I’ve never really gotten the old school Casltevanias. Sure, I played the first two on the NES, but the first was too hard for me at seven years old and the second was too inscrutable. I watched other people enjoy them and recognized their excellence, but I was never able to really enjoy playing Castlevania. At least not until Symphony of the Night turned the series into exploratory action-rpgs. Those games, while varying greatly in quality, were exactly my thing. I ate those GBA and DS up.
Oddly enough, though, I’ve never played Symphony of the Night, probably the most celebrated game in the series and the originator of the half of the series I really like. Unfortunately, by the time I got a Playstation, Symphony was already hard to find and expensive. Plus, I had yet to realize how much I like that sort of game. It has been a game on my “to play” list for most of the last decade. A few years ago I bought the Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP to make up for this. However, until recently my PSP was a time-share that I rarely got to take advantage of. So I still didn’t have the chance to play it.
A couple of weeks ago, I determined to make time to play it and was greatly disappointed to find out that I had to play Rondo of Blood to unlock Symphony of the Night. However, I buckled down and got to playing it. The result was shocking. I unlocked Symphony in about 30 minutes, but I kept playing Rondo. For some reason classic Castlevania clicked with me this time. The low poly 3D models look like crap next to sprites from the original version, but the game still plays just about as well. It helps that Richter has a slightly more robust move set than is usual for a Belmont. That backflip makes a load of difference once mastered. I played the first few levels to unlock Symphony. After that, I was purposely, methodically taking the game apart. I’m still not all that great at the game, very few of the levels were beaten without continuing, but for once it seemed worth it to me to learn them. And with the exception of Stage 5′, I beat them all.
Rondo of Blood is just a great game. It is difficult, but not unfairly so. It is not about rote memorization, but about learning how to deal with each kind of enemy then dealing with those enemies in different situations. Each victory is hard fought and feels earned. It also helps that the game saves your progress and lets you start from any level you’ve reached. Which means no repeating early levels over and over to get to the harder ones. It also helps with uncovering all the extra paths and finding all the hidden secrets. It is a great game.
I almost neglected to mention the best part: playing as Maria. In the game Richter must save a handful of captured maidens. One of them, Maria Renard, is a playable character. While all the horror imagery from the game stays the same, playing as this little girl in a pink dress turns the whole thing into something of a joke. She easily outclasses Richter’s mobility, having a double jump and a slide technique. Instead of his assortment of knives and axes to throw at enemies, Maria is armed with birds and kitties and a big turtle shell to hide in. She doesn’t find meat hidden in the walls, she finds cake and ice cream. It is absurdly hilarious. She is the best bonus character I’ve ever encountered.
I wanted to be sure that my new found appreciation for Casltevania was not just this game, so I downloaded Super Castlevania 4 on my WiiU to try it out. I was delighted to find that my groove from playing Rondo transferred over. I haven’t beaten it yet, but I’ve sped through the first five levels. I’m liking it enough that I’m thinking of getting the NES games too. Probably not until I’ve finished Symphony of the Night, which I’ve finally started.