Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (2007)

Platform: Playstation Portable
Stages: 13 (Some hidden)

American Cover

Japanese Cover

For years...and years...and years...non-Japanese gamers were waiting for Konami to publish Dracula X: Rondo of Blood in an English territory. Sure, anyone who knew anything about search engines and emulators (or ponied up the $100+ for an actual CD or $300+ for a PC Engine Duo) have been playing Dracula X for years, but 2007 marks the first time many American and European will be able to experience the best old school Castlevania to date. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP consists of three games - a 3D remake of Rondo of Blood, a port (rather, emulated version) of the PC Engine original, and another port (emulation) of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night all retailing for $30. Obviously, it's a damn fine deal.

The remake of Rondo drew a lot of criticism when it was announced, primarily because it was replacing the 2D sprites with 3D polygons, even though the gameplay is pretty much the same. On one level, it's definitely kinda warranted - while the look and feel is faithful to the original, it does look a little bit ugly, and the color schemes that look fine in 2D just look drab in 3D. Part of this is the fault of the PSP itself, which uses lots of smudgy textures. Still, other companies like Capcom have pulled off some incredibly effects in similar games (Maverick Hunter X, Ultimate Ghouls 'n Ghosts), and here, Dracula X just doesn't quite hold up. Still, once you get over the shock, there are actually a lot of details that make the new graphics worthwhile.

Primarily, there's a lot more depth to the backgrounds that wasn't there before. One of the most prominently redone areas is Stage 4, the dungeon - the original version had a flat, boring black background, but now it fills a lot fuller. The same goes with the caves in Stage 4'. The water raft ride leading up to that segment is much cooler now, and makes good use of the 3D graphics, whereas the original version was just a straight, near vertical slope. Stage 5', which was a poorly designed, weird hodge-podge of graphics from previous levels, has been fully redesigned. Although the basic layout is the same, now it takes on the guise of an aqueduct. There are still two paths through the stages, and there are actually bosses now.

As you can tell by the cover, all of the artwork has been redone by Ayami Kojima to make it more consistent with the later games. It's all, as you can expect, pretty decent. Annette is now a blond, and Iris and Tera now look more normal. The anime cutscenes have been replaced with dialogue scenes similar to Symphony of the Night, which have some altered lines compared to the original. Maria's scenes are still a bit goofy, since she's constantly referring to Dracula as "The Bad Man", but they're not as ludicrous as they were before. The second intro cinema - the one with Richter kicking ass in the first stage - is gone without any real replacement, but there's a new story scene in the burning town showing the kidnapping of Annette. All of the bosses (and some of the mid-bosses) have little cinemas that show your foe making some kind of cool entrance. A few of these pale in comparison to the original (you don't see the Behemoth's eyes follow you into the castle in Stage 2 anymore), but a few (like the Dogether battle, where Sanskrit symbols appear everywhere in room) are pretty cool. For those that are curious...they censored the werewolf (in both versions) and actually drew pants on him this time.

Some of the animation might seem a bit off, but that's mostly because the animators were trying to emulate the awkward Belmont walk, and something about it just looks strange coming off a 3D model, as opposed to a 2D sprite. Similarly, the feel of the game is ever-so-slightly different than the original version, but it's definitely not bad. It's fast and responsive, in some ways even better. But newcomers, beware - this is still a classic-style Castlevania, which means the Belmont walk slowly, stiffly, and can only kinda sorta control their jumps in mid-air. Although most of the enemy locations and patterns are accurate, there are some situations that seem easier or harder. The Bone Golem, for instance, seems a bit more difficult, and the attack of the painting in the Ghost Ship in Stage 5 is more aggressive, leading to plenty of deaths if you're not paying attention. I've heard different people report different things - some longtime fans feel the remake is easier, but others, usually newcomers, seem to think that the original is much more forgiving. Personally, other than these discrepancies, they feel about the same, once it all evens out. It's much harder than the post-Symphony games, obviously, but it's relatively easy compared to the NES Castlevanias, or even Bloodlines (though still a bit harder than Super Castlevania IV.)

But long time fans should appreciate some of the cool stuff they've added to the remake. For starters, saving Iris and Tera actually grants you extra powers, which allow you to destroy certain types of walls. Usually hidden in these walls are little music icons, which adds a track to a "Sound Assign" mode. This allows you to take the complete soundtracks from any of the three games and use them in any stage of the remake. If you don't like the new music, then you can just assign the old tunes, once you unlock them. All of these hidden collectables add a lot to the replay value, especially for those who want that coveted 100% clear value. There's also a new Hydra battle in Stage 5'.

