Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP is a port of the until now Japan-only Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. Rondo of Blood is more like Super Castlevania IV (SNES) than Symphony of the Night (PSX, 360) so those whose who enjoy Castlevania titles for its 3D format may be frustrated by it, but those who remember the punishingly hard Castlevanias of years past will be right at home helping Richter vanquish Dracula one more time.
Dracula X is about precision. It’s completely possible to mistime one jump and be killed by a bat. You can’t move while jumping; Richter is committed, and the double jump is used as a means of escape instead of one to access high platforms. Instead of just jumping higher, Richter’s double jump is a backward somersault away from whatever horrible monster is currently trying to kill you. Once you come to terms with the old-school controls the game becomes a test of platforming skills. Enemies aren’t particularly difficult to kill, but mashing the square button won’t get you through things; you’ll need to learn and properly react to enemy patterns. Dracula X is difficult, especially if you don’t regularly play classic games. Technically, Dracula X’s main mode can be beaten in an hour, but you can expect to take much longer.
Graphic and sound design have always been strong points for the Castlevania franchise, and that tradition continues in Dracula X Chronicles. Richter and his assorted enemies are all modeled in 3D, and great lighting effects abound. Most bosses are introduced via a short cutscene, and boss attacks in particular are beautiful in addition to being deadly. Sound is another strong point for Dracula X; Rondo of Blood‘s original soundtrack has been remixed here to sound more orchestral (the original was fairly synthesizer heavy), and even if you prefer the original the new soundtrack sets the mood brilliantly. A Castlevania game has never looked and sounded so wonderfully gothic before.
Like the original Rondo of Blood, Dracula X Chronicles features excellent level design. Considering when the original was released (1993) level designs are varied, and the inclusion of secret areas and alternate paths through the areas is a huge step for the action platformer as a genre. Action platformers were typically a left-to-right affair, but Rondo of Blood and now Dracula X mix things up by hiding maidens to be saved, alternate boss fights, and secret exits throughout the game’s many levels.
If Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles was only a modern remake of Rondo of Blood it would be worth a purchase, but there are a few additional modes included in the package. Boss Rush makes a return, and is exactly what it sounds like. Maria mode changes things up by allowing you to play as Richter’s girlfriend with a different attack style, and the follow-up to Rondo of Blood, Symphony of the Night, is also available as an unlockable. That’s essentially three excellent games for the price of one on one UMD.
Castlevania is regarded as a classic franchise for a reason – it combines excellent level design with difficult but rewarding gameplay in one well-polished and pleasant to the ear package. This is a must own for PSP owners.