Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (1993)

Platform: PC Engine
Stages: 13 (Some Hidden)

Japanese Version

While Super Castlevania IV for the SNES brought the series to the new generation of 16-bit gaming, it seemed to lack some of the strides that previous games had taken. Where were the multiple characters, alternate routes, and different endings? Dracula X, released only in Japan for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM (known as the Turbografx-16/Turbo Duo in America), is widely regarded as the Holy Grail among Castlevania games, due to not only its aesthetic qualities, but also its sheer size.

In the year 1788, Dracula has once again been resurrected by some crazy cultists. He seeks revenge on Richter Belmont, heir of the family that so often sends him to the great beyond, by capturing his girlfriend Annet and goading him into a rescue attempt. Not one to stand by and let his woman down, Richter sets off to meet his destiny.

One of the biggest advantage of the CD-ROM format is the huge amount of available space, and it shows in the visuals. Dracula X looks absolutely incredible - the anime-inspired look is quite a bit more colorful than the dark, more gothic-themed Castlevania IV, and blows away the muddy look of the forgettable SNES semi-sequel. Not only are the backgrounds incredibly detailed, but the characters and enemies look gorgeous as well.

The format also leads to several anime cutscenes, as well as CD Audio music. For the first time, the Castlevania series was able to get high quality redbook audio. While several old themes make an appearance, there's an abundance of memorable new tunes, including Richter's Theme (used in the opening and first level).

While it's tempting to hold Dracula X in such high regards simply for the high levels reached in its graphics and music, that's not the real reason the game is so incredible. Dracula X is, quite simply, huge. There are only seven levels that need to be traversed in order to win, but there are five secret levels that must be found through a bit of ingenuity. Most of the secrets aren't horribly difficult to find, but it's unlikely you'll see all there is to see in a single playthrough. Many levels have alternate pathways within themselves. If that weren't enough, there are four captured hostages that, when found, will lead to the best ending.

The levels themselves are very interesting as well, taking you through one of the old towns from Castlevania 2 (except on fire), making your way through the old Castlevania entrance hall (except you're being chased by a gigantic bull demon), river rafting down a mountain, and dodging spikes and other traps in the dungeon - there's a lot to see and do here.

And in one of the most surprising momements of the series, one of the kidnapped actually joins you. Little Maria Renard, with blond hair and pink dress, armed with a variety of adorable animal helpers, will join Richter in the battle against Dracula. While the juxtaposition between the game's horror themes and the overwhelming cuteness is a bit odd at first, soon it will seem common place to take down a horde of zombies with an adorable 12-year old girl

I'd venture to say Maria is one of the best things about the game - although she can't take as many hits as Richter, her double jump makes her a lot more flexible. And her attack, where she throws doves at a short range that return like boomerangs, is actually much easier to wield than Richter's whip. I'd say that, in some ways, she almost makes the game too easy - Dracula is an absolute piece of cake when playing as Maria. But she's only there to play as if you want to - if you prefer the challenge, you can switch back to Richter at any Game Over screen.

If there's any area of the game that can be improved, it's the controls. Many of the amenities introduced in Super Castlevania 4 are gone - no multi-directional whipping, minimal controls in mid-jump, no whip flinging. Richter has a backflip that can be executed on by tapping the jump button twice, which is very useful for some of the more irritating enemies. However, a new feature called the "Item Crash" is introduced, where you'll take your special weapon and do a major attack that eats up a lot of hearts. Also of annoyance is the fact that invulnerability time - that is, the flicker after getting hit where you can't be damaged - has been greatly shortened, meaning you'll tend to lose life very quickly if you're not careful. Thankfully, the game isn't too difficult, at least compared to the NES entries.

While I personally prefer the later generation Castlevania titles - that is, the ones like Symphony of the Night and Harmony of Dissonance, that are more RPG in nature - Dracula X is quite simply the best old-school Castlevania game there is. Even if you're a Castlevania pro and you manage to blast through the game in your first shot, there's a lot of other bits to see, do and experience.

Unfortunately, due to marketplace conditions (and the fact that the game is in such high demand), Dracula X often goes for very high prices - often $100+. And Konami, somewhere along the line, decided to crack down on distribution of the ISO image. Thankfully, the game is fully playable on the Magic Engine emulator, so you don't need to shell out the money for a PC Engine if you want to play. Hopefully Dracula X will be the next to be considered for the Chronicles line.

Crazy promo item pics from Setzer the Gambler, from some Japanese webpage. Alternate art style pics courtesy of Dracula Xtacy.

Rondo of Blood Artwork

Japanese Cover
Japanese Cover (Desktop Size)
Back of Case
Richter Belmont
Annette Renard
Maria Renard
Maria kneeling
Richter (alt style)
Anette (alt style)
Iris (alt style)
Tera (alt style)
Maria(alt style)
Japanese Magazine Article 1
Japanese Magazine Article 2
Richter and Maria in a Band
Front cover of strategy guide (warning: 755K!)
Back cover of strategy guide (123K)
Group Shot (From Back of Manual
Good Guys (From Manual)
Bad Guys 1 (From Manual)
Bad Guys 2 (From Manual)
Promotional Disc/Item (??)
Top of Promotional Item
Side of Promotional Item

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Castlevania Games - Dracula X: Rondo of Blood