Castlevania Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Review by Jorge D. Fuentes
Editor's Note: This game was a Japanese exclusive. Released under the title of Akumajo Dorakyura X: Chi no Rondo, that roughly translates to "Demon Castle Dracula X: Circle/Reincarnation of Blood". Anglicised, the title (as accepted among Western fans) is Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, in part due to the multiple meanings of the word "Rondo", so that word is accepted as is.
Rondo of Blood, the elusive game. Once, like Castlevania for the Sharp X68000, Rondo was a Japan-exclusive game (although it has since come out as a PlayStation Portable remake, as well as a semi-altered release on the Wii Virtural Console). Originally released for the PC Engine (the Japanese version of NEC's TurboGrafx-16) CD-ROM. As a result, finding an emulated-port for the game was impossible for the longest time, which only fueled fan-desires to own a copy of the original Japanese release.
The story for this game is pretty unique: Richter Belmont, heir to the clan, finds out that his fiancee (along with a number of villagers) has been kidnapped by Dracula's minions -- all under the direction of the dark sorcerer Shaft. Dracula isn't supposed to have risen yet (Shaft used a Black Mass Ritual to bring the dark Count back), but the Castle has appeared on a faraway hill. Many questions plague young Richter's mind, but as a Belmont, it is in his blood to go forth to the castle. All of this leads to a seemingly standard Castlevania romp with one big twist: to get the best ending, Richter has to save all the hostages before defeating Dracula.
Rondo features colorful graphics, giving a delightful luster to Castlevania's first outing on a disc-based format. Though not exactly up to par with the SNES quality, there is solid amount of work and detail put into the backgrounds, so although there are less colors on the screen than in the other Castlevania games, the detail more than makes up for it.
The game plays mostly like normal Castlevania games. It's fairly linear, but has branching paths set up within the stages (like Castlevania III). Most stages have a normal exit and a hidden exit (and sometimes a quick-exit that lets one bypass the boss of the stage).
One such example of these paths happens in the first stage of the game: starting off in the Village of Jova (to note, the opening area in Castlevania II), there's the normal path which leads up to the Castle, or there's the hidden path that leads to the Bridge. The game saves which paths were taken, and takes that into account when counting the percentage of the game one completes as one progresses (to entice you to playthrough multiple times). To note, unlike the Castlevania games that use a password system, Rondo uses the system memory to save games (as with many later-day Castlevania games). Your saved game records money earned, the hostages saved, and (of course) stages completed.
The standard sub-weapons make appearances in the game, while a new one is added to the arsenal: the holy book. When used, pages fly off the book and spiral out from the caster. Along with these sub-weapons, the "item crash" technique was added. If one has enough hearts, Richter can perform a more powerful version of whatever subweapon he has equipped (or a powereful whip-attack if he has no sub-weapon). Different subweapons create different effects, ranging from a large barrage of daggers being thrown to giant holy Crucifixes rising up from the bottom of the screen, defeating enemies. Additionally, Richter can perform a backflip move, althoughs it's seldom used and not really essential to the game. Thankfully, as with Simon in Super Castlevania IV, Richter can jump on and off of stairs (and even back-flip off). As far as controls, this game is no step back for the series.
As an ever more impressive bonus, one of the kidnapped girls, Maria Renard (sister of Richter's fiancee, Annette), can be rescued -- and once rescued, Maria becomes a playable character. Maria uses doves to attack her enemies (unlike a more conventional weapon, such as a whip), and instead of the sub-weapons, she picks up different animal totems. The animals -- Phoenix, Turtle, Cat, and Dragon -- can be summoned to perform devastating attacks (or, in the case of the turtle, a very useful defense). Maria also has a double jump, a slide move, and even an "alter-ego" super-attack (summoning a "limit break" version of herself). Maria is truly easier to control than Richter, to the point in which playing the game as her over Richter seems natural. She does take more damage when getting hit, but all her other benefits more than balance out that one down-side.
Lots of old stages make a new appearances. Jova (as mentioned), the Entrance Hall (from Castlevania), Super Castlevania IV's opening screen (where one fights the boss that opens the way to the normal Stage 2), the Haunted Ship of Fools and the Clock Tower (from Castlevania III). Along with these older stages there are plenty of new ones, all very detailed and very different from each oher, so it never feels like you're replaying the "same" stages over and over again.
It is sad that this game never made it to US Shores. This game has many innovations over the previous entries in the series, such as improved graphics, sound, control, replay value, and story. It might be as beloved as it is because of its seeming rarity, but it's a solid game that deserves all the praise it gets
The graphics of the PC Engine were pushed. Although there are far less colors to work with (64 colors, I believe), the large space available on a CD allowed Konami to fit a plethora of tiles. The game boasts clean, colorful graphics with plenty of polish (and nifty effects as well). All the stages have clean, clear, detailed graphics. Still, the other Castlevania games, such as those on the Super Nintendo, look a bit nicer than Rondo. Overall, it's pretty nice, but the limits of the system held the game back some.
Yes, this is one of those places where this game shines. As a CD-based game, there was plenty of room to work with on the disc, plus a good sound system to pump out the tunes. The music is a solid blend of classical and rock, and uses great instrument sampling and CD-Audio in order to bring the tunes to life. "Vampire Killer", "Bloody Tears", and "Beginning" are all remade for the game (with grand arrangements), but many new new tracks show up on the soundtrack as well. Some of these new tracks -- such as "Dance of Illusions", "Hellish Hallucination (Dancing in Phantasmic Hell)", and "Opposing Bloodlines" -- will get resused several times in later entries in the series.
Richter's control style is arguably "classic", for all the good and bad that implies. He plays somewhere between the old-school heroes and Simon's later SNES improvements. As a result, he can have controlled jumps, but only to an extent (and the backflip move is pretty pointless). He also lacks the freedom of whipping that Simon gained in Super Castlevania IV. Really, most of the time, people will play as Maria (as soon as she's unlocked) just because she is better all-around than Richter. When I play Rondo, Richter takes a backseat to Maria. She kicks ass.
Fun Factor: 8.5
The two characters, the multiple stages, the alternating roads within one stage, the branching paths to different stages, the storyline, and the ability to buy "tactics" on how to beat bosses (gotta put that money you earn to use somewhere) make this game a jewel to have in one's collection. Even in it's Virtual Console re-release, Rondo is a must-play for any Castlevania fan.