Ranking the Bonus Characters
Since the rise of the Metroidvania in the Castlevania series, there has been a similar rise in optional play modes as well. Although some games had allowed you to play as different characters (Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and heroes Grant DaNasty, Sypha Belnades, and Alucard who join main hero Trevor Belmont; Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood and unlockable heroine Maria Renard who joins main hero Richter Belmont; Castlevania: Bloodlines and it's two heroes John Morris and Eric Lecard), it wasn't until Castlevania: Symphony of the Night that bonus characters, and bonus modes, became a mainstay.
As those modes have been added, it has become clear that some of these character modes are simply better than others (more to do, more to see, more fun to be had). As such, we'd like to take a look at each of these game modes, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, to find which modes are actually worth playing for anyone and interested in going back and sampling them now.
Naturally, we're only looking at bonus characters. Games where multiple characters are a main part of the story, such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. Similarly when a new character is used in an expansion pack, like Alucard in Lords of Shadow 2 expansion Resurrection, they're the main character of that "game", and do not count for the sake of this article's intent. Only bonus, unlocked characters will be the focus here.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Brought back from Rondo of Blood to play the (nominal) villain in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Richter's mode (activated by making a new save file with the name RICHTER) is very much a "bonus that doesn't tie into the continuity" of the main game. You could argue that his adventure is a prequel to Alucard's main mode, especially since Richter doesn't get to fight Dracula (his game ends with final fight against Shaft), but otherwise there's no story to say where or how Richter's game fits into the story of Symphony of the Night. He just... exists (this will be a common thread through these reviews).
Richter's version of the game doesn't just lack story, or a boss fight. It's a very stripped down version of the game all around. He doesn't get armor or weapons to equip, relying just on his Vampire Killer (which is pretty powerful) and the clothing on his back (which isn't). He also doesn't get consumable items to use, so there's no food or other power-ups that can aid him. No relics, no familiars, none of the accoutrement that makes Alucard such an interesting, and fresh, character in the pantheon of the series up to that point.
To balance that out, Richter does have a whole suite of moves he can use. These abilities, from the Super Jump (to replace his lack of flight) to the Air Dash (his powerful, infinitely-linkable, super-damaging attack) and the Air Slide (which allows him to move through some smaller spaces, and also deal damage as well), coupled with his ability to "crash" all the sub-weapons in the game, can make him a very powerful warrior. With good use of his abilities, Richter can be just as powerful as Alucard, even at the end game.
That said, while Richter's strength is high, it's power you have to master. If you don't learn to control his super abilities, and attempt to take the game on with just his whip and a prayer, you will quickly get destroyed. Richter is strong, but has has no defense, and even piddly enemies can take off big chunks of his health bar. He is the classic "glass cannon", and novice players will likely find him hard to play with. However, in the right hands, Richter can cruise through the game, clearing all the bosses and defeating final Shaft in 30 minutes or less. Impressive, but you have to know what you're doing.
Honorable Mention: Old Axe Armor
This run is absolutely a meme and I honestly only included it on the list because the Old Axe Armor returns as a bonus character later again in the series (that time as a real, playable mode). Here, the character is activated by equipping the Axe Lord Armor (which can be found in secret ways, or as rare drops, in the game, or by beating the game and that starting a new file with AXEARMOR as your name) which turns Alucard into an "Axe Lord" (the classic Old Axe Armor). It's easy enough to test out this mode but actually playing it, well... that's an whole other ball game.
The thing is that the developers never really expected you to play the whole game in the Old Axe Armor. The armor doesn't have any special abilities on its own, just a fast movement speed and a strong axe in its hands. It can't jump very high at all, so even low barriers (like a two-block tall jump) leave it flummoxed. Instead, any time you reach a blockage you have to take the armor off, move as Alucard, and then but the armor back on. It's a pain in the ass, made only worse by the fact that this armor isn't very strong defensively, even if the axe it carries is decently powerful (although lacking in range).
