Genre: Action Adventure Platformer
Price: $14.99 PSP Network
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is actually a remastered version of the original Japanese game, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which was exclusive to Japan until its US release on the PSP in 2007. (Its direct sequel, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, comes bundled with it unchanged.) There was a US version of The Dracula X Chronicles made available for the PC engine, but many fans felt it was dumbed down from the original Japanese edition. For this review, I will be focusing on the remastered Rondo of Blood rather than the PC engine version.
Castlevania as a series is a classic that has crossed many consoles since its release. The franchise captures classic platforming with the horror genre and are among the most challenging games in the market. Castlevania generally includes a simple plot, a cast of interesting characters, challenging difficulty, and memorable music. The classic Castlevania titles still retain their replay value, if only for the challenge that they offer.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood takes place in 1792 in the Transylvania-esque world of Castlevania’s lore. The majority of the game is spent inside Dracula’s castle. You play as Richter Belmont, the 19-year old son of the previous game’s Simon Belmont, and heir to the Vampire Killer, a whip whose power is self-explanatory in its name alone. For generations the Belmont family has been the only obstacle standing between Dracula and humanity. Rondo of Blood begins with Richter’s lover, Annette, kidnapped by Shaft, Dracula’s servant, and taken to Dracula’s lair along with three other maidens from Richter’s home town. Richter takes the bait and rushes to save his beloved and to take his turn facing Dracula. Along the way, he must rescue Annette and the three other maidens held captive by Dracula, one of which you can actually play as an alternate character to Richter.
Rondo of Blood is pretty straightforward, but it throws in alternate pathways that you can take through the various levels that will allow you to rescue all the maidens and gain the true ending. It’s well worth the time and effort.
Castlevania’s lore is heavily influenced by the Victorian age and lore of demonic creatures. The monsters within the games are abominations unto themselves. The main antagonist, Dracula, is the prince of darkness. His minions range from death himself to decaying corpses of beasts. Demonic and occultic themes are very heavy and at no point are these creatures seen as anything but evil.
Castlevania’s visuals have always been disturbing and frightening, but they’re meant to be that way to show the stark contrast between good and evil. Richter and the Belmont family are always seen bearing a cross either as a direct weapon or on their attire. They make references to God and destroying evil, and there is a plethora of Christian themes and symbols. In some cases, the Belmont clan directly appeal to God himself. For example, at the beginning of stage 2, a caption reads, “God, give me strength.” So while the environment is swarming with the occult and evil beasts, there is no glorification of the darkness and it’s very clear that the point of the game is to vanquish it.
There is a lot of violence in any of the Castlevania installments, and Rondo of Blood is no exception. There are enemies who have exposed gore, blood is seen often, and some of the level designs do show graphic images of death and torture. While enemies simply vanish in bursts of flames, the implications of violence within the castle and in the design of the monsters is enough to merit a teen rating for the game. The most violent scene within the game is at the very beginning in which a woman is sacrificed in order to bring Dracula back to life. The woman’s death isn’t seen directly, but the game cuts to her blood trailing down after the killing blows have been inflicted.
Language and Crude Humor:
Surprisingly, the dialogue is mild for a T rated game. The worst swearing includes the “d” word and h-e-double hockey sticks. The dialogue is to the point and rarely even sinks into suggestive undertones. At some parts the main character, Richter, almost swears but he cuts himself off.
One point of caution, however, is that the opening cutscene where Shaft (…yeah…) is reviving Dracula contains a woman kept modest only by a large sheet. There is some skin showing, but nothing that pushes the T rating on the game. It certainly isn’t suitable for younger players, however.
Drug and Alcohol Use:
There is no direct mention of either drugs or alcohol within Rondo of Blood.
There is nothing superhuman about the Belmont family. It’s made clear that the Belmonts are mere humans who live purely for destroying Evil whenever it arises. They fight with implements of faith such as the cross, holy water, and the Bible, which for the sake of being “non-offensive” was changed to “magic book” in the US releases of the game. It is heavily implied through gameplay and implements such as the sub-weapons that the Belmont family is one guided by their faith. In fact, one such weapon is the cross which behaves like a boomerang, and when its more powerful mode is unlocked, “item crash,” Richter can summon massive crucifixes to damage the evil beasts in the area.
While Richter is trying to rescue his lover through the course of the game, the canonical story shows that he is willing to go out of his way to rescue other innocents in the process. He’s a hardened vampire slayer but he shows compassion towards those he rescues in the few cutscenes that Rondo of Blood offers. There’s a definite David and Goliath feel to having a simple human confront something as large and powerful as Dracula himself. Richter is a simple man armed with only a few mortal weapons and his faith who must confront the enemy within his own castle. As Christians, we are trudging through the enemy’s territory on a daily basis, surrounded by his servants in the form of scoffers, doubts, and temptations. Castlevania makes literal the spiritual battles that we as Christians face.
