I recently detailed my PS Vita post-launch emptiness and how I sought to fill that void by downloading Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, a 4-year old downloadable PSP game that contains the exquisite Rondo of Blood (both the original and the polygonal remake), and the magnificent Symphony of the Night. It is easily the best “Vita” game that I own.
That statement will certainly ring odd to those who enjoy popping caps in Unit 13 or guiding Nathan Drake on his first portable adventure, but these games–one released in 1993 on the relatively obscure PC Engine CD-ROM, and one released in 1997 on the original PlayStation–represent two of the finest action-platform titles that developer Konami ever crafted. And two of the finest representatives within the genre as whole. But what makes Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night such incredible titles? It’s a loving touch, really. And a respect for the series’ own history.
Hear This Rondo of Blood
Castlevania, at its best, connects the past and the present.
Rondo of Blood was Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse’s natural evolution in terms of level design. The third Belmont NES adventure saw Trevor hunting for the count in a slightly exploratory, non-linear fashion while picking up alternate playable characters on the way. In short, Rondo is everything great about all Castlevania titles that came before it, minus the clunky movement, staircase deaths, and other series niggles. It also introduced the Item Crash, a super version of Richter Belmont’s sub-weapon that did big damage in exchange for a large amount of hearts.
Unfortunately, America didn’t play the real Rondo (the Super NES saw a remixed port in 1995) until it reappeared on Virtual Console and PSP over a decade after its original release. Few legacy franchises survived the industry’s move to disc-based media, but the Castlevania series did it well–extremely well–on its first attempt. Rondo‘s sequel was pretty decent, too.
Listen To This Symphony of the Night
Symphony of the Night is the right hook that swiftly followed the Rondo left. In the same way that Rondo expanded Dracula Curse’s foundations, Symphony expanded Rondo’s by drawing inspiration from the past, namely the open-world of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Alucard’s first post-Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse adventure decimated the idea of levels, and transformed the titular castle into a monstrous, sprawling haunt filled with eerie rooms and expansive hallways.
Symphony of the Night, with its flowing character movement, RPG leveling, and emphasis on magic, rods, shields, and other non vampire killer-based weaponry, set Castlevania‘s modern standard–at least until Lords of Shadow appeared. Still, Symphony‘s story (which picked up right after Rondo’s conclusion), involved the reappearance of the infamous castle, the return of Richter Belmont, and a goth half-breed warring with his dad.
Music To My Ears
Castlevania, at its best, connects the past and the present. Some say the Nintendo DS Castlevania titles relied to heavily on the Symphony model (I agree) and that Lords of Shadow relied to heavily on non-Castlevania games (which I also agree). This is why I continually return to Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. They remain fresh long after their original releases, and take me back to a place where new platforms facilitated amazing software from talented developers. Now I have two of the best games ever crafted on one of the best portable gaming hardware platforms ever crafted.
Thank you, Konami.