I remember the final years of the PlayStation One as being particularly dreadful. Once Sony stopped giving a damn the flood gates opened with legions of budget titles flooding store shelves. We were subjected to shovelware the likes of which the industry had never seen before. But among the mountains of craps some genuinely good import titles finally came to the US. Konami took a chance and ported a previously little known remake of the original Castlevania to the system in 2001. Castlevania Chronicles was one of the better budget releases during that period and while it doesn’t hold a candle to the later titles is still good fun overall.
Castlevania Chronicles is an interesting release. The original was released in 1993 for the Sharp X68000, a popular PC format that saw many perfect arcade ports of Capcom titles. As a remake of the NES game you can see what has been updated and expanded on. It even boasts a level or two from Super Castlevania IV as well as some original content. Obviously we never saw it over here and Sony’s lax attitude at the end of the PS One’s life probably made this possible. Overall it’s a solid release although it is far from the series best.
As far as gameplay is concerned this is pretty much identical to the original. It does borrow a few pages from Castlevania IV however. Simon is a little more mobile and can move while airborne. You can’t whip in every direction but swing diagonally downward. It’s a weird exception but allows you to be a little more versatile. It also avoids the game breaking whip antics of the SNES game. All of the primary weapons return with one lone addition. The laurel restores some health at the cost of six hearts and is invaluable. Unfortunately it is very rare, which is to be expected.
The level design is where Castlevania Chronicles deviates from the original the most. Most of the stages from Castlevania have been brought over but in some cases heavily redesigned. Any prior knowledge only goes so far as most of the hidden items and such don’t exist or were moved. As much as they have changed things around you can see where they borrowed entire stage elements or sequences from prior games. It almost seems like a remix rather than a remake at times. But there is just enough new content to avoid that label. For one the game is longer at eight levels versus six. Every stage is notably longer as well. The new levels are generally excellent, fitting within the flow of the game and offering their own unique challenges as well.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the series’ notoriously high difficulty. Castlevania Chronicles is a brutal game as was the original, but this might be worse. Life restoring meat is incredibly scarce to the point of being non-existent. Once you’ve taken damage you are more or less screwed. It makes the life restoring leaf that much more important, too bad that item is exceedingly rare. Players of the original Castlevania will remember the sharp spike in difficulty once you reached the fifth level and fought Death. As this game is longer that point occurs sooner and lasts longer. This one will take true skill to complete, the kind that only series’ veterans possess. And if you can believe it the game gets harder each run through, up to eight times! Who is even crazy enough to do that?
For those that can’t cut it arranged mode was created for novices. Here the difficulty curve is more gradual and never reaches the height of original mode. There are less enemies overall which is a god send in certain areas. It can definitely still pose a challenge of course. The werewolf is still a difficult encounter regardless of the mode. But it never reaches the level of original mode. To be honest arranged mode feels a little too easy in my opinion but I say that as a veteran of the series.
The main reason Castlevania Chronicles exists is for its redone graphics. When compared to the original it is definitely an improvement. There are added layers of scrolling and detail all around. The various new enemies fit the game perfectly and there are certain elements that look picturesque. It doesn’t look as good as the 16-bit games but was pretty for its time. Arranged mode is where the lion’s share of the game’s additions went and honestly it is disappointing. There’s a new CG intro and Simon has a redesigned sprite based on Ayame Kojima’s art. The remixed soundtrack is also excellent as well. That being said you can still tell this was a low budget project. They shouldn’t be compared but coming so many years after Symphony of the Night you kind of expected more.
In the end Castlevania Chronicles is still a solid title. As one last take on classic Castlevania it is a nice throwback but falls pretty low on the list of essential titles in the series. Its light on extras (a small art gallery and developer interview) but you essentially have two games here so it evens out. Go into it expecting a retro vibe and you will be rewarded.