|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Konami||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 25, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Castlevania fans across the country have been anxiously awaiting the release of the Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. Thankfully, the wait is over and we can sink our gaming teeth into some history revitalized. Konami has released a nice compilation that takes gamers through the Rondo of Blood, which was never released in the U.S., and upon completion you can open up the original versions of Rondo and Symphony of the Night. Both Castlevania titles are classics, and Rondo has been reworked to look smooth and slick for the PSP.
Rondo of Blood is the only game available out of the box, and its difficulty will have you playing it for a while. Fortunately, a lot of work went into making it sparkle, and all of the unlockables and hidden content are very rewarding. For those of you unfamiliar with Rondo, it's a side-scrolling 2D Castlevania title in the same vein as the original games on the NES. You begin the game as Richter Belmont, direct descendant of Simon Belmont, seeking to rescue the lovely Annette from the clutches of the evil Count Dracula. Dracula was resurrected after a century long slumber by the corrupted priest Shaft. Shaft seeks to rid the world of decadence and comfort by bringing back to life the root of all evil. As Simon's progeny, Richter must use the Belmont family's ancestral whip and secondary weapons to save Annette and to restore peace to the land. In order to do so, you'll have to meticulously work your way through Castlevania's nine levels. Along the way you'll open up secrets and save innocents. One of those is the captive child Maria Renard, whose cherubic visage belies her lethality. Once rescued by Richter, Maria becomes a playable character to add to the unique feel of the adventure and the replayability of the title.
You have only a limited number of lives, and there are no save points mid-level. If you lose all of your lives before defeating the boss or passing the level via a secret route, you'll have to start from the beginning. As you might imagine, this is repetitive and maddening, but it also makes for a truly sweet old school challenge. Rondo of Blood is a classic action/adventure title full of timed jumping and pattern memorization. It truly harkens back to the old days of platform gaming. Unless you've got four thumbs, you're going to die a lot. Don't be discouraged by the difficulty though. It can be daunting and even frustrating at times, but it is a challenge you will relish and a victory you will savor. Remember, enemies that man the castle and even the bosses have regular characteristics that are easily learned. Take each level stage by stage, and you will find success. The game is not impossible by any means, but imperfect execution will be your demise.
After slogging through Rondo and opening up all of its secret paths and music tracks, you may have the urge to go outside. You're going to have to hold off on that for a bit longer. You still have to take on the complex and far more expansive world of Symphony of the Night. Symphony is set five years after the events of Rondo. In the opening scene of Symphony you will reenact the final stage of Rondo Dracula X. That means you'll be controlling Richter Belmont once more, but this really serves as a catalyst for the story that's about to unfold in Symphony. Subsequently, you take up the gauntlet as Alucard. Alucard is the estranged son of Count Dracula. Alucard was born from the union of the Count and his human mother Lisa who was killed as a witch. Because of Alucard's bloodline, he is a master of black magic and capable of amazing physical feats. As you progress through Castlevania, you will unlock Alucard's powers by attaining various relics.
This format will seem much more familiar to many of you, as it mirrors play from recently released Castlevania titles. The complexity of gameplay and the options you have at your disposal in Symphony of the Night are very appealing to contemporary gamers. Alucard can shapeshift into a bat, a wolf, or even mist in order to access previously inaccessible portions of Castlevania. You'll also have a repertoire of spells and a multitude of weapons at your fingertips. Consequently, Symphony of the Night plays more like an Action/Adventure RPG than a simple sidescroller. You will increase your stats and abilities, pick up loot and weaponry, as well as advance an interesting storyline. This title in the Dracula X Chronicles will probably be the most satisfying experience for the majority of gamers. So get through Rondo, let it tell its story, and allow it to prime your timing so you can romp through the stellar Symphony of the Night.