|By Zach Patterson||Sunday, 18 Jan 2009|
You know, Konami really spoiled the PSP with some nice games over the course of a relatively short amount of time. They produced a plethora of Metal Gear games, a new Silent Hill game, a packed Gradius collection, and the Ys series, among others. And then, of course, there’s Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, both a remake and a collection of Castlevania games. The core of the game is built around a fully 3D graphical side scrolling remake of Akumajō Dracula X Chi no Rondo, better known to most Castlevania fans as Rondo of Blood, the highly coveted, never localized precursor to Symphony of the Night. But perhaps sensing they needed to sweeten the pot, Konami went the extra mile and added the original PC Engine Rondo of Blood, as well as the spiritual sequel, Symphony of the Night.
I have to say that I am really impressed with the presentation here. The opening cinematics stay incredibly close to the already fantastic PC Engine opening, but render it in completely 3D and build around what was already there. Further, while the game still essentially is very close to other early Castlevania games in gameplay, they’ve added a healthy dose of cinematic touches to heighten the drama of some events, as well as just to flesh out the game a bit more. There’s also been small changes to enemy placement and some new areas, but otherwise this is the original game completely remade with the PSP in mind. And that is definitely a plus. High definition 3D character and enemy renders, great effects and fluid motion for character movement, widescreen 2D gaming (which is just wonderful to play on, and makes you want a DS quality original CV game presented in such a format), and superior CD-quality audio production. There’s also new voice acting, which, while not stellar, is at least passable. This also counts for SotN too, so while the dialogue is considerably less cheesy, you can almost take it seriously now. Additionally, there’s new music in places, which adds to an already stellar soundtrack in both games.
The games themselves appear to be excellent ports as well, which is a wonderful thing. Both the original Rondo and Symphony perform well and play just like the originals. In fact, this is probably the best version of SotN, as it includes some bonus stuff from the Saturn version, sports a better translation for the acting and the item names. So in general, if you like Castlevania, particularly on the go, this is a pretty essential collection. It’s not perfect though.
For one, who the hell decided that the original Rondo and Symphony needed to be hidden in the Rondo remake? I mean, I can
understand why to a certain extent. You don’t want people just buying this for Symphony and ignoring all the hard work put into the new remake. But the extent to which they hid these are just ridiculous. To get Symphony of the Night, you have to do the following:
- Find the alternate stage 3′ by falling down what seems to be a bottomless pit
- Find and equip the axe (which is only available in one part of stage 3′
- Take the upper path in stage 3′
- Use the axe to cut a vine holding a cage
- Hop across some death defying jumps
- Find the hidden item for SotN in some blocks
I mean, come on. The Rondo item is even more ridiculous to find. I’m okay with the designers making you play a little bit of the game to unlock them, but these are games clearly advertised as selling points on the back of the box, and a normal player could play the entire game and never unlock them. That’s idiotic. There’s no reason to hide 2/3 of the game, and the only real way (outside of scouring the levels for secrets) to know how to find them is by looking online, which makes no sense. I think if you ask anyone who picks up this game what the most annoying part of it is, this would probably be near the top. Frankly, I think they should have left them unlocked from the beginning and just allowed the user to freely play what they assumed they bought from the back of the box.
My next issue with the remake is really an issue of personal taste I guess, and may not be an issue to others. However, I don’t exactly understand the point of the Rondo remake. I can understand in the case of, say, Final Fantasy III, where they create a totally new game for the US that closely adheres to the original game because the original never was released here. And if the PC Engine game hadn’t appeared here in America, I’d understand. Instead, they included the original game (which is a good thing!) and then a remake that really doesn’t change a whole lot. This means you have the old school Belmont controls, where you feel like you are directing a tank instead of an agile protagonist like in the also included successor, Symphony of the Night. It’s a strange contrast to have the 8-bit and 16-bit feel to the gameplay, but you are working in an extremely pretty 3D environment with all the nice next gen enhancements. I think they should have taken a page from the book of Bionic Commando Rearmed, where they took the original game as inspiration and then kinda created their own vision and added a lot more, including a control scheme more akin to the SotN one. That way, you would have the original Rondo if you wanted it, then a reimagined version, and also SotN. Instead, you get the same game twice here, and my will to play the original much longer than a few levels in really began to wane when it all just felt the same. Some people may love the adherence to the original and applaud Konami, but I found it to be a bit strange.
As for the games themselves, there’s very little to criticize. It’s a collection of the best of both worlds of Castlevania history. You have what I consider one of the best sidescrolling old-school CV’s in Rondo of Blood, finally localized for America. It’s a tough, rewarding game that throws a lot at you that was groundbreaking in platformers at the time. The music is amazing, without a doubt. And in the same package, you get Symphony of the Night, what many argue is the best game of all time. While that’s of course debatable, it’s undeniable that this game was amazing upon its release, and even to this day can stand with or above every Castlevania that has been produced since. The game cribbed the Metroid style of play, where there are no levels, and instead you slowly unlock parts of a giant world map (in this case, the castle of Dracula). It’s surprisingly deep in its system of leveling up, helper characters, weapon and item equipping, and use of transformations to ascend through the castle. Add to it some great bosses and tight integration of Rondo of Blood, and you have enough reason right here to purchase this collection.
For Castlevania fans, you should just buy this if you haven’t already. There’s tons of extras to unlock, the first US release of Rondo of Blood, and portable Symphony of the Night. It’s a no brainer. For the casual gamer, it certainly is annoying that you have to go through the motions to unlock the full collection here, but there’s also absolutely no reason not to go out and pick this up. It’s easily one of the best platformers to own on PSP. As for my final verdict, I found myself a little disappointed that they did not do more with the Rondo remake and some puzzling decisions on the aforementioned unlockables, but I had a blast finally getting to play all of Rondo, and then being able to play Symphony of the Night on my morning commute. Definitely recommend.