Castlevania: Dracula X
Review by Mike Finkelstein
It must be noted before even going in to a review of Castlevania: Dracula X (Akumajo Dracula XX in Japan, Castlevania: Vampire's Kiss in Europe -- we'll call it Dracula XX for the sake of this review) that some fans despise this game for the potential it could have had. As a "port" of Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, the SNES iteration is sorely-lacking.
As a reviewer for an American website, the job is to look at the game with fresh eyes - or at least eyes not influenced by games that hadn't come to our Western shores.
For fans coming directly from Super Castlevania IV, it's hard to argue that Dracula XX isn't a step back. Even from it's SNES predecessor, many features were lost -- key among those being all the fancy whip techniques Simon could perform. In Dracula XX Richter is only able to whip left or right, and his whipping is noticably slower than Simon's. This makes it harder to defeat the many enemies Richter will have to face on his quest to traverse Dracula's castle -- especially when many of the enemies are put in places where they can easily hit you without you ever having a chance against them.
While Richter does bring all his various special moves from Rondo of Blood into Dracula XX, they aren't especially useful for whole slogs of the game. While you can perform item crashes (just like in Rondo, although some of them function differently), for a good stretch of the game you have to carry around a key in your sub-weapon slot. The key isn't any use against enemies, and is only there so you can save the two girls (Annette and Maria, back from Rondo) to get the better ending. Unfortunately, that's a good stretch of the game where you can't use any special items.
Oh, and your backflip is back as well, but it's as utterly useless as always, only specifically important in two or three places, and forgotten after that.
Of course, if you know anything about Rondo then you know that Dracula XX tragically omits Maria as a playable character. She's included, sure, but she's of no use to you except for a better ending to the game. She's not a feature that you would "notice" if you never knew she was once playable, but the game is challenging enough that her inclusion certainly would have helped to make the whole game palatable.
Speaking of that challenge, this game is pretty damn brutal. It's not the hardest Castlevania game (thank you Castlevania Adventure), but it is quite frustrating in places -- especially if you're trying to get the best ending... or hell, survive until a boss with anything close to half your energy.
So those are all the bad parts of the game. The game, though, is pretty stylish. Maybe it's personal preference, but in a side by side between Dracula XX and Rondo, I tend to choose Dracula XX. Levels are prettier, with graphics that are much more lush (the SNES having a much better color palette than the PC Engine/TurboGraphx-16). Although the level design isn't the most inspired of any Castlevania game, the graphics are beautiful... at least in the levels. On the flip-side, Maria got a minor redesign from one game to the next, and she does, at times, look a touch mangled. Once again Rondo treated her better.
And while the music in Dracula XX isn't as good as its predecessor (the difference between the SNES sound system and CD-Audio), some of the remixes of the original soundtrack are pretty damn good ("Opposing Bloodlines" being a standout example of a good, SNES-engineered, remix).
So, in the end, even on its own merits, Dracula XX just isn't a very good game. It loses too many improvements from Super Castlevania IV without adding in enough of the good parts of Rondo of Blood to balance it out. As a straight successor to Super Castlevania IV it's a poor follow-up. And in this day and age when even Rondo of Blood is available on the Wii Virtual Console, it's hard to recommend playing Dracula XX. Better games are available.