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Jeremy Jastrzab
22 Feb, 2008

Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles Review

PSP Review | The good, the great and the classic.
Along with franchises such as Mario, Zelda and Metroid, Castlevania has been around since 80s on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Whereas the series mentioned above have long established their place in the gaming world, it’s strange that a series such as Castlevania struggles to nail its true identity. Some long-time fans (including us here at PALGN) put this down to the series currently being under the control of producer Koji Igarashi, but that’s a story for another day. The GBA and DS have enjoyed several Castlevania titles in recent times, all of which have followed the ‘Metroidvania’ formula made famous by the PS1 classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

PSP fans, until now, had missed out on the Castlevania love. Even though it seems that once again, Konami may be splitting fan loyalties, it almost seems as though PSP fans getting some hard love, with the release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. As our extensive Castlevania Franchise Mode will tell you, Akumajyou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo otherwise known as Demon Castle Dracula X: The Rondo of Blood was arguably one of the best in the series but never made it out of Japan.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a rather unique release, as it not only remakes the forgotten PC Engine classic, but includes a translated version of the original 1993 release, as well as something of a Director’s Cut of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Even though the later two titles need to be unlocked, it was never any secret that they were in the package. Still, we find it a rather odd decision that to actually get access to the classic titles, players literally need to jump through several hoops. Furthermore, some of the purists may argue that they shouldn’t be forced through the remake just to get access to them.

Just like the original. Really, it is.

Just like the original. Really, it is.
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Aside from the PS2 and Xbox releases, we’ve been primarily playing Metroid-vanias since SotN, though the N64 games were actually quite close to the older action based formula. So this remake of Rondo of Blood might actually come as a surprise to anyone who wasn’t playing games before 1995. The formula is much more linear, with a focus on action and platforming, and it’s much more difficult. Still, it makes for a more focused experience, even if you’re not used to it.

It’s a bit odd that the remake is actually called a remake, as it’s really more of a cosmetically ‘enhanced’ port. Aesthetics aside, the content in the 1993 and 2008 release are about 80-90% identical. You play as Richter Belmont (and eventually as Maria Renard), who is one of the more recent Belmonts to take up to family whip, the Vampire Killer, against the evil Lord Dracula. However, there were are a few additions to Rondo of Blood that set it apart from the earlier games, such as the multiple paths that each level could take, as well as the maiden saving side-quest.

Richter retains all his original abilities, no more and no less. In his new 3D setting, he seems to plod along, while being able to jump, crouch, whip ahead and use sub weapons. He can also use the ‘item crash’, which is an enhanced sub-weapon attack. In order to use sub-weapons, including the full stable of classic Castlevania weaponry, Richter needs to collect hearts. The only way to regain health is by finding the very well hidden food stashes, and memorizing their positions. Despite being a linear game, there are a lot of secrets to find. What makes the game difficult is that Richter is rather limited in his movement and you can get hurt from pretty much any angle. The game demands a high level of skill, the memorizing of patterns and locations, as well as a lot of patience. Thankfully, you do get a number of checkpoints in levels and the game has auto-saves after each level, so the difficulty never spirals out of control. Still, it can be cheap and frustrating at times.

There hasn’t been much actually remade, but there are a few minor changes. The second stage for example, now has chandeliers that fall from the ceiling. However, given the dearth of quality platformers these days, it’s good to see a traditional experience. Rondo of Blood doesn’t disappoint in providing an experience that traditionalists will no doubt enjoy. It harks back to an era where a game was about testing a players skill and placing them in a fun and fantasy-based environment, not by blinding them with fluff and false notions of openness. However, players who are used to playing much more modern and easier games are likely to be turned off.

It's been a while since we cried in boss fights...

It's been a while since we cried in boss fights...
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What is odd about releasing a game with such a steep difficulty, is that there have been very few recent releases of similar nature. The few that we can name off the top of our head with a similar old-school difficulty include both Megaman games on the PSP, as well as Ghosts N’Ghouls, also on the PSP. We don’t believe that the difficulty curve detracts from any of the games here, but it seems that consumers have voted with their wallets, as all these games have bombed commercially. Though it’s not just the difficulty that makes us scratch our heads. Why Richter isn’t a more nimble and maneuverable character? Probably to retain the original feel, but it risks being written off as archaic and clumsy in this age. It further begs the question as to why there wasn’t more ‘remade’ in what is meant to be a remake.

