Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Review by Jorge D. Fuentes
A long time ago, a mythical Castlevania game came out. Known as Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, the game was released only in Japan and on a system that was very mysterious and exotic in the United States (the little loved TurboGraphx-16/Turbo Duo, known in Japan as the PC Engine Super CD-ROM). This was the mother of all elusive games, a rare sight to behold. Most people in the United States had not even heard of this game, and it wasn't until the Internet really spread word of its existence that American audiences wanted it. The Super Nintendo got a reimagined "port" of the game, Castlevania: Dracula X, and while similar, it just wasn't the same game.
That was the past. After many years of fans only being able to play the game through illegal downloads or fighting for copies on EBay, Konami elected to give Rondo a second shot at the limelight, releasing an overhauled version for the Playstation Portable (PSP). The game is a remake of the oirignal with brand-new, 2.5D graphics (3D game using a sidescrolling look, sort of like the adventure mode of Super Smash Bros. Brawl), complete with 3D cutscenes, a new animated introduction (narrated in German, as was the original game), and new goodies and secrets to be found.
Additionally, Konami recognized that Rondo was also the prequel to the highly successful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. As such, Dracula X Chronicles includes Symphony of the Night as an unlockable bonus. Plus, the original version of Rondo is included as well, if you can unlock it -- the original story, now dubbed to English, can be enjoyed in its wondrous retro glory.
So basically you play the new reimagining of Rondo of Blood, and if you're clever enough, you can find Symphony of the Night and Original Rondo of Blood (there's also a little one-stage 'game' hidden in there, but I would not call that an Easter Egg... more like a little extra added in there for posterity's sake).
And that's great -- a complete Dracula X experience, all included with a new version of the original game. But how good is the the 2.5D remake, Dracula X Chronicles? In a word: excellent. In three words: excellent yet challenging.
The face of the game may be very cool 3D stuff, but the gameplay is classic 2D Sidescrolling action, with the same difficulty (if not more so) than the original title. Castlevania fans that have come to the series since Symphony may be quite frustrated by the old-school difficulty (with more than a few PSPs thrown in frustration). While the original Rondo was pretty challenging (but tolerable), there's more strategy involved in Dracula X Chronicles, so even veterans might be treated to a few surprises.
Those looking for a complete, easy to access collection of the "complete" Dracula X series might be hard-pressed to love this game. As hard as the new version is, you have to play through it to unlock all the bonuses and other games. The ports of Rondo of Blood and Symphony are faithful (with Symphony even having a playable adult Maria -- although she plays different from the Maria in the Saturn remake), playing Dracula X Chronicles to get the bonuses may prove to be too much for some players. Those that can take it, though, will delight in owning all these great games in one solid package.
Plus, American's can finally own a copy of Rondo of Blood
The graphics for Dracula X Chronicles are smooth in 3D. The PSP adds some amount of blurring/ghosting, but you can still play the game just fine. There are some texturing issues during cutscenes -- some background graphics look like they're from the Nintendo 64 games, like in the forest carriage ride at the beginning -- but it's all very well-presented. The framerate is pretty high, even with a number of large 3D objects at times (the big Rock Golems at the beginning, the Guardians later on).
The sound is a complete remastering of the already-amazing Rondo of Blood soundtrack -- they even remade the "Prior-to-Boss-Battle Jingle" and the "Castle Keep" music. Additionally, there are some newly-included tracks ("Moon Fight" from the Sharp X68000 Castlevania) and some new tracks ("Red Dawn" from the alternate Stage 6). All the tunes sound great, but what's also great is the ability to customize the game so that you can play any tune from any game in the disc on any stage. So you can add "Crystal Teardrops" from Symphony to the Cemetery/Caves of Dracula X Chronicles. The possibilities are awesome!
One problem, though, is that you have to play the remake and find discs hidden in the game (sort of like the discs you find in MegaMan & Bass or the prizes randomly found in the Mystical Ninja titles). Along with hunting through the main game, you'll have to play through Boss Rush mode to unlock some tunes. It's all a bit tedious just to get to the good stuff.