Castlevania: The Dracula X ChroniclesESRB:
Developer – Konami
Publisher - Konami
WI FI compatible (AD HOC) 1-2 players
544 KB save Memory stick Duo
Our good friends at Konami sent us a late Christmas present in the form of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PSP. Being an absolute Castlevania junkie I jumped at the chance to review this title. The game is not new though as it is a re-imagining of an old classic that never made it to our shores unless you imported it. The game ran on what was one of the most revered systems in Japan at the time, the PC Engine Duo (NEC). For years fans clamored over the game as one the best in the long line of Castlevania games. For whatever reason Castlevania X was not released in North America, until now. The game has been reworked into a 2.5D side scroller. The original game is included as an unlockable treat once you have completed the re-imagined game. If that wasn’t enough, Konami has also included Symphony of the Night, a game that is seen as a title that got a lot of new people to notice the Castlevania series in a big way. They have tweaked the original game and added a couple of new levels. Before giving this Chronicles a spin I pulled out my old copy of Rondo in Blood and gave it a quick whirl, and after doing so, and playing this new offering, I would have to say that Konami did a great bringing it to the PSP.
Chronicles gives the gamer such visual pleasure it’s almost euphoric. The new re-mixed game has eye-popping 2.5D graphics that run on the tiny PSP with very little to no hiccups. Beautiful hand drawn art is at the forefront of every level while richly textured stages drip with a touch only Konami could master. It’s quite evident that a lot of effort went into making this re-born title. Richter and all the monsters of the night are fully modeled in 3D. The atmosphere has been made even darker with excellent use of transparencies and a myriad of lighting effects. I really love the newly re-done cut scenes that provide the intro to each boss. They were pixel perfect with little load times. Speaking of loading, I found that the beginning of each stage would take much longer to load than other areas. It really didn’t matter too much though as the anticipation of the next level outweighed any concern about load times.
Technically speaking, the PSP is a great little machine and it powered the whole game with no clipping or frame rate choppiness of note. I do remember the original Rondo of Blood having issues with sudden drops in the frame rate, especially in the boss battles, however they seem to have been corrected and been cleaned up for the most part in this redone version.
I did find one item of distraction to the graphical scheme I the game. In darkened areas the PSP’s screen would exhibit a sort of dot crawl as it scrolled along. In brightly lit areas the blur is not as noticeable but in darkened areas is a bit of an issue. I am not sure if it is a result of the game’s graphic engine or Sony’s TFT screen (especially on the older PSP ‘fat’) but it is there. I’m also not sure if the new Sony slim PSP has this problem or not, but the slim has a feature where you can hook the machine up to your high definition TV and play on its screen so I would be interested to try this.
Dracula X’s original music is fantastic; in fact the music was one of the driving factors in the overall enjoyment of the game. I remember going out of my way to find the soundtrack of the original PC Engine version only to discover I could load the original game disc into my CD player and play it with no problems. The games re-mixed tracks have been beefed up with a full orchestral backgrounds providing a lower end fill that was missing from the mostly MIDI generated tracks of old. Regardless of mixes, the music matches the game perfectly. I’ve always thought that the original soundtrack is better than Symphony of the Night (which is very good in its own right). I wouldn’t say the remix is better though, but it will really be your own preference to what is or is not better. Regardless, incredible music is what drives every Castlevania game and Chronicles it's no different. Some tracks are simply incredible, and they make playing through any of the games on this disc more worthwhile.
Konami decided to add a few music-oriented features in the game, giving the gamer some track playing choices. If you want, you can assign different background tracks from each of the Castlevania games (Symphony of the Night included) to accompany each level. So essentially you can mix up your tracks to play in any of the titles levels. It doesn’t affect gameplay much, but for the hardcore gamer it’s a cool feature to play with. These songs however must be unlocked during gameplay by finding the disc icon scattered throughout Vlad’s place. You also can access the tracks after finishing whichever game you are playing. The game also has a music player, but again the songs must be accessed and unlocked before being able to utilize it. I thought it was an interesting idea, and I’m sure we’ll see more of it in other Castlevania titles in the future.
