Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
By Andrew Raub Wednesday, 17 Jan 2007

Time to brush up the review skills.

Let me just start off by saying that this is, without a doubt, the best Castlevania since Symphony of the Night. Now let me explain why (hopefully without revealing too much).

At first, Portrait of Ruin seems just like all the other Symphony style games, and in reality it pretty much is. But, it has some nice new twists that keep things fresh. The portrait system is a great new way of breaking up the standard castle layout. Dracula’s castle this time around isn’t as big as in the past, but there are 8 portraits to explore so the game as a whole is just as big, if not bigger, than in the past. These portraits range from a pyramid to a school, and offer styles that would seem out of place in the past games. The portraits are much closer to linear level design not seen since before Symphony of the Night. This is a real treat and surprisingly refreshing.

Item collecting and detailed searching is emphasized much less this time around. Certain items are still required to progress to different areas, but to get 1000% or to find all of the items takes much less backtracking through the castle walls. In fact, the vasy majority of the castle’s layout is area’s with gameplay substance. Some areas can become overwhelming at first because there are so many enemies around, but these areas also become very important towards the end of the game.

Of all the item collecting that there is to do, most of it is in relation to the new quest system. There is a character that offers various quests to complete, and the rewards are quite nice. Some of them are very vague and it can become frustrating at times figuring out what to do, but overall it is a great addition and well worth completing.

How could I get this far without introducing the biggest addition? Portrait of Ruin revolves around two main characters: Jonathan and Charlotte. Jonathan is the weapon-wielding, physical powerhouse of the team, while Charlotte is the magic user. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but eventually either one can hold their own. It is not required to just pick one at a time however. You can call out your team mate to perform their equipped sub-attack, or you can pull them out permanently to fight right alongside you. When the second character takes damage, the magic meter depletes rather than the HP meter. This makes for some good strategy planning. Luckily the A.I. targeting is good, and the partner will go after enemies that you currently aren’t.

The best improvement in Portrait of Ruin, in my opinion, is the weapon balancing. In Dawn of Sorrow, it seemed like there was often no incentive to use anything but the most powerful weapons. Maybe I was just too lazy to try anything else, but it seemed like the claymores and axes were the obvious best choice. But in Portrait of Ruin I found myself switching between large swords, fist weapons, whips, and short swords. Almost every weapon in the game offers some cool reason to try it out, weather it just looks cool, is more powerful, has a nice ability attached, or is faster. I don’t want to say too much, but the whip makes a huge comeback in Portrait of Ruin, and for me it is a very welcome one.

What else does the game offer besides a solid single player mode? Well, as can probably be expected, there are a few endings and some unlockable characters. The unlockable characters are very fun to play as, and offer new experiences to the game. There is also a hard mode and a level cap that can be applied, with bonuses for beating them. The Boss Rush returns with multiplayer additions. While it won’t be the next big online multiplayer game, it is fun. You can also set up a store and either sell goods or shop for goods online. Trust me when I say that this will be your best friend after you unknowingly sell something that you shouldn’t have.

Graphically, Portrait of Ruin improves on the already fantastic Dawn of Sorrow. There are some excellent 3D and 2D backgrounds and detailed and large enemies. The game also features yet another solid soundtrack, perhaps the best since Symphony of the Night.

There you have it. Portrait of Ruin is a fantastic game. I don’t understand how Konami does it, but these Metroid ripoffs keep getting better and better.