Review by Arkrex
Whip and whoop ass! Again, again, AGAIN!
Dracula has been resurrected! He's on a killing spree, snatching beautiful maidens here and there. The world has not seen such a terror in 100 years. So who's gonna stop this bastard? Dante? Kratos? Nah, they're too busy kicking ass in 3D. Yes. Despite any confusion that the translated title - Dracula X: Rondo of Blood - may cause, this is no doubt a Castlevania game; officially the tenth iteration as denoted by the Roman numeral "X". What this means is that there will be no ass kicking or machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher malarkey. Meet Richter Belmont. He's a pretty boy dressed in a tidy blue ninja garb who would probably shoot his own foot if you gave him a firearm. But he's got a whip, a vampire-killing whip (called Vampire Killer, duh), and he knows more than a just a few party tricks with it.
Wouldn't it be easier if Dracula actually came out to wreak havoc once the hero arrived? Every time a Belmont arrives, it seems that all he does it sit in his throne room sipping blood from his chalice. It's the same deal here; Richter's got to bust into Dracula's castle, fend off countless minions, save a few hot chicks along the way, before whacking the Count's face silly so that he falls into yet another 100 year long slumber. This is an old-school Castlevania title so there's no equipment to find, no abilities to learn, no tedious backtracking, and no levelling up. You go in as a weak Belmont, you come out as a weak Belmont; whether or not you're man enough to finish it (straight through, without cheating!) depends on how skilful you are as a gamer. Luckily for Richter, Dracula knows how to treat his guests well. Should our hero receive too much of a beating (that is, about three or four hits), there's plenty of meat in the walls. Seriously - try breaking a few walls with that whip of his. Can you smell the roast chicken?
Protein is good for your body. Richter knows this and that's why he's so strong. Okay, so he's a bit of a wuss when it comes to monsters beating on him, but he can dish out just as much, if not more hurt back at them. The traditional Belmont subweapons are back: the boomerang cross, the giant axe, the spiralling bible, the kitchen knives (how else would he eat the meat?), the stopwatch, and the jars of blessed H20. Once again, they are usually found hidden in candles littered all throughout the place. However, most of the time you'll just find little hearts instead. Richter doesn't need much loving (that's why he's gonna kill Dracula; to save his dearly beloved and bedroom-reliable, Annette) so he uses these hearts as ammunition for his various subweapons. As if throwing them isn't enough, Richter is also able to perform an "item-crash" whereby he consumes a large amount of hearts to give an impressive display of his physical/magical prowess. He can throw out a flurry of knives over a few seconds or bring about a holy hydro storm to cleanse and purify entire screens in this way. Maybe this is why Dracula is so keen on resurrection (it's not like he's ever going to win); he likes to keep up with the Belmonts to see what's "in" in the world of vampire killing.
Richter's a smarter fellow than most of his predecessors. Instead of traversing the castle as if it were a one way street, if he sees an alternate path (or inadvertently falls into one, whatever), he'll take it. Trevor Belmont did similar things in Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, but he had three stooges who could help him; Richter's all by himself. It takes eight stages to reach Dracula, but stages two through to five all have alternate versions. Why are they called "alternate" when they are, in fact, completely different stages with completely different settings, music, enemies and bosses? Who knows, but this somewhat free approach to stage progression makes the game highly replayable. Or else you can just select your favourites via stage select, but doing so means you won't be able to rack up the highest score possible (not that it really matters, though; it doesn't even get recorded... WTF?!) Getting to those alternate levels requires a bit of brainwork (or an FAQ). It won't always be as simple as a diverging set of stairs; you'll need to use logic to figure out that a spiked ball you just whipped loose has crashed onto something brittle down below and that you should go check it out. Sometimes, it's quite amusing to be hit by an enemy due to a mistimed jump, only to find that you aren't knocked back into an instant death pit, but a secret rock surface with a happy-go-lucky ferryman who has been waiting to take you somewhere special. See, everyone loves Richter!
And now everyone else can see why. This was, until recently, a Japanese-only release playable on the Japanese Turbo CD console (or else via computer emulation). You can play a 99.9% perfect Rondo of Blood in the latest Konami masterpiece that is Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles. Sure, there's a fancy 3D remake and a tantalising portable Symphony of the Night, but this game still brings bloody tears to my eyes. Not because it's hard; I like hard, and the more you play this, the more you'll see that it's not THAT hard - just be aware that you can't simply hold right and button mash the whip button for success.
Rondo of Blood is the best classic Castlevania game because the controls are near faultless, the stage design is inspiring (it did inspire the modern Castlevanias as we know now them), the anime-esque graphics are brilliant, the balance of enemies and bosses is just right (very few repeats, unlike in recent games), the soundtrack is of an unbelievably high quality, there's an unlockable character, Maria, who is basically death in a pink dress who throws out doves instead of sickles, and finally, it's the best of the lot because frankly I've played it many, more times than the others (unfortunately, it is on the short side).
If that single-sentence paragraph wasn't enough to persuade you, perhaps you really are just another rotting piece of flesh to add to a miserable pile of lies.
Just kidding! But if you're any kind of action-adventure aficionado, you have got to play this tenth wonder of the Castlevania world. And now, you have no excuse not to do so. Maybe it's about time that gamers took the PSP more seriously, eh?
VERDICT 9.0/10 If only there was more freedom...
ARKREX ANALYSIS AKA Filler to boost word count
Visuals - A Looks nearly as good as Symphony of the Night!
Audio - A This soundtrack was produced in 1993?! No. Way. Jose.
Gameplay - A Great stage design and some of the coolest boss fights ever
Controls - A- Much better than all of the other classic Castlevanias; go-go somersault!
Replayability - A+ Stage select is a godsend
Difficulty - A One of the more easier classics, but its still as tough as nails!
Buy/Rent? - Goddammit, just play it!
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (JP, 10/29/93)
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