Sunday, October 25, 2009

Retro Game of the Day! Dracula X: Rondo of Blood

Retro Game of the Day! Dracula X: Rondo of Blood

Dracula X: Rondo of Blood by Konami for the Japanese PC-Engine CD-Rom, Original release was around Halloween, 1993, with no release outside of that territory (until a PSP port surfaced in 2008). That didn't stop many of us from playing it, however!

Hmm, so yes, it is October, and that being the month when Halloween is celebrated, it's a good excuse to go and double- and triple-dip into some of the myriad of Castlevania releases, I don't think it's not gone unnoticed that there's been a few of them popping up here on Retro Game of the Day lately. Well, as the month grows late, might as well get it over with and have a look at the Big Mother of Castlevania games then, eh?

This game was such a legend, in its own time and beyond, for so many reasons. It was a 16-Bit (mostly) sequel to the highly popular series which returned to it's gameplay roots (Super Castlevania IV was starting to mess with the basics a bit too much). It was a CD-Rom game, and an enhanced one at that (it required a RAM upgrade card to run). It released on a system that was hugely popular overseas, but flopped in the West, and so no domestic release. It was "ported" (with huge alterations) to the SNES, a much more popular system, but seemed neutered in the process. And the game itself looked like a labor of love on the part of the developer. All of this added up to something which people talked and dreamed about, but only those with deep poclets would get to enjoy if they didn't live in Japan. I remember seeing it at an import steel under a glass cabinet with a $150 price tag on it (and no console or CD unit, etc to my name) so no sale..

The game is your very basic Castlevania fare, before it got all.. Metroid-y. Walk, whip, jump, evade, destroy. Collect powerups to get the leg-up on your foes. Bash walls to find Pork Chops (thank you Angry Videogame Nerd). This game spun things a bit with RedBook Audio (that means it wasn't just straight MIDI music, but actual CD-Quality Audio, the likes of which no other console system could perform at the time - and it sounded incredible). Semi-animated cutscenes. And the big deviance was the second playable character, which had been experimented with in the past, but not to the same degree (she could throw kittens at enemies!). All of this added up to quite a gaming experience.

I remember the game was ripped to MP3s and distributed across the internet, and some folks were making a very concerted attempt to bring it "to the masses" - finagling playlists that would work with the compressed MP3s and play back properly thru the big emulator of the time, MagicEngine. They got fairly far with it too, until Konami stepped in and threatened to sue. I remember downloading and trying to burn it all on my 1st company's CD burner (which was before such hardware became standard issue) and nearly busting the thing, and fearing for my job! Years later I did get it running through that emulator, and save-state'd my way through much of the game, I felt cheap and decided to quit while I was ahead. Finally, several years later, I got my hands on actual hardware, shelled out for the damned RAM upgrade card, and played the thing as "it was meant to be played, " and let me tell you - it was worth it!

This game has quite an impressive history beyond all of this - it did eventually surface as a port, of sorts, on the SNES under the subtitle "Vampire's Kiss." Though far from a bad game, the port managed to be a poor reworking of it's source material and is far from a comparable experience in the eyes of fans.

Inexplicably, the game finally released as a port to Sony's PSP device a year ago. They made quite a package, rebuilding the whole game in 3D (!) and including the original PCE version as an unlockable (wha?) I have never laid my hands on the 3D version, but the screens didn't look terribly enticing to me (I strongly dislike it when they "port up" like that). Strangely, the original PCE version released on the Wii Virtual Console in Japan, but only there. Why?

All in all, a wonderful game that deserves to be unearthed and enjoyed in some format or other, the original being the best. Get your hands on it if you can - hopefully Konami will throw us a bone and finally get it out on Wii Virtual Console over here!

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