Verdict:- What can I say!? Rondo of Blood flawed me with its excellence in execution...
This is the greatest game the franchise has ever known. To not play it, is to literally have missed out on something truly remarkable and spectacularly special.
All the hyperbole. Because this game is a masterpiece.
Second Opinion:- Transbot never liked the original Castlevania for the NES, he also does not appologise for that statement, it was slow, clunky and everything flickered all over the place.
When the franchise is discussed it's games like this one and the stunning Megadrive version that make Transbot smile all over his robot face because this game is poetry in motion. Everything about it is perfect, it's so good it makes Castlevania IV look like an Atari Jaguar game, yeah you heard me.
Get this, play this and love this or don't come back here. Transbot will not say this a second time!
Transbot Scores:- 9 out of 10
Now, don’t get it twisted. The Sega Mega-CD aint the only sassy little CD-ROM add-on we have much love and appreciation for here at RetroGameGeeks. Oh, no! In fact there was one released a good time prior for a system that took Japan by storm, stalled thanks to the mighty Genesis in the USA and was practically unheard of in PAL regions. I’m chattin’ on the PC Engine CD-ROM²/TurboGrafx-CD. The game that is to be reviewed however, was even more limited in the sense that it was released exclusively to the Japanese market. But don’t worry, Turbo chums! As let’s not forget, NEC weren’t never ‘fraid of no region-locking their discs! So import away and let’s play, y’all! Why?
It’s CastleVania time!
Now, if you read that and say: ‘Olly, you’ve obviously gone a bit loopy, as this aint a Nintendo…WTF you on about!? LOL’. First off: shut up, your face (and take note of Jam’s review of the tremendous CV title on MegaDrive/Genesis which I would once claim as my favourite in the series). Konami may have always favoured the Big N for one reason or other, but that never stopped the third-party giant from producing flagship titles for other systems. D’uh!
This particular review is of course for Akumajo Dorakyura X: Chi no Rondo (or as we dirty Westerners call it: CastleVania: Rondo of Blood), published/developed by Konami (of course) and released in time for Halloween in October ’93 (Japan only) touted as a Super CD exclusive. Which, it was; until Konami butchered their own product with a patchwork remake that we all know as CastleVania: Dracula X on the SNES. But believe me, if you’ve played that, you certainly haven’t played this. Rondo of Blood is the real deal, in more ways than one.
Simply put, Rondo of Blood is the kind of game that remains as fresh as the day it was released, which is ironic considering all the rotting corpses about in the game itself. Unlike Bloodlines/New Generation, this is firmly rooted within the franchises canon. It’s really as you’d expect, however, which is good and/or bad depending on your personal fandom of the series. You’re a Belmont, Dracula’s still a douche, so you gotta go slayin’ some minions to save the folk you love. Some of the folk that the dastardly Dracula has abducted includes Richter’s girlfriend, a nun and a doctor’s daughter. No, that wasn’t leading into a joke. One of those captives however is Maria, a young girl you can play as once rescued, breathing fresh life into the situation, with here strange abilities to control animals and whatnot. She’s a witch! Burn her! Sorry, obviously been hanging around in Salem too long (get it? Lulz). Anyway, it’s mostly standard as all heck in terms of plotting (though surprises are definitely present), but that’s where the standardness ends.
As presentation? That’s where it’s at. Fully utilising the system for which it was made, the game features really rather cool, semi-animated cut sequences to flesh the story further. Trouble for me is, I don’t speak German nor read Japanese, and so I’m pretty screwed there. But don’t let that put you off! As video games (as their format titling should suggest) are a visual medium and if you can’t get to grips with what’s going down, on at least a basic level, you should probably put the controller down. It aint for you, kid. The system itself allowed for use of Red Book audio, much like the Mega-CD and Konami were wise enough to combine it with the standard chip support, which elevates the sound design to a whole other level far beyond what many rivals could reach at the time. The general level design is rather linear, but everything feels perfectly placed. Even the menu’s cool, with the skulls replacing dots in the player name entry boxes. It really is the little touches that put this over the edge, but I should really come back to some of that later. Yet, just believe me. The presentation is immense
The best example I could possibly give of you immediately knowing you’re in good hands, is the way Richter Belmont is rockin’ the horse and cart, before ATTACK. Stupid Death, always getting in your way and shiz! The fact no music is playing, with the heightened sense of tension, coupled with the glorious graphical features of the sprites on screen, the flashes of lightening and the sound of the frantic hoofs of the horse. It’s seriously great. It took me a back. I truly wasn’t expecting this epic kind of opening, following a flashy cut sequence that intro’d the game. This is all before stage 1 actually begins!! Props, Konami. You’ve won me already.
