Castlevania - Rondo of Blood (english translation) Review by: pollution_skunkHOT RICHTER-ON-MAIDEN ACTION!
If there is one videogame franchise that transitioned perfectly between different eras and hardware while successfully mixing things up considerably between each installment, it's Konami's classic Castlevania/Akumajou Dracula (Dracula's Demonic Castle) series.
Born in Nintendo's Famicom Disk System peripheral (a floppy disk/diskette drive for the japanese NES) in 1986 as a rather standard action-platformer with (in?)famously stiff gameplay, the original Akumajou Dracula was a surprise hit, receiving ports for the MSX2 OS (under the name of Vampire Killer), arcades (under the name of Haunted Castle) and finally a cartridge conversion (which was re-released much later in Japan with s
electable difficulty levels) for the western NES, whose success made the Castlevania name stick to the franchise like industrial glue, at least in non-asian territories.
Riding on the popularity of action-RPGs in mid-to-late 80's Japan and evolving the concepts first presented in the MSX2 Vampire Killer, Konami released the universally-despised Dracula: Noroi no Fuuin/Castlevania II: Simon's Quest for the Famicom Disk System in 1987 (it took one year to release the western version this time because of the game's bigger focus on dialogue and the need to downgrade the game's sound and save function so it could run on a standard NES), with the franchise coming back to it's roots (whoa, already?!) after the FDS died with 1989's Akumajou Densetsu (Legend Of The Demonic Castle)/Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (which once again was released much earlier than the American version due to the japanese cart's use of Konami's awesome VRC6 mapper chip, which is sadly incompatible with western NESes due to Nintendo's imperialistic policies at the time. At least it received some slight upgrades and touch-ups in the transition, but the JP version is still worth playing for the fantastic soundtrack and awesome graphical effects alone).
In the 16-bit era, SEGA fanatics got the Bram Stoker's Dracula-inspired Vampire Killer/Castlevania Bloodlines/Castlevania: The New Generation while Nintendo lovers got Akumajou Dracula/Super Castlevania IV (which is actually a massively-expanded remake of the original FDS/NES Castlevania, as the japanese title implies), which neatly followed the series' traditions while adding some new stuff here and there, but everything changed when the 32-bit era came along, with Akumajou Dracula X: Nocturne Of The Moonlight/Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night's release.
Syphony Of The Night massively changed many elements and aspects of the series for the better, adding a level of complexity rarely seen before or after to the Belmont family's eternal struggle against Dracula and his dark forces. Actually, scratch that whole Belmont thing. SotN was the first Castlevania not to focus exclusively on the holders of the holy Vampire Killer whip, following the wacky adventures of Dracula's own half-vampire son Alucard in his mission to avenge his human mother's death under the hands of his blood-sucking dad after a millenia-long s
leep (he was last seen in Castlevania III at the time) while the young, spunky, energetic and familiar-wielding Maria Renard looks for her missing brother-in-law Richter Belmont, which defeated Drac while rescuing some maidens along the way in the series' previous game but mysteriously vanished after that.- Wait, Richter Belmont? Who's this guy?! Last time I checked, Super Castlevania IV's protagonist was the one and only Simon Belmont!
- You are half-right, 90's gamer. SCIV's protagonist indeed is Simon Belmont, but the last Castlevania released before Symphony Of The Night was Castlevania Dracula X, in 1995.
- Oh, Dracula X? That one sucks! And it doesn't have any maidens on it!
- The version of Dracula X you know does suck and has 0% maiden power on it, but the one I'm going to review doesn't and has tons of hot Richter-on-maiden action!
- Ohhhhh! Mind. Blown!
Dracula X for the SNES (which is the game many gamers tought Richter originated from before the retro revival of the mid-noughties) is actually a downgraded, watered-down version of a previous 16-bit Castlevania that sadly never left Japan: Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo/Castlevania X: Rondo Of Blood. Released in 1993 for the PC-Engine Super CD-ROM (the japanese equivalent of the TurboDuo, which was actually just a TurboGrafx-16 with a CD unit built-in), Rondo Of Blood is a classic Castlevania like no other. Like the similarly-titled Mega Man X, it takes all the best things of the original 8-bit series - the easy-to-learn-hard-to-master gameplay, the somewhat non-linear structure, the terriffic level designs, the tough-as-nails difficulty and the awesome soundtrack - spits a fresh new coat of paint on it, and amps up everything up to eleven, thus creating one of the best Castlevanias of all time. When Symphony Of The Night was released in the 'states and Europe, western gamers realized that they all missed the best episode of the Belmonts' epic quest. But why is it the best? Keep reading to find out...
