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October 31, 2013
Happy Halloween! ...ish! The description was late, butt he video was right on time... I guess! ...probably would've been better if I'd had the forethought to have a project like this going on throughout October rather than cramming its (and another one's) beginning into All Hallow's Eve. Then again, all my other Halloween projects were really just happenstance that I took credit for after the fact... and possibly admitted that it was just convenience rather than contrivance...
Anyway, let me just get one thing out of the way first... this is my favorite classic-style Castlevania game... ever. Like... it has everything there is to like about the series roots and then it cranks it up further. It looks, sounds, and feels good... and, most importantly, it plays like a champ, too. Old-school sensibilities, ahead-of-its-time technology, branching paths, and all-around nearly perfect balance... the only "downside" is that this is still classic-style Castlevania, so it won't be pulling its punches.
This game has a complicated history... uh... in the real world. Castlevania as a series has a complicated history of its own, but this one is somewhat less complicated than usual, although we'll get to that as well in a bit.
This game was developed for the NEC/Hudson Soft joint venture into the console market, the PC Engine... known outside Japan as the TurboGrafx-16 (or simply "TurboGrafx") ...or perhaps UN-known, since it only saw a very limited-scale release internationally.
As a result, the library of internationally-released TurboGrafx games was pretty small, although the console itself was in fact region-free, so you COULD still play this one if you could get your hands on a copy. Naturally, "Castlevania: Rondo of Blood" was actually only released as Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo... "Demon Castle Dracula" still to this day being the series title in Japan, the "X" representing the tenth game Konami made pertaining to Dracula and his in-Japan-eponymous Demon Castle, and the subtitle "Rondo of Blood" (or "Circle of Blood" ...or if you want to get REALLY technical, the "Circle" is actually written such that it could be read as "Rinne," the endless cycle of death and rebirth... which seems appropriate enough for the series)...
Anyway, that seemingly extraneous X that so dramatically places itself in the original title which does not transfer in the official title translation is probably to save confusion with what DID see release internationally, a SNES port called Castlevania: Dracula X (Vampire's Kiss in Europe or Akumajo Dracula XX in Japan... yeah, that's not going to be even MORE confusing or anything)...
That said, Dracula X is not really a direct port per se, because there's a pretty big jump down in terms of storage capacity from the PC Engine disc-based games to the SNES's cartridges. I'd call it more of a "remix" of Rondo at the best of times... and at the worst, I'd call it a "romhack"-grade retread. Basically, it crams as much of the game resources as possible into a smaller package and "compensates" by making it Super Kaizo Bros. hack level artificially hard and frustrating... and throw in some Guide Dang It secrecy if you actually want to beat it "right" and earn your happy ending. Assuming you even knew there WAS a happy ending... or a sad one, for that matter... very little is stated or explained and you would be rightly excused for thinking all you needed to do was get to the end and beat Dracula.
But that's not this game! This game is better! Enough ranting and gushing, let's get into Rondo of Blood!
So... first thing that definitely bears mention... the opening narration is in German, and the subtitles are in Japanese. Maybe someday, if I like you guys enough (but more because I'm a huge linguistics geek), I'll add in some annotations for translation's sake... but basically we're being told that in the midst of peace lulling people into a false sense of security, sinister forces conspire to bring back the lord of darkness. Which... if you can ignore the silly smiles the guys we see here are wearing, this is a ritual designed to revive Dracula. For whatever reason, we can't see the most important player in this ritual, but we'll have time to get to know him later.
The speaker goes on to describe some of Dracula's traditional powers straight from Bram Stoker's version and warns us that the lord of darkness is now upon us.
Curiously, the Virtual Console version of the opening uses the new narration added to the enhanced remake on the PSP... there was a different (but still German) narrator to the opening on the original PC Engine version.
What unfolds besides is the once incredibly groundbreaking technical feats of LIMITED ANIMATION! ...seriously, stop laughing! It WAS! (This also shows that Dawn of Sorrow wasn't the first to apply this drawing style to Castlevania.)
Stage 0: Prologue
Barely a "stage," Death has come to taunt Richter and give him a taste of what's to come.