viernes, 30 de septiembre de 2016

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

Cover Art

Remakes and ports are a prime chance to improve an old game with new and fun features, but also to expose some gems to an audience that never got the chance to enjoy it on its day. Some of those gems were victims of translation and economy issues; specially in Japan, where a lot of games and consoles from the pre 2000's are now being rediscovered  Not even installments of famous series were safe: of six Final Fantasy games, only three got to America. One of this era most prominent victims was the controversial Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.

Known in Japan as Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, it was released in 1993 for the TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem. TurboGrafx-16 did come to USA, but it wasn't popular and sold poorly, which made an english translation unthinkable. In a effort to appease the american market, Konami made a ''port'' for the Super Nintendo called Castlevania: Dracula X, a stripped version without animated sequences or any semblance of narrative. Though Dracula X had its charm, to call it a port is like to call a garden a forest. In 2007, however, Konami developed a proper remake called Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. After 14 years of wait, gamers outside Japan would be finally able to play Castlevania: Rondo of Blood with improved graphics and what not. But, did Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicle remained true to the spirit that made Rondo of Blood one of the most cherished games of the franchise? Perhaps it could have but, as big pile of shit without consistency, it didn't.

Let's start with the good points, for there are few and short. Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles did brought Rondo of Blood to the world, so at least there's a strong inherent value; this is a must to play even if just to know Ritcher Belmont's, featured prominently in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, story. Speaking of the devil, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and the original Rondo of Blood can be found as hidden unlockables through the game. It's not a hyperbole to say that this extra content is better than the main one. Dracula has a new third phase, a very welcome change that makes it a proper final boss; though his new model is lazy and unimaginative. As a side note, the opening cinematic, before the main menu, is way better than the original, recreated with detailed graphics. Don't cling, this is the first and the last time you're gonna see that graphical quality.

For those uninitiated in Castlevania, you play as a vampire hunter called Ritcher who embarks in a mission to destroy Dracula and save his lover Annette. There, I summed up most games in the franchise in a single sentence. Now, if you played Rondo or Symphony you're gonna notice two things quickly: that Ritcher looked better with a bandanna and that the game looks cheap as fuck. Most will say that the PSP couldn't power amazing graphics, but Persona 3 proved that cohesive graphics can exist in the handheld; something that aludes Chronicles as shown in the Prologue, where the cart, the forest, and Ritcher seem like different resolutions of a YouTube video. This stage also expose the game's worst aspect: is fucking BRIGHT. So much brightness erodes all the gothic and mysterious elements that the original had. Worse, the graphics aren't even colorful, they're just dull and very, very bright.

Some screenshots for you to compare –I'll do it for the next paragraphs–.

It's just the prologue, but we can see the blight already. In Rondo, you're driving through a forest at night; the amount of brightness is right, and so are the shadows –and graphical detail– of the trees. The sky shows a thunderstorm with a nice blue hue, The way Death sneaks through it is mysterious and threatening , Chronicles, instead, shows a foggy forest where Death abruptly comes from a portal. The trees are blurry and don't let the sky lean out. The colors are subdued and the brightness equalizes all the elements on screen. The beautiful contrast between horses, forest, and clouds is gone.

Left: a perfectly safe town around fall with some healthy trees. Feels like a stage from Tekken.

Right: an interesting use of red that shows a city on fire and some creepy-looking trees.

Ok, this has to be the worst location in Chronicles. The wall, the trees –specially the trees–, and the clouds seem made by different artists that tried to fuck each other up. The quality is all over the place; and it doesn't even show Dracula's Castle! If you can't draw trees just don't do it, anything is better than this ridiculous sight.

This uncalled change shreds light on how the artists meetings went:

Artist #1: So, what's the plan?

Artist #2: I think we should...

Artist #1: Yes?

Artist #2: You know... take the rooms's best aspects... and...

Artist #1: Improve them? Make them bigger? Make them more awesome?

Artist #2: What? Nooooooo <nasal laughs>

Artist #2: We should strip them of them and make them more uniformed!

Artist #1: Oh, I see. Silly me, that's why you are the boss. Let's start by hiding those awesome stained glasses in Stage 3!

Artist #1: Hey boss, what should I put instead of the big epic candles in this room?

Artist #2: Put 'em...

Artist #1: Excuse me?

Artist #2: Put some candles, but very, very, very, little ones.

Artist #1: Oh, how morbid, great.

Artist #2: Thanks, let's continue to drive over the original version tomorrow. Good night!

Chronicles's music are remixes, most of them faster and rockier versions of the originals. While enjoyable, they exacerbate the loss of the dark feeling the original had. Some monsters sounds are missing, like the high-pitch cry Skeletons Blaze let out when killed. Maybe the sound designers also had one of those ''meetings''.

The gameplay is as good as ever. Difficulty-wise not much has changed, some changes makes the game easier, like the loss of Shaft's Ghost invisibility, and some make it harder, e.g., Dracula's third phase; but overall, the same strategies that worked in the original also work here. Item crash immunity time has been reduced, preventing its abuse like in past games. Controls are responsive and don't feel like a hassle; however, it would've been nice to add more actions or combos, taking into account the extra buttons of the handheld, instead of just the basic two.

As a horrible mesh of uneven quality, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles manages to give a less than ideal experience. Maria's mode in Symphony of the Night and Dracula's new third phase are the remake's best additions, and make it worth playing. Nonetheless, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles opens the possibility of playing two of the best games in the franchise, even the original version of Rondo, to newcomers. Though worse in many aspects to the original, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles triumphs through a mix of solid gameplay and awesome unlockables.

How was your experience with the game? Leave a comment below.

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