Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Akumajou Dracula X Chi no Rondo (PCE) Review

AKA Castlevania: Rondo of Blood [Localized Nomenclature]
1993 Konami

I remember years ago how I've heard so many great things about this game. It gave me the impression that it was the pinnacle of the traditional Castlevania series of games. I even saw a few gameplay videos from YouTube prior to having played it, and it left me quite impressed. I also remember how I was excited about the game being brought to the PSP in the form of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, because it was antecedently a Japan-only game. The PSP remake included not only the original PC-Engine title, but also Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (the sequel to this game), which was a surprise to me, but at the same time exciting because I heard many great things about the latter as well (both had to be unlocked in the PSP remake, though, but I managed to unlock both quickly). Having liked Super Castlevania IV, I could not wait to play this game; and in the end I thought it was an absolutely fantastic experience.

It is is 1792, and Transylvania is coping well with the peace of the land, which Simon Belmont has given after having defeated Dracula one hundred years prior. Unbeknownst to the crowd, there is a cult, led by the dark priest called Shaft, that plans on reviving the Prince of Darkness, by going through unorthodox rituals. Once revived, Dracula plots his revenge on the descendant of the person who's last defeated him, 19-year old Richter Belmont, by kidnapping his beloved Annette Renard and awaits a rescue attempt. Burdened by his destiny, Richter sets off on an adventure to rid the land of Dracula once and for all. You will go through many dangerous places in order to reach the castle's stronghold and save the four maidens who've been captured and imprisoned.

Gameplay is like that of the NES Castlevania games, except with so much more. You can do a normal jump and you do a backflip, if you can press the jumping button again at the right time in the air. Not only can you jump up to the stairs, but you can also jump up from the stairs, which is good. For the first time in the series, you don't have to upgrade your ancestral Belmont whip, it's fine the way it is, and that is a good thing. You can only shoot the whip ahead of where you're facing; while you're standing, crouching, on the stairs, or while you're in midair. Holding down the attack button while moving backward will make Richter look like he's moonwalking. Besides just the whip, you can also use subweapons, which are comprised of: axes, cross boomerangs, knives, holy water, stopwatches, and the pages of the Holy Bible (yes, you read right). Subweapons can be thrown by holding Up while pressing the attack button. Also for the first time in a Castlevania game, you have the chance to switch back to your previous weapon before it disappears within seconds; whilst in the previous games, once you get the subweapon, that's it, and you may be stuck with a subweapon that you may not have wanted if you weren't careful. Hearts are required to use the subweapon, as always. Items can be found by destroying candles floating in the air; whether it be a heart, meat to replenish health, a subweapon; a Grimoire which eradicates all enemies onscreen; or a jar which makes you invincible for a few seconds (the latter two items being few and far between). If you press the special button, you shall execute an Item Crash, which is a powerful attack from the current subweapon you have which consumes a lot of hearts (i.e. if you press it while you have the cross boomerang, you shall unleash gigantic crucifixes which will do enemies in quicker; anf if you press it while you have the holy water, you shall unleash the holy rain). Seeing all these Item Crash attacks in fruition is very amazing. If the number of hearts is flashing, that means you have enough to do an Item Crash. The control is good, though I wish you could have more control over your normal jumps. Throughout the stages, you'll confront enemy familiars such as skeletons, Medusa heads, bats, knights, flea men, and more, as well as new enemies. At the end of each stage, you'll be fighting a boss, which is normally pattern-based. This game also has alternate pathways, which adds to the replay value. There are four maidens that have been imprisoned, and one of them is 12-year old Maria Renard, Annette's sister, who becomes a playbale character and is actually more stronger than Richter is. As surprising as this may sound, it's actually true. Maria attacks enemies with, not weapons, but with her animal friends. She can run, slide, cartwheel, and can do double jumps. She even has a secret technique which deals the enemies in fast, but that's a secret. She, too, can do Item Crashes, only with animals instead of subweapons. Two examples are if she uses an Item Crash with the dragon animal, the dragon will engulf the screen and breathe fire; and if she uses an Item Crash with the bird animal, a firebird will appear and rain down fire on the enemies. She's much more agile than Richter, but unfortunately takes bigger damage from enemies. Though it may seem rather unusual for an innocent little girl to be partaking in a rather gothic atmosphere, it strangely feels natural. The Ninja Gaiden Syndrome solely appears when you're character is in the air, and you don't immediately die on spikes, which is a big plus in my book; finally, no more unfair moments of being pushed back from enemy contact while you're on the ground. All progress is saved automatically, and you can decide which stage to start at in the title screen.