Keeping in line with the post-Symphony games, there's also a false ending if you don't save all four kidnapped girls. If you don't save Annette, she turns into a Succubus that you need to fight, in a brand new boss battle, who takes the place of Shaft's Ghost in Stage 7. If you meet the requirements, then Dracula will have a new third form before you get the true ending. Dracula X's greatest strength has always been how much content is backed into the game, in a genre that's usually pretty straightforward, and this just builds on that even more.

Most of the music is remixes of the PC Engine soundtrack. Only a few tracks were rearranged by Michiru Yamane, but the rest are done by a bunch of newcomers. Overall, it's a mixed bad - "Cemetary" in particular loses pretty much everything that made it so cool, and "Divine Bloodlines" (previously translated everywhere as "Bloodlines") and "Cross Fear" (which was always "Cross A Fear" written in English) just seem missing something. Granted, a lot of it has to do with my fetish for 90s synth music, to the point where I'll randomly order Mega CDs and PC Engine CDs just to listen to the soundtracks. If you're not a fan of that kind of cheesiness, then you'll probably react more favorable to these remixes. Some of them are unquestionably awesome though - this is probably the best yet version of "Beginning" (here known as "Dreams of Triumph", and the new version of "Op. 13" is equally awesome. Some songs have changed around too. The boss theme now has strings of the melody of Vampire Killer. The Level 7 song, previously known as "Den" (translated in the PCE version as "The Nest"), has been replaced by an arranged version of the song "Moon Fight", from the X68000 game. "Slash", the theme for Stage 5', has a totally new theme called "Red Dawn", which isn't too bad. The "Sound Assign" theme is also the loading music from the X68000 game, strangely enough.

You need to unlock both the original Rondo and Symphony, but they're not too hard to find, if you know your way around the stages. Both games are emulated pretty faithful, barring a little bit of slowdown. Rondo in particular looks a bit smudgy on the PSP screen - apparently, what shines on a TV or computer monitor just looks a bit washed out when it's stretched from its original resolution. There's no full widescreen - real or stretched - for either title, just a regular view (close to the original resolution) or full view (which stretches it vertically but still leaves borders on the side.) Rondo also suffers more from ugly blurring due to the colors used, but that comes with the PSP territory.

The version of the Symphony of the Night here is ever-so-slightly enhanced. The dialogue has been rewritten and rerecorded, for starters. It doesn't sound like they retranslated it, so much as just went through the old English script and made it a bit less silly. The new voice cast does a better job than the original, although only marginally. Richter sounds less ridiculous, and Alucard's new voice is far less young sounding than his really deep old one. But let's face it - the original Symphony's voice acting is legendary, and it's sad to see it go. At any rate, you can switch it to Japanese if you don't like it. (This goes for all three games on the collection.) The two fairies cut from the English version are back, and one of them can even sing, like in the Saturn version. Also like the Saturn version, you have to fight Maria to get the Holy Glasses, and you can play as her once you beat the game. However, Maria here plays more like her form in Rondo of Blood, instead of the magic-using acrobat from the Saturn version. Neither the extra areas nor additional items are in this version, sadly - it would've been nice to have the speed boots at least. The end title song, "I Am the Wind" was also ditched, in favor of an original piece called"Serenade of Sympathy".

Overall, this is a fantastic package. The revamped 3D graphics may still offend people, but ultimately it's damn excellent to see a new take on one of the best side scrolling action games ever made, and the extra games are just glorious icing on the cake.

Dracula X Chronicles Artwork (credit to Vampire Killer)

American Cover
Japanese Cover
Richter (Profile)
Maria (Profile)
Dracula (Profile)
Annette (Profile)
Shaft (Profile)
Iris (Profile)
Tera (Profile)
Annette as Succubus
3D Version of PCE Dracula X Cover
4 Koma 1
4 Koma 2
4 Koma 3
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4 Koma 5
4 Koma 6
4 Koma 7
4 Koma 8
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4 Koma 10
4 Koma 11
4 Koma 12
4 Koma 13
4 Koma 14
4 Koma 15

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Castlevania Games - Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles