Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was a true classic that was exclusive to Japan. But today’s game market and tech allows us to play it easily.
|Purchase (Castlevania Requiem for PS4)||Purchase from PlayStation Store.|
|Purchase (PC Engine)||Purchase from eBay.|
Ah, the TurboGrafx-16… I mean, the PC Engine. What a great name for a video game console, right? Sounds like you’re fitting a big ol’ engine inside a computer—did AVGN make that joke already? Well, shit.
So for those who don’t know, the TurboGrafx-16 was a console from Hudson Soft and NEC in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was credited as the first 16-bit console, eventually competing against the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis. And as you can expect, it didn’t last too long and faded into obscurity. At least, in the United States. It flourished pretty well in Japan, to the point where a followup system known as the PC Engine FX came into existence.
If you’re ever feeling adventurous, I highly recommend exploring this console’s library. It’s home to a large variety of great games, easily making the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine one of the most underrated game consoles in the world.
Case in point, it has one of the best Castlevania titles in the series called Rondo of Blood. And yes, this was the game that Dracula X was based on. The interesting thing about this game was that it was made for the PC Engine’s CD unit called the Super CD-ROM², which came into direct competition with the Sega CD. And how well did those CD units do financially in the past?
Well, the Sega CD is perhaps the most well known of these add-on accessories. It sold over 2 million units, compared to over 30 million sold Sega Genesis units. Not even 10% of Sega Genesis owners back then owned a Sega CD. Let that sink in for a moment.
So of course, the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine’s own CD unit did not stand a chance, making the games requiring the unit into rare collectibles. Old copies of Rondo of Blood sell around $200-300 on eBay at the time I was writing this.
Wow. Gaming is expensive, people.
The Belmont Clan Rises Again
For those already familiar with Castlevania: Dracula X on the SNES, Rondo of Blood is the predecessor game that first starred Richter Belmont, the descendant of Trevor and Simon Belmont. The differences between these games are as obvious as night and day. Dracula X was clearly trying to be a different product, with short but intentionally more difficult levels. Rather than being a port of Rondo of Blood, it was more like a watered down remake. But what made Dracula X one of the weaker classic entries is its harrowing cheapness when it comes to the difficulty.
Hit detection? What the fuck is that? I don’t know no hit detection!
So, short answer: yes, Rondo of Blood is a much better game than Dracula X. But how so?
Rondo of Blood is the tale of Richter Belmont, who is considered to be one of the greatest vampire hunters in the Castlevania series. After Dracula kidnapped his lover Annette, Richter went on a journey to rescue her and defeat Dracula. But along the way, Richter must confront Dracula’s two lieutenants: the reaper himself known as Death and an evil sorcerer named Shaft.
Come to think of it, this is probably one of the series’ most epic premises. I mean, you start the game off by fighting Death while riding a coach through a stormy night. Then you’re at a town on fire, where Dracula’s minions hunt down and murder people. And it’s up to your badassery to save the people of the Transylvanian countryside.
But that’s right after you get to see some rather cheesy anime-esque cutscenes.
Oh my god. The ’90s anime cheese levels. You could make wonderful queso out of all that.
Rondo of Blood plays very much like your average Castlevania game, though Richter does have some distinct advantages. He can easily jump onto stairs, which is super helpful. By double-tapping the jump button, he can do an evasive backflip—which helps sometimes. And his sub-weapons are better overall, having better attack range and handling than that of past Castlevania titles. But you know what the best part of these sub-weapons is?
By using the Select button when you have a sufficient number of hearts, you can use the Item Crash ability. This is basically a super attack that makes you temporarily invincible and its effect differs depending on which sub-weapon you’re carrying. For example, the holy water sub-weapon would cause a torrent of holy water to rain down on enemies, causing devastating damage to enemies on screen.
Admittedly, this ability can be quite overpowered and make the game significantly easier. That’s why I don’t use it that often during my playthrough. I’m a sadomasochist who doesn’t like taking the easy way out.
The 2D sprites are excellent for the time. They’re smoothly animated and blend well with the nice, detailed backgrounds. Any fan of Castlevania will appreciate the amount of work that goes into the look and feel of this game.
The soundtrack is one of the best the series has to offer. While there are some obligatory remixes of past Castlevania first stages (i.e. Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, Beginning), Rondo of Blood’s original compositions are great to listen to.
Very much like Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on the NES, there are alternate routes in between levels. There are two main paths that split from stage 1, but you can easily change paths by finding the right exit. In the above screenshot, the top path is the “default” path that the game will try to make you take. But if you search for the hidden exits hard enough, you can play levels from the bottom path—named stage 2′, stage 3′, etc. The good news is that there is a stage select option, so you can easily backtrack to any level without restarting from the first stage.
There are also four maidens hidden throughout the game, with the sole purpose of unlocking a slightly different ending. And most of them are in pretty secretive areas. Not really worth rescuing them in my opinion (I’m a heartless monster), unless you want to watch the additional cheesy cutscenes or get 100% completion. I like to think of those moments as Richter collecting his own harem.
But hey, you also get a new playable character!
Oh god no… please don’t…
I’m not a huge fan of Maria Renard by any means. She’s pretty much the imouto (little sister) character you find in a lot of Japanese media, sort of like Chibiusa Tsukino (aka “Rini”) from Sailor Moon. Her default personality is kawaii :3 and she has a bratty side if she doesn’t get her way. And her grating voice certainly doesn’t help matters.
