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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – PSP

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – PSP

Castlevania: The Dracula X ChroniclesPlatform:  PSP

Release Date (NA):  October 23rd, 2007

Developer:  Konami

Publisher:  Konami

Genre:  Action / Adventure, Platformer

Nerd Rating:  7 out of 10

Once again proving that you must own every system ever to get the full Castlevania experience, Konami released this little gem for Sony’s PlayStation Portable.  The PSP may not be the most beloved handheld of all time, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.  In fact, it’s a very capable machine, it simply suffered due to its lack of high-profile games.  However, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles may be one of the top 5 reasons to own Sony’s first portable gaming device.

First of all, it’s important to understand just what The Dracula X Chronicles is.  In casual parlance, it’s often referred to as “Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night on a UMD,” but that doesn’t quite do it justice.  (UMD stands for “universal media disc,” and it’s what those little plastic-housed discs for the PSP are called.)  Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is 3 games wrapped up in one: “The Dracula X Chronicles,” as I’ll be using the term, refers to the main game on the disc, a faithful and visually modernized remake of the original Rondo of Blood; included as bonus unlockable content are the original versions of Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night (ok, there are a few small alterations in the latter…).  For the most part I want to focus on the “new” game that this little UMD offers, but make no mistake, the bonus content is some of the most worthy bonus content to ever make its way into a game.

The Dracula X Chronicles

As I just said above, I’ll be referring to the “main game” as The Dracula X Chronicles.  I’ve often seen it shortened to Dracula X, but that’s ridiculous considering there’s already Castlevania game titled Dracula X.  At one point it may have been true that this was America’s best and easiest shot at experiencing the much talked about Rondo of Blood, but now that the original Rondo of Blood is available through the Wii Virtual Console for about $9, I’d be willing to bet that the PSP game is a distant second.  Unless you’re well-versed in Castlevania lore, you may have asked yourself, several times by now, “what the hell is Rondo of Blood?”  

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

Rondo of Blood was an exclusive to Japan, released on the PC Engine.  The console terminology gets a little fuzzy over there, but over here we had the TurboGrafx-16.  Later, NEC (the company responsible for the TG16), released an add-on known variously as the Turbo CD or TurboGrafx-CD.  Although NEC would later develop the all-in-one TurboDuo, it was uncommon here in North America.  It was much more prevalent in Japan as the PC Engine Duo, and that’s where Rondo of Blood (or more correctly, Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo) comes in; a CD-based game for the CD component of the PC Engine.  Despite an analogous console already released in North America, the game never made it this far.

Over the years it’s gained a bit of notoriety; first because it’s the direct prequel to the lauded Symphony of the Nightand second, because it spawned what many fans would consider the worst game of the “early years,” Dracula X.  Dracula X was intended to be the American version of Rondo of Blood, but as cool as the SNES was, it just couldn’t handle a full CD’s worth of Castlevania.  Much of the original was culled and transmuted during its transition to a cartridge, and despite intentions, the two are often thought of as completely separate games (from a gameplay perspective, not storyline).  North American fans have been dying to get their hands on this “original version” for years, and the PSP was the perfect vehicle up until Wii released a perfect port of the PC Engine title on their Virtual Console.

Castlevania: The Dracula X ChroniclesWhat The Dracula X Chronicles has done is remake this old title into something a little more modern.  From what I’ve seen of the original on the Virtual Console, a lot of care has been taken to keep the remake faithful.  There are small changes here and there and the graphics and sound have been completely updated, but by and large we’ve got the same enemies in the same places, the same bosses, and the same basic level designs.  Even the actual gameplay mechanics remain largely unchanged, a rare occurrence for remakes and releases that have often been tinkered with extensively.  The sprites have been replaced with quasi-3D models, the backgrounds have seen a modest overhaul, and the color palette has been muted in favor of increased realism, but it plays just like any other older 2D Castlevania release.

