Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is one of those packages that sits awkwardly on the fence between remake and compilation. While the main attraction is the fully-fledged modern day remake of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood there are other prizes on offer which may take a player’s fancy even more so than the central game.
Beginning with the main campaign, the remake of Rondo of Blood is truly worthy of the Castlevania name. It takes the form of the old linear Castlevania entries rather than the more recent ‘Metroidvania’ iterations. There are branching paths to other levels and various unlockables to pick up along the way, though it doesn't compete with the non-linearity of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. If you decide to go through the game being distracted as little as possible by the juicy side levels, you can work through it within six or so hours. That being said, it's still far from a walk in the park and ignoring the peripheral elements of the quest means that you get a less than satisfactory ending and none of the enticing bonuses.
For those new to the Castlevania series, it’s a 2D side scrolling platformer which pits you against monsters from every layer of hell. You’ll often find yourself fighting minotaurs, floating Medusa heads and, of course, vampires. The more linear Castlevania titles of old are known for their grueling difficulty, overpowered enemies and perilous jumps, and this game is no exception. If you feel uneasy even thinking about past classics such as Ghosts ’n Goblins and Mega Man then perhaps this game isn't for you, but if intense difficulty appeals to even the smallest shred of your soul then you'll find much to like here.
Most of the time, the challenge is a fair one; you’ll rarely die because of poor controls or unseen hazards - though in this regard special mention does need to be given to the controls while your character is on the stairs, a famous weak point for the entire Castlevania series. It's far too easy to take damage when in this position, which can occasionally lead to frustration. Once you learn to work around this shortcoming, it becomes less of an issue.
The level of detail in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles goes beyond being simply functional. Though the whole game takes place on a two dimensional plane, the 3D models of both the characters and enemies look great. Each level is themed in the usual horror style adopted by the Castlevania series, but they’re all different enough from each other that this never results in the game feeling stale or repetitive. The music deserves special mention - if you've ever played a Castlevania game before, you’ll know that the series is responsible for some of the most memorable tunes in the medium of video gaming. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles borrows tunes from other Castlevania games and reworks them beautifully, creating a real feast for the ears.
Without spoiling too much, the story is similar to that of other Castlevania games. You are a vampire killer - in this case, Richter Belmont - on a mission to defeat Dracula, who has risen from his grave once again. Alongside Richter there is an unlockable character hidden early on in the game by the name of Maria Renard. Though she's easier to use than Richter, the cute and cuddly Maria somewhat detracts from the macho feeling you get from whipping bats, as her primary mode of attack is throwing doves. The (sometimes questionable) voice acting adds a little to the atmosphere, but ultimately it’s the same story - with a few twists - that you've seen multiple times in other Castlevanias before it.
There’s little else to mention of the main game, but the extras are quite something. As well as some standard features such as a ‘Boss Rush’ mode and a ‘Sound Test’ room, other standalone games are also included. Other than being able to play the original PC Engine CD-ROM version of Rondo of Blood, a full version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is playable in all its 32-bit glory. It sadly doesn't support widescreen, instead opting for patterned borders, and has a completely redone voice acting reel, which may disappoint some looking for nostalgic cheesiness. For the most part though, it’s the same Castlevania that fans and reviewers fell in love with on the original PlayStation, and it’s included here after unlocking it in the main game.
Overall this package is certainly worth the time and money. The difficulty of the main game can get frustrating at points, but you wouldn't be playing it if you didn't desire a challenge. The graphics are clean and detailed, while the old-school gameplay is as tight and focused as ever. The bonus of being able to play Symphony of the Night in the palm of your hand makes this even more appealing. Granted, the stern challenge means that Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles won't be to everyone's tastes, but if you appreciate the demanding platforming epics of yesteryear then you're going to feel right at home with this well-produced package.