Not only is Castlevania: Rondo of Blood my first pick when playing a traditional-style Castlevania arcade platformer, but Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is possibly my favourite PSone game of all time. It’s conventional for gamers to play spookily themed titles during Halloween, so I was overjoyed that Castlevania Requiem included both games when it was released on PlayStation 4 in October 2018.
In a similar regard to how I’ve just purchased a Danger Mouse: From Duck to Dawn DVD to watch on October 31st, nostalgia often influences my Halloween gaming picks. If I had a time machine, I’d like to carry out a Push Square survey of how gamers perceived Konami during the 1993 Japanese release of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, because while its reputation has been tarnished more recently, hearing the chime as the Konami logo booted was a reminder of how adored Konami was during their heyday in the fourth generation of consoles.
I urge that you don’t skip the terror-rific Rondo of Blood, as completing it is the first part of this bundle’s 1792 story setting, and it’s effective at setting up Richter Belmont leaving the Romanian countryside to enter a foreboding Transylvanian castle. It shares a penchant for detailed backgrounds, and imaginative sprite animations – from a werewolf boss that reverts to human form upon defeat, to Richter exploding into a shower of blood when killed. It introduces the role of recurring characters also in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, including Death, the Ferryman, Shaft, and of course Dracula.
If you seek horror during Halloween, then you’ll find it in Rondo of Blood’s difficulty level, which is exemplified in the Trophy tasks. While the game is approachable enough when you find the more agile, double-jumping, floor-sliding Maria Renard, the Trophies encourage you to beat the game with Richter, and finish a stage with no damage. Also, completing 100% of the game is especially challenging. Maria reverses the classic horror movie trope of a terrified, screaming female, as the deceptively cutesy voiced hunted becomes the capable huntress.
The Gothic, spooky atmosphere of the setting and visuals is amplified by the wonderful music in both games. PSone retro fans are well-versed in the exquisiteness of Michiru Yamane’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night soundtrack, but may be less familiar with the brilliance of Rondo of Blood’s music. The classic Castlevania tunes like Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears are so memorable and well recognised, plus they’re lovingly updated in Rondo of Blood. Special mention goes to the enhancement of the eerie, warbling from Castlevania III’s Beginning tune, which somehow mixes creepiness with catchy hooks. This fits perfectly with the nostalgia in Rondo of Blood, where one location resembles the first NES Castlevania’s opening, including another that looks like the starting village from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, but set on fire.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released in 1997, and I was reading a Tokyo Game Show 1996 Special Report in Issue 180 of CVG magazine, which stated that “Dracula X for PlayStation is almost assured to surpass the Super NES predecessor in every way”, with compliments to the “PlayStation spot effects, the lighting and overall detail”. While CVG didn’t know the game’s official title yet -- and wrongly presumed it would follow the SNES game rather than Rondo of Blood on PC-Engine CD-ROM -- the fresh open-castle exploration, RPG levelling-up of experience points, plus items enabling new abilities through the Metroidvania template revolutionised Castlevania games. This was following on from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest’s innovations. Within the first hour, Alucard traverses into the castle’s Alchemy Laboratory, through a Marble Gallery to the moonlit, far Outer Wall of the castle, and you realise that its map is meticulously set-out.
I’ve collected every issue of gamesTM, so it was especially sad to learn that the magazine’s last issue is this November’s edition. The current Issue 205 has a Symphony of the Night article that praises members of Konami’s development team, from “the incredible art direction of Ayami Kojima”, explaining that it was “directed by Toru Hagihara, who had steered the previous release Rondo Of Blood”.
For any gamers looking forward to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there is a historical perspective to gamesTM 205’s piece, as it recognises that “it helped to launch the career of Koji Igarashi”, and interestingly explains that “we can look back now at the launch of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and see beyond its initial poor sales figures and the fact that neither Konami or Sony seemed interested in supporting its PlayStation release with much advertising”. This makes me appreciative that gamers can still enjoy playing classic, retro Castlevania releases on PS4 in 2018.
The trouble is my Danger Mouse Halloween DVD was a recent, modernised episode of the animation, which negated my nostalgia influenced purchase. Similarly, I can understand how gamers are disappointed that there is different voice acting in Castlevania Requiem’s version of Symphony of the Night compared to the original. Some of my nostalgia in playing the PS3 remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled was lost when it didn’t have the original music, and I remember there was a backlash when Resident Evil: Director's Cut had an altered soundtrack. I think this is heightened when it involves changes to a fondly remembered, albeit cheesy script.
However, I like that these adjustments have sparked a discussion about the importance of authenticity when releasing a retro title, while simultaneously drawing attention to Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, which was a revamped PSP remake that I very much enjoyed. Personally, the way the gameplay is well honed and presented to encourage exploration of the lavish Gothic styling of the castle -- as well as battling classic horror movie monsters -- is more important to me than the voice acting and script. It’s also worth reading Nintendo Life’s feature on the Castlevania Netflix series as an accompaniment to this double-pack, because I unreservedly recommend Castlevania Requiem for retro gamers looking for a new PS4 release of legitimate classics this Halloween.
What are your two favourite traditional platformer, and Metroidvania-style Castlevania games? Do you play any games specifically for Halloween? Does nostalgia influence your Halloween gaming choices? Spook us in the comments section below.