Castlevania: Orchestra of Despair

Review by Mike Finkelstein

There are any number of different types of rom-hacks available to fans. From full edits to the game style to re-translations and graphical edits, fans will make all kinds of changes and improvements to the original title. Due to the way games were coded and stored back when they were first released, even changing just the graphics for an NES game can be an arduous process. It takes dedicated time and skill to create a graphical refresh for a game, and the work put in for something like that should be lauded, at least on a technical level.

At its core, Castlevania: Orchestra of Despair is a graphic hack of the original Castlevania. First released all the way back in 2005, and then updated in 2016, the primary goal of this hack was clearly to give the original game a fresh coat of paint. Simon's design has been updated to more closely match the his look from the PlayStation Castlevania Chronicles, pink-haired goth styling and all. All of the rest of the sprites and tiles of the game (except for the Cookie Monster) have been updated as well, making for a fully refreshed look to the classic title.

For the most part the graphic updates to the game work really well. Simon's look translates well to the 8-bit game, surprisingly, still being recognizably drawn from the PlayStation title despite the smaller sprites and lack of detail. The level graphics touch ups are pretty good, especially in the early going, with the castle having an ominous feel due to the darker graphics and redone style. The little details and touches added into the sprites give this solid look and feel that should please the eyes.

That said, the later stages (especially the Castle Keep) don't have the same kind of polish as the early areas. I'm not sure if the designer simply ran out of creative ideas at this point, or if this was the intended look they wanted, but the latter stages have a muddier look, with less pop to the sprites. It's not terrible (I've seen vastly worse looking rom-hacks than this title's later stages, for sure), but it is a just noticeable enough drop in quality over the earlier stages to it makes me curious as to why.

While the graphics have all been refreshed, not as much has been done to the rest of the game. All the bosses are still here, and they haven't been touched in the slightest. Their graphics have generally been refreshed, but if you know how to fight them in their original forms, you'll know how to handle them here as well. While I can understand keeping the basics of the game the same in this graphics hack, I might have at least preferred it if a little more pizazz were added to the bosses. Even their graphics haven't been substantially changed to make them look that different, leaving the bosses as the least interesting parts of this title.

That also goes for all the enemies in the game. A few of them have at least been updated (the fleamen looking more like attack monkeys, for example), but for the most part they look and act just like you expect. I don't have the original game memorized well enough to say if the enemy positions have changed at all, but there were a few key moments I remember from the original game that still seemed to be here, like skeletons in specific points as they jump around and hassle you, that it doesn't feel like enemy placement has been reworked much at all.

One thing that was tweaked a little were the stage layouts. These aren't substantial changes, mind you, but some of the platforms have been moved around just a little, likely to keep players on their toes and stop them from playing through this hack on muscle memory alone. That said, while I can understand rearranging the stages in subtle ways, some of the changes that were made actually make the stages easier. There's a jump across moving platforms early in the game, for example, where due to the placement of some bricks, you can skip the moving platforms entirely. It's a tad weird to see moments like this scattered throughout the hack.

While the look and feel has been been refreshed, one thing that wasn't touched at all was the music. Castlevania has a great soundtrack and I certainly didn't mind these classic tunes. That said, with the look being updated to try and reflect the Castlevania Chronicles style, I would have expected some of the music tracks to change. Having, for instance, an 8-bit rendition of the "Theme of Simon" in the Castle keep could have been a nice touch and unified the design the hacker was going for. Certainly hacking music in the game is yet another skill that has to be developed, but the lack of rearranged music certainly stands out here.

I do appreciate the effort put in on this hack, I just feel like it maybe should have gone a little further all around. The graphics are the main attraction here and, in several places, they look really good. But without substantial changes to the stage layouts, the enemies, the bosses, or the music, this hack just doesn't feel like it has much staying power. You'll likely enjoy playing through it once, then set it aside to pick up something that has more of a vision for how to rework the game its based on; Castlevania: Orchestra of Despair simply isn't that kind of hack.