Dracula X has many voices overs and bits of acting spattered all through the game. The original game has new voices added in English and for the most part they are somewhat forgettable. They sound pretty contrived and to be honest they really don’t match the splendor of the rest of the title. I did find that as scenes would cut in and out that some of the audio would as well as the next area loaded. It’s no biggie though as I could probably recite most of the audio work from the old game off by heart. I figure that newbies to the series would not even catch the missing bits.
On a side note, I have to say that one must use a set of headphones to fully enjoy the aural experience. The speakers do an adequate job, but once you put on a set of headphones and hear the stereo separation as well as the various tones (e.g. bass and treble) you will come to appreciate exactly how good the sound is in this game is.
Castlevania games are usually a side scrolling 2-button hack, jump and slash affair and Chronicles’ control scheme is no different. Gameplay for Rondo of Blood will either make or break this title for some gamers. This game is old school and hardcore, not for the weak at heart. The game is extremely challenging from beginning to end. I found the using the analog nub to be far too loose. It would take a lot of effort to make your character move in any direction, and there was really no way to compensate for the lag. Making precise jumps is almost impossible. Often I overshot the landing or just fell off my perch because the button to jump was to slow. As soon as you commit to a jump, there's no turning back, Richter has extremely limited air control. His response rate isn't the best either. Get hit and you will incur a relatively long stun, leaving the enemies to inflict great amounts of damage. They can and will overwhelm you with constant attacks or eventually knocking you back into a pit of bloody spikes (which is an instant death). I decided to switch to Maria, simply because she can double jump. The double jump allows you some level of control instead of needing to time things perfectly, although you will need to be quick on the trigger to really utilize her skill. Her attacks are formidable, but she too is quite slow to respond after being hit. After some use with both characters I thought that Richter was the best and stuck it out with him.
As I played I found that I became quite frustrated early in the game with the general control and I had to switch back to the digital control buttons. After doing so I did have an easier time of things, but it was not without problems either. The buttons offered no middle ground, and far too often the collision detection was very weak and unpredictable. I must say these inaccuracies left me unsure what the limits are with regard to traps and tricky jumps. There is a spot in stage 4 for example (A top Countless Terrors) where huge sharpened pendulums swing back and forth; it can be awkward to know where the boundaries of safety are on the first play through. I ran into these things numerous times before learning how to approach and maneuver through them. I suppose this could be attributed to trying to turn a side scrolling 2D game into a 2.5D title. Richter’s character is also slower than the old PC Engine game. I kept trying to run but unfortunately I could not. This is really minor gripe, but I do think hardcore gamers will feel the same as I did.
The original Rondo of Blood game is difficult, but the remake will make you wince in pain. Your character can take only a few hits before he/she will succumb to serious injury. Unfortunately the game has very few checkpoints and trying to get to one can be pretty tough. If you are savvy gamer you will find strategically placed food spots hidden throughout the game in the walls or stairs. I do believe that they reside in exactly the same spots as the older game. With only 3 lives you’ll be logging on some major playtime to get through the whole game. Use a little patience and you’ll eventually get through as it is worth the effort! The various bosses in the game have particular weak spots, and they really aren’t that difficult. The gamer may have to try them a few times as they all have patterns that you must learn.
I found the longer I played the Dracula X Chronicles the better I liked it. The feeling of exploring every crevice and unlocking all the goodies came flooding back. This is still pretty much the same game that the Japanese gamers played all those years ago. There are plenty of side quests to find and secrets to unlock, including Symphony of the Night. I would think most gamers have played this classic; I myself just unlocked it and haven’t had too much time to flesh it out yet. I have it on good authority that the game runs smoother and is almost identical to the older PSone version. It was also supposed to get the lost Saturn levels, but I’m not sure they have been added or not. As I mentioned in the sound section of this review there are icons in the shape of music discs to find throughout the game. Some are relatively easy to find, but most are extremely well hidden and will have the gamer searching for quite sometime. Collecting the discs will unlock Castlevania music tracks that you can assign to levels via the Sound Assign mode.
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