STORY: 10/10"Dracula, the vampire Lord Of Darkness. An undead creature of pure evil, able to transform into a bat, a wolf or a thick haze that awakens to bring chaos to the world every one hundred years, always residing on the haunted castle of Castlevania and always being stopped by the long-running Belmont bloodline. But when the time for Vlad Tepes to ressurect once again came in 1972, things went a bit differently than expected by Mother Nature.
To start off, Dracula didn't rise from his coffin by himself this time. Instead, his early awakening was influenced by the sacrifice of a young maiden (told you!) by the hands of the dark priest Shaft and his darkness-worshipping cult. With Shaft's help, the master vampire raided Richter's Belmont hometown, setting it on fire and kidnapping four more maidens (including Maria and Annette, Richter's fiance?) so that their souls could be converted to more power for him. The latest Belmont was out hunting when all of this happened, but an unexpected visit from Dracula's loyal servant Death alerted the vampire hunter to the wicked lord's ressurection. Will Richter be able to rescue the maidens, disband Shaft's wicked cult and destroy Dracula once and for all? Transylvania's destiny is in your hands!"
I give the story a 10/10 because it's what all 16-bit storylines should be - simple yet engrossing, cool and nicely explained in-game via pixellated, fully-voiced anime cutscenes. It's basically the same plot as all the older Castlevanias, but it's added depth is a breath of fresh air.
ADDICTIVENESS, DIFFICULTY AND DEPTH: 9/10 - 8/10 - 10/10
At first glance, Rondo's gameplay is ripped straight from the 8-bit Castlevania titles, even ignoring the advances Super Castlevania IV introduced like multdirectional whipping and controllable jumps. But while Richter's arm and legs really are clunkier than 16-bit Simon's, the Belmont clad in blue is a surprisingly agile character thanks to a new moves and perks. He walks faster than his predecessors, has a *slightly* faster and more controllable jump when compared to the 8-bit members of his family and, most importantly, can perform a mid-air backflip to save himself from a mis-timed jump, thus fixing classic Castlevania's cheapest aspect (although a mis-timed backflip can and ocasionally will lead you into a pit or straight into another enemy).
Even though bottomless pits aren't as dangerous as before (in fact, most pits take Richter to secret areas or alternate routes and few enemy attacks knock him back as far as other old-school Belmonts), Rondo is as hard as the other Classicvanias, but in a different way. This is mostly due to the game's focus on intelligent combat supplanted by a variety of secret moves (like the aftermentioned backflip and the "extended whip" technique) and sub-weapons (which can now unleash screen-filling special attacks known as "Item Crashes" when you push the PCE/TG16's S
ELECT button while holding a certain amount of ammo hearts) combined with massive levels that always have tons of nice secrets and alternate routes. In fact, the game keeps track of how much percent you discovered of the areas you travel akin to Symphony Of The Night and you can only rise it to 100% (no more than that) by rescuing all four maidens from Dracula's forces, fully exploring all levels and defeating all bosses, which WILL take more than a single playthrough even with a full guide.
But for those who are having tough times with RoB and/or desire to be completely free of the Belmont family's eternal curse of stiff movement, Konami put Maria Renard as an extra character in the game unlocked by having Richter rescue her in a secret room of Stage 2. While the youngest of the four maidens the protagonist has to rescue, Maria is a powerful and agile familiar wielder, able to summon and control animals, double-jump, roll on the ground and even project a duplicate image of herself in order to inflict massive damage on bosses. But while she is indeed much more controllable than her older brother, the young Renard's sub-weapons are much weaker and harder to use than the blue Belmont's, and her "defense" is lower than Richter's (indicated by the segmented health bar), making her ans unsuitable character for combat. Everything also gets a tad bit goofier and girlier when you play as her (including the three different endings, leading to a total of six conclusions) and you can only switch characters mid-game after getting a Game Over.
Generally speaking, Rondo Of Blood is one of the most addictive and deep games of the 16-bit era, standing on par with Super Metroid in the number of stuff you can find and do.
