Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Dracula X: Rondo of Blood (PC-E CD)

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Console: PC-Engine CD (Japan)
Released: 1993
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Japanese Title: Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo – English Translation: Devil’s Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? No
Value: $83.00(used) Unknown – this usually indicates none have ever been sold (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $90-$120 (used) N/A (new) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console and remake on Dracula X Chronicles (PSP) – $9.00 (VC), $15.00 (PSP) digitally

Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo is one of those games that you either know about or you don’t.  As a side story to the series, appearing on the PC-Engine CD no less, I don’t think Konami ever intended the game to be popular but what it does for the Castlevania formula is worth noting.  Rondo of Blood (as it is known in English) follows Richter Belmont, a descendent of Simon and Trevor, in a side story where he seeks out Dracula to recover his girlfriend Annette.  It takes place in Germany, I think (I’ve never played the game in English), and the cutscenes even contain German dialogue with Japanese subtitles.  Thanks to the RAM and CD format of this title, it also features amazing sound design and an anime-like style.  Oh yeah, and until recently it was never released outside of Japan.

When you first start playing the game, it comes off as just another hodgepodge Castlevania game that fuses aspects of all the previous titles into one new hybrid, just like Super Castlevania IV.  It isn’t until the third level (although technically Stage 2 because there’s a prologue) that you start to discover this game is different from previous iterations.  There are secrets all over the place, from ledges you can’t seem to reach or locked doors that most first time players won’t have the key to.  Levels vary in length depending on the player because although you start the level in the same place, there are often multiple ways to complete a level.  You can even find and unlock Maria, a handmaiden, early on in the game and she becomes a playable character.  As many have noted it begins concept that would later become Symphony of the Night and spawn the controversially named MetroidVania string of titles.  I think what strikes Rondo of Blood as the best title in the series is that it can be enjoyed by fans of both the linear titles and those who prefer the new massive map exploration (ie: MetroidVania) iterations.  Without a doubt, it’s a game that should be played, especially at the ridiculously low price and amazing emulation on the Wii Virtual Console – this was a title no one ever guessed we’d receive.

Innovation in level design isn’t the only significance of this game.  Due to its almost non-existent localization, this title is the only chance most American’s have to see things like dripping blood, topless female enemies, and plenty of religious iconography like crosses, all of which had been previously censored in Nintendo’s US localization process.  The gameplay is sharp and responsive, which is necessary to tackle some of the brutal later levels that are a testament to both platforming and battle.  In this newer title Richter cannot whip in several directions like Simon could on the SNES, and the feature would never again find itself into a Castlevania title – you can speculate on whether Konami felt it broke gameplay or if it was in there just to show off Simon swinging from his whip on an SNES launch title.  Boss battles almost require that you have played the original games and can respond to the patterns of new bosses as both will make an appearence and can kill you quickly.  By the time you reach Dracula you’ll already be tired, only to battle this brutal boss in a nightmare scenario that only exists in Castlevania.  Not only that, this was the first game that included saving, which is intact in all re-released US ports, so the game can be finished if you have enough time and patience.  Even longtime series producer Koji Igarashi started his career working side jobs on this title (he gets a special thanks in the credits).   Rondo of Blood truly had it all, I just can’t figure out why Konami kept it so tightly out of our hands.

I guess if you’re Konami you can attest that the game we got here, Castlevania Dracula X (known as Vampire’s Kiss in Europe) on the SNES was supposed to be our version of Rondo of Blood but the two couldn’t be more different.  Konami completely redesigned the anime art style to more of a gritty realistic feel parallel to Super Castlevania IV.  Many of the sets the levels took place on were replaced completely and the level design became completely linear, forgoing the exploratory nature of the original.  Maria can be found, but she is not playable afterward.  Furthermore, the final battle with Dracula is quite a bit easier and features a pathetic ending.  In Japan the port was called Akumajo Dracula XX because it was supposed to be sort of a remix of the original and critics panned it both here and overseas for being a pathetic attempt to port the original.  That’s not to say Dracula X is all that bad, it just pales in comparison to the glory that is Rondo of Blood.

This title is more for the big time gaming nerds, classic collectors, and fans of all that is Castlevania.  Then again, at $9 I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to give this one a try, if only because it blows away many modern games and definitely withstands the test of time.  If you’re still not convinced or interested to see it in action, I’ve done a brief video playthrough below:

Written by Fred Rojas

July 24, 2012 at 4:58 pm

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