In an age of crazy head-spinning 3D platformers and undemanding adventure games toned down for the lazy new-generation gamers, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a much-needed reality check for the modern developers. Make no mistake about it, the 2 games (and 1 remake) in this collection ROCKS, despite them being more than 10 year-old. In fact, The Dracula X Chronicles rocks so hard it practically demands to be the first non-RPG to make it into PSPHyper Review! So here it is, PSPHyper take on Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles.
Tons of Stuff in This Unbelievable Bargain
First of all, let me extend a huge appreciation to the developer for coming up with this unbelievable bargain. The Dracula X Chronicles consists of 3 games, namely: the original Castlevania: Rondo of Blood which was previously released only in Japan, the cult-classic Symphony of Night (still one of the best games I’ve ever played on my Sega Saturn), as well as a totally remade Rondo of Blood with full voice-acting and glorious 3D background! To me, the developer could have simply made them into 3 separate UMDs instead of one. The fact that they chose to release this as a collection is a huge fan service and it’s a far-cry from the others who want nothing more than to squeeze every penny from the pockets of gamers. This is enough to gain my respect and I suspect it will too for many other gamers out there.
But wait! I hear you say youâ€™ve purchased a copy of Castlevania but somehow there’s only ONE game in it? Donâ€™t worry, you haven’t bought a fake copy. For reasons that can only be described as a quirky sense of evilness, you start off only with the remade Rondo and in order to access to the other two games, you have to FIND the relevant game icons hidden within the stages of Rondo… which is bloody challenging. Without the help of an FAQ, you will practically be jumping like a headless chicken trying to hit every brick as well as mindlessly jumping down seemingly fatal chasms in the hope that they are actually secret areas just to find the other two games. But if you are one of those who can’t wait to play Symphony, here’s a hint. Its respective icon is hidden high up in alternate Stage 3 and you need an axe and great jumping skills to get it. It took me a week of trial and error to find it, so you know.
For those of you who think this sounds like a lot of hassle, don’t be put off just yet. As Symphony is a direct sequel to Rondo, I feel the developer is merely trying to get you to play the games in the right sequence (hence the word “Chronicles”). And trust me, it’s better that way too. If you played Symphony without going through Rondo, you’ll be wondering why the heck were you fighting the bog boss in the first minute of the game. Also, as you run around the dungeons seeking the game icons, you’ll also be pleasantly surprised to find other hidden icons that give you music play-tests as well as other hidden stuff like food and weapons, even alternate character! It’s all good fun in the end (taken for granted you have become so fluent in the game by then youâ€™re running around like the enemies aren’t there).
Great Stories for an Adventure Platformer
As you would expect in a platformer, the stories in Rondo and Symphony aren’t groundbreaking in any sense but they do get the job done. In Rondo, Count Dracula is resurrected by his follower and hence begins a dark age where evil creatures roam the earth and beautiful maidens are kidnapped to become Dracula’s bride. Our protagonist, Richter Belmont, comes from a long line of vampire slayers and he is on a journey to destroy Dracula and save his girlfriend who is one of those kidnapped by the Count. Armed only with his sacred whip and whatever weapons he finds along the way, Richter must overcome all odds and ultimately free the world from the clutches of the evil overlord.
In Symphony, the protagonist changes to the ultra-cool sword-wielding Alucard â€“ son of Dracula. The game starts off with the ending to Rondo of Blood, where you’ll get to control Richter and relive his final battle with Dracula. When the cloud settles, you then switch to Alucard who has made his way to the Count’s castle in order to defeat his dad. But wait! Hasn’t Dracula already been defeated by Richter? Why does the land continue to be haunted by Dracula’s evil minions? All the answers will be revealed by the time you’re done with Symphony.
A special note about Symphony is that it consists of multiple endings and if you play your card right, you’ll get a whole new dungeon to explore if you somehow manage to obtain the best ending of all. It’s definitely value for money as far as a platformer goes.
Hard… Real Hard
All the praises aside, Castlevania is HARD. Rondo is especially tough because Richter only has a standard horizontal whip attack, an awkward back-flip jump and limited secondary weapons that use up a lot of heart icons (that usually isn’t enough especially in the boss fights). There is NO WAY you can power up your character. He is essentially the slow-moving, underpowered dude you’ll be controlling from start to finish. Playing Rondo reminds me of playing a milder version of Ghost & Goblins. You’ll be dodging crows with crazy flight patterns, sliding skeleton dogs, ghost armors that kill you in 4 hits… And that’s just the normal minions we’re talking about.
