Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PSP)

The legendary PC Engine Duo title Rondo of Blood has finally arrived stateside with the release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. Not content to merely produce a port, the developers have instead released a full blown remake with 2.5D graphics and a better soundtrack. In addition, the game includes unlockable versions of the legendary Symphony of the Night, complete with additional playable characters and enhanced visuals as well as a port of the original game. Rondo of Blood itself is much harder than players are probably used to, but the back to basics, 2D gameplay is refreshing and challenging, making this a solid release of the PSP.

Those familiar with the history and lineage of Castlevania were thrilled about a year ago when Konami announced that, at long last, the legendary PC Engine DUO title Dracula X: Rondo of Blood would finally be released after more than a decade. This was one of the rarest and most expensive Japanese releases ever made, and it's legendary status seemed only to grow with the passing of time. What makes this release even more exciting was the fact that in addition to the original game, the newly remastered version would be the centerpiece of the new game. Featuring improved graphics, a completely new orchestral score and several incredible unlockable games, this is probably the most-anticipated PSP release for hardcore gamers this fall. The Rondo of Blood game itself fits into the classic Castlevania mold in most aspects, which should please old-school gamers. However, this game was a bridge, where Konami added several new twists that led the way for the eventual enhancements that later made Symphony of the Night so impressive. These features serve as the important missing link between the classic 8 and 16-bit versions and SOTN, making this a critical stage in the evolution of the series to its present approach. While the enhanced version of the game is impressive from a visual standpoint, it's the gameplay that really made this release so legendary, and thankfully the essence of the Duo classic remains despite the modern frills. Rondo of Blood nearly flawless gameplay has definitely held up well over the years, and the magic from that edition is definitely quite evident in both the enhanced and emulated versions of the game.

Instead of the strictly linear approach seen in the earlier Castlevania games, Rondo of Blood implemented several RPG-style features such as inventory management, longer boss battles and multiple playable characters in order to deepen the experience. While these seemed like minor changes, they played a huge role in developing the cult of the franchise, and ensured that Castlevania would evolve into something new. Rondo of Blood was also famous for its high level of difficulty, with incredibly difficult level design, aggressive enemies and intense boss battles that required a level of skill and challenge that most modern games lack. It's probably going to frustrate gamers who aren't used to this approach, but it is Castlevania, after all. There aren't many shortcuts in this game, and you'll definitely need persistence and challenge in order to progress through the game. Rondo of Blood's high level of difficulty is evident as early as the second level, which is where things go from hard to difficult. You basically need to be almost flawless in your approach to the game, since even the smallest mistakes and damage taken makes things that much harder later on. However, the game is extremely rewarding, since the sense of accomplishment you have from beating it is worth the effort. While comparatively simple against the more elaborate Symphony of the Night, Rondo of Blood's level designs remain impressive even by today's standards. The beautiful design makes for a consistent feel and their labyrinthine paths make for an engaging experience that will challenge even the best gamers with their branching paths and hidden areas. Players will encounter many of their favorite Castlevania villains and enemies, with the usual array of zombies, flying eyes and skeletons along with some truly awesome boss characters. None of the enemies are push-overs and while Richter's whip is an effective weapon, you'll need to collect hearts to power up your specials, with the famous crosses and flaming jars very useful accompaniments. Progression through the game is fairly consistent, though you'll have to strategize and memorize patterns as you go in order to succeed. This makes for a consistently challenging title that doesn't let up, and a challenge that will last for quite some time. However, the remake of Rondo of Blood isn't the only game you'll find on this compilation.

The PSP version also includes, as a fully unlockable bonus, the original Playstation classic Symphony of the Night. It's not as difficult to unlock as you might think, but this translation shows off the game very much the way it was, though with a few minor upgrades, such as the addition of Maria as a playable character in addition to Alucard. What made SOTN so revolutionary in the series was its large, massive levels with multiple branches, and its extensive system of familiars, which were spells and weapons that could be combined and used at various points. This gave what was formerly an excellent action series more resemble an RPG and this added depth made for a much more enjoyable game. The brilliant production values, complete with an evocative score and extensive voice-overs added a dimension to the gameplay that made it the ultimate Castlevania experience. The game set a new benchmark in terms of gameplay with an array of more challenging enemies and situations where you needed certain objects to pass certain areas, such as the double-jump ability. We're happy to report that the game plays most as you remember it on the PSP though unlike the other editions of the game, this one features slightly enhanced graphics, though the classic score and gameplay remain. This is the game where Castlevania really took off and featured vastly enhanced RPG elements, a huge playable area and other elements that really took the series to the next level. SOTN on the PSP remains one of the best 2D games ever made and its inclusion on this package makes this an outstanding value.

As you can tell from the screenshots, Rondo of Blood on the PSP looks spectacular. It's beautifully rendered sprite based animation looks stunning on the console's screen, with fluid movement, richly detailed backdrops and fantastic character design. The game's soundtrack is likewise outstanding, with the classic orchestral soundtrack accenting the action perfectly. The remake's mix of 2D and 3D elements works flawlessly, creating a lusciously gothic experience that fits in nicely with the previous Castlevania titles. The emulated versions of the original PC Engine Duo version and Symphony of the Night are likewise fantastic, with Symphony enjoying some excellent upgrades that make the experience even better. Taken as a whole, this is an excellent package that offers many hours of challenging and exciting gameplay, fantastic visuals and sounds plus the ability to play one of the most-highly sought after games ever made in a convenient and accessible package. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is one of the best old-school compilations on the system, making it one of the essential purchases for PSP owners. 

- Michael Palisano


Related Reviews

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)
Castlevania Chronicles (PS1)
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2)
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (DS)