The one upside of this mode is that you can use various relics along with in, like high jump, and Alucard still has access to all his food and other items. The "mode" (such as it is) is more limited in some respects due the armor's movement, but since you're still Alucard in the armor it's only as limited as you want it to be. You can't beat the game fully as the Old Axe Armor, but it is amusing to tinker around the castle for a while before going back to playing the normal way.
Castlevania: Nocturne in the Moonlight
While Richter mode (with Richter wearing a new costume but working the same way) and the meme-y Old Axe Armor (still played the same way) are in the Saturn version of Symphony of the Night, a new character mode was added to that port as well. Unlocked without the need for save file name inputs, the teenage version of Maria Renard is added into the mix. Loosely inspired by Richter's mode (and with little inspiration taken from the younger Maria in Rondo of Blood, this Maria is just as much of a glass canon as Richter, but she does have some quirks that make her interesting.
Maria's mode plays, in most ways, like Richter. She's a glass canon that doesn't get the benefits of weapons or armor (she doesn't even get doves to toss or a whip to swing in this version). She also doesn't get to use any consumables, limiting her to just her fighting moves and a collection of sub-weapons. Thankfully for her, though, her special movies are absolutely killer. She not only gets a triple-jump and a super jump, she also gets a flying kick (for fast, invincible movement), her Guardian Knuckle move, and animal companion moves such as a fireball, a fire blast, two summons (owl and dragon), healing (via her turtle), and an invincibility spell (by summoning all five animal companions at once). If Richter is broken, Maria is extra broken.
It is worth noting, though, that Maria is only available here, in this form, in the Saturn edition of Symphony. She will be back on this list in later games and releases, but her move set and general control will resemble her classic Rondo of Blood style. This super-powerful, summoning magical girl Maria is only in the Saturn port and that's it.
Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness
When Castlevania 64 was released, it came out in a rushed form with a lot of the planned content left on the cutting room floor (to use a movie expression). Multiple characters didn't make the final cut, and extra play modes were left in the trash as well. When the director's cut (that was also a prequel), Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, came out, much of that was rectified. Cornell was made into the main character of this adventure and everyone got to enjoy that werewolf hero on his own terms. However, the new edition of the game also had bonus characters secreted away as well.
The main new mode added was for Henry Oldrey. Henry is introduced in Cornell's story as a kid that Cornell saves from a vampire-infested villa, but then Henry comes back to these old haunted grounds years later, now as a gun-toting knight, so he can save other kids kidnapped by the forces of Dracula. Playing as Henry unlocks more options -- two more characters (Reinhardt Schneider and Carrie Fernandez) as well as bonus costumes.
Henry's play through doesn't fundamentally change the basic construction of the game. Like the other heroes from these games, Henry has a long-range attack (a pistol) and a shorter melee attack (a short sword),and he goes around each of the main stages in the game, fighting enemies, collecting items (which he can access in his menu), and killing bosses. The key difference between his game and the other heroes is that he has a different mission: he's not there to defeat Dracula but to collect the rescued kids.
In each of the stages Henry plays through there is one missing kid. Henry's job is to find all six missing children within seven days. Do that and it's job done. He can go back and forth across the stages, looking for these missing tykes (making this feel like more of a Metroidvania than the other adventures in this game), but once he's done he goes home. Dracula can rise, or not, and that's of no concern to Henry.
Playing as Henry is kind of fun, and his pistol can get stupidly powerful once the power-up orbs are collected. At his core, though, his game is just like the game the other heroes play, so if you didn't like them you won't like Henry any better (especially since Henry only functionally plays through half the full game).
