Despite some minor issues, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a solid package that can be enjoyed by both veterans and newcomers alike.
Until the release of The Dracula X Chronicles compilation, Rondo of Blood had been the missing link in the Castlevania series. For the uninitiated, Rondo of Blood is the prequel to the critically acclaimed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, usually regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. Not only does Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles feature a 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood, but also includes the original PC Engine version of that game, as well as the PlayStation version of Symphony of the Night. Despite some minor issues, The Dracula X Chronicles is a solid package that can be enjoyed by both veterans and newcomers alike.
In Rondo of Blood, you play as Richter Belmont, a 19-year old vampire hunter whose girlfriend has been captured by count Dracula. As a consequence, the direct descendant of Simon Belmont sets out to defeat the legendary vampire and rescue his lover Annette. In terms of content, the Rondo of Blood remake has a couple of new additions. Certainly, the aesthetic overhaul is the most noticeable change, since the game makes use of impressive 3D graphics, at the same time it retains the traditional 2D gameplay mechanics. This version also includes some sophisticated character designs by Ayami Kojima (the character designer of Symphony of the Night) and a couple of extra modes, including Boss Demo and Boss Rush mode.
As you make progress, you’ll realize that Rondo of Blood’s formula deviates a bit from the titles that preceded it. Although you control a whip-wielding character who fights ghosts, werewolves and mummies, among many other atrocious creatures, the structure of the game is different to previous titles. Exploring the different environments will eventually show alternate routes. Jumping into pits, destroying suspicious-looking walls and so on may reveal entirely new areas where you can find new bosses, rescue maidens or unlock some inviting extras.
Due to its unconventional structure, Rondo of Blood encourages multiple playthroughs. This version of the game is plagued with secrets, but the problem is that you need to explore levels in a very thorough way to find those secrets. Before you have access to the game’s final boss, for instance, you need to have found every single maiden that has been kidnapped by Dracula. Additionally, both bonus games are found as secret items in the Rondo of Blood remake, so those who don’t take the time to look for the hidden games will miss a huge portion of what makes The Dracula X Chronicles such an appealing compilation.
To unlock Symphony of the Night, for example, you need to go to a secret area that you can only access by jumping into a hole in the floor as a gargantuan creature is chasing you. Since falling into pits usually means instant game over, the way most players will discover hidden areas like this is by sheer luck. Once you’re in this hidden level, you need to hit a plant at a certain angle to find the unlockable game. What’s more likely to happen is that you read a descriptive guide to locate all secrets, which is inadequate for a portable game.
Apart from the remake, The Dracula X Chronicles features ports of the original Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. To a certain extent, the former has aged well, but controls are cumbersome and its high difficulty leaves a lot to be desired. Sadly, the original Rondo of Blood isn’t the lost gem that most American and European fans had been waiting for, but it’s great to have it in this collection nonetheless. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, on the other hand, deserves its own paragraphs.
Symphony of the Night came out in the late 90s when most companies were transitioning from 2D to 3D. At the time, Konami decided to go in the opposite direction and the Japanese company started working on an action game with RPG elements. The result was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, a 2D platformer similar to Super Metroid that includes expansive environments with interconnected rooms. Each section has a unique visual style and music that makes it stand out from other regions. More importantly, making progress grants you access to abilities that allow you to go places previously inaccessible.
Even after years of its release, it isn’t hard to see why Symphony of the Night is regarded as one of the greatest games of all time: there are barely any loading times when you transition between areas, the RPG elements make exploring the environments extremely compelling, the 2D graphics are vibrant and the controls are spot on. On top of that, this adventure is wonderfully paced and the immaculate level design is remarkable. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a lesson in level design.
It’s worth pointing out that even though this version of Symphony of the Night is based on the the PlayStation release, it also has some of the additions present in the Sega Saturn version, such as the inclusion of Maria Renard as a playable character and a boss, a redone script and new voice acting. If you already played Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation, this version has enough new features to justify another playthrough.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a solid compilation. Not only does this collection include a 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood, but also feaures the original game, as well as the timeless classic Symphony of the Night. The only problem with this collection is the fact that you need to unlock two thirds of the package and for some reason, the locations of those unlockables isn’t obvious at all. Nevertheless, once you gain access to the entirety of The Dracula X Chronicles’ content, you can sink your teeth into it until your thirst for old-school sidescrolling games has been satisfied. Fortunately, The Dracula X Chronicles has plenty of that.