While Richter has been nerfed in controls compared to Simon from Super Castlevania, he is still a fairly easy character to command. The platforming is challenging but not impossible. The worst thing in terms of mechanics is the fact that Richter does a backward leap when he’s damaged. Sometimes this can drive him off cliffs or obstacles to take on additional damage or end the game. This aspect was easily overcome in most situations through adaptation and learning the levels. It became crippling, however, in the last boss fight. There were several platforms and projectiles flying in every direction. One hit, and Richter’s kickback sends him off a platform to his death.
The secondary items provide some diversity in combat. You can find these items through the levels, but you can only carry one at a time. The six sub-weapons that can be found include: the cross, the dagger, the axe, the pocket watch, holy water, and the “magic book” (Bible). The throwing axe and the dagger behave in much the same way. They are damaging projectiles that Richter can throw at the enemy. The daggers have a more direct horizontal throwing path whereas the daggers are tossed upwards and arch downwards. Daggers are better for fighting waves of enemies that make direct attacks, such as zombies, and the axes are most useful against flying enemies such as the eagles. The holy water creates a wall of flames, which is handy for dealing with groups of enemies. The pocket watch freezes enemies at the cost of five hearts but it can prove handy, especially in the case of mobs. The “magic book” (or the Bible) creates a spiraling attack that expands as it moves away from Richter.
Each sub-weapon is powered by the hearts that are found through the levels (most often by whipping candles on the walls). Each heart gives you ammunition, and each item has a different cost per use. When using the “item crush,” a special ability that each sub-weapon carries with it, the ammunition cost, animation, and damage is more spectacular.. The holy water, for example, summons a rain of holy water that fills the entire screen and damages any and all enemies visible. This is useful in the case of mobs or boss fights.I was personally confused on how to access the item crush, the special attack for the sub-weapons, but with practice, I managed to learn even the more complicated controls.
When Maria is unlocked, in place of sub-weapons she has animal familiars that assist her in combat—a cat, a dragon, a bird, and a tortoise—as well as an egg and the song book. The cat rushes forward, attacking enemies in Maria’s path. The tortoise provides Maria with defense by using its shell as a shield but it slows her movement. The dragon is costly in heart usage but it delivers more damage and strikes in a vertical charge, devastating everything in its path. The bird attacks in a diagonal fashion and is great for attacking enemies on higher or lower platforms. The egg behaves like Richter’s book of magic, summoning a spiraling attack that expands away from Maria and damages enemies. The song book forces Maria to stand still and sing while music notes fly out and damage the enemy.
Like Richter’s sub-weapons, Maria’s each have their own item crush attacks. These are exceedingly powerful but cost a massive amount of hearts to perform. The dragon’s, for example, uses 50 hearts to perform, but most bosses will be devastated by a single attack.
Between the two characters and the overall objective, Rondo of Blood has very high replayability. The multiple paths discovered with little or great difficulty offer secrets, sub-weapons, and alternate levels. Exploration is key if all four maidens are to be rescued and a perfect game is to be achieved. The levels each have their own unique challenges, and while they can be difficult, playing through them several times to find every secret decipher the best method of defeating the enemies within makes for a lot of fun. For example, I fell into a pit and assumed my game was over. I found myself in a watery level fighting fish men—an endless wave of fish men. It was a surprise, but it really encouraged me to take risks in each level and look for other paths to take.
With the upgrade in graphics and audio, Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood presents itself very well. The backgrounds have an impressive amount of detail that only furthers the creepy atmosphere of the game and adds to the desperate feeling of Richter. The monster designs are unique, even if they are fairly traditional to the monsters and characters they depict from lore. Werewolves and zombies look the way anyone would expect, but there are other creatures like the Behemoth, encountered during the first part of the game, which looks like a massive bull missing the lower half of its body. It’s painful and terrible to look at, and it really adds to the horrific atmosphere.
The music is made up of both remixed classics such as “Vampire Killer” and “Bloody Tears” but it includes a few songs that are unique to this installment like “Dance of Illusions” and “Picture of a Ghost Ship.” It all sounds wonderful, capturing the intensity and determination of the character while eluding to the individual levels that they play within. Any fan of the original Castlevania games will appreciate the nostalgia while new players will find themselves bobbing their heads along with the soundtrack.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a classic in every sense of the word. While the US sadly did not get a taste of Rondo of Blood when the game was brand new, it has been remastered so both old and new players to the series can enjoy it. It’s a classic platformer horror game with a good underlying message and a soundtrack that’s iPod-worthy. It’s definitely worth dusting off that poor PSP or Vita.
The Bottom Line