Honorable Mentions: Reinhardt and Carrie
As noted, Reinhardt and Carrie can be found in Legacy of Darkness. Their modes play just like their original adventures in the previous edition, Castlevania 64, with only a few minor differences (they arrangement of their stages is slightly different, and each hero will play through a couple of levels they didn't see in the first version of this game). They are fundamentally just the same adventures as before, though, which makes these more of happy inclusion than true bonus modes.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Honorable Mentions: Bonus Modes
Of all of the Metroidvania titles released in this era, only Castlevania: Circle of the Moon lacked a bonus character to play with. It's odd the game lacks one as there was a ready-made character in the game: Hugh Baldwin, hero Nathan Graves's rival. Considering the games that came before, ever fan expected Hugh to be playable (and there are even fan games that give him his own adventure) but he's not available for play in Circle of the Moon.
Instead the game has variant play modes for Nathan. The default play mode is "Vampire Killer" and that's what you start the game in. However, after you clear the game the first time you can then play in "Magician" Mode. With the name FIREBALL on a new game you'll start with all the DSS card as well as a ton of INT and MP. You can cast your magic all day long and enjoy all that the DSS system has to offer. This mode is a ton of fun.
After a clear as a Magician you'll then unlock "Fighter" Mode (with the save file name of "GRADIUS"). Fighter is the inverse of Magician as now you have strength for days and your whip can kill anything with ease, but now you don't have any DSS cards. It's all brawn, no brains. Clearing this mode will then unlock "Shooter" Mode (with the save file name of "CROSSBOW"). Here the gimmick is that your sub-weapons get a buff while everything else about you is weaker. You can use DSS but you're better off sticking to your over-powered sub-weapons.
The final mode is probably the weakest: "Thief" Mode (activated with the file name of "DAGGER"). In Thief everything about your character sucks except your Luck. Now you can gain drops from enemies with easy, but you'll struggle to kill a lot. This is certainly hard mode for the game, and don't be surprised if you don't bother to finish it.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
As much of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance feels inspired by Symphony of the Night, so too does Maxim feel like a clone of sorts of Richter from the PSX game. Not an exact clone, mind you, either in his part of the main game story nor in how he controls in the bonus mode for this game. But if you squint and look at the character from a bit of an angle, the Richter-ness of him does kind of show through.
Like Richter before, Maxim is a hero who is duped by the power of Dracula into becoming a vessel for the darkness (and then has to be saved by another hero because he can't save himself). His back-story in game isn't really important, though, because none of it will actually come up in Maxim Mode (activated by using the name MAXIM on a fresh file in a completed game) -- there's no story to Maxim mode, just killing bosses and fighting your way to the last boss of the game. It's a very simply made mode there to add a little extra game time to the overall package.
The big difference with Maxim is in what he can do. As a ninja and martial artist, Maxim's move-set is different from that of a Belmont. he has a decently powerful sword, and big and chunky shuriken, and that's all the equipment he gets (he doesn't even get access to other sub-weapons aside from that throwing star). He has no access to magic, no equipment, and no healing items. Instead, he has speed and maneuverability to get him through the castle.
Maxim has a dash, and a slide, of course, and then he gets fancy. He has a triple jump (which is one better than a double jump, Juste) as well as a very Metroid-inspired space jump. For power moves he can summon clones of himself who perform a powerful, multi-hit attack, and he can summon a pillar of healing light. All that combined, he's still glass canon that's going to need care, and finesse, to get to the end game (where he has one boss, the final form of Dracula, to fight).
I would consider Maxim one of the harder bonus characters to use. He doesn't have many attack options as Richter and this can leave him open for a lot more damage. That said, if you know the game, and can handle the bosses, you should find a decently fun little play-through here with Juste's best friend.
Honorable Mention: 8-Bit Simon
Juste is the grandson of Simon Belmont and if you want to be able to compare the two you can play as Simon Belmont in the Boss Rush mode of the game. Just be warned this isn't some version of Simon from his later adventures 9where he got fancy and could do multi-directional whipping and all that). No, this is classic, 8-bit Simon, as slow and as stodgy as you remember.
The reason why Simon is only in the Boss Rush (and you can only activate him be using the Konami Code in the Boss Rush menu) is because Boss Rush is just one long hallway (effectively) and this Simon has none of the special maneuvers of the other heroes in this game. He can't double (or triple) jump, and lacks any kind of slide, dash, or back-dash. This makes him the least agile, and thus the hardest, character to take through Harmony's Boss Rush, by far.
