It’s October, and Halloween is almost upon us. With it comes exciting news for fans of the long-running Castlevania series starring everyone’s favorite bloodsucker.
Generation after generation, heroes in the series battle their way through Count Dracula’s sprawling castle, filled with deadly traps, a macabre collection of unliving foes, and other horrors beyond imagination, to finally wipe that toothy grin off Dracula’s face.
Well, at least until he emerges once again in the next Castlevania game.
Last month Konami announced they would be releasing Castlevania Requiem for the Playstation 4 via digital download on October 26th, resurrecting two of their most legendary, beloved Castlevania titles in one collection for the first time since they were originally released more than 20 years ago.
Released in 1997 for the Sony Playstation, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night received wide critical acclaim. It is consistently regarded as not only one of the top titles from the Playstation’s vast library, but one of the greatest games of all time.
Symphony is also arguably one of the most influential games ever created, and widely credited for shaping the ‘Metroidvania’ blended genre of games that are still immensely popular more than two decades later.
Here is Konami’s official description of Symphony:
The game is set in the sprawling Castlevania through which Alucard, son of Dracula must venture in his quest to confront, and ultimately destroy his father.
Featuring ground breaking non-linear gameplay, Symphony of the Night helped define a new genre of gameplay by blending RPG elements, exploration and platforming. The vast number of weapons and items found throughout the game allows a diverse range of play styles to be employed.
This game perfected the essence of the Castlevania series with gorgeous artwork and classic soundtrack that carry the player through the game.
For Castlevania fans and vintage gaming enthusiasts alike, Symphony of the Night is simply a timeless must-have title. And in case you were wondering how much this game holds up after two decades, the art and animation are gorgeous, the orchestral music is brilliant, and the gameplay definitely stands the test of time.
Over the years it has been ported to other platforms, with mixed results. Ports have generally been lackluster, and retail emulation has been spotty. As is often the case, the truly best experience is with the original game, if you can find it. Although getting your hands on it can be pricey, Symphony’s fairly wide circulation, large cult following, and continued popularity make it relatively easy to acquire an original copy for the PS1.
The other title bundled in the upcoming Requiem release, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, is a different story entirely.
Released four years earlier in 1993, Rondo of Blood is the 10th game in the series and the prequel to Symphony of the Night. In fact, for those who don’t know, the final battle in Rondo is the opening scene in Symphony.
Here is Konami’s description of Rondo of Blood:
Released on PC-Engine in 1993, this was the first in the series released as a CD-ROM game. It took full advantage of the new media format, and was praised by reviewers for its crisp visuals and amazing music.
Venture through 9 stages featuring hidden levels and alternative routes to save imprisoned villagers as you set out to destroy count Dracula once and for all.
Playable characters include Richter Belmont the Vampire Hunter and Maria Renard the master of the 4 celestial beasts.
Unlike Symphony however, Rondo of Blood was only released on the PC Engine CD, which was the Japanese equivalent of the TurboGrafx-CD, the CD-ROM expansion peripheral for the TurboGrafx-16.
On an interesting sidenote, the PC Engine CD’s launch in 1988 marked the debut of CD-ROM’s as a game medium in the home console market. The Sega Mega-CD / Sega CD would not arrive for another three years.
Unfortunately Rondo of Blood would remain a Japanese exclusive, for an expensive console with a very limited library of games. It is the “lost” Castlevania chapter and regarded as one of the best games in the entire series, and for almost 15 years it was never seen outside of Japan.
Instead, the West received what can probably best be described as a loose interpretation of Rondo of Blood.
Castlevania: Dracula X was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995. Although it borrows many elements of Rondo of Blood, Dracula X is drastically altered from the original. As such, it is really neither a port of Rondo nor a remake.
It also happens to be almost absurdly difficult.
Still, all hope wasn’t lost. In 2007, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles was released for the Sony Playstation Portable. With the action in 2D using 3D characters and backgrounds, Chronicles was essentially a ‘2.5D’ remake of Rondo of Blood.
As an added bonus, Chronicles featured emulated versions of the original Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood as unlockable games.
The main 2.5D Chronicles game was fairly well received. However, critics and players alike complained about poor hit detection with things like enemy attacks or landing on ledges, leading to a high level of frustration among players. Adding to the frustration level were various control issues. While the punishing difficulty level should be no surprise to fans of the series, no one likes cheap deaths.
As for the emulated versions of the original Symphony and Rondo, arguably the biggest draws to the title, the emulation was generally poor. Among other issues, it was plagued with slowdowns, frequent loading, less responsive controls, and dithering and resolution issues. There were also changes made to the voiceovers that were regarded by many as inferior to the original recordings.
Still, everything packed into Chronicles made it an excellent value for old-school Castlevania fans who owned the PSP handheld console. For anyone who wanted to fully experience Rondo and Symphony however, there was still much room for improvement.
All of this history and fan consensus leads us to one inevitable conclusion; up to this point, the only way to play Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night as they were intended to be experienced is to play the original games in their native format. Not the ideal situation, but perhaps a short time from now, there will be another viable option on a modern console.
With Castlevania Requiem less than two weeks away from release, the question is, will retrogaming fans finally be able to enjoy two of the best, most legendary Castlevania titles in their full gothic glory? Or, will the original games still remain the only way to truly experience these two iconic Castlevania masterpieces?
Hopefully Requiem will finally quench that thirst.
Castlevania Requiem rises from its long dark slumber on October 26th, and will be a Playstation 4 exclusive.