IGN Review of Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles
If you've recently found yourself stalking through the night, shrouded in the darkest of cloaks, and lusting for the intoxicating taste of blood, you're probably a vampire. Fortunately for you, vampires can still play Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, if you don't mind slaying your own kind in digital form. Does this have anything to do with the game? No, but we thought it would make for an amusing introduction. Let's move on.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a compilation of sorts, featuring a completely remastered version of a previously unreleased Castlevania game: Rondo of Blood. It also includes the original Rondo of Blood, as well as (here it comes) the original Symphony of the Night, an incredible fan-favorite. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Castlevania series, you're dealing with a side-scrolling action platformer that pits you against a host of demons, ghouls and vampires in an attempt to slay Dracula and his dark minions. Anyone uncomfortable with extremely intense, old-school platforming may want to look elsewhere for their gothic fix - the remastered Rondo of Blood is really hard, and often times it's just downright frustrating. Casual gamers beware: it'll suck your blood.
The majority of this game is all about the remastered Rondo of Blood. The other two games are treated more as extras, even though Symphony of the Night is an entire package in itself (we'll get back to this later). So for now, let's focus on the new item in this package, and what it brings to the table. Rondo of Blood follows Richter Belmont, son of Simon Belmont, as he charges bravely into the thick of night to kill the legendary Dracula and save his beloved Annette, who has been abducted by sinister forces.
To start, the game looks pretty good. Although the entire title revolves around 2D side-scrolling, the backgrounds and character models are actually in 3D, which gives Rondo of Blood an interesting aesthetic appeal. Just think of a much darker New Super Mario Bros., and you'll have a good idea as to how this game is presented. And while there are very few cutscenes to speak of, we were pleased with what was there, as simple as it was. Most of the dialogue is fully voiced (some of the talent is questionable though), and the musical score is fantastic. At a glance, Rondo of Blood is a well-done remake.
The game itself takes place over nine stages, though one of them is a thirty-second prologue, so that doesn't really count. You make your way through each stage and usually face a boss at the end, but you only have a set number of lives for each stage attempt, and if you lose them all, you have to start all the way at the beginning (as opposed to starting at a checkpoint mid-stage). This system is one of our biggest complaints about the game, but we'll address that soon.
One of the cool things about Rondo of Blood is the branching level design. Stages two through five have varying paths through each stage, which can lead you to different boss fights and, actually, different stages entirely. There are alternate versions of each of these stages that you can find, if you look hard enough. Although you end up in the same place regardless of which route you take, it's nice to have virtually four extra stages to explore and fight through.
Fighting can be done in one of two ways: you can use your whip or you can use a side-weapon. That's all. Although you have six of those side-weapons to choose from, including throwing knives, axes, crosses and holy water, this is a very straight-forward, old-school game. This factor will definitely turn off a lot of people, because they may be accustomed to more refined and complex gameplay mechanics, like those that Symphony of the Night possesses. But Rondo of Blood is all about trucking through the stages and using your very few weapons as effectively as possible. Players who want more than that may be disappointed.
You can also tackle the game with another character, Maria Renard. Maria is a young girl that Richter frees towards the beginning of the game (she's very well hidden), but after you meet her you can select her at any time from the stage select menu. Maria uses, surprisingly, a bunch of animals as weapons, including her main attack which is releasing small doves at the enemy (wicked!). It may sound a little odd, and while she's certainly a vivid contrast to the game's otherwise dark elements, she's a great deal of fun to use and helps mix things up a bit.
Rondo of Blood is a lot of fun, it's challenging, and it harkens back to the mentality that drove games many years ago. Unfortunately, this PSP collection has some issues that we should address. Although the remastered title offers a Japanese language track, not all of the scenes are subtitled, which means you're out of luck if you don't know Japanese. This was a real disappointment for us; even though most of the scenes without subtitles are brief and inconsequential to the story, it still felt like we were missing out.
The biggest problem with this Castlevania title is its difficulty. Challenge is, as we have stated many times before, not a bad thing. But when Rondo of Blood preserved its fundamental, old-school mechanics, it also preserved the problems that were present in many older platformers. For one thing, jumping can be a huge problem. Some of the jumps, even when timed precisely, can still plunge you to your death and force you to start over, washing away the previous fifteen minutes of gameplay. It may not seem too frustrating right now, but we can assure you that it feels intensely unforgiving during play. Furthermore, stair control can be a serious issue as well. If you jump when on a stairwell, you have to continue to hold up on the directional pad when you land, or else you'll fall through the stairs, which often results (once again) in death. Oh dear.
Another concern is the spacing of the checkpoints, which feels very uneven. You could clear massive amounts of space and even pass into different sections of the stage, but sometimes death will set you back all the way to the beginning, even though it may seem like a later checkpoint would have been more natural. Again, this frustration was significant, but didn't ruin our experience. For hardcore fans of older titles, it'll be less of an issue, but appreciation for classic games doesn't necessarily negate mechanical hitches.
Our final complaint is that the remade Rondo of Blood is the only available game when you start; Symphony of the Night must be unlocked, and unlocking it is a very strange ordeal. As opposed to being a reward for beating the game, you actually need to find a very obscure item in one particular stage to play Alucard's adventure. While this isn't that much of a concern, it just seems strange that a major (it not incredible) part of this collection isn't available from the start. But once you do have it, the game runs beautifully and is mostly free of technical issues or glitches. Keep in mind though that the screen will be cropped, but that's to be expected.
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