The inclusion of Simon is cute, a fun little Easter Egg for players to find and tinker with, but he's not really a proper character for this game. Getting through Boss Rush with him is an absolute chore (although it is possible). But once you're done with him you'll likely just go back to the main characters for the game.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
With Julius we have another traditional bonus character play-through. Julius can be likened to Richter's mode, just without nearly as many cool maneuvers or abilities. That doesn't make him a bad character to play (in fact, Julius Mode can be pretty fun all on its own) but he is different from what you might be expecting. The best way to think of it is the stripped down story style of Richter Mode combined with the limited character abilities of Maxim Mode. That's Julius Mode in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.
After activating Julius Mode (by making your name, of course, JULIUS on a fresh save file after beating the game), you'll get the Belmont to play as he ventures through the castle on his adventure. As with the other bonus character modes we've seen so far, there's no story to this one, and considering the bosses in this game (including Dracula Cult leader Graham Jones), Julius's game doesn't even really work as a prequel to the main story. Instead, the best we could say is this is J's own exploration of the castle leading up to his confrontation in the Floating Gardens against hero Soma Cruz (although the game mode ends when you defeat Graham).
Julius is a lot of fun to play with in his mode. He has the standard exploration features -- double jump, high jump, and dash, plus a bonus "fade" move that acts kind of like a dash move plus a short burst of invincibility -- along with his whip and the whole gamut of sub-weapons. He doesn't have the collect these sub-weapons, it should be noted, as he can just flip through them at will. The sub-weapons are, essentially, his replacement for the souls in the main game, and as there is no heart ammo Julius uses his magic meter for all his attacks.
Julius doesn't level up but he does gain extra boosts off the boss orbs he collects, which does incentivize beating all the bosses, large and small, before moving into the end game. he also starts with way more health and stronger stats than Soma by default, although even with all the orbs Soma will eventually surpass Julius in abilities and power. That might be one major reason that Julius doesn't get to go into the Chaos Realm for the true final boss (along with the fact that it doesn't really make sense as per the story logic).
While the game mode is a little shorter, and it doesn't have any story attached, it's still a lot of fun. This is honestly one of the better character-specific bonus modes in the series, only beaten out by it's own sequel...
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
On the stranger list of bonus characters we have someone that can't, in any way, be considered a hero. In Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, Joaquim Armster was a vampire that tried, and failed, to take on master vampire Walter. As revenge, Walter shoved Joaquim into one of the areas of his castle, making him into a minions to serve at Walter's pleasure. After Leon clears the game, Joaquim is freed or something (story doesn't matter) and he can go about his one exploration through the castle (or maybe it's a prequel and this is where Joaquim goes up against Walter; again, story doesn't matter).
In practice, hero of villain, Joaquim plays much like the other bonus characters on this list. His mode is a stripped down version of Lament, free of cut-scenes, plot, and a number of other features. To access Joaquim you have to beat the game (of course) and them create a new file with the name @JOAQUIM (as if you're tagging him on social media). Taking Joaquim out for a spin you'll notice many differences between the vampire and hero Leon Belmont. For starters, Joaquim doesn't have just one weapon, going after enemies with five floating swords. These swords can be slug in two different ways: either as a wide, overhead slice or as a directed stab. In either case, five attacks can be slung and then Joaquim has to wait a short amount of time before the swords return.
Along with these melee attacks Joaquim also has to powerful attacks he can unleash: either a spinning trio of massive swords or a powerful laser blast. Both of these eat up a good chunk of MP but Joaquim's magic refills quickly, making these attacks useful over and over again. Outside of that, though, Joaquim is very limited. He doesn't get relics, equipment, or upgraded weapons. he doesn't have an inventory so every power-up he does find will be immediately applied. And while he's decent at medium range (if not exceptionally strong) he feels downright weak in the late game. Getting through Lament of Innocence as Joaquim can be something of a slog at times.
