Thursday, May 17, 2018

Castlevania Chronicles Review

Castlevania Chronicles is a port of the Sharp X68000 version of Akumajou Dracula for the PlayStation. It's a remake of Castlevania (NES), much like Super Castlevania IV, only much more faithful to the original. The X68000 game was originally released in 1993, just a couple of years after Super Castlevania IV. It was in development at the same time as Bloodlines and Rondo of Blood. The PlayStation version came out in 2001, and it features the original game with some UI changes, and a new Arranged mode with rebalanced difficulty, a new soundtrack, and some graphical changes. Koji Igarashi originally wanted to release a series of Castlevania remakes, including remakes of Castlevania II and III, but Castlevania Chronicles, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth on Wii, and the PSP game, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles were the only ones he got a chance to make.

This game retells the story of the original Castlevania, and expands on it by mentioning a bit of the Belmont family history. The story takes place in 1691, 100 years after the events of the Game Boy game, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, in which Christopher Belmont killed Dracula for the second time. In a very Rondo of Blood style opening FMV, a cult of Dracula fanatics performs a Black Mass, and resurrects Dracula once again. According to the manual, this all happened on Easter, too. So now, the latest Belmont Vampire Hunter, Simon, sets off to vanquish the horrible night, like his ancestors did.

Castlevania Chronicles plays a lot like Castlevania on NES. Simon walks slowly, but with purpose, whipping has a short windup animation, and there’s no jumping on or off stairs. The main differences in the controls are that you can whip downwards and diagonally while in the air, and you have a little bit of air control while jumping. You still get knocked back whenever you get hit in the Original mode, but not in the Arranged mode. The knockback animation isn't completely removed, you just kind of go through the animation, but stay in the same place. You also take about half the damage in Arranged mode. The reduced damage and removal of knockback in Arranged mode might sound like small changes, but they make the game much easier. Overall, the game feels little less archaic than the NES game, but still very much like a Classicvania.

Just like in the original, you can upgrade your whip 3 times by collecting upgrades, which you get from breaking candles. You can also get money bags, subweapons, and hearts which allow you to use the subweapons. Classic subweapons, like the boomerang cross, dagger, axe, and holy water return, along with a new herb item, which lets you heal yourself. You can also find items hidden within breakable walls, such as upgrades for your subweapons, and the classic meat, AKA wall turkeys.

The game is structured in a linear, level by level style. There are 24 levels, each split up into 3 parts or “blocks”, with a boss at the end. Classic Castlevania bosses, like Medusa, the Giant Bat, Death, and Dracula are back, along with a few from later games, like the Werewolf, and the Wizard. Most stages look a lot like Castlevania I and Super Castlevania stages, but there are also some original areas. I always enjoy seeing old areas return. It makes the castle feel like a real place, with history and personality to it. Like in the original, each block serves as a checkpoint, but you have to restart from the beginning of the level if you lose all your lives. You still get infinite continues, and like in the Famicom Disk System version of Castlevania, you can save your progress in the 3 available save files. No passwords required.

Castlevania Chronicles looks pretty good when compared to other 16-bit castlevanias, like Rondo of Blood and Super Castlevania IV. The sprites are fairly detailed, and the framerate stays smooth throughout the whole game. It looks like a 16-bit version of the NES game. The Arranged mode has new Simon and Dracula sprites based on the new Ayami Kojima designs, but besides that, it looks the same as the Original mode. The new sprites don’t seem to be too popular with fans of the game, but I prefer them. I was never a big fan of the Conan knockoff Simon Belmont, or the Bela Lugosi style Dracula for that matter. I think the long hair and facial hair Dracula works better for Castlevania. Original mode Simon reminds me too much of Simon in the Haunted Castle arcade game, too.

They really went all out with the soundtrack for this game. It actually has 4 soundtracks. There’s the new remixed soundtrack they did for the Arranged Mode and 3 versions of the old soundtrack. The remixed soundtrack features high quality audio remixes of classic tunes, including Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and Wicked Child, with a lot of electronic dance music influence. It sounds kind of like a Castlevania rave. Which sounds like a good time, but sometimes feels kind of goofy while playing the game. The 3 versions of the old soundtrack are all the same songs, but with different synthesizer instrumentation, so they sound very different. I prefer the FM synthesizer version, since it sounds the most like the 16-bit games I’m used to, and it’s pretty rocking.

I really enjoyed this game. It’s a fun throwback to the first Castlevania. It has good graphics, a great soundtrack, and fun Classicvania gameplay. It is a very tough game, but Arranged mode has difficulty options to make it much more manageable. It’s still pretty challenging, though. Definitely check it out if you like the Classicvania style games. It's available as a PS Classic for $5.99.