Unsung heroes are prominent in literature and film. Without spoilers, consider if Frodo had embarked on his quest without Sam's support in The Lord of the Rings, and think about nerdy Neville Longbottom's overlooked role in protecting the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The true heroes behind this Castlevania Requiem: Symphony of the Night & Rondo of Blood double-pack are the original developers, artists, and music composers of both retro games. However, the unsung wisdom in the background of this PlayStation 4 bundle comes from whoever it was amongst Konami's staff who compiled such a fan-focused list of Trophy tasks -- incentivising and encouraging players to explore for secrets.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is a 2D side-scrolling platformer, in the vein of the traditional stage progression gameplay style, which originated in the series in NES Castlevania. In theory you can play through linear progression of its prologue and following eight stages to finally battle Dracula within less than 90 minutes, but that's unlikely considering its punishing difficulty level. Take into account the replay value of searching for its four hidden stages, and it will take much longer to complete all thirteen stages without a walkthrough.
Rondo of Blood is especially treasured by Western gamers, because it was exclusive to Japan for 14 years before being included as a bonus in the PSP's Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. Considering that the core console architecture inside the PC Engine CD-ROM was ageing in 1993, Rondo of Blood was a marvel with sprite and background designs that stood proud during the 16-bit era, even without the extent of showy rotation effects of SNES Super Castlevania IV. The CD-ROM's capabilities enabled a stunning soundtrack of much-loved Castlevania tunes, making the PC Engine literally sing on its main menu screen, and the classic Vampire Killer track was boosted with a killer bass-line.
It's also worth noting that in a video interview included with the 2001 PSone title Castlevania Chronicles that Koji Igarashi (Assistant Director of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) listed the Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo Japanese name of Rondo of Blood as one of his two personal favourite Castlevania games, alongside Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Incidentally, it’s a shame that extra developer interviews, historical information or an art museum are not included with the Castlevania Requiem package. Push Square's feature about The Making Of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night by Damien McFerran explains the role of Toru Hagihara as Director of both of Castlevania Requiem's classics, as well as lauding Michiru Yamane's sublime work on Symphony of the Night's music.
Without forgetting a knowing nod to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, it was Symphony of the Night from 1997 that added the 'vania' suffix into the naming of the exploration sub-genre as Metroidvania. Amongst the PSone's impressive library, Symphony of the Night is more than an excellent game, it's an outstanding one. It's omission from the PlayStation Classic can only be described as horrifying.
It's masterful at drip-feeding Relics like the Leap Stone, Soul of Bat, and Gravity Boots that make navigation increasingly accessible through high-jumps and transforming into creatures of the night. Not since Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts have we been so grateful to earn a double-jump manoeuvre. You can also determine your own difficulty level, so if it becomes too challenging the RPG mechanics allow you to feel increasingly empowered by levelling up the likes of a Alucard's hit points (HP) life capacity and magic by grinding for EXP, as well as money from destroying enemies, or building luck for better items to drop.
Symphony of the Night is a game best enjoyed by scrutinising every corner of its intricate map, which is epitomised by you searching the castle as Alucard, a protagonist who has awoken in 1796 after submerging his vampiric powers. Alucard's actions will decide the fate of Richter Belmont who has vanished continuing on from Rondo of Blood – hence the Japanese PSone title is Akumajō Dracula X: Gekka no Yasōkyoku – which is determined by how thoroughly you scour to uncover mysterious items.
For context, Push Square beat the Normal Castle in under seven hours with 72.0% being just over a third of the map completed, but this is considered the bad ending. In 1997 before the Internet's accessibility of information about games was widespread – beyond predominantly magazines – gamers were not even sure if the fascinating Inverted Castle really existed, but now 200.6% is the established completion percentage.
Push Square recently published a Soapbox about Castlevania Requiem discussing how its Gothic atmosphere – through the detailed 2D pixel-art design and glorious soundtracks in both games – was perfect for its October 2018 release before Halloween. We're in good company praising these games, as Issue 150 of Retro Gamer magazine placed Symphony of the Night as 27th in their reader's '150 Greatest Games Ever' list. The only other PSone games to place above it were Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII.
Some fans of the original Symphony of the Night have expressed disappointment that the voice acting and script are taken from the PSP's version on The Dracula X Chronicles, rather than remaining authentic to the PSone release from 1997. The PSP edition does provide an advantage for Castlevania Requiem, though, in that unlike the PSone original it made Maria Renard available as an unlockable, playable character.
Konami has stuck to the 2007 PSP release rigidly, including its extra, fiddly quick save option that drops you back to the title screen, and returns you to the last previous checkpoint – regardless of if you've progressed to a boss battle. Even the options menu's button configuration, display size, screen wallpapers, and choice of English or Japanese voice languages are presented like the PSP game. Although, Requiem's Display Effects menu to add scanlines, smoothing, or interlacing to alter the visual presentation of the screen will be appreciated by retro gamers.
Castlevania Requiem would have been a more thorough package, and better value to gamers, if Konami simply re-released the fang-tastic The Dracula X Chronicles on PS4 instead. The 2.5D PSP version of Rondo of Blood was an interesting remake that included cut-scenes that added more detail to the interactions between characters, and remixed tunes – which unlike in Requiem were available as a separate Sound Test on the title screen.
The PSone Classic version of Symphony of the Night and PSP The Dracula X Chronicles can currently be bought for almost half of Requiem’s price on PS3 and PS Vita – plus both are PlayStation TV compatible too – but the advantage of playing Castlevania Requiem on PS4 is that its Trophies inspire gamers to appreciate these two splendid games on a deeper level. Therefore, if you focus on the Trophies that provide clues and refer to scouring for secrets, you'll likely discover wonderful surprises during your quest towards a Platinum.
With two brilliant retro games in one bundle, the gameplay in Castlevania Requiem is excellent. As a starting point to the 1792 Dracula X story-line, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is a fantastic 1993 example of the traditional NES Castlevania's arcade, platforming template, which shouldn't be missed. However, Castlevania Requiem disappoints with a lack of extras like developer interviews, or an art museum. It's contentious that Castlevania Requiem is based on the Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles' version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, because it alters the original PSone's voice acting and script, although pleasingly the PSP version enables you to unlock a playable version of Maria Renard. The PS4 Trophy list deserves special mention for giving extra incentive to explore both games more thoroughly. The simplest way to recommend Castlevania Requiem is by acknowledging that it includes one of PSone's best ever games, in 1997's frightfully superb Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.