Frankly, Joaquim is a character that's cooler in concept than in execution. While his spinning blades of death are cool the character just doesn't have the power or abilities to make him very fun to control. His sloggy, slow play style can be hard to sit through after you've already beaten the game as Leon. This is a mode you'll likely test out for a bit and then turn off, opting to play some other game instead (or simply go back to Leon again).
Honestly, Pumpkin is a joke character, such that we nearly had him listed here as an "Honorable Mention". He's basically Leon Belmont, dressed up as a tiny pumpkin-man, with adjusted stats, but in all basic function he's Leon. He whips, he uses his attack combos, and he gets to explore the whole game as if he was a vampire hunter. Pumpkin is a basic re-skin of the hero in most of the ways it matters.
The key differences are what makes the character interesting. To start, Pumpkin has less health to start than Leon, but he has slightly better stats in everything else. He also comes equipped at the start with the Vampire Killer, meaning he has a huge offensive advantage over Leon. Us the name @PUMPKIN on a new save (after beating the game as Joaquim) and you can start exploring the game with the best whip in Lament of Innocence without having to go through the whole adventure to earn it.
Pumpkin's adventure is also more streamlined, but not as stripped down as Joaquim's adventure. He can get collectibles and items, including consumables. He can sit on as many healing items and other things you might need, making his adventure easier than Joaquim's time in the castle. He can even go to the shop to buy more supplies, as serious leg up over the vampiric alternate character. That, combined with the lack of cut-scenes in the game, makes this most streamlined, and fastest, version of the game.
The one other big difference is that Pumpkin doesn't have access to the standard vampire hunting sub-weapons. Instead he gets a pumpkin bomb which, yes, he can combine with the colored orbs to perform different pumpkin attacks. The can be quite powerful, and interesting, giving one more layer of depth to the character. Really, in all respects Pumpkin is the way to play this game. He basically makes clearing the game as Joaquim worth it.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
This mode is called "Julius Mode" but that's really a bit of a misnomer. It would be more accurate to say "Julius+ Mode" or "Vampire Hunter Mode", or just "Julius + Yoko + Alucard Mode", but those weren't the names of this mode's analog in Aria of Sorrow. This mode, however, is far more than a simple redux of what came before, and that's what makes it so great.
To open the mode you have to fail to beat Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow properly. Instead of having Soma Cruz use Mina's Talisman to avoid falling for the trap with the doppelganger, Soma must think his girlfriend has died. He'll then become evil, unleashing the true power of Dracula. The game will then play the bad ending, but instead of just putting you to the title screen to try again, you'll also unlock "Julius Mode" as an option on the game select screen.
Julius Mode follows Julius Belmont, of course, as he heads out on a quest to find his companions -- Yoko Belnades and Genya "Alucard" Arikkado -- and defeat all the bosses in the castle. That will unlock the pathway into the Abyss which leads to a confrontation not with Chaos but with the evil, Dracula-infused Soma instead. Its an alternate-history take on the end of Dawn of Sorrow, replete with story scenes and everything, making it the fullest, most fleshed out alternate mode in the series.
Each of the heroes controls in their own way. Julius is the classic Belmont and he comes with his whip along with all the standard sub-weapons. Yoko has a cane she'll use (or, when crouched, a kick) and her attacks will heal the party (as they share health and magic bars) for a small amount. She also comes with variants on the three standard Belnades spells: a short-range fire attack, five ice shards that shoot out in an arc, and homing ball lightning. And finally, Alucard is Alucard, coming with his Alucard Sword along with a bat transformation and a triple-fireball attack. Learning each of these heroes, and using their strengths, is key to getting through this mode efficiently.
