Akumajou Dracula (1993)
Castlevania Chronicles (2001)
The X68000 was a popular personal computer in Japan, though it's entirely unknown in America. However, Konami made several of their popular games for this computer. While the original disks are incredibly hard to find, a remake has been released for the Playstation. Enhancements include rendered cutscenes featuring new character designs by Ayami Kojima (of Symphony of the Night fame), new sprite artwork for the main character, enhanced music, and a more balanced difficulty level. The American release also contains an art gallery with Kojima pieces from both Chronicles and Symphony, as well as an interview with the producer.
In many ways, this particular incarnation of Castlevania is meant to be a remake of the original game. The first level is the same, the seventh level is shares the same layout (with additions) of level 5 (the laboratory) from the original title, and there's a large amount of other level designs that seem ripped straight out from CV1. There are now eight levels as well, instead of six. Additionally, there are plenty of elements taken from other Castlevania titles, like the swinging pendulums of the clock tower in CV3, or the mud zombies from both CV3 and CV4. Yet there is still enough innovation so it doesn't seem like a retread.
The storyline is just the same as the original - destroy the evil Count Dracula as you take the role of Simon Belmont. It plays the way of a classic Castlevania title - though you can control jumps in mid-air to a certain extent, you can't twirl your whip around, attack upwards, backflip or anything fancy like that. The regular four weapons are here, plus a really cool herb that will restore your life, but is fairly rare.
The visuals don't quite match the quality of Super Castlevania 4, but certainly come close. I still don't like the fact that Simon is composed primarily of dark browns, but maybe that was to keep a nostalgic look. The music, however, is awesome. There's the usual remixed tunes, plus plenty of cool new tunes (especially the boss music and level end themes.) There's a nice sound test at the beginning of the game that even has the names of the songs.
In fact, the only negative thing I can say has to do with the incredible difficulty level. Having been playing this series for years, I can honestly say this is a humongous challenge. I still haven't even beaten the fifth level myself yet, because even at this stage in the game, five hits will kill you. And you still only have four lives.
This is where the Playstation upgrade comes in. While there is an Original mode which is exactly the same as the X68000 game (even letting you choose from the three MIDI sound modules, for three different soundtracks), the main draw is the Arrange mode. (To access the alternate sound modes in the American version, hold L1 and R1 and hit start on the first title screen that lets to pick game mode.) The game lets you set the difficult level and they're surprisingly well balanced. Easy mode is so simple that your five year old cousin could play it (though they'll likely get bored anyway and play some crappy licensed title on their Gameboy Color.) Normal mode isn't too frustrating, but still poses a challenge. Hard mode is about as difficult as the original X68000 game, though still better balanced. It allows a range of players to enjoy this game, instead of only Castlevania pros.
The other changes to the PSX version are pretty minor. Ayami Kojima, character designer for Symphony of the Night, drew new artwork for Simon and Dracula, and their character sprites have been redrawn. Initially, Simon looks a little odd with reddish hair, but it's still a large step up from the original sprite (check the bottom two pictures on the left to see the Arrange version. Thanks to Protogem for these pictures.) The soundtrack has been rearranged, and most of the new music is quite good. Some of the sound effects have been altered as well. Two CG scenes show the intro and ending, though they're pretty crappy - the originaly X68000 intro is much better, and the video of Castlevania crumbling at the end is near-pathetic. Finally, once you beat the Arrange mode, you can play a Time Attack and select to play any level to beat your fastest time.
While the new music and better difficulty balance are both great improvements, I can't help but think something more could've been done to the port. I'm probably spoiled by having it emulated, but this is essentially shovelware. This is still a game made in 1993, and looks and feels a bit old (especially in comparsion to Dracula X.) However, playing it with a controller on a TV screen is far better than on a computer with a keyboard. Yet it's still an excellent title, and well worth it if you're really into Castlevania. The American release was initially available at an extraordinarily reasonable $20, but it's grown a bit more expensive on the secondary market. It's still well worth owning though.
Akumajou Dracula Artwork
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Castlevania Games - Akumajou Dracula X68000