Aside from a few minor gameplay tweaks, and a re-jigging of alternate stage 5, the primary difference between the ‘remake’ and the original is the aesthetics. The 3D graphics are a double-edged sword though. While they are much more detailed, well animated and give the backgrounds more life and substance, their persistence in recreating the original scenes make them come off as clunky and unpolished. Virtually everything has a rough edge and it just doesn’t come off as nicely as it does in proper 2D. The entire sound track has been remixed, and as you’d expect, the results are, well, mixed. As far as soundtracks go, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles remake has a brilliant classic sound track, though lovers of the original track (which is also exceedingly brilliant) may not love it as much. Still, the in-game sound effects are greatly enhanced over the predecessor.

As mentioned, the original Rondo of Blood can eventually be unlocked, you’ve literally got to find it among all the other hidden secrets in Dracula’s castle. For the first time, the game is available in full English, though everything else is untouched. It has aged pretty well, as comes off as a more polished and solid game then the remake. Everything just fits and feels in the right place, where as the remake seems to need work in places. The anime style, while indicative of the early 1990’s comes off better then the style in the remake, which is more reminiscent of the PS2 and Xbox titles. You could argue that the remake is marginally easier, as you can execute attacks and moves quicker, but both have minor advantages and disadvantages.

Finally, you have to jump through a few more hoops to unlock what’s touted as the director’s cut (though not by the original director...) of the very highly regarded Symphony of the Night. It's the sequel to Rondo of Blood where you played as Alucard, the son of Dracula. Yes, the uber-cheesy dialogue and voicing has been completely redone, but it’s still a bit cheesy. At least it’s more in line with modern fiction standards, rather then a movie made in someone’s garage. SotN was the first Castlevania to combine the Metroid formula and RPG-like item collection and character leveling, and it’s still the most comprehensive use of the formula to date. It’s also monumentally easier then its predecessors. This version of the SotN has the cleanest presentation but apart from being able to play as Maria, lacks a few of the extras that were on the Sega Saturn version. Other then a slightly condensed control scheme, the game is a familiar experience, though still an enjoyable and satisfying one.

Hint: When you come here, an axe will be handy.

Hint: When you come here, an axe will be handy.
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By taking each of these game’s individually (particularly the remake), you pick apart the flaws rather easily. However, the special aspect of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is that all three are here in the one place, even if you have to work for the ‘originals’. Furthermore, there are a whole bevy of extras and options, such as Boss Rush modes (which can be tackled competitively or cooperatively over ad-hoc) and a whole heap of sound test and sound playing options. Each game has a quick save option as well, if you’re playing on the go. It’s this aspect that makes the collection worth it, particularly for fans of Castlevania. Unfortunately, the appeal is lost on anyone who doesn’t really like old-school platforms or fails to adhere to the gaming philosophy from way back when.

We were quite pleased with the final result of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, as we've been gunning for some quality platforming action. However, we can’t help but feel that it will eventually be detrimental to the series in the long run, especially with a ‘director’ who is so awfully out of touch with reality. While this is a superb collection with heaps of options, two out of the three games will likely be shunned by the casual crowd. Still, those old-school fanatics and players willing to push through the difficulty will find one of the best retro compilations available.
The Score
Despite some questionable design and admin decisions, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is one of the best retro gaming compilations that you'll ever find, though casuals need not apply. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles Content

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Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review
21 Mar, 2007 Another flawed masterpiece?
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness Review
11 Apr, 2006 Will you Rondo or Lament?
3 Comments
6 years ago
woot! Can't wait to snap this up...Gonna be the first game for the PSP that i've bought in about 2 years icon_smile.gif

Also nice review.
6 years ago
I just want to get my sweet hands on Symphony. I hear it's a biyatch to unlock though.
6 years ago
^Indeed it is. That's why the review tries to give a helping hand icon_wink.gif
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  28/03/2008 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $79.95 AU
Publisher:
  Atari
Genre:
  Action Adventure
Year Made:
  2007
Players:
  1

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