Thursday, September 28, 2023

‘Castlevania: Rondo of Blood’ Remains an Inspiration, 30 Years After Its Release

With Netflix’s Castlevania: Nocturne looking like it will continue the success of the previous animated series, it’s probably not a coincidence that its inspiration, 1993’s Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Long considered one of the best, if not the best, entry in the series, Rondo of Blood paved the way for greater things for the series after its release. Even today, the game still remains an enjoyable romp, and is far more accessible now than it was back when it was released.

Set in 1792, Dracula has once again been resurrected. With the help of the dark priest Shaft, Dracula kidnaps four women on behalf of Dracula. One of those women is Annette, the beloved of 19-year-old Richter Belmont, a descendent of Simon Belmont. Richter sets out with his family’s Vampire Killer whip to rescue the four women, but also to destroy Dracula once again.

Released for the PC Engine CD in Japan, Rondo of Blood marked as a transitional entry between the classic Castlevania games, and what was eventually to come. For one, Rondo‘s art shifted from the series’ Gothic roots to a distinctly anime-influenced style. Fans were also treated to an increase in cutscenes, this time fully voiced (albeit initially in Japanese). The prologue showing Dracula’s resurrection, and the intro cutscene of Richter suiting up were perfect examples of Konami showing off the new style. That shift in style also brought with it increased detail in the graphics and animation. So much so, that many of the Rondo sprites were recycled for Symphony of the Night.

The expanded space provided by the CD format also allows for a greater variety of enemies and bosses in Rondo. We have the series standard in Skeletons, Bats, Mermen, Medusa heads, Flea Men and so on, but they now include several variants. On top of that, Richter has to contend with larger foes such as the Golems, Maneating Plant, Great Armors, Harpies and more. Likewise, the bosses battles also change it up from the usual fare that players had experienced up to that point. And for you classic fans, there’s a return of the first Castlevania bosses in a boss rush late in the game.

As an added twist, the bosses will unleash a unique final attack before dying. It won’t actually kill you, but it’s that desperation that adds a nice bit of flavour to the fight. Plus, if you’re looking to get the bonus 1up if you beat the stage with no damage, this will definitely mess with you.

The increase in graphical fidelity didn’t just end at the sprites, as the entire game was (and still is) a glorious thing to behold. Before the game even begins proper, we’re treated to Stage 0, where Richter is racing in the rain towards the town of Aljiba that’s been besieged by Dracula’s forces. Combined with the several layers of foreground and background scrolling, the sounds of the horses and the wind, it’s an incredible way to kick the game off. And of course, the sequence was tweaked and reused for Alucard’s entrance into the castle in the following entry.

From there, we arrive at the town (which is the same town from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest), which has already been burning. Along with the burned-out houses, you can see the heat waves in the background from the fire that’s still burning, along with the embers rising in the air. It was absolutely amazing to see this sort of detail back then, and it’s still impressive even today. The quality only continues from there, with the subsequent stages having either small touches (like the moths that hover around the lanterns in Stage 3), to others being huge (like the Behemoth that crashes through the castle wall to pursue you in Stage 2). All of this detail just makes Rondo a joy to experience and play, just to see what cool stuff the artists snuck into the game.

Rondo also continues the alternate paths mechanic that we first saw in Castlevania III, but expands it further by giving you alternate routes within the stages themselves. For example, if you break a certain wall in Stage 1, and you’re able to travel from the burning village to an underground water area to battle the Water Dragon as the end boss instead of the Drake. From there, you move on to Stage 2′, which puts you on top of an Aqueduct. If you stayed on the original path and beat the Drake, you’d move on to Stage 2 in the Cemetery. Either path results in you having to go through seven unique stages that eventually end up in a fight with Dracula, but to truly experience the entire game, you need to take both paths. Luckily, Rondo allows you to save your progress once you’ve beaten a stage, allowing you to travel back to a stage you’ve beaten to try and find the alternate route.

Those alternate routes are necessary, since in order to beat Rondo of Blood in its entirety, you’ll have to rescue the four maidens who have been hidden in the stages, and can only be accessed by grabbing the key from one of the candles. One of the maidens is Maria Renard, a distant relative of the Belmont clan. Rescuing her will allow you to play as Maria, who has wildly different play mechanics from Richter.

For his part, Richter maintains the mechanics from the first three Castlevania games. He has same windup delay with his whip, and can’t control his jump in midair. Richter can control his momentum slightly with his jump, but also has a new backflip that can be used to avoid enemy attacks. Rondo also marks the first time that you can use an Item Crash in a Castlevania game, giving your subweapons a more powerful attack at the cost of more hearts. There are also no more Multiplier blocks, so you’re allowed to throw as many items onscreen as you have reserved hearts. You also now drop your current subweapon if you pick up another, allowing you time to decide if you want to keep your current weapon, or stick with the new one.

As mentioned, Maria plays very differently from Richter. Her main dove attack is quicker and attacks twice, and she’s able to double jump and slide. Unlike Richter’s subweapons, she uses animals (turtle, cat, cardinal and dragon), which correspond to the four mythological creatures appearing in the Chinese constellations. Maria also has a hidden Guardian Knuckle special attack, which precedes Alucard’s spells in Symphony. As a trade-off, Maria is weaker than Richter, and will take more damage from foes. Still, her faster movement speed and attacks make the game much easier to play.

And obviously once again, you can’t talk about Castlevania without mentioning its music. Thanks to the CD format, Rondo of Blood gave fans a Red Book Audio soundtrack for the first time, and giving the series one of its finest soundtracks ever. Composed by Akira Souji, Keizo Nakamura, Tomoko Sano and Mikio Saito, much like other aspects of Rondo, there’s once again a shift when it comes to the music. Rondo’s soundtrack largely moves away from the orchestral aspects of previous soundtracks in the series, giving several of the series’ favourite songs were given new arrangements. The soundtrack also gave fans more memorable songs such as “Cross a Fear”, “Slash”, “Den” and “Bloodlines”. Used during the final fight with Dracula, “Dance of Illusions” would go on to be reused in Symphony, as well as future entries.

The only real downside back when Rondo was released was its exclusivity. The game was available only in Japan, requiring fans to have to shell out from the back for gaming magazines for imports. Not only that, but it was released for a system that was being crushed in North America by Sega and Nintendo, keeping it in fewer hands. It wasn’t until Konami remade the game in 3D as Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for the Sony PSP in 2007 that a greater number of fans got to see just how good it was. This version of Rondo was slightly altered from the original, adding in new dialogue scenes, as well as a requirement for you to find and save Annette earlier in the game, or else you would face her as a boss later on. The original version of Rondo of Blood, complete with translation and English dialogue, was hidden on the disc as an unlockable extra. Of course, you can now play this original version of Rondo, alongside the Dracula X Chronicles‘ version of Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation 4 as Castlevania Requiem.

Saying that Rondo of Blood was a game-changer for the Castlevania series is cliché, but it’s also true. It’s a masterpiece in design, with that pull that keeps players coming back for more to explore and discover something new each time you play. Rondo helped to move the series into its Metroidvania phase, which love it or hate it, reinvented the series and kept it going. And obviously, it gave us even more decades later with Castlevania: Nocturne. Even if you’re not a fan of Castlevania, Rondo of Blood deserves to be played at least once to see one of the very best action sidescrollers ever made.

The post ‘Castlevania: Rondo of Blood’ Remains an Inspiration, 30 Years After Its Release appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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