Sunday, November 10, 2013

Game Review: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (AKA Castlevania: Rondo of Blood)

2D Action; Turbo Grafx CD; Konami; 1993
Hi there, ho there. Sorry about my absence last week, I'm sure the 5 of you who actually read my blog missed me. I had several things occur in rapid succession last week that prevented me from preparing a review. First was my brother's wedding that took place on Halloween. The very next day was the Black Belt testing were I was going for my 1st Black Decided (which I did earn), and the following day was testing for the rest of the martial arts school. So by the time Sunday came around I was mentally and physically exhausted. Anyway, As a delayed celebration of All Hallow's Eve, I am going to do another Castlevania review, this time of what is commonly considered the best of the classic Castlevania games. A game that for the longest time was only released in Japan until it graced the Wii's Virtual Console and remade for the PSP: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo. More commonly known in the west as Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. This was my first time playing the game, so does this classic of the old school stand up to the test of time? Find out in my review.

Richter Belmont: Anime version!
It is the year 1792 and the forces of evil once again conspire to revive their dark lord Count Dracula. Upon his revival, Dracula's forces sack the nearby towns kidnapping several women including Annette and Maria Renard. Richter Belmont, Annette's fiance and wielder of the legendary whip of the Belmont clan; The Vampire Killer, must venture forth into Dracula's castle; Castlevania, rescue the captured women, and put an end to the Count.

Storywise Rondo of Blood is nothing special. It is the classic Castlevania set up, Dracula is revived, you're a Belmont, Apply whip directly to Vampire. What Rondo of Blood did with the story was to set it up with story events and cinematics that the CD based PC Engine (AKA Turbo Grafx 16) could deliver. This meant fully voiced sequences with crude (by today's standards) anime cinematics. While the Anime ascetic doesn't suit Castlevania at all (And still doesn't, thank you Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin) it was revolutionary at the time and doesn't over shine the gameplay aspect. Of course if you are playing an import version of the game, the Japanese only dialogue will leave the story lost on you, but don't worry, most of what is going on is pretty self explanatory.

Only in Castlevania can you whip a rock and the whip wins.
Rondo of Blood is classic Castlevania through and through. Richter Belmont Jumps, Whips, and throws items all while power walking like a boss. Coming off of the heels of Super Castlevania IV, Richter's abilities might seem limited compared to supped up Simon. While Richter does have some ability to change direction while jumping (he can start or cancel some of his momentum but not all), he does not have the ability to whip in all eight directions nor can he limp whip anything. However, unlike previous Belmonts, Richter doesn't need to power up the Vampire Killer, and in addition to using subweapons he can do a powerful Item Crash which is usually a screen clearing ability at the cost of several hearts. However, character abilities mean nothing in this kind of game without good levels to use them in and here Rondo of Blood comes out in spades. Each level has it's own look and flare, from the first stage's burning village which looks an awful lot like a town in Simon's Quest, to the torture chambers deep within the castle.

But what really sets Rondo of Blood apart from previous Castlevania's is size, there are 12 stages (13 if you include the brief Prologue) and several of them are locked away down alternate hidden paths in the game. Some require falling down pits behind breakable walls, others involve using devices hidden within stages. Each hidden path is different, but they are not hidden in such a way that it is infuriating to find them. Most are discovered by an amusing "hey, what's this?" rather than a frustrated "There you are goddammit!" Each of the "off the beaten" paths not only leads to a different boss fight but a new stage, and hidden somewhere in these stages are the 4 women that Dracula has kidnapped, including Richter's fiance Annette and Annette's little sister Maria. While the former does nothing but increase your completion counter and unlocks a heartwarming reunion, rescuing Maria makes her available to play as. Not only does Maria play completely differently from Richter, as she is faster, takes more damage, and has different abilities including a double jump, she has completely different subweapons which function completely differently and has different screen clearing Item Crashes. Also, it is amusing to play through the game as a little 12 year old girl who fights by throwing doves at enemies and just has a dragon at her beck and call.

However, as good as this game is there are some problems. There are some issues with input and unresponsiveness. There was several times where I was pushing the attack or jump button and nothing was happening. I don't know whether this was because I was pressing the button during animations where Richter or Maria can't attack or jump, or whether it was the controller I was using didn't response to my input, but for what ever reason there was multiple times where I pressed jump or attack and nothing happened. One particular example is with Richter's Backflip. If you press jump twice Richter will flip backwards; however, the timing is very precise, as if you press Jump too late he will not do the flip. I also discovered one glitch where if you use particular Item Crashes with Maria (ones where her sprite is removed from it's place) on a particular pulley, pulley will activate with "Maria" on it but not actually there. Thus, when transitioned to the next screen there was no one there and I could do anything except pause the game. And lastly, this is classic Castlevania, which means one thing, Classic Castlevania difficulty. Enemies will deal a ton of damage even to Richter, both character can be launched backwards into other hazards including bottomless pits and the dreaded water, it will take you several tries before you can figure out how to avoid that massive attack from the bosses with the limited movement of Castlevania, and losing all of your lives will send you to the very beginning of the stage. Fortunately, there is infinite continues (though the game keeps track of all the continues you used) and a save system that allows you to start from any stage you have reached.

Rondo of Blood is often regarded as the best of the classic Castlevanias, and after playing through it for the first time, it is really hard to argue with that assessment. Rondo not only combined fantastic level design with breath taking graphics for the time and one of the best Castlevania soundtracks. It also introduced massive levels with branching paths within, secrets everywhere, and a framework that I seriously think could be employed to bring classic Castlevania games into the new generation (If Symphony of the Night didn't dominate what 2D Castlevania games where to be). The only bar to entry for players is it's high difficulty and more restrictive controls. That being said, it is Highly Recommended for all gamers but a MUST PLAY for fans. Get any version you can, even an imported Japanese version works as most of the onscreen information and menus are in English.

Until Next time.

-Crescent, Dracula's most humiliating defeat, at the hands of a 12 year old girl throwing doves at him.

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