There is a certain stratum of the populace whom, when posed the question, ?What weapon is best-suited to vampire slaying?,? would give the singular answer: ?The whip.? This is a group, who, for the most part was coming of age in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the mighty and ubiquitous Nintendo Entertainment System (aka old Nintendo, regular Nintendo, etc.) dominated the video game landscape, and would be familiar with the Castlevania series and its unique conventions regarding vampire lore. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a title crafted specifically for this age of gamer, now displaced by the first-person shooter generation and almost altogether bereft of the 2D action/platformer.
Castle Dracula appears out of the mists every 100 years, and it is up to the members of the ancient and venerable Belmont clan of vampire hunters, wielders of the legendary whip ?The Vampire Killer,? to venture therein and vanquish its evil and cunning master.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles takes the two games widely considered to be the greatest entries in this long-standing series’ illustrious catalog, Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night, and bundles both onto one PSP disc at a ten dollar discount compared to most PSP games.
Rondo and Symphony came back-to-back in the series canon; they take place only 4 years apart in the series chronology, feature the same set of characters, and finally, mark the transition of the Castlevania series from the hardcore linear action of the Nintendo days to the Super Metroid-influenced, more free-form action game. This centers on castle exploration and item-gathering for progress, similar to modern titles in the series like Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin. One might say that these are the seminal games of the entire series. Rondo is much more like the classic formula, and Symphony much more like a Metroid game, so much so that successive entries in the Castlevania series have been termed ?Metroidvanias?.
Oh, but that’s not all, oh no, developer Konami has also given Rondo of Blood, never before released outside of Japan (though widely imported and much-ballyhooed over the Internet) a modern-day graphics face lift. This newly-remade Rondo sports polygonal ?2.5D? gameplay, in which all the classic side-scrolling action of the original title is preserved, but now displayed in a 3D space. The end result is a game that plays like a classic but looks more contemporary.
Unfortunately, per the tastes of the old-school gamer who is most likely to pick this collection up, the original Rondo of Blood’s colorful 16-bit sprite collection just feels better. They also better compliment the not-remade Symphony of the Night’s graphics this way, as well, which might sound like nit-picking, but my own enjoyment of Rondo (being a die-hard fan of Symphony, which did see western release in 1997) was only heightened by recognizing design elements common to both games. This is a small issue in and of itself, but it should be noted, as the original versions of both Rondo and Symphony must be unlocked for play within the new Dracula X Chronicles remake, which does require some effort on the player’s part.
Speaking of effort, if you are part of the aforementioned age group, or are relative neophytes, looking to learn a bit about gaming history, be forewarned: Rondo of Blood?either incarnation?is hard. Symphony is much less difficult for a number of reasons, but Rondo is classic, old-school difficult.
You will die. A lot.
Thankfully, however, you will not be forced to start all over at the beginning of the game when you run out of lives, and so frustration rarely sets in. Instead you start at the beginning of your current level, and series veterans will know that is a major concession to classic Castlevania difficulty.
Rondo of Blood finds Richter Belmont heading off into Castle Dracula to rescue his kidnapped fiance. He will battle through a nice variety of inter-weaving stages filled with secret nooks and hidden items to free several kidnapped village women and finally face down Dracula. Hidden stages are accessed by finding their secret entrances in the stages one normally encounters on the way through the game, and contain secret boss monsters as well as entrances to further hidden stages if you look hard enough.
Symphony of the Night takes place 4 years later, and Richter Belmont has mysteriously disappeared. Alucard, the half-vampire, half-human son of Dracula, has arisen from a self-induced sleep of centuries to combat his father for humankind in Castle Dracula, after it being prematurely re-summoned to the corporeal world by the dark priest Shaft. Alucard, as befitting a super-human character, has powers that the Belmont?s never had, which take the form of magical spells and the ability to gain experience points and go up in level as the game progresses, meaning that he is constantly gaining strength and interesting new abilities, such as being able to transform into a bat, a wolf, or mist at will.
Symphony also saw a breakaway from the whip as primary weapon of the series (as the Belmont main man and his Vampire Killer is missing), and Alucard has access to a myriad of swords, daggers, rods, and other weapons instead, which can be found all over the massive castle present in this game, or dropped from enemies defeated. Each enemy in Symphony’s castle has multiple item drops, as in dungeon-hack games such as Diablo.
Both titles look great to this day, and, true to series form, feature some of the best music to be found anywhere in gaming. Popular character artist Ayame Kojima even returns to the series to re-interpret Rondo’s characters with her gorgeous Gothic style, first seen in Symphony.
These are phenomenal games, and hugely entertaining. Symphony of the Night is in fact one of my personal favorite games of all time (top 3 easily), and though this is the first chance I have had to play Rondo of Blood, some 15 years after its original release in Japan, it’s intrinsic quality and value to the series shine like a beacon through a foggy Transylvanian night. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles comes with the highest recommendations.
Check out the first level of the game.