And that’s as much as I’m going to compare the two; I think it’s sufficient to assert that an extremely faithful adaptation has been made, and whether you’ve played Rondo of Blood or not, this is a plenty fun title that can stand on its own just fine.

Castlevania: The Dracula X ChroniclesApart from the updated visuals, The Dracula X Chronicles is another solid “classic Castlevania” experience.  It’s all about running, jumping, and whipping.  Unique to this game (and the original) is the expansion of the “divergent paths” concept put forth in Dracula’s Curse.  There are 8 stages, and each of stages 2 through 5 has a counterpart “alternate” stage.  In all cases, the stage before leads either to the regular or alternate area, and at the end of each alternate stage are exits to the next regular or alternate stage (if applicable).  These alternate stages add a sort of bonus for curious and advanced players.  It’s possible to run into one by accident by whipping the right wall or falling down a pit, but in most cases these new paths must be sought after.  They offer up new bosses and the chance to rescue “the maidens” in order to receive “the good ending.”  This provides the necessary bridge between the mostly linear play of Super Castlevania IV and its predecessors and the wildly open-ended gameplay introduced in Symphony of the Night.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

Where’s Maria?

Playing through this “classicvania” environment with a glossy, modern veneer isn’t as gimmicky as it sounds and keeps the game from feeling like more of the same ol’ thing.  Be warned though, it’s hard as hell and as the levels progress, clearing a room becomes a bit of an art form.  The level design is perfect for those up for a challenge, as it often funnels Richter through the most possible difficulties with a few clever obstacles thrown in to set it apart.  These levels don’t reveal their secrets easily, and part of the fun is discovering 4 completely new levels in the midst of what looks like a fairly linear path.  Even within some of the levels there are 2 main routes.  You’ll have to explore every nook and cranny to get 100%, and since this entails playing both regular and alternate levels, multiple playthroughs are necessary.  However, once you’ve cleared a stage, you’re free to go back and play that stage at any time with the stage select feature.

So just what is it that’s scattered all around these crisscrossing paths of progress?  Mostly original music tracks from Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night.  However, the original versions of these games themselves are also stashed away.  The secrets from the original Rondo of Blood are carried over as well, such as a hidden playable Maria and the 3 captured maidens that must be rescued for the good ending.”

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

There’s Maria! Doing crazy shit with animal magic as usual.

All in all, The Dracula X Chronicles is a pleasant culmination of what makes the classic Castlevania games so enduring with an updated aesthetic obviously aimed at newer audiences.  The line straddled between “classicvania” and “metroidvania” acts as a perfect introduction to the series for newcomers, and the bonus content clearly caters to old-school fans.  For whatever reasons, Konami chose to release it on an unpopular system, and a handheld at that, and the game has quickly fallen through the cracks.

Rondo of Blood

Castlevania: The Dracula X ChroniclesI haven’t yet played the original Rondo of Blood, though I have burned a copy and do plan on getting down with some bona fide PC Engine Duo Castlevania action at some point.  I have, however, played much of the version released for the Wii Virtual Console.  I can’t be sure if the port is 100% unchanged, but from what I’ve seen, it seems to be.  On the Virtual Console it hasn’t even been localized, so I’d guess that it was pulled straight from the original disc.  The port available on The Dracula X Chronicles doesn’t seem to have any big changes aside from some of the originally Japanese text now rendered in English.

Although you’ll have to unlock this original version while playing through The Dracula X Chronicles, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find and there are countless guides elsewhere on the web.  Once unlocked, North American audiences now have a perfect means of experiencing the Rondo of Blood.  It’s also a good chance to see how well-represented the original is in the remake.  Insanely difficult, only hardcore fans are likely to care about its inclusion, but it is nice to have an official North American “version” on physical media.

Symphony of the Night

What at first seems like a direct port of the wildly popular PlayStation game actually deviates from the original in some very interesting areas.  I actually found myself playing all the way through this version (inverted castle and all) just to see how far the differences went.  If you’ve done even a modicum of reading about Symphony of the Night, you’re bound to have run across some mention of the differences between the PS and Saturn versions.  Surprisingly, the version presented here in The Dracula X Chronicles re-integrates many of these features, although unfortunately, not the most prominent.