Honestly, this is hands down the best bonus mode in the series. Where Dawn of Sorrow does feel like a bit of a rehash of its predecessor, Aria of Sorrow, the Julius Mode is so expansive and interesting that it feels like the meatiest part of the game. You come for Soma's adventure but you stay for Julius Mode.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
Where the later two DS Castlevania titles would emulate their play style on Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow's "Julius Mode" (to greater or less extents), Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was built on the bones of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and it's bonus mode, "Trevor Mode", feels very beholden to that PSX title. That includes activating the mode not via an easy selector on the game screen but by "tagging" @TREVOR as your name on the file select screen.
In practice Trevor Belmont plays a lot like Leon from Lament of Innocence (which makes sense as this is a sequel to that game's engine, even if it isn't a sequel to its story). Trevor starts off with the Vampire Killer, which could be considered the "basic" whip of this game, and then over time will find elemental upgrades he can use. Ice, fire, dark, holy, and more can be applied to the whip to give Trevor bonuses both to his main attack as well as playing on the elemental weaknesses of his enemies. This, combined with the various whip attack combos he can perform make Trevor quite strong in the right hands.
Along with his main whip, Trevor starts off with a compliment of the traditional sub-weapons from the series, like axes, holy water, and the cross. Each weapon will have a standard attack, but they can also be "crushed" (as if Trevor were Richter Belmont) for a more powerful version of the attack. Again, this does feel similar to Leon who had the ability to combine his sub-weapons with orbs for powerful crush attacks, it's just a little more limited in execution.
Trevor doesn't gain traditional levels, instead getting bonuses from various HP and MP max upgrades. His whole inventory is very stripped down, as is his game in general. No story mode, no cut-scenes, just a man with his whip playing through the game. It's not a bad mode, and Trevor is pretty fun to control. But the limitations of the mode, combined with the fact that Curse of Darkness is one of the weaker entries in the franchise, combine to make this a passable, but not thoroughly engaging, side adventure.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
- Main Heroes: Johnathan Morris, Charlotte Aulin
- Bonus Characters: Richter Belmont & Maria Renard, Stella and Loretta Lecarde, Old Axe Armor
Richter + Maria Mode
Where Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow went for quality with its bonus mode, turning "Julius Mode" into a game that could rival the main adventure of that title, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin went in on quantity. That isn't to say that any of its game mode are bad, per se, more that they feel a tad more stripped down than the base adventure. But then, Portrait of Ruin's main adventure feels like, "what if Dawn Julius Mode, but more?" and there just might not be much more you can do with it at that point.
Richter Mode (selectable from the game select screen once you complete the main adventure after defeating the "Whip's Memory") should have been expected by fans once Richter Belmont was revealed as optional boss (as the "Whip's Memory") in the main game. It's not really just Richter, though, as young Maria Renard is included with him as is partner (partners are the key mechanic of Portrait of Ruin. This is absolutely a "non-continuity" adventure as Richter and Maria have no direct connection to the story of this game, and they don't have any special plot points for their adventure. This was just the devs wanting to include Richter and Maria in a bonus mode, so they did.
The mode plays out like a "best of" from the ideas in the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night / Castlevania: Nocturne in the Moonlight Richter and Maria modes. Richter comes equipped with his compliment of combat skills plus standard sub-weapons. He's light, agile, and pretty darn strong but still a bit of a glass canon (since neither he nor Maria can use healing items). Maria, meanwhile, has all her abilities from Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. She throws doves, uses her animal companions, has her guardian knuckle, and is agile as ever. Together the two are a speedy way to get through the game.
Their weakness comes from their lack of an inventory of any kind. No upgrades in their weapons, no gear to collect, armor to enable, items to use. They do gain levels, which will slowly increase their power over time, and they can find HP and MP Max upgrades to further boost their base stats. They will take a lot of damage from enemies and bosses as the game goes on, so this is a mode for those that know what they're doing and can handle this powerful characters.
Do note that their play-through will require killing all the bosses in the game -- the four in the portraits to open up the fight with the sisters, the battle against said sisters, and then the four extra portraits behind the sisters to then take on Brauner and Dracula. While they won't have plot they will otherwise get a complete adventure, and that makes this mode feel pretty feature-rich. It might not be Dawn's Julius Mode, but it's pretty close.
