A classic remade. A classic replayed.
Castlevania fans across the country have been anxiously awaiting the release of the Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. Thankfully, the wait is over and we can sink our gaming teeth into some history revitalized. Konami has released a nice compilation that takes gamers through the Rondo of Blood, which was never released in the U.S., and upon completion you can open up the original versions of Rondo and Symphony of the Night. Both Castlevania titles are classics, and Rondo has been reworked to look smooth and slick for the PSP.
Rondo of Blood is the only game available out of the box, and its difficulty will have you playing it for a while. Fortunately, a lot of work went into making it sparkle, and all of the unlockables and hidden content are very rewarding. For those of you unfamiliar with Rondo, it’s a side-scrolling 2D Castlevania title in the same vein as the original games on the NES. You begin the game as Richter Belmont, direct descendant of Simon Belmont, seeking to rescue the lovely Annette from the clutches of the evil Count Dracula. Dracula was resurrected after a century long slumber by the corrupted priest Shaft. Shaft seeks to rid the world of decadence and comfort by bringing back to life the root of all evil. As Simon’s progeny, Richter must use the Belmont family’s ancestral whip and secondary weapons to save Annette and to restore peace to the land. In order to do so, you’ll have to meticulously work your way through Castlevania’s nine levels. Along the way you’ll open up secrets and save innocents. One of those is the captive child Maria Renard, whose cherubic visage belies her lethality. Once rescued by Richter, Maria becomes a playable character to add to the unique feel of the adventure and the replayability of the title.
You have only a limited number of lives, and there are no save points mid-level. If you lose all of your lives before defeating the boss or passing the level via a secret route, you’ll have to start from the beginning. As you might imagine, this is repetitive and maddening, but it also makes for a truly sweet old school challenge. Rondo of Blood is a classic action/adventure title full of timed jumping and pattern memorization. It truly harkens back to the old days of platform gaming. Unless you’ve got four thumbs, you’re going to die a lot. Don’t be discouraged by the difficulty though. It can be daunting and even frustrating at times, but it is a challenge you will relish and a victory you will savor. Remember, enemies that man the castle and even the bosses have regular characteristics that are easily learned. Take each level stage by stage, and you will find success. The game is not impossible by any means, but imperfect execution will be your demise.
After slogging through Rondo and opening up all of its secret paths and music tracks, you may have the urge to go outside. You’re going to have to hold off on that for a bit longer. You still have to take on the complex and far more expansive world of Symphony of the Night. Symphony is set five years after the events of Rondo. In the opening scene of Symphony you will reenact the final stage of Rondo Dracula X. That means you’ll be controlling Richter Belmont once more, but this really serves as a catalyst for the story that’s about to unfold in Symphony. Subsequently, you take up the gauntlet as Alucard. Alucard is the estranged son of Count Dracula. Alucard was born from the union of the Count and his human mother Lisa who was killed as a witch. Because of Alucard’s bloodline, he is a master of black magic and capable of amazing physical feats. As you progress through Castlevania, you will unlock Alucard’s powers by attaining various relics.
This format will seem much more familiar to many of you, as it mirrors play from recently released Castlevania titles. The complexity of gameplay and the options you have at your disposal in Symphony of the Night are very appealing to contemporary gamers. Alucard can shapeshift into a bat, a wolf, or even mist in order to access previously inaccessible portions of Castlevania. You’ll also have a repertoire of spells and a multitude of weapons at your fingertips. Consequently, Symphony of the Night plays more like an Action/Adventure RPG than a simple sidescroller. You will increase your stats and abilities, pick up loot and weaponry, as well as advance an interesting storyline. This title in the Dracula X Chronicles will probably be the most satisfying experience for the majority of gamers. So get through Rondo, let it tell its story, and allow it to prime your timing so you can romp through the stellar Symphony of the Night.
The overall presentation of the game is wonderful. The opening cutscenes are phenomenal. The intro is dark and foreboding. The experience is heightened by the fact that the scene is dubbed in German. The overall effect is powerful and memorable. The visuals are nice, especially for the re-mastered Rondo of Blood. The emulated original Rondo is graphically sketchy, but it is nice to have it to serve as a talisman of your hard work. The new Rondo of Blood looks very polished and modern. Even when I sent the image to a 37 inch LCD screen via the PSP 2001’s composite adapter, it still looks quite good. Symphony of the Night looks as good as ever, and the departure in gameplay is a nice change of pace.
The music is very good, and there are a lot of unlockable tracks. Additionally, you can apply unlocked tracks to the stages you have opened to make for a fresh approach when going back to specific levels and opening up the paths and extras you missed on the first play through. All of your favorite Castlevania tunes are here and crisply re-mastered. The sound is great through earbuds and the PSP’s tiny speakers, but it sounds even better when you pump it through your television or A/V receiver. The voiceover work is well done if not perfect. You can choose from English or Japanese spoken language. For some reason they left off a German option after teasing us with the opening scene. Of the available options, I prefer the Japanese language setting, but certain scenes are inexplicably not subtitled in English. That includes the opening prologue of Rondo when Death comes to test your strength. Death sounds awesome in Japanese; he doesn’t say anything of real importance, but even still, the lack of subtitles is disconcerting.
In addition to the nice graphics and great sound, the box art is fantastic! The game case just exudes quality and beckons you to purchase the goods. When you get it home to fire it up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see a lovely hand drawn picture of Maria Renard releasing one of her deadly doves. It’s a nice touch that acts as a testament to the quality and attention lavished upon the compilation. As if all of this wasn’t enough, there is another mode of play to further the experience. I liked Boss Rush Mode because it pits you against the cream of the crop, truly testing your skill. It also times you so you can continually try and best former records. To make Boss Rush Mode even better, the PSP allows you to host or join an Ad Hoc battle against a buddy to see who the real Belmont truly is.
This is an experience that any PSP owner should have. Rondo of Blood is the precursor to Symphony of the Night and tells an interesting story that only a few fortunate souls outside Japan have witnessed. That’s one of the reasons this compilation is so good. The inclusion of both games is a natural pairing that fills in the story gaps, and is a must buy for any self-ascribed Castlevania fan. The gameplay is challenging and interesting, the content is varied and encompasses two full games, and the attention to detail is great. This is not a UMD for the casual gamer, this a compilation that will challenge even technical gamers. Despite the sheer torture the game put me through, this is a title and an experience I will always remember.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The graphics capture the feel and setting nicely. The imperfect emulation of the original Rondo leaves something to be desired. 3.8 Control
The controls are simple, but they will drive you crazy while playing Rondo, especially on stairs. They feel much better for Symphony of the Night, however. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
I loved the music and simple sound effects. I wish the English version was more professionally executed, and that they would have included a German option. 4.3 Play Value
This game is full of fun and unlockable content if you don’t go crazy in the attempt. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.