Thursday, October 2, 2008

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PSP) Review

The final great-scoring review of the past until the 100th review tomorrow night is Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. Speaking of which, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia for the DS will be out by the end of the month. I should have a review of that early November.


Came the Dawn

Sony's Playstation Portable has already seen a wealth of 2-D classics remade for its handheld system. From Mega Man to Ghost 'N Goblins, there's been a wide variety of titles for classic gamers and newcomers alike to sink their teeth into. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is one of such titles, and marks the first time Castlevania has been hosted on the PSP. However, this remake will most likely be new to most gamers on this side of the Pacific as Rondo of Blood (the game remade for this PSP release) never saw North American shores until now.

A snippet from the opening cutscene.

On a dark and stormy night, Richter Belmont, 19, rushes toward Count Dracula's castle to rescue his girlfriend and put to sleep the bloodsucking vampire once more as his ancestors did many moons ago. That's pretty much it for the story. What follows is the whip-cracking, demon-slaying action that Castlevania fans have come to expect from the series.

Most recent Castlevania titles have fallen under the Metroidvania moniker-- that is-- by learning new moves and spells you can journey deeper and explore further into Count Dracula's not-so-humble abode. Rondo of Blood is not one of such titles. In Rondo of Blood you progress through various levels cracking that whip into hordes of demons, the undead, and other nasties while crossing chasms and initiating tricky jumps.

We didn't start the fire. We just didn't put it out.

Compared to more current Castlevania entries, Richter controls very archaically. He doesn't run, but he doesn't necessarily walk either. Maybe "stride" is a good term. If you begin a jump, you best stay committed to it as controlling Richter in mid-air isn't as swift and responsive as many are probably used to. Take damage, and you'll feel the recoil as your character gets rocked back-- sometimes into a bottomless pit-- instant death, by the way. However, getting used to the more restrictive than modern-day controls isn't an insurmountable task, and you'll be slaying demons with ease within a span of ten minutes. It just takes knowing the limits of your character is all.

Additionally, the spunky Maria can be unlocked for play. She's much more maneuverable and fast as the sometimes sluggish-feeling Richter. While Belmont can only perform a mid-air backwards somersault, Maria can initiate a double jump. Secondly, her attack consists of throwing out a white dove directly in front of her. Timing isn't as crucial with Maria than it is with Richter, so she's the go-to-gal for those looking for less of a challenge.

If playing as Richter is too hard for you, try using Maria instead.

Richter and Maria aren't limited to using basic attacks either. By obtaining sub-weapons scattered in numerous and various locations throughout the game, the two can unleash magic and other attacks on foes permitting they have enough hearts (the magic meter of the game) to use. By pressing the triangle button they can perform an item crash-- a much more powerful version of their current sub-weapon perfect for removing an abundance of enemies from the screen or laying the smack down on a tough boss.

Speaking of bosses, there's a plethora of them to slay. You'll most likely breeze through the first few, but later bosses prove to be a compromising challenge. From a winding sea dragon to a cantankerous minotaur with an attitude, there's plenty of battles to endure. Regardless, once you learn the attack patterns of each they'll each go down eventually.

Every boss has a pattern for you to learn and take advantage of.

Seven levels are at your disposal, and while that may seem short, it's deceptively so. Many levels have multiple paths to take-- some housing secret exits leading to completely different boss encounters and extra levels. These aren't always so obvious either. Sure, they can be as simple as walking up a staircase, but IGA and his team crafted some fiendish secrets as well. A wall may seem ordinary to the untrained eye, but a few cracks of the whip and it comes tumbling down to reveal another path. What seems to be a pit of instant death might actually be a route to discovery. This adventure aspect showcases the genius of the developers, and it shows that there's more to this title than meets the eye. There's damsels to rescue, soundtrack items to discover, and bonuses to unlock.

Richter performs a little clunky compared to more modern Castlevanias.

These bonuses include a boss rush mode where players take on a series of boss encounters with little pauses in between battles to refill magic and equip new sub-weapons. By completing the boss rush modes (three in all) multiple times, you'll unlock new soundtrack items. These can be assigned to any level you choose. It's not much of a bonus, but those wanting 100% completion (you know you want it) will need to scour every nook and cranny of every level, beat every boss rush mode, and discover every hidden area for the extra soundtrack items.

Those new to Rondo of Blood (most of us) will most likely have little idea as to what differs from the remake to the original Rondo. Thankfully the gameplay remains intact while the entire audio and visual experience has been modified for the better. Besides obvious graphical changes from the 2-D sprites of the original to 3-D polygons for characters, enemies, and backgrounds, there's updated music (from the old synth to a more orchestral sounding score), 2-1/2 D sections of gameplay, cinematic cutscenes for boss encounters and other mid-game happenings, and full voice work. There's enough new options and content available to make even those that aren't newcomers to the game feel like they're playing Rondo of Blood for the first time.

Want to know how the original Rondo of Blood plays? Give it a shot.

The icing on this sweet package is the addition of two unlockable games included with the remade Rondo of Blood. We have the original Japan-exclusive PC-Engine Super CD version of Rondo of Blood as well as the game that many fans hail as the best Castlevania ever in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. These titles are emulated to sheer perfection and should not be missed even if you've completed the remade RoB. The only difference in Symphony of the Night is a welcomed one-- redone voice acting. What is voice acting? A miserable little pile of thanked change!

The graphics are top-notch.

Being able to replay Symphony of the Night on a handheld to emulated excellence is worth the price tag alone, but the inclusion of the original and remade Rondo of Blood seals the deal. There's a rather high difficulty to be had-- those old-school gamers will feel right at home to-- but it's one that many gamers will greet with open arms and whips. There are frustrating moments, but a little patience is all that it takes to persevere. The remake by itself is fantastic and rewarding, but the addition of hidden items, a boss rush mode, remixed music, updated graphics and presentation, and the inclusion of two classic Castlevania titles makes Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles shine above other PSP titles. It's simply a fantastic deal full of addictive gameplay and wonders to behold-- a highly recommended PSP title for anyone wanting a fresh take on an old series of classics.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Story: Richter Belmont seeks to rescue his girlfriend from the evil that is the undying Count Dracula.

Graphics: Remade 2-D models and backgrounds into 3-D coupled with impressive shading and lighting effects equal one astounding graphical package.

Gameplay: An old-school difficulty that may put off some not seeking a high challenge, but those that stick with the restrictive controls will find one hell of a rewarding title.

Sound: Michiru Yamane's greatest hits. The soundtrack is updated and remixed. There's plenty of musical goodness for your ears to enjoy as well as some pretty good voice work.

Replay Value: Beating the game once will most likely take less than two hours, but finding all of the soundtrack items and damsels, achieving 100%, and unlocking the full original versions of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night makes the longevity of this UMD high.

Overall: 9.25/10
- Incredible. A fabulous remake of Rondo of Blood and two classic titles all on the same UMD.

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