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RELEASE DATE (NA): October 23, 2007 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

New blood for an old vampire.

I'll give it to you straight so there is no misconception: Dracula X Chronicles is hard as diamond. It's the kind of game that isn't afraid to step into your personal space and start ripping out chest hairs to satisfy its own twisted pleasure epicenter. The original PC Engine CD game, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, was known for being more than a turkey shoot, and this remake lives up to its predecessor's legacy with honour and frustration. Enemy placement and behaviour lives to torment, putting you on full alert at all times; there isn't any opportunity to slack off. Bosses sometimes follow a pattern and sometimes do not, but it's up to you to possess pinpoint reflexes to dodge everything they throw at you while coming at them head-first with the crack of your trusty whip. Practice, folks, practice. That's the only way. The only positive is that you can start from any stage from the file select screen; if I had to redo all of these extensively lengthy stages, I'd faint. And I don't need a new reason to faint.

The main game of Dracula X Chronicles plays just like any other Castlevania of the classic persuasion: you assume the role of Richter Belmont with the ultimate goal of suppressing Dracula before he works his vampiric cursework yet again. He wields the legendary Vampire Killer, the whip his many forefathers used to slay Dracula, but can also use a variety of sub-weapons, such as axes, holy water, knives, and even the Bible itself, which consuming hearts Richter can collect. Ah, Castlevania, you never followed suit with the trope that hearts equal health, did you... But ultimately, the controls are as tight as usual, as in most Castlevania games.

The main game is very straightforward, although there are more hidden items than I ever thought would be in a Castlevania game. Thanks, Koji Igarishi. I really wanted to use my skeleton-whipping time to look for jukebox song icons. Worse yet, in order to get the most of the game, you have to find keys cached throughout some stages to rescue women who have been kidnapped. If you fail to rescue all the captured damsels — as I failed to do after my first playthrough — then you get a terrible ending where Dracula is saved in the end by his right-hand ghoul, Shaft. And they say this cat Shaft is a bad mother—SHUT YOUR MOUTH! But I'm talkin' 'bout Shaft! Now I had no idea I was even supposed to rescue all of these women. Heck, there are even multiple exits that lead to different stages, but I also had no idea about that until I stumbled across one by pure accident. I thought my goal was to whip Dracula 'cross the face and tell him that there can only be one pasty jerk chicken in town. Nobody told me I needed to hunt down keys and locked doors. But I guess that was in the original as well. There's also Maria Renard who becomes playable after you save her as one of the four captured maidens. Because she can slide and use magic, taking her on the route to defeat Dracula becomes a new experience.

Getting to Dracula is a real pain in the neck... almost as much as vampire fangs...

But did you notice that this is called "Dracula X Chronicles"? It's not just a single chronicle; there is more than one story to be told, which is why Konami also packaged in a port of the sequel, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, as well as the original version of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine CD as unlockables. You'll have to find them, though — they're somewhat well-hidden and require thorough searching of your surroundings, just like everything else in this game. There's also a third unlockable game, Akumajyo Dracula Peke, a little platformer starring pre-rendered wooden characters that don't look to have a direct relation to the Belmonts or Dracula. It's a nice addition, but having to finish a Boss Rush mode three times — a gameplay style I've only been able to conquer in Kirby's Adventure — is definitely a chore I wouldn't look forward to. That being said, the price of the game is worth it for Symphony of the Night alone — it's the clear winner amongst this collection. Rondo of Blood is a nice blast from the past, showing off some of Castlevania's earlier days.

As with other similar remakes on the PSP, the core experience of Dracula X Chronicles has been given a visual upgrade. Though still a 2D platformer, all environments and characters have been spit-shined with 3D models. That does give it a nice polish, but the charm of the sprites shines through equally well when playing the original PC Engine CD version. As an added bonus, there are far more full-motion video cutscenes, especially for the bosses, that help Naturally, with this graphical upgrade came an associated audio boost as well. Dracula X Chronicles boasts a re-arranged soundtrack with more realistic instruments and a new set of voice-overs. (The original was only in Japanese, so they would have to be recorded fresh.) Interestingly enough, the voices for Symphony of the Night have also been re-recorded to match those of the core game... as well as possibly because the original voices were awful, although the new Alucard could use a little extra pep in his step. It's a nice coat of paint on a technically 8-bit game to give it some appeal to modern audiences while maintaining its general foundation.

Honestly, it's a fairly complete package, giving you the original Rondo of Blood (which had not been released overseas at the time), its remake, Symphony of the Night (worth the price alone), and an extra cute platformer. The only drawback is that it's a very difficult game. More casual gamers may be turned off by how rough the game can be on them and will miss out on the superior unlockables, making this collection rather short-lived and unvisited. For hardcore Castlevaniacs, however, this could be a gem that keeps those inner flames going.

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