little too much, but I happen to think IGA did a great job of remaking this classic for a modern system. Plus it doesn't hurt that both the original game and the sequel that put IGA on the map are included on the same UMD. The bottom line is Dracula X Chronicles is a must-own for your PSP.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/10/09
Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)
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