Of the three bonus character modes in Portrait of Ruin, "Sisters Mode" is the odd duck of the group for sure (and that includes a mode with the Old Axe Armor). Where the other modes play like traditional Castlevania games, the sisters, Stella and Loretta Lecarde, are controlled entirely by the touch screen. It makes for a very strange, but interesting, gaming experience.
As with (most) modes of the game, Sisters Mode (selectable from the game mode screen once you complete the main adventure after beating the "Whip's Memory") is based around the two characters of the mode: Stella, who uses a sword which attacks wherever you slash on screen, and Loretta, who has a machine gun-style ice attack. Each is good in their own capacity, with Stella being great against regular enemies and early bosses, and Loretta being much better equipped to handle larger enemies and late-game bosses. They, of course, share the same HP and MP, and that MP is key to their whole game.
Everything the ladies do, not just attacks but also all vertical movement, is tied to their magic meter. It fills up quickly and can feel pretty limitless, but it does run out and, if you aren't careful, can run out at awkward times. The key thing to note is that the Sisters do not have a jump, they fly everywhere. The second their feet leave the ground their magic starts to drain. Exploration, then, is a balance between magic used for flight and magic used for attack. Keeping their feet planted on the ground whenever possible helps a lot.
Naturally, as with the others bonus characters, Stella and Loretta do not have any equipment or consumables to use. They can gain HP and MP Max increases, as well as levels, but what you see with them is what you get to push them through the game. It's also worth noting that the girls have the least complete game mode of any bonus character. Naturally there is no battle against the Sisters in their mode (as they are the sisters), and once they complete the final four portraits and enter Brauner's room the game is over. Their adventure is a prequel (before Dracula is resurrected) and as such you only get so much to play.
Sisters Mode is an interesting lark, and can even be engaging at times. It's more interesting as a dry run for the magic system that would eventually be used in Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, but its shorter play time and shallow control scheme makes it one of the less interesting modes in the game.
Old Axe Armor Mode
Although it's doubtful that anyone expected the joke "bonus character" from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to return in a playable form in later entries, but Portrait of Ruin clearly defies expectations. The Old Axe Armor has been an indelible part of the series for a while and, with both Richter and Maria returning to Portrait together, it only made sense for their bonus buddy to return as well. Thus a new "Old Axe Armor Mode".
Getting this mode isn't as easy as the other modes of the game. To unlock it, and make the character selectable on the game start screen, you have to meet two conditions: one, you have to beat the game with the good ending and, two, you have to kill one thousand Old Axe Armors in the game. You don't have to do these in any particular order (you can kill the armors and then beat the game, or vice versa with a New Game + file), but both conditions have to be met. Do those things and the Old Axe Armor is yours to use in their own mode.
Where the Old Axe Armor was a joke in their first appearance they are very, very playable in Portrait of Ruin. Their mode does have some notable differences that are best discussed first. To start, like the other bonus characters, the Old Axe Armor doesn't get any equipment or consumables. The only way to buff the character is to level them up along with collecting HP and MP Max increases. They also don't have as many combat tricks as the other characters; no magical spells, no slide, no dive kick, and no second character. There's nothing that seems, at first glance, to make them all that special. They can double jump and high jump, as that's required for the game, and they at least don't move as slow as molasses (like in their old mode), but otherwise they seem very limited.
Their power comes from their axe. As long as the Old Axe Armor has their axe in the air (from jumping, back-dashing, running, or just by pressing up while standing still) the axe will damage enemies. A great strategy, in fact, is to put the armor right in front of a boss, press Up to old their axe in the air, and let it do constant damage. They only get one sub-weapon, the axe (of course), but that axe is pretty strong too. All in all, while this character seems limited they actually are a lot of fun to play. Yes, you have to learn to use the limits of the character to your advantage, but once you do the Old Axe Armor might just grow on you.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles - Symphony of the Night
When Castlevania: Symphony of the Night came included as a bonus game inside Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles a question players had was whether or not Maria Renard, who was playable in the Saturn edition of the game (aka Castlevania: Nocturne in the Moonlight) would be playable in this new edition as well. The answer was yes, but not exactly the way fans might have expected.
