Review by BloodGod65

"Dracula Wants to Suck Your Blood... Too Bad He Just Sucks"

If it weren't for handhelds, Castlevania would have fallen into obscurity a long time ago. After the timeless reinvention of the series with Symphony of the Night, Castlevania effectively died on consoles. The few that came out were in 3D and were usually reviled and ridiculed among fans. To get the real Castlevania games – those that continued the Symphony of the Night legacy – you had to get a handheld. And since proper, 2D, post-Symphony iterations have only appeared on the Game Boy Advance and the DS, it was a bit of a surprise when it was announced that the PSP was getting its own Castlevania. Don't get too excited; this isn't the kind of Castlevania we wanted.

The main game in Dracula X Chronicles is a remake of Rondo of Blood, a title that never came out in America. For Castlevania fans, this alone will likely cause convulsions of sheer fanboy joy. But it is worth mentioning that Rondo of Blood was the last Castlevania that followed a linear format before the open-ended Symphony of the Night (and you can almost hear the groans of disappointment from everyone who isn't a Castlevania diehard).

Because the game first came out in 1993, the game has received a major graphical update for its rerelease. The update takes the game to 2.5D, giving it some dimension without a full transition to 3D. More importantly, all the character and enemy models are cool and very detailed. The environments have also been updated, so they are more vibrant and colorful but still keep their gothic overtones. Unfortunately, there is a least one major problem with the update; the hit detection is off. Some of the enemies – especially bosses – have models bigger than their hit zone. This means you can actually hit the model but cause no damage to the enemy.

Surprisingly, the graphical update is the only thing that has been changed in the game. The story is lame (but then, that holds true for all Castlevanias) and is basically the same “vampire hunter must save loved one from Dracula by smacking the forces of darkness around with a whip” setup that has appeared in every game. The core gameplay remains the same and since it is from a seventeen year old game, it is predictably outdated.

Unlike its successors, Rondo of Blood plays out through linear side-scrolling levels. In every level, you have to avoid traps, kill enemies, and survive a brutal boss fight to continue on. The developer tries to create an illusion of freedom by giving each level an alternate path. If you find this area, you are transported to another stage and then you continue down this alternate path to the end of the game. This basically doubles the length of the game if you want to go back and play through the other levels – but I doubt you'll want to.

Like many old-school games, Rondo of Blood is hard. You only get three lives and if you lose them all, it's game over. And cheap one hit kills abound in this game; fall in water? Dead. Miss a staircase and fall into a chasm? Dead. Thankfully, you can save your progress and start over from the level you died on, which means you don't have to start from the beginning. Even so, many of the levels are maddeningly difficult and it often takes memorizing enemy locations to get through.

If the game was legitimately challenging, I would be okay with it, but it usually feels like you're fighting the controls rather than your enemies. The controls are very stiff; while they aren't unresponsive, it just takes the character too long to respond and he moves so slowly it's hard to get past most enemies. He also has none of the fancy moves later heroes would (post Alucard, that is to say). He can't dash, or slide, or any of those abilities that make outmaneuvering enemies easy. All he has is a stupid jump-backflip combo. That's right, he can't even double jump – the second jump makes him flip backwards.

So Rondo of Blood is terrible, but surprisingly enough, the package is not without merit. Why? Rondo of Blood is only one of three titles. The other two are the original Rondo of Blood (blegh) and a version of Symphony of the Night. Let rejoicing commence.

Unfortunately, you'll run into problems right away, as Symphony of the Night must be unlocked before it can be played. This is infuriating when it is so blatantly advertised on the game case – I fear many will pick it up thinking they'll get to play Symphony right off the bat. In truth, the method to unlock the game is so convoluted most people will never figure it out – especially not without a guide. And no, there is no secret code.

While the amount of misery and suffering required to get to the point of unlocking Symphony of the Night is immense, once you can access it, Dracula X Chronicles almost becomes worth what you'll pay for it. While it has an immediately noticeable problem – Symphony only uses about seventy-five percent of the screen, so it's like playing a GBA game on the DS, but worse – it doesn't take long to forget all about that once you're running around an open castle, destroying monsters and looking for Dracula.

It's easy to see why Symphony of the Night is so loved – if Rondo of Blood is any indication of what the series as a whole was like before it came along, Castlevania sucked. Alucard is a much faster and much more capable hero than the dork from Rondo of Blood. Moving around the castle is a joy in and of itself, because there are numerous distinct areas to explore. There is also plenty of depth in the game as well, due to some light RPG elements. As Alucard kills enemies, they will drop a variety of loot that he can equip – from armor to shields to swords (that's right, Alucard doesn't use a wimpy whip). The shield is particularly interesting, because you can block all sorts of incoming attacks with it.

As has been said time and time again, Symphony of the Night was the game that earned the series the nickname “Metroidvania”, because of its design resemblance to Metroid. While the castle is open, there are places that can only be reached by having a certain item. So, you'll find yourself searching for items to unlock new parts of the castle or items that will give you the ability to overcome obstacles, and then backtracking to get through.

Unlike Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night hasn't received any graphical update, which is unfortunate. The character models are just a little too outdated with some pixilation and the colors are strangely vivid (in a bad way). But I think I'd rather have an ugly, fun game rather than a pretty, terrible game any day.

The story of how Dracula X Chronicles came to be is that the creator of Castlevania wanted people to know he was interested in the PSP. But rather than take the time to create a new title, he decided to port Rondo of Blood. How thoughtful.

While Rondo of Blood by itself would have made for an entirely worthless game, the inclusion of Symphony keeps the package from being a throwaway title. Even so, I still don't think Dracula X Chronicles will be worth it to most people. The fact that Symphony must be unlocked by suffering through several, terrible Rondo levels – despite being prominently displayed on the game's packaging – means it's almost more trouble than it is worth. A better decision for Konami would have been to release Symphony of the Night as a single title. As it stands, you're better off hunting down the original or downloading it straight from Xbox Live.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 07/19/10

Game Release: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (US, 10/23/07)

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