Castlevania Rondo of Blood was always one of my Holy Grail games. I’m a massive Castlevania fan and being denied the ability to play what many consider to be the best game in the series was maddening. The original was only ever released in Japan and on the PC-Engine CD, an obscure piece of hardware that was never released in Europe. I was pretty excited to find out that the original game was coming to PSP.
This release is a remake of the original game with new 3D graphics replacing the 2D artwork of the original. I’d normally complain about this because the new 3D makeover looks poor in comparison to the original which had some of the best pixel art of the 16-bit generation. However the original Rondo of Blood is included as an unlockable secret as well as the PS1 classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s worth mentioning that SotN comes with some improvements in this version, Richter is playable from the start, as is Maria who was cut from the original game and only appeared in the disappointing Saturn port of the game. My one complaint is that these games should have been available from the start and not as unlockables but if you want to unlock them quickly just check a FAQ.
I’ll start with the original Rondo of Blood. It’s one of the all time great 16-bit games. Rondo of Blood is unlike many CD-ROM based games of the time. The extra storage space afforded by the CD-ROM format wasn’t used for grainy FMV cutscenes. Instead the developers choose to pack each level with unique enemies, animations and intricate background details. The sprites and animation are so good that many have been reused in Symphony of the Night and the GBA/DS Castlevania games. There are some cutscenes but they are elaborate fully voiced animations rather than grainy low quality FMV. A special mention must go to the excellent sound effects and especially the music. As per usual for a Castlevania game it delivers some excellent tune, this time streamed in high quality from the CD.
The stages themselves are huge. The majority of stages are filled with secrets and alternative routes. In a way it’s very like Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse where you can take completely different paths through the game. The game lets you revisit stages at will to try and discover secrets and alternative stages, a nice touch that avoids needlessly replaying early stages of the game. There are four maidens hidden in the game that must be found before you can get the real ending which is another reason to explore the game. One of the maidens, Maria, can act as a playable character. She takes more damage than Richter but her animal based attacks are a bit overpowered to compensate. Unlike Super Castlevania IV Richter can only whip in one direction but has moderate control while jumping. It makes the game less frustrating than the NES games but the whip is not so overpowered that subweapons become useless like in Super Castlevania.
Overall Rondo of Blood is one of the best games of the 16-bit era. While I prefer Dracula’s Curse and Super Castlevania IV it’s still one of the very best Castlevania games. It looks gorgeous, level design is superb and there are a huge amount of alternative routes and stages to discover which gives the game replayability that previous linear Castlevania games couldn’t provide. It also has some of the best boss battles of the series.
The main game on Dracula X Chronicles is a remake of Rondo of Blood. While in many ways I feel it’s an excellent remake there is one problem with the game. While Rondo of Blood is one of the best looking games ever made with some of the best pixel art to grace any game the remake uses 3D visuals that are less colourful and dull in comparison. Thankfully it’s not all bad news. The remake adds its own subtle improvements to Rondo of Blood differentiating it from the original and thus making the remake worth playing. Many of the stages have received subtle additions and changes that will surprise veterans of the PC-Engine original. Bosses as well have been tweaked to keep them challenging and fresh. There are some big changes as well. The alternative stage 5 has been completely replaced with a brand new stage. In the original game this stage seemed like a bit of an afterthought and didn’t even have a boss. The new stage is much better with a boss battle that might just be the highlight of the remake. Another new boss has been added just before the final fight with Dracula if you don’t find all the maidens before the end of the game. This one is also great so is worth experiencing. If you do find all the maidens you can skip this boss. However the final fight with Dracula adds new a rock hard third form to the boss battle. Not present in the original.
Usually I’d be against changes being made to the original games vision but in this case since the original game is included I’m much more receptive. The extra bosses are a welcome addition and the new alternative stage 5 is an improvement over the original game. I’d go so far to say that if the remake had the gorgeous 2D art of the original then it would be the better game. One small complaint I have about the original is that the 2D graphics don’t really suit the PSP-1000 screen. Blurring is much more noticeable than in the 3D remake. I didn’t really play SotN but it’s a nice addition. If you haven’t played Symphony of the Night then it’s a great way to experience it, it really is one of the greatest game ever made. The emulation of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night isn’t perfect but it’s more than serviceable and if you are a stickler for good emulation then the Virtual console version of Rondo is the one to go for.
Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles is pretty much a must own for Castlevania fans and PSP owners. You can’t go wrong with two of the best games ever made and an excellent remake of Rondo of Blood in the same package.