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Castlevania, the vampire-hunting series that stretches over 20 years and as many games, has basically two kinds of fans. There are the traditionalists, whove followed the games since they were straight-up action titles with thumb-busting combat and infamously steep difficulty curves. Most agree that the best of the old-school Castlevanias is 1993s Rondo of Blood, a scarce Japanese release that goes for a couple hundred bucks on eBay.
The second type of fan favors the more recent offerings, which eschew the series brutal roots for more accessible (and forgiving) exploration, dropping players in Draculas sprawling castle to hunt for secrets, treasures, and new weapons. Of these discovery trail Castlevanias, the first 1997s Symphony of the Night is unsurpassed.
So fans of both camps were giddy when Konami announced plans to bring both titles Rondo and Symphony to the PSP in a single package, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, along with a full remake of Rondo. Like Seinfelds black-and-white cookie, the combo could have epitomized harmony between two very different types of gamers, but it turns out neither group will be completely satisfied with this package, thanks to two major flubs: the flawed emulation of the original games, and the fact youre first forced to play the remade Rondo to access them.
Thats not to say the new Rondos no good. Despite a complete visual and aural overhaul and even a few subtle game-play tweaks its faithful to the original down to the smallest detail, from where extra lives are hidden to a little-known tap move that extends your attack range by a few crucial pixels.
This loyalty to the source extends to Rondos difficulty, which can be summed up as punishing. Old-school all the way, Rondo is a game that demands concentration, hand-eye coordination, and resolve and thats just in the first couple levels. Even experienced gamers will be well-acquainted with the Continue or Quit screen, which might as well read Thank You Sir May I Have Another?
Therein lies part of the problem: Though the box advertises Symphony of the Night as part of the package, it doesnt make clear that you have to play through the first few brutal levels of the Rondo remake and collect a tricky-to-get item before Symphony can be played. Rondo 93 (the title most gamers probably want this package for) is similarly hidden.
Why are we forced to jump through these hoops? Imagine if Warner Home Video announced it was rereleasing Casablanca on DVD, but the black-and-white original wouldnt play till you watched an hour of Ted Turners colorized version.
But the bigger problem is that Rondo 93 and Symphony are flawed versions of the real deals. Rondo 93s fast action doesnt fare well on the PSPs sluggish LCD screen; your nimble enemies blur so badly theyre almost transparent. Hence, dark enemies on dark backgrounds are virtually invisible and being a vampire game, theres lots of both. Symphony, meanwhile, features a redubbed voice track that jettisons the overacted, almost operatic camp of the original in favor of one thats merely run-of-the-mill bad.
Theres certainly an audience for rereleased, remastered Castlevania classics. But theres a right way and a wrong way to present such compilations. Sadly, theres not much right with Dracula X.
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