It’s hard to believe that the Castlevania series started on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, and an iteration of the series has come to almost every console since. Few gaming series have had the longevity that Castlevania has seen. While the series has had its fair share of ups and downs, part of that success can be attributed to having a villain that almost everyone is familiar with.
Count Dracula has returned, and this time he is making his way to the PSP. Instead of getting a brand new game, US gamers are getting two games for the price of one. The first is Rondo of Blood, which has never been released in the US. The second is Symphony of the Night, considered to be the high point of the series. Was it worth the wait to get these games onto the PSP?
When first starting up Rondo of Blood, it’s amazing to see how well the graphics hold up. The game starts out with an in-engine 3D cut scene. The animation is top-notch, even if the characters are a bit blocky, making the cut scene a treat to watch. Slowly the camera transitions to a side view and suddenly you are controlling your character on the screen. The effect does a good job to transition you to the 2D plane. Other 3D cut scenes occur throughout the game to push the plot forward.
The animations of your character flow smoothly. The whip moves fluidly and realistically. Your character’s walk shows his confidence in the task at hand. The enemies are animated well so that they give you a sense of motion as they approach you. Even the boss battles and mini-boss battles look good. The number of enemies and the differences in the backgrounds are surprisingly varied. While you do have some repetition, the variations are much better than what you’d see in most platforming titles.
The music sets the tone with a very ominous vibe to it. Dracula is a traditional horror character, so the music is meant to be frightening. There is definitely a sense of dread behind the music, which is what the developers were going for.
The sound effects do the game justice. Your whip cracks when you hit enemies on the screen. Enemies scream as they go to their doom. Typical sounds for picking up power ups and hearts are prevalent. While they aren’t realistic, it is typical for a platformer like this.
The voice acting is mostly done well. The main character acts with shock at the first encounter he has. Maria, a character you can switch to later in Rondo of Blood, has fear in her voice as she is being chased. Count Dracula is a bit over the top though, and might make you laugh or wince instead of making you feel terror. It could be a lot worse though.
Controlling your on-screen character feels similar to other platforming conventions. Movement is done with the D-pad, tapping X jumps, double tapping X performs a double jump or back flip, and Square attacks. Pressing up on the D-pad while hitting Square uses your sub-weapon. Hitting Triangle performs a powerful attack from the subweapon.
Tight controls in a platformer are important because of the jumps and the enemies attacking. The Dracula X Chronicles performs well in this area and seems to be an excellent fit on the PSP. The controls enable you to go exactly where you want to, but won’t allow you to go to areas you can’t reach.
If you have played a 2D Castlevania game, then you probably have a pretty good idea what the gameplay in the Dracula X Chronicles is like. You start out with a weak whip as your only weapon and move your way along the environment. Breakable objects strewn about the stage reveal items and sub-weapons that can be used to defeat the on-screen enemies.
Sub-weapons are an important part of the game. While you can whip objects and enemies while jumping, some enemies need more than just constant whip attacks or can be attacked straight on. Each of the sub-weapons has its own attack style and effect. Some shoot straight, some come back in a boomerang-like fashion, some fly in an arc, and all do more damage than the normal whip. You need hearts to activate the sub-weapons though. Each weapon has a different number of hearts to activate it. You can also only carry one sub-weapon at a time, so if you are happy with the sub-weapon you currently have, then you’ll want to think twice about picking up a new sub-weapon. Each sub-weapon has a special attack called an Item Crash. If the number indicating how many hearts you have stored is blinking, you can perform an Item Crash.
Sometimes an enemy will attack and give you a status ailment. These can slow down your movement, prevent you from using weapons, or reduce your attack and defense power. These ailments either heal with time, or they can be cured using specific items.
Rondo of Blood came out earlier than Symphony of the Night, and it shows. Symphony has several improvements and gameplay innovations that Rondo of Blood doesn’t. Symphony includes a dash attack, slide, and high jump. These movements give you more agility and more options for attack. One of the characters you play has the ability to shapeshift into a bat, mist, or a wolf. These have several uses, including letting you go to areas that you normally can’t get to.
The biggest improvement is the RPG stats of your character. As you defeat more enemies you get experience which increases your level. Your attack power, defensive power, magic attack power, luck, and strength increase through the game. You can also equip different weapons and armor to increase your attack and defensive power. The sub-weapons you have in Symphony are also more creative than those found in Rondo. These enhancements show how far the Castlevania games have come and why Symphony has garnered the reputation that it has.
The biggest issue for a lot of gamers will be the difficulty level of the game. Rondo of Blood is old school hard. You only have a certain amount of health, and there are places where falling through a hole can mean instant death. With a limited number of continues, getting through the entire game will be a challenge.
The Dracula X Chronicles has both Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. Playing them in succession is a great way to see how the gameplay changed from Rondo of Blood to Symphony of the Night. Symphony of the Night, while rare in PS disc form, has become available on Xbox Live Arcade. Still, if you want a physical copy or want it on the go, then Dracula X Chronicles makes a good purchase.
There are a few extra gameplay modes included. In Rondo of Blood, a Boss Rush mode is included where you go to an item room to stock up on supplies, and then a Boss Room where you fight one of the end bosses. After completing a stage, you may be given special items like a Sound Item. You can play this in a 2-player co-op game, but you are restricted by needing two PSP systems with each player having a copy of the game. If you meet certain conditions in Rondo of Blood when you complete the game, you unlock the original version of the game and you are able to play that version as well.If you have been looking for some old-school platforming for your PSP, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles should not be missed. If you grew up playing any of the Castlevania games, then Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles will be a great experience. This is some of the best 2D platforming to ever be released. It will probably bring back some memories of some of the classic games in the series. Any fan of 2D platformers will want this added to their collection, especially if they don’t mind a challenge.