E3 2007: Hands-on with Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles

One of the few chapters of the Castlevania saga not to reach Western shores is also arguably one of the best: Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, originally appearing on the PC Engine CD, which never had a US release, is definitely my personal favorite in the series. The opportunity to finally get my hands on the anticipated PSP remake Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles was definitely one of my favorite experiences at the show, and is shaping up to be a must-own for PSP gamers and fans of the series alike. Hit the jump for more.

(Note: Hey, remember when I posted this and said “hit the jump for more” and it wasn’t there? Well, that’s because Safari likes to remember that the form was empty and, to provide me with Apple-caliber convenience, replaces the form with a whole lot of nothing every time I save. Anyway, it’s fixed now. I miss my computer.) 

Being a full-time geek, I tend to be consumed with the overwhelming urge to revisit some of my favorite games, Rondo of Blood certainly being among them. Before coming to E3, I sat down with Rondo to be sure that I had a sense of its finer points of gameplay, timing, jumping distance and whip speed and so on so I might get a clearer picture of how accurate the game’s transition to its new home on the PSP truly was. I’m pleased to say that after some one-on-one time with Dracula X Chronicles, this will be the only version of Rondo that you’re likely to need.

The conversion seems effortless, and while I have my own personal disagreements with the movement to 3D models and backgrounds in lieu of the striking 2D graphics that have been Castlevania’s hallmark for years, the gameplay has made the leap intact. Richter’s leaps and whip strikes are just as solid as they were on the PC CD, and for those of us fortunate enough to have experienced the game on its first home, there’s a lot of familiarity about this new version. It might take a moment or two to acclimate yourself with identifying the threshold of the 3D hitboxes and moving away from a “pixel-perfect” understanding of the game’s mechanics, but you’ll warm up to it in no time.

About the graphics — like I said, I’m not too thrilled with some PSP games and the “remake it in 2.5D” ethic that has been quite the fad for lots of titles these days (Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Megaman Maverick Hunter X, and others), but at least developers like Konami and Capcom put a good deal of work into making these engines work effectively. Chronicles in particular takes advantage of the original Rondo’s excellent level design and brings it into 3D in such a way that really draws attention to its predecessor’s strengths. The models look fine from a distance, but up close — likesay, when a boss is introduced and the camera swings around to showcase your impending beating — their simplicity becomes somewhat apparent. Richter’s face is angular in that low-poly kind of way; a disappointment when compared to Konami’s brilliant effort on the PSP’s Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. It’s worth noting, however, that for the majority of play — or most of the time I spent with the demo, at least — maintains the traditional view of the field of play, side-scrolling at a distance. Such scrutiny is more or less irrelevant while you plow your way through the legions of the damned from such a vista.

While the inclusion of the PSX classic Symphony of the Night was not a part of Konami’s E3 demonstration, I did get one of my big questions answered; that, of course, being which version in particular was to make the final cut. For those of you not already aware, the Saturn version, released only in Japan, included some new areas and a playable Maria in addition to Alucard and Richter as we had in the original PSX version of the game. Tomm Hulett, associate producer at Konami, confirmed that the version of Symphony of the Night included in The Dracula X Chronicles would indeed be the Saturn version, finally giving US gamers a shot at playing the most complete version of the game to date. And as we’ve already been told, Symphony will include an all new translation, which can be a good or bad thing, depending on which way you swing. But hey, if you ever want to get your “Die, Monster!” on, you can always fire up the XBLA version, right?

Chronicles will also feature an original version of Rondo of Blood for you (us) purists, just in case we break down and want us some crisp 2D graphics. As for Symphony, the lads at Konami tell me that there may yet be some unannounced additions to the game that we’re not yet privy to — so long as it’s not a monster catching or card battle minigame, I can’t see anybody complaining. New content for one of the finest Metroidvania titles ever produced? I’d trade a kidney — hell, I’d trade two.

With this new edition, Konami is poised to provide a new addition to a short list of PSP absolute must-own titles as well as the most definitive edition of Rondo and Symphony that gamers could ask for. Be on the look out for this game when it lands in the Fall.

Aaron Linde