Thrown straight into the proverbial deep-end, you need the controls to be tight. Thankfully, they are. Richter handles like a dream and takes away any bad memories of any slow-plodding CV titles. There’s no 8-way whippin’, but it’s really not needed here (bar perhaps with the likes of crows, etc. who can be a reet pain with their relentless squawking (yes, I know, of all enemies to have given me trouble…SHUP!)). There’s no running, so only one pace, but that’s standard fare, too. But all the right stuff you need? Jumping off of stairs (no-one likes cheap deaths, Konami), feeling comfortable in manoeuvrability with pin-point directional’s and solid hit-detection. Everything is just so, well…perfect. Really, it is. The turbo buttons don’t go a miss, either, in making quick work of evil doers! Pro-tip!!
The game features multiple branching paths with its hidden stages for you to find, which adds to the replay value for sure and the game features a few firsts for the series, too, such as the secondary weapons at the players disposal. This is called Item Crash/Item Crush, or something. I know, bad journalism, but it’s your own darn fault for coming to one of my reviews! Anyway, get the axe and go crazy. It’s limited, but freakin’ awesome. Much returns from previous instalments, giving a revitalised sense of familiarity within the cleverly designed main stages. Let’s not forget the resurrected bosses from the original titles by way of Shaft. Sassy! The whole game could be seen as fan service to an extent (hey, it was the tenth game in the series it had its right to be), though when it’s done in such a way that it feels so original at the same time, it matters not; as it leaves enough meat on the bone for newcomers jumpin’ aboard the stagecoach for their very first ride.
Graphically speaking, overall: it’s pretty much the best thing ever. No gimmicky, overused Mode 7 non-sense, no Konami showing off for showing’s off sense; just accurately sized sprites with the occasionally impressive use of scaling, scrolling and most importantly colour palette. The way it all works is creating a beautiful looking game with a real sense of depth and grand scale. Sure, still moves board-to-board, but that never hurt nobody. For a system many dog for its “faux 16-bit” marketing, this CD iteration of a CastleVania title goes out of its way to smack the competition in the face with a big ol’ wet fish. Just, that fish happens to be a shark. With lasers. Because Rondo of Blood looks amazing. Simples.
The soundtrack is quite simply outstanding, with wonderful renditions of familiar tunes and some rather funky new ones that’ll have you humming along with the game as you press forward with your quest to send Dracula back to rest. The sound design is really rather special and some I would actually rank high enough as to be in (possibly) my top ten, all-time. I really can’t put over enough how tremendous the audio all is. The ambient tracks, the music and the sound effects are all so close to perfection it’s unreal and unfair that Konami have had a hard time ever topping what they presented the world (well, Japan) with here. Nothing I can type will give it justice. It’s just…Oh, gawsh.
Many CastleVania diehards rank Rondo of Blood very highly, with a good chunk of them claiming this to be the best of the series. While I would once honestly state Bloodlines (more gore than the PAL one, so Bloodlines all the way) beforehand and was hesitant when Megatron’s_Fury asked me to play and review this absolute gem (as requested by an RGG Twitter follower, so thank you, too!), I can safely say that this (at least retro-wise, I haven’t played anything since the N64 abortions) is the very best example of what makes CastleVania great and why when Konami do it right, they do it soooo right.
Of course, the direct-sequel to this was Symphony of the Night; the first of the so-called ‘MetroidVania’ titles which was the direction the 2D side of things would go with the franchise, is also another game in the series highly praised. Personally? Rondo of Blood, all day. It’s all that and a bag of Wotsits. Throw in some Skips, too. It deserves it. That said, SotN is much more accessible, but you can get localised remakes for the PSP and Rondo of Blood has since been re-released on the Wii Virtual Console so there is more opportunity than ever to snap this up. Honestly, you’d be a fool if you didn’t. It’ll set you back if you wanna go original with it, as the disc fares a pretty penny these days. But remember that import note at the start! And there’s always other means to obtain it…I SAID NOTHING!! Alas…
Rondo of Blood is the perfect CastleVania game. There is no equal.