Oh lord, this cutscene is so stupid! Everything from the cheesy dialogue and the bubbly music feels so out of place. If I told anyone I liked this game for its dark fantasy action and they saw this clip, they’d think I’m fucking insane.
And she’s in a Castlevania game of all things. Up to this point, we had muscular whip-wielding vampire hunters, thieves, magicians and even a dhampir as playable characters. Here, we got a little girl in a pink dress yeeting doves at monsters’ faces.
You thought I was joking, weren’t you?
Yep, she THROWS the damn birds at armored knights of all things! And they die very quickly. I don’t even…
And look at her unique game over screen. I never thought I would see this in a Castlevania game.
You could make the argument that Maria is a joke character just thrown in for cheap laughs, but she is actually part of Castlevania canon. In other words, THIS IS MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.
Furthermore, she is strangely overpowered in this game. She is pretty much better than Richter Belmont in almost every conceivable way in Rondo of Blood. Let me list them out.
- Maria’s default attack is much better. She can use two quick attacks in succession that are like throwing boomerangs, and they’re each as powerful as a single attack from Richter’s legendary Vampire Killer whip. She can also attack while MOVING, which is a massive advantage.
- While some of Maria’s sub-weapons aren’t as good as Richter’s (the turtle one sucks), they’re not entirely useless. I would dare say the dragon sub-weapon is better than any of Richter’s projectile sub-weapons because of its large hitbox and how fast it is.
- Maria is more agile, both on ground and air, than Richter. She even has a double jump. She even has this bizarre belly-flop move that lets move even faster, which looks as ridiculous as you think it does.
- Maria’s hitbox is smaller, making it more difficult for enemies to hit her.
- Maria has a special attack that can be performed with up, down, right, left, II. This gives her a ranged melee attack.
Richer Belmont, one of the best vampire hunters in the world? Pft, my ass. Just send in an inexperienced little girl to do a better job. She can singlehandedly defeat the Prince of Darkness by throwing doves at him. What do we need a monster-busting whip for?
Did I mention she’s supposed to be 12 in this game, even though she looks like she’s way younger? Most 12-years old I’ve seen in my childhood were already swearing up a storm, while this character calls Dracula a “meanie.”
Yep. I’m done.
Well, hey. Let’s look on the bright side. We get to have some amusing moments on Dracula’s expense!
No truer words have been spoken…
Are you fucking kidding me? This is a load of bullshit!
Alright, moving on.
Army of Darkness
If you had already seen my review on Dracula X for the SNES, I would like to make it clear that some of that remake’s strengths were still present in Rondo of Blood. The regular enemies have improved AI, allowing them to use different attacks for different situations. The bosses change strategies and attacks as they take more damage. It’s a hectic game where you must constantly adapt to get by.
Best yet, Rondo of Blood doesn’t have the deliberately unfair level designs and poor hit detection that Dracula X got. Good. I didn’t know what they were thinking when they added those…
Despite that, I would dare call Rondo of Blood one of the easiest classic Castlevania titles. The reasons are that the levels are more straightforward and tend to be long hallways of enemies. Richter’s sub-weapons and their associated Item Crash abilities can make regular enemies and bosses significantly easier—if you’re playing as Maria, you might as well just skip to the ending. She’s just double-jump her way to the boss room.
Still, this is not to say that Rondo of Blood is devoid of challenge. It’s just that it’s not as hard as older Castlevania titles. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the levels themselves are quite interesting to explore. Aside from the traditional castle interior levels, you also get to explore the Transylvanian countryside with some nice backgrounds and unique enemies. Plus that rockin’ soundtrack will keep you playing all night long.
And before I conclude the review, I should discuss the Dracula final battle. Despite what some fans of the series may say… I think this battle is better than the one in Dracula X. The main problem with that particular boss fight is that it isn’t necessarily more challenging. It’s just more tedious, because of how big the arena is and how there is an easy way to beat him.
But in Rondo of Blood, both of Dracula’s forms are nearly identical to how you fight him in the original Castlevania for the NES. No kidding. With some minor differences, they’re pretty much the same battles. And if you had fought these forms before, then yes. These battles are pretty easy. Otherwise, I consider them more bearable than the ones used in Dracula X.
So there you have it. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine is an excellent entry in the series, with great gameplay, graphics and soundtrack. And in spite of my little nitpicks with the game…
No, you get out of here!
It’s a game truly worth playing for any Castlevania or platformer fan. Of course, it’s not a widely available game and you would have to be one rich mofo to snag an original PC Engine copy. Your best chance to playing it is through the…
Wii’s Virtual Console service well, hopefully, you have a PS4 for Castlevania Requiem. And of course, you can play the PSP remake called The Dracula X Chronicles.
Castlevania: Rondo of BloodPrice Varies
- Major improvements to controls and sub-weapons compared to past Castlevania games.
- Improved enemy/boss AI over past Castlevania entries.
- Excellent graphics and animations for a system of its current era.
- One of the best soundtracks in the series, which is saying a lot.
- I may be in the minority for this, but the character Maria Renard irritates me for how out of place she is in this game.
- The cheesy anime cutscenes can break the immersion. You can easily get a cheap laugh out of them.