If you would have told me that a Castlevania game would never see a release in America back in the day I would have called you crazy. Yet that is precisely what happened. Konami gave the PC Engine a great deal of support in Japan however that never manifested in the US. The decision to create an exclusive Castlevania for the system seemed strange to those of us in the US. Its status as a Japan only title only made it that much more mysterious. Unfortunately it would be decades before the majority of gamers would ever get their hands on Castlevania: Rondo of Blood.
At one point in time Rondo of Blood was one of the most sought after import games of all time. It sounds strange to say that now but back in the late 90s when most of us were either too young to have jobs or in college paying north of $100 for a game was expensive. That desire mixed with lack of money lead to an insane level of hype that no game could match. So in the end did it live up to the hype? In my opinion yes. Dracula X: Rondo of Blood in my opinion is the best all-around game for the system and one of the best in the series.
Richter is a much more agile protagonist than most of his family members. Where Castlevania IV might have gone too far in raising Simon’s mobility Rondo of Blood strikes a nice balance. You don’t have full control in midair but you can somewhat move around once airborne. Richter is equipped with a back flip which is handy for dodging attacks. All of the numerous whip tricks Simon could perform are gone here and while excessive are missed. However the game is balanced around their absence.
The various sub weapons have been redesigned. The knife is….still useless although it is slightly better as you toss three at once. The holy water pours out a trail of fire rather than a stationery flame. The holy cross stops and twirls before coming back; if you time it correctly it can inflict extra damage. Sadly it bounces off stronger enemies to balance it out. These are joined by the holy book which produces a brief rotating shield. More important than anything however is the item crash, a super powered attack that sacrifices a number of hearts to use a souped up version of your current sub weapon. Nearly all of these are awesome and destructive and with skill can turn the tide of a battle.
The best way to explain why Rondo of Blood is a classic is that it is the series perfected. This is a slightly faster paced game while still maintaining the “feel” of Castlevania. The level design is superb and the game is filled with more variety than three similar titles put together. While it pays homage to many of the best moments from prior games it has just as many of its own. And it is packed with content. While any given run is only comprised of seven stages there are actually thirteen in all. Almost every level has an alternate path to discover leading to a second route through the game filled with unique enemies and bosses. The main path takes you through the castle while the alternate route explores the outside grounds mostly. Since there isn’t a timer anymore you can explore to your heart’s content.
As if the game weren’t enough incentive to play this more than once there is even more. There are four maidens hidden throughout the game. Rescuing all four awards a different ending but more importantly if you find Maria she becomes a second playable character. The thought of playing as a little girl might sound silly but Maria and her animal familiars are game breaking and have an easier go of it than Richter. Combined with the numerous alternate levels you’ll be spending quite a bit of time with this one to see all it has to offer.
The series has a reputation for being pretty punishing yet I found Rondo to be fair overall. It could be Richter’s increased mobility but a lot of the more frustrating elements have been toned down. Medusa heads are not too common and there actually aren’t as many bottomless pits. In fact most of the time these lead to alternate paths through the game! That isn’t to say that it’s easy. Stage 5 is a grueling gauntlet against five consecutive bosses with only one chance to heal in the middle. If you play as Maria it is essentially easy mode as she is grossly overpowered. Think of it as a reward for taking the time to really plumb the game’s content.
Although the Turbo Grafx is 16-bit for many it lagged behind the SNES and Genesis due to the lackluster Western library. Rondo of Blood puts such talk to rest as Konami made the hardware sing like no other. The CD space is used to great lengths with numerous cutscenes, voiced dialogue, and a red book audio soundtrack featuring excellent remixes of some of the best songs in the series. The variety in background art is staggering; some stages feature as many as three or four completely different tile sets. The bestiary is incredibly large; it’s so big there are plenty of enemies who only appear once or twice! What I’m basically saying is there are only a handful of titles that can compare to this on the platform. If you want proof of what the Turbo Duo is capable of this is it.
What a truly amazing game. I coveted Rondo of Blood for years and when I finally managed to play it it beat all of my expectations. Very few action platformers reach this level and if you are even a slight fan of the genre you need to buy this now. Luckily you no longer need to pay exorbitant amounts of money to sample its greatness as the game has been re-released on a number of platforms. Don’t miss out on one of the best games ever made.