Thursday, October 25, 2007

Review: Castlevania Dracula X Chronicles

Castlevania is undoubtedly one of my favorite game franchises. I've played every game for all the consoles that I owned (including the really bad ones), and I look forward to every new installment, especially after Symphony, even though the whole MetroidVania thing is getting pretty old. When I heard about the Rondo of Blood remake for the PSP a few months ago I was sold immediately. Rondo was one of the better CV titles that never really made it to the West for two reasons: one, the TurboGrafx system never really sold well; and two, religious overtones that border blasphemy. Yeah, the second reason seems pretty stupid now but it really was a problem back then. I was only able to play Rondo not too long ago, when someone kindly ported it to the PC for free. It didn't play as good as, say, Super Castlevania IV, but the animation, the smoothness of movement, and voice acting (!) made it truly superb.

The remake finally came out, in the form of Dracula X Chronicles. It is not in any way related to the poorly-executed SNES game of a similar title, but is a complete overhaul of Rondo. It is exactly the same story and game, but done in 3D, with new cutscenes and voice acting. Also, in English! It also comes with the previously underexposed original Rondo game, as well as Symphony of the Night, in the form of unlockable bonuses. The (semi-)linear classic CV gameplay is a nice break from the usual MetroidVania grind, and it truly felt refreshing after so many years. It also stays faithfully loyal to the original, right down to minute level design details. Characters are also redesigned: Konami ditched the anime-style design of the original, in favor of a more mature, SotN-esque look. If you've played Rondo and enjoyed it, the remake won't disappoint.

However, it isn't without imperfections. The game feels a little bit sluggish, and is less difficult in some parts. For instance, the whip seems to have a wider range; some enemies that can only be hit if Richter crouches can now be hit standing up. The faster enemies also suffer from the sluggishness, and suddenly that werewolf boss isn't so menacing anymore. Those crows from Stage 2 annoyed the hell out of me in the original game, but now they're easily managed. Heck, even the flea men and Medusa heads aren't such huge problems anymore. Still, the game poses enough of a challenge to attract players who are used to the classic difficulty, but not too hard as to alienate new players.

Hit detection is also different, the game being in 3D. It's somewhat hard to explain, but 2D generally has sharper hit detection, and this game is no exception. Sometimes it's too sensitive, at other times it isn't. For instance, those skeleton spears will hit you when you are just getting ready to evade. But you can shake hands with that giant skeleton boss just fine.

Another noticeable problem with the graphics is the jaggies. It's highly noticeable and sort of unforgivable given how other 3D games for the PSP like Monster Hunter Freedom 2 have almost perfectly-smooth graphics.

I'm also disappointed to say that Maria mode isn't as cute anymore. Her clothes and hairstyle have changed too, and she just looks plain. Hiding under a turtle shell isn't really funny anymore, and you can actually spam her slide move and it looks really awkward. Her main attack is also slower and has a shorter range, but she still makes the game much, much easier like she should.

The classic games remain exactly what they were before for the most part, and are very welcome bonuses. The inclusion of the original Rondo allows you to compare the old game to the remake, and SotN still looks, plays, and sounds good after an entire decade. Although, if you loved the horrible script and voice acting of the original SotN, you will probably be disappointed, because they changed both. That classic exchange of words between Richter and Dracula is gone, and the new dialogue isn't really that much better. I wish they just kept it the way it was.

Overall though, this game is more than a worthy addition to your games collection, especially if you're one of those slavish CV fans.

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