Unlike the latter Castlevania titles, Rondo is stage-based and NOT a huge expansive map for you to explore. Once again, this adds to the difficulty of Rondo because essentially you’re only given 3 lives to complete each stage, including the boss fights. That means you’ve only got 1 life to spare to make it to the bosses, and 1 life for some trial-and-error, and finally 1 life to take the boss down. This isn’t helped by your surprisingly fragile hero who dies between 6 â€“ 8 hits by the minions. Worst of all, you have to start right from the beginning of the stage when you used up your lives. Too many times have I reached the boss with only 2 drops of blood left, and it’s all the way back to the start 2 seconds later. Casual gamers, be warned!
For Symphony, gameplay is a little more forgiving than Rondo. Instead of having stages, you now have an entire castle with multiple paths and secret areas to explore. The entire game is non-linear and you are free to explore whichever area you like and fight whatever boss you want in any order. As for the character, Alucard is definitely much, much stronger then Richter. He is faster, has more moves, and can even perform spells to demolish his enemies more efficiently. He has the ability to summon familiars to help him out and yes, you can actually level him up just like an RPG and even transform him into various beasts to aid him in his quest. It’s great to see the chum you control in the beginning become the kick-ass vampire prince that he is in the end. To put it simply, Symphony is great to play as it combines the best of platform, action and RPG elements. It’s perfection… even by today’s gaming standard.
Secrets… Tons of It
PSP games don’t come cheap and replay value is a big factor for many would-be-buyers. In this sense, both Rondo and Symphony won’t disappoint you… especially the latter.
For Rondo, the developer has really put in the effort by adding alternate paths to most of the stages. What’s more, these alternate paths come with their own unique bosses and secrets to uncover too. In addition, there’s also an extra character (Maria) with different abilities to be unlocked. Playing the game with Maria is a totally different cup of tea from Richter as she uses birds (!) to attack her enemies, and her secondary weapons consist of beasts and animals like dragons, cats, tortoise unlike Richter’s knives, crosses and hammers. Maria even gets her unique cutscenes should you play the game using her as your character. For the beginner, I highly recommend using Maria (hint: find her from “down under” in level 2) as her attacks are much stronger, though her defense is a bit weaker. Whatever it is, you’ll be spending more than 10 hours on Rondo if you want to clear every path using both characters. That’s good enough for me for an old-school platformer.
As for Symphony, you only need to look at the number of faqs and hints on the net to understand this title is just a huge bag of replayability in itself. As an RPG, you’ll be spending countless hours trying to get your hero to the max level; and when you’re done, you’ll be spending countless hours levelling up your familiars. For the perfectionist, you’ll be examining very wall, every brick not just to find equipment for yourself, but for secret upgrades for your transformed beasts too. Some of the weapons you can find can only be described as “kick-ass”. It’s a huge satisfaction just getting a sword with your name engraved on it. That’s not all! By inputting the correct names when starting a new game, you also get to play additional hidden characters. It seems the fun never stops for this one.
Don’t Judge a Game by its Graphic
I saved my comments on graphics and sounds for the last because I felt Castlevania is a collection best judged by what it offers in the fun department. Nonetheless, you’ll be glad to know that the Rondo remake looks like what it’s supposed to be â€“ a PSP game. It has 3D’ish background and nice looking characters, though I suppose they could have made Richter move a little more fluid-like. The music is fitting for a vampire-themed story, but my only problem is with the voice actors, who sounded exactly the same whether they’re facing a monster, meeting an archenemy or saving someone in distress. It’s quite laughable and it also makes you wonder whether it’s done intentionally so you’ll always know it’s a remake of a game made in an era with no gaming voice.
As for Symphony, the game has sadly received no graphical upgrade of any kind that I can see. Symphony was cutting-edge stuff in my Saturn days but looks graphically outdated on the PSP. There’s voice now and I understand there’s some upgrade in the sound department but once again, it isn’t something I can immediately point my fingers at. This doesn’t mean Symphony looks and sounds so bad you’ll want to puke your dinner playing it. It’s just my advice for gamers to constantly remind yourself this is a game made a loooong time ago as you play it. It helps you concentrate on the fun factor of Symphony… because you seriously wouldnâ€™t want to miss out on such an excellent game.
Whether youâ€™re a Castlevania fan or not, you MUST get this gem of a collection. Get past the old-school graphics. Get past the deceptively simplistic gameplay. This is a great bargain considering it has 2 games (and 1 remake) and all these games are FUN and will remain so even by the time we reach fourth-generation consoles. Though many might be put off by the extreme difficulty, Castlevania is a refreshing change from modern action / platform games that hold you by the hand from start to finish. After all, what’s more satisfying than finally beating the big bad boss whom you couldn’t even touch when you first encountered it? The feeling is priceless, I assure you.
Simply put, PSPHyper loves Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles; giving it a near-perfect 4.5 out of 5 stars. The remaining 0.5 star is for making me repeat Rondo stage 7 close to 100 times.