Picking which 16-bit console has the best graphical hardware is a tough job. While the Neo-Geo stands proud at the top of the podium (although that's a bit unfair since it's technically 24-bit hardware), the SNES/SFC and PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16 compete violently for second place with the sad little Genesis/Mega Drive standing on #3. While Hudson/NEC's console runs on an 8-bit proccessor and three years separate it's birth from the Super Famicom's, it's immensely powerful graphics chip boasted a truly massive pallete of 482 colors and 64 sprites on-screen and up to eight layers of parallax scrolling, thus making it generally superior than the SNES' except without the MODE-7 (background scaling and rotation) effects and transparencies. Few games show off all this mightyness, but Rondo Of Blood is one of them.
While Super Castlevania IV's graphics are grim and gritty, RoB uses plenty of colors to create a dark yet "adventurous" atmosphere (this can be especially seen on the alternate Stage 3, The Graveyard), with absurdly detailed, wonderfully animated backgrounds and sprites to boot. Seriously, this game has the best animation I've ever seen in a 16-bit title, something I half-expected to come from a Castlevania title. From how Richter gets in position to use a sub-weapon to the scales of ash that float through Stage 1's background AND foreground, the game is loaded with pretty effects and details to oogle at. It has to be seen to be believed.
One of the Castlevania series' most defining characteristics is it's fantastic soundtrack that is remembered up to this day, with themes like Vampire Killer (the first game's Stage 1 tune) and Bloody Tears (Simon's Quest's "Overworld - Day" music) being instantly recognizable for gamers old and new when played in any sound hardware. In fact, each Castlevania game of the 80's and 90's (other than the SNES Dracula X) used different sound hardware, at least in Japan - Castlevania had to contend with the NES' bog-standard 2A03 soundchip, Dracula: Noroi No Fuuin made full use of the FDS' extra wavetable channels (which the western NES lacks), Akumajou Densetsu has the best soundtrack in the whole Famicom library due to the game's use of the Konami VRC6 sound/graphics/mapper chip (westerners had to content with a single extra sound channel provided by Nintendo's MIC-5 chip, which doesn't compare to the awesomeness provided by the VRC6) and Super Castlevania IV used the SNES' high-quality PCM chip to pull off some fantastically dark tunes (something rather unique for the console, as the composer's only other known work is in Konami's excellent SNES-exclusive shmup Axelay), but Rondo Of Blood puts all of these to shame, being the first Castlevania to have a (mostly) CD-Audio soundtrack. Kuheika Club's (the Konami sound team/band responsible for old-school Castlevania's soundtracks) epic creations come to life like never before in this game, with amazing, adrenaline-pumping tracks built with some fantastic 90's synth. "Bloodlines", Stage 1's theme, particularly stands out as an instantly recognizable Classicvania tune even for those who never played this game or any of it's variations as it is Richter's musical motif in Symphony Of The Night and many other Castlevanias.
Speaking of classic tunes, I have to congratulate Kuheika Club for their treatment of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears and Beggining (the Stage 1 tune of Dracula's Curse) in the game's soundtrack. The Castlevania series has a habit of re-mixing songs from previous installments in each new game (the first game to do this was ?1988's Haunted Castle, with it's arrangement of Bloody Tears in Stage 3), and RoB embraces this tradition full force, having brand spankin' new versions of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears and Beggining play in Stage 2, 3 and 4 of the standard route, in that order. Due to the CD format, though, these legendary songs now have a fresh new coat of EPIC. Vampire Killer's awesome 90's synth plays as you storm Castlevania's main halls in a stage reminiscent of where the Belmonts' adventures began (except for a GIANT BULL-DEMON OF DOOM), Bloody Tears is now pure hard-rock awesomeness that fits with the cursed chapel it plays on, but Beggining arguably shines the most here, being an oddly upbeat yet creepy
dungeon theme, if that is even possible. And as a bonus, the original games' boss theme - titled Poison Mind, according to Konami - plays in a very special, very nostalgic
segment of Stage 6, re-arranged using the PCE's native wavetable soundchip. What's so special about it's?appearance? Well, play the game and find it out for yourself! ;)OVERALL: 10/10
You can praise Super Castlevania IV all you want, but it's fact that Rondo Of Blood is a much superior game that truly shows how CD technology could be used for the good of videogaming.
The PC-Engine CD and it's expansions thankfully didn't suffer from a flood of terrible FMVs like the SEGA/MEGA-CD did, but the console's lack of popularity in the US made it get discontinued just around the time RoB got released. I wonder why NEC/Hudson didn't pack it with the Turbo-Duo (which is actually just a modified version of the japanese PC-Engine R/RX, itself a PC-Engine with a built-in CD add-on and SUPER-CD expansion card) as last-ditch effort and completely changed the videogame industry of the 90's in the proccess?