Most people develop an interest in the Saturn port of Symphony of the Night due to the inclusion of 2 all-new areas – The Underground Gardens and The Cursed Prison.  Most players’ anticipation is met with equal disappointment upon finding out how short and arbitrary these areas truly are, although the Cursed Prison does make a seemingly pointless loop in the castle a little less pointless.  Sadly, these areas are not to be found here.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

The Saturn version also includes the ability to play as Alucard, Richter, or Maria from the start.  It has long been known that one can play as Richter on the PS version by entering “RICHTER” as your name on a save file, and the same is true here on the PSP.  However, now by entering in “MARIA,” one can play as Maria as well!  Maria also acts as a boss on the Saturn when playing as Alucard; she must be defeated before she hands over the “Holy Glasses,” part of what one must acquire to unlock the inverted castle.  In the PS version she simply hands you the glasses, but on this update for the PSP, the boss battle from the Saturn version is present once again.

The last big difference I’ve noticed are the familiars.  The PS contains 5, the Japanese 7.  In the Japanese Saturn release, these extras are translated roughly as the “Nosedevil” and “Pixie” or “Sprite.”  (To obtain the latter, one must find the “Pixie Card,” but in the description, the word “Sprite” is used.)  The PSP port has added both of these back in, translated as the “N Demon” and “Fairy,” bringing the total up to 7 with the “Faerie,” “Demon,” “Sword,” “Ghost,” and “Bat.”  (Yes, there’s “Faerie” and “Fairy,” “Demon” and “N Demon”…should’ve left it at “Pixie” and “Nosedevil,” eh?)  It’s debatable how useful these 2 new familiars really are, but for those aching to see Saturn-exclusive elements, it’s a good start.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

WHOA COOL MOAR FAMILIARS

Aside from the performance issues that plagued the Saturn port (load times, slow down, etc.) there are some other minute differences between the two games (Alucard’s wolf form can’t swim on the Saturn) but there doesn’t seem to be the removal of anything already present in the PS version, just the addition of Saturn features.  I’ve yet to find a comprehensive breakdown of the differences, but I have noticed strange gaps in the PSP’s “Monster Encyclopedia” despite existing entries for all of the PS1 baddies.  Most of the new Saturn enemies are encountered in the 2 new areas, and since these areas are absent on the PSP, I haven’t yet accounted for this discrepancy.

In the end, this is an excellent rendition of Symphony of the Night for those wishing to play on the go, and it gives players a reasonable taste of the all too often inflated “additions” to the Saturn port.  Ok, so maybe you don’t get to see the Cursed Prison or Underground Gardens, but it is an acceptable alternative for those not wishing to track down a $100+ copy of “Nocturne in the Moonlight“…or mod their Saturn…or use “the swap trick”…or struggle through the Japanese equipment menus…or deal with crazy load times…or any other of the inherent difficulties that clearly put the PS version at the top of the heap for those who’ve played both.

The Whole Package

Castlevania: The Dracula X ChroniclesOverall, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a superb anthology-style release in the series that I personally wouldn’t mind seeing more of.  The Rondo of Blood remake has clearly been handled with respect and maintains the Castlevania feel while providing a novel experience.  If nothing else, it deserves mention for being the first (and only physical) North American release of Rondo of Blood.  I’d actually be interested in seeing more such remakes, but the prospect is doubtful.  Konami picked a bizarre platform for what had the potential to be a high profile release; I can’t understand why it was a PSP exclusive and not at least offered on the PS3 as well.  Despite the strange marketing strategy, The Dracula X Chronicles is a game worth owning if you have the PSP, and if you’re a Castlevania fan, PSPs are cheap enough now that you might want to consider picking one up just to give this game a shot.

Reviewed b The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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