This Redbook Audio soundtrack is really good. It's got the traditional symphony that you'll find in a Castlevania game mixed with a little rock in it, and it works so well. Some songs are epic, some are well-known, some are relaxing, and there is even one song that sounds like a party number ("Opus 13"). The many tunes in this game are really well-orchestrated, like "Bloodlines," "Cross Fear," "Cemetary," and "Ghost Ship Painting," to name a few. There are even a few remixed songs from the NES games, like "Bloody Tears" from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, and "Beginning" from Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, and they are really good. The final boss theme is really awesome and menacing. The music that plays during the anime cutscenes are really nice, especially the introductory one. Richter's ending theme is one of the best songs in the game; and it is so good, that I cannot believe that it did not appear in this game's sound test. The sound effects are also good, especially the breaking glass which sounds very realistic. The enemies have their own distinct sounds. The characters' voice acting in the cutscenes are also well-done, and some enemies also have their own voices, like Shaft and Death.

The visuals are absolutely beautiful. The burning village of Aljiba has really good flame effects, and the castles and dungeons are so detailed. Many of the stages have really dazzling parallax scrolling effects, including the road outside the castle and the cemetary. The anime cutscenes are really cool, and it gives you the feeling that you're actually watching anime (those scenes where you save the maidens come to mind). Animation in the series has never been as fluid or detailed before this game. Richter, Maria, and the enemies are all very detailed and quite fluid. I like the way Maria's hair flows when she's running and when she's in the air. Richter's walking and whipping animations are incredibly well-detailed. The bosses are huge, and quite colorful. The wyvern and wolfman bosses are nicely drawn, and the Minotaur has a very interesting (if quite grotesque) death animation. Death and Dracula are also incredibly detailed, and to avoid sounding redundant, their second forms are unbelievable.

I've seen this game touted as very hard and impossible, though to be honest, I find the game's difficulty highly overrated. There are a couple moments of challenge (the bossanova and clock tower stages), but otherwise I think this game has a medium-based difficulty at best. Each stage has an enemy pattern, and so long as they're followed, you won't have a hard time with them. It's best to go at a steady pace. The first few stages are easy, but then they segue to medium-based stages. The difficulty may vary depending on which you path you choose to take. The bosses are pattern-based, and the patterns are easy to follow, even though with a few bosses it may be a bit hard. Dracula's two forms are very easy, even when you're not playing as Maria. Speaking of which: Maria makes the game incredibly easy. That's because she's more controllable and playable than Richter is. She can do double jumps and that secret technique that I mentioned before. Her normal attacks consist of shooting up to two white doves, (both of) which come(s) back to her like a boomerang. You can easily plow through the whole game as Maria, though I don't recommend abusing her as a playable character, otherwise you won't appreciate the game when you play as Richter. The game is plenty manageable as Richter, you just have to go at a steady pace and follow the enemy patterns. He may not have the double jump or sliding abilities like Maria does, but he can do a backflip, which helps him evade an inevitable danger (like a spear man lunging a spear at you) by rapidly flying backward. The thing about Richter is that you have less control over your midjumps, which is tragic, really. You may not be able to swing your whip in eight directions or fling it like you could in Super Castlevania IV, but I think it's okay (as it removes the chances of being easy). The game is medium-based as Richter, but as Maria it's completely easy. The difficulty is decent at best for both characters.

Akumajou Dracula X Chi no Rondo is a game that I find very enjoyable. It's got a neat atmosphere, cool anime cutscenes, a rockin' soundtrack, visuals that are pleasing to the eyes, exceptionally good play control, and replay value. I just wish Dracula wasn't so darn easy to beat. Other than that it's got a tiny bit of challenge, but overall is medium-based. I like choosing between playing as Richter or Maria, and I enjoyed taking the alternate pathways so you could get to a different stage or fight a different boss; adds a lot of replay value. And if you manage to save all the maidens and traverse every stage in the game (one of them being accessible once Dracula has been defeated for the first time), you'll get a perfect 100% status. I've completed this game three times, and it's still a blast to play. I've seen disputes about which is better: Super Castlevania IV or this game, and I personally enjoyed the latter the most. Out of the four Castlevania games I have played, this game is my second favorite, and the best out of the three traditional sidescrolling games in the series that I have yet played. If you like dark atmospheres and slaying vampires, then you may enjoy this game. If you have a PSP, then I recommend checking out Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles; or if you have a Nintendo Wii console, then I recommend checking it out on the Virtual Console. I highly recommend it; just remember to go at a steady pace.


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