OK, where do I start with this? First let me explain the history behind the title in question. Originally released as a Japan-only side-scrolling action adventure called Rondo no Blood on the PC Engine Super CD way back in 1993, it found itself well-received amongst both critics and the series’ cult following alike. Rondo no Blood was every importer’s dream catch then for those amongst them who simply had to own every obscure Japanese game out there.
Fast-forward 14 years: Konami has decided to remake the game for the PSP, under the snazzy new heading Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. Not only have they given us this brand spanking new update, but they have also generously thrown in the original Rondo no Blood, and also, somewhat surprisingly, the critically acclaimed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That’s right, it’s the original PlayStation One hit in all its glory, the game by which the Castlevania fanbase swears and the series’ first foray into its now familiar ‘Metroidvania’ template.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
US: 23 Oct 2007
The story follows the normal guidelines we’ve all come to expect and, let’s face it, love (which we must, considering every game has the same storyline). Anyways, good ol’ Dracs is back and looking to get wasted and, apparently, laid as well. The first few scenes see Dracula sending his minions to kidnap a poor, defenceless, busty blonde beauty named Annette that he then promptly whisks away to his love shack for all sorts of fun and frolics. Well, isn’t that what you’d do if you’ve just been resurrected after countless years spent in eternal slumber? Apparently, that’s far too long for anyone, man or demon!
Unfortunately for him, our pal Dracky didn’t take into account that the object of his thirst is already hitched up, with none other than the mighty Richter Belmont, direct descendant of series legend Simon Belmont. Instead of calling it a writeoff and moving on to another girl, young Richtie decides to confront that scoundrel Dracula, win back his missus, and live up to the badass vampire slaying heritage that his name carries. Equipped with his trusty whip, sword, axes and all manner of hocus pocus tomfoolery, Belmont sets out for Dracula’s pad, to save his girl, his pride, his family honour and even the world, a modern day John Rambo in all but name and half wonky face.
So what the hell went wrong?! You see, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles shares a very similar background with a Nintendo DS game released a little over a year ago: Final Fantasy III. Both titles display a shocking level of ignorance on behalf of the development teams involved and what can only be described as an obsession with graphics over gameplay and an elitist opinion on who should and shouldn’t be allowed to play their games.
A giant, angry phoenix? Just another day in Castlevania.
Let me explain: Both games originally never left Japan, both were at the time loved by all, both have since enjoyed cult-like status, and both have received impressive 3D graphical updates (though it’s more of a 2.5D update in Castlevania‘s case.) But the actual gameplay remained frozen in time, so what was great back then now seems unforgivably dated. What this means is that due to an apparent startling predilection for self-indulgence, the teams involved simply viewed the gameplay as already being perfect and didn’t feel the need to bring it into the 21st century. This is an issue that isn’t just exclusive to Square and Konami, but it’s part of a larger, long-running, and quite frankly pathetic obsession the industry has with processing power over gameplay.
The problems start almost immediately: the controls (though, for once, not the fault of the PSP itself) are quite possibly the most sluggish and painfully imprecise I have ever encountered. Not only does Belmont look as though he’s walking through a thick pool of mud, but he feels like it too. It completely defeats the objective of being a fast-paced action title and kills with it any of the sense of urgency and excitement one should expect. I mean, come on, how can being chased by a giant, raving, raging, rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth demonic bull that pursues you like the paparazzi sniffing around Britney’s arse, not even create the tiniest sense of fear or danger?
The controls do, to their credit or discredit, evoke one emotion: pure frustration. This sluggishness will get you killed, again and again and again. At times it feels as if the game is set in some sort of extreme, insane difficulty level that even the super hardcore would struggle to keep up with. Now I’m well aware that the fanbase associated with Castlevania is a hardcore one, and before anyone claims it’s my lack of mad skillz or that I should go back to my kiddie DS or something along those lines, play this first.
The simple truth of the matter is that this game is far too hard, unfairly so, so much so that you often get the feeling that the developers were being paid extra Yen each time you died. Low on health? Desperately need a power up? Dream on! Wham, bam, back you go to the unfairly placed checkpoint, and once all your lives are gone, you’re sent all the way back to the start of the level.
That backflip move really would have come in handy in
the original Castlevania.
And what of the two unlockable games? Well, the original is just as unplayable as its 21st century counterpart, due to its high difficulty, while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night still remains as engrossing as ever, the last sign of any evolution the series underwent, even if it still owes a large debt to Nintendo’s Metroid franchise. However, actually unlocking these games is a nightmare in itself and requires far too much hard work to do so. In fact, the obscurities involved in obtaining these two relics will most likely mean that they’ll remain unlocked for most, unless you resort to an FAQ. In a bizarre turn of events, this could actually be a blessing in disguise for Chronicles as its impotence is only magnified by Symphony of the Night’s grace.
It’s astonishing to think that just by adding a fresh lick of paint some developers actually believe that they can pass these games on as something new and fresh without actually addressing the content for a new age. This is especially notable considering that Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles has arrived after Symphony of the Night and two fairly modern DS iterations, that now highlight just how poorly this has aged.
In the future, developers would do themselves no harm by having a quick go on the Resident Evil remake on the GameCube for a lesson in how to do an update properly. It can’t be that hard, surely? Updated graphics + updated gameplay = great game is a simple equation, that it seems most graphics-obsessed developers can’t get their heads around.