Castlevania: Dracula X
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 07/21/1995
    • US September 1995
    • UK 02/22/1996
Score: 75%

This review was published on 07/16/2015.

Castlevania: Dracula X is a side-scrolling platform video game published and developed by Konami for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released in Japan on July 21, 1995, North America in September 1995, Europe on February 22, 1996, and Australia on June 22, 1996. The game is called Akumajo Dracula XX in Japan and in Europe it's known as Castlevania: Vampire's Kiss. As a rule of thumb, never let a vampire kiss you, unless you also want to be a vampire. Dracula X was supposed to be a SNES port of the Japan exclusive PC Engine CD title, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, but this game is actually drastically different from the original, as all the stages have been completely redesigned and many features were removed. Both versions share a lot of the same graphics and a similar story, but just about everything else is different. And by different, I mean worse. Like, a lot worse. When compared to Rondo of Blood, Dracula X is a colossal letdown, disappointing fans that were hoping for an international release of the original game.

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In the middle of the Middle Ages, an evil vampire by the name of Count Dracula tormented Transylvania. The only thing that stood in his way was the Belmont clan, a family of vampire hunters that swore to protect society from Dracula. A few hundred years after the legendary Simon Belmont vanquished Count Dracula, the people grew complacent during the peaceful times and were blissfully unaware of the evil that was about to return. Corruption began to take hold of certain parts of society, filling the hearts of some men with wickedness. Just like before, the wickedness of mankind brought about the resurrection of the evil Count Dracula. Having made his way back to the realm of the living, Dracula wanted revenge against the Belmont family that defeated him once before. The Count set his sights on Richter Belmont, who was a descendent of the Belmont bloodline. Dracula sent his ghastly servants to kidnap Richter's girlfriend, Annet, and her younger sister, Maria. Determined to save the distressed damsels, Richter armed himself with his holy whip, the Vampire Killer, and set off for Dracula's castle. This is basically the same as the plot to Rondo of Blood, minus the cool anime cutscenes and voice acting.

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The graphics and music have both taken a hit on the conversion from the PC Engine CD to the SNES. To be fair, this is an understandable downgrade, because there's no way the cartridges of the SNES can match what's possible on CD-ROMs. Despite that, Dracula X does use many of the same sprites, and the color palette is actually a little better, so not everything is worse from a visual standpoint. The same can't be said about the music. When it comes to the soundtrack, Dracula X literally picks up a knife and butchers the original's work to pieces. Considering Rondo of Blood used Red Book audio to do its music, that's expected, but it still sucks big time. No matter how good the SNES sound chip is, these renditions just don't compare to the real thing. The music may sound good if you haven't listened to the original tracks, but will sound terrible if you have. Admittedly, the sound effects are better, but that doesn't make up for the poor music quality. If you play Dracula X, you're definitely getting shortchanged in the graphics and music department, more so the music.

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Richter is this game's protagonist and the main man you control throughout the adventure. By pressing buttons on your controller, you can make Richter slowly walk forward like a shambling corpse, jump like a geriatric, duck like a neutered dog, and swing his chained whip like a medieval Indiana Jones. He's also able to do a midair back flip and moonwalk like Michael Jackson. Supplementing his abilities are sub-weapons, which are found within destroyed candlesticks and consist of things like knives, axes, bottles of holy water, and boomerang crosses. Sub-weapons are powered by hearts, also found inside candlesticks, as per Castlevania tradition. Each sub-weapon also has a special attack that uses up a ton of hearts to do major damage referred to as an Item Crash. This is all exactly as it was in Rondo of Blood, but there is one major difference: Richter is the only playable character in this game. Maria was a slightly hidden character that could be unlocked early on in Rondo of Blood, but that is no longer the case here. That's a shame, because Maria was awesome.

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Stage design is the main way in which this game departs from Rondo of Blood. The stages are all completely different as far as layouts are concerned, though they often carry similar themes. For example, the first stage is still a burning town, the second one is still the castle gates, the third one is still the interior, etc. Some gimmicks have also been preserved and reshuffled to different locations, like the part where a giant dismembered behemoth chases after you. A couple of the removed stages also show up as small segments of other stages, like how bits of the bridge stage were placed at the beginning of the castle gates. Enemies are mostly the same, but have been placed in different locations. In addition to there being fewer stages, the stages are also a lot shorter, making the whole game shorter. That's sort of a blessing in disguise, though, because this game is extremely hard, much more so than Rondo of Blood, which was already exceptionally difficult. Honestly, outside of the insane difficulty level, the stage design in this game isn't too bad. It's just not as inventive as Rondo of Blood.

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Expectedly, there is a boss at the end of every stage. Some bosses are new, but most of them are old. You can kind of tell the new bosses apart from the old ones, because they aren't as good. For instance, the first new boss is a Cerberus that growls like a panther; this thing spends most of the fight off screen, you know, because that's good boss design. If you couldn't tell, that was sarcasm. Not all the bosses are bad, though. In fact, some of the old ones have been improved, like the giant bat boss, which didn't do much in Rondo of Blood, but now splits off into smaller bats when struck, and is only vulnerable during its multi-bat form. The old bosses that haven't been changed are surprisingly accurate reproductions of the originals, so that's a good thing. What's not good is the final fight with Dracula. This game makes the Dracula battle almost impossible to beat, with him repeatedly knocking you into instant death pits, and the fight takes forever. The rest of the bosses are fine, but Dracula is way too hard.

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One of the biggest features in Rondo of Blood was the fact that many stages had secret exits that led to alternate stages. That feature still somewhat exists in Dracula X, but like most things in this game, it's been significantly downsized. Specifically, it's been cut in half, because there are now only two alternate stages instead of four. The same is true for the damsels in distress; instead of four girls to save, you only have two. Saving the ladies is optional, but doing so will get you a better ending. Like Rondo of Blood, you need a key in your sub-weapon slot to unlock doors that lead to the captive gals, but the keys are hard to keep. If you die, you'll lose the key, and if you can't go back to get another one, then you're boned. Due to that, you'll need to get a key and play a good chunk of the game without dying or using sub-weapons in order to save the two girls. Also, you may miss a girl if you go to an alternate stage, so you'll have to follow a specific route to save them all. This makes the good ending a much bigger pain to get. Fewer alternate stages and fewer damsels to rescue means less replay value and less fun.

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This game is a huge downgrade in almost every way from Rondo of Blood. The graphics are worse aside from the color palette, the music is worse, there are less alternate stages, there are less playable characters, and the difficulty has been raised to ridiculous levels. Having said that, this is by no means an awful game; it's still quite playable, and perhaps even enjoyable in certain circumstances. However, if you have played Rondo of Blood before, then you won't get anything out of this version. The only reason to play Dracula X over Rondo of Blood is if you don't have access to the latter, but even then, this is far from an adequate stand-in. Castlevania: Dracula X may very well be one of the most disappointing Castlevania games of all time, though it's not the worst.

Word Count: 1,509

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