The character, as she appears in DXC Symphony (and playable by using MARIA as your game name after completing Alucard's adventure once) has been tweaked and changed. Since this was a bonus to the new edition of Dracula X, the Maria we received here was tweaked to play like her Dracula X variant. Gone was the martial arts wielding, ass-kicking Maria who swapped out the Tai Bo for her traditional weapon set: birds and animal friends.
This version of Maria resembles Richter Belmont in a few ways. She has her jump, double-jump, and high jump (propelling into the air by an owl), as well as a dash move (which can be spammed in the air to glide through areas) and a tackle attack. Her animal summons are replaced by more traditional animal sub-weapons (which she finds around the castle), and all her over-kill attacks are gone. She's a glass cannon, like Richter, and while still powerful she's certainly not as broken as she was in her Saturn incarnation.
It's fair to say that she is considerably nerfed here in comparison to her earlier appearance, but that doesn't make her a bad character. If anything, playing more like her Dracula X incarnation will make her easier to control if all you're familiar with are the other games in the DXC collection. And she is still powerful in her own right, with her animals (and her animal "crush" moves) being particularly strong. You will need skill to play as Maria here, but once you get her down she can be pretty fun to play.
Of course you can also play as Richter Belmont and the Old Axe Armor in this version of Symphony of the Night just like you could before. They have had no major changes to their modes from their PlayStation versions (so Richter's new duds in the Saturn release are missing here). Otherwise, if you've played these modes before you know exactly what you're getting now.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
As the last bonus character (so far) in the series, Albus plays a lot like the characters that came before. His mode (selectable from the game start screen as "Albus Mode") plays like others on this list: a stripped down version of the game with a character who has to rely on their starting abilities to carry them through the whole adventure. And so, naturally, Albus builds on the basics of his game, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia, for a fun, if limited, experience.
Like other adventures we've discussed, Albus Mode is a non-continuity adventure. It's a full play mode, from the start of the game through to Dracula as the last boss, you just don't get full access to everything that Ecclesia had to offer. Albus can collect HP and MX Max increases, and he can level up, but the character can't use equipment or consumables. What you see with the character is exactly what you get. But what you get is pretty goods.
Like heroine Shanoa, Albus derives everything he does from his magic meter and a limited selection of glyphs (activated as combat skills) that drive him through the game. He has a gun glyph which he can either shoot, or power-shot to create more devastating orbs to attack the enemies. He also has a wicked flame kick that can hit multiple times and a much weaker ice attack (good for only certain enemies). Along with that he has the basic exploration tools you'd expect: jump, double-jump, high jump, and a dash. He also comes with a warp ability where the player can use the touch screen to fast-dash Albus across the stages.
Albus is pretty strong, for one of the many glass canon characters, and enjoyable in his own right. Like so many of these limited modes, though, you'll likely find that after a time or two with the pistol-wielder you'll likely return to the depth and creativity of Shanoa's main adventure.
Ranking the Bonus Character Modes (Best to Worst):
- Julius, Yoko, and Alucard (Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow)
- Richter and Maria (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin)
- Julius (Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow)
- Old Axe Armor (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin)
- Maria (Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles - Symphony of the Night)
- Richter (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
- Maria (Castlevania: Nocturne in the Moonlight)
- Stella and Loretta (Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin)
- Albus (Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia)
- Pumpkin (Castlevania: Lament of Innocence)
- Maxim (Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance)
- Trevor (Castlevania: Curse of Darkness)
- Henry (Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness)
- Joaquim (Castlevania: Lament of Innocence)
- 8-Bit Simon (Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance)
- Old Axe Armor (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)