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.
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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 this point.
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…
Maria Renard, the stupidest addition to Rondo of Blood. Her very presence is just grating to me. As much as I wouldn’t mind more playable characters in a Castlevania game, this instance wasn’t done well.
If you want to know what I don’t like about Maria specifically, click the spoiler. It’s a full rant. Otherwise, the TL;DR version is, “She is in the wrong game. Konami, why?”
The Maria Rant
Oh boy. I have been waiting for this moment for some time now. I’m just going to throw this out there: I don’t like Maria Renard in these Dracula X games. Her inclusion as a playable character in Rondo of Blood feels like a big trollface to fans of the series.
Anyways, this is just a rant about her portrayal in Rondo of Blood (and by extension, Dracula X Chronicles). You can go ahead and skip it if you don’t want to listen to me bitching about an obscure video game character.
Okay? Good. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
My problem with Maria Renard is that she simply does NOT fit in this game at all. It’s like she is a character made specifically for a goofy magical girl anime rather than a video game series about whip-wielding vampire hunters fighting the forces of evil.
Even though this video features a hacked Rondo of Blood with edited audio, there’s so much wrong packed into this one minute and a half.
If I told anyone I liked this game for its dark fantasy action and showed them this clip, they’d think I’m fucking insane.
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. Furthermore, she is strangely overpowered in this game.
No, I’m serious. 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 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 a loli magical 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?
Even when Maria takes more damage and some of her sub-weapons are not as great as Richter’s, she pretty much breaks the game. This is a key example of Easy-Mode Mockery, except you’re not really missing anything while playing as Maria. You can still beat the game normally. It’s just sillier when you do it.
Yes, you are throwing DOVES at an armor-clad knight. And it still hurts him! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE!?
She calls her monster opponents “meanies.” She attacks her enemies by throwing animals at them. Even though she’s supposed to be 12 years of age, she looks like a 6-year old with baby-doll eyes. Instead of the pork chops often used as healing items in the Castlevania series, she heals from lollipops and pastries. Her Game Over screen looks like something a kindergartner would draw up.
No, seriously. LOOK.
Her animal familiars look like cartoon animals from a low-budget toddler TV show. And her ending looks like a cheesy credits scene for a kid’s anime in the ’80s.
Wow. The day when Dracula loses to a little girl with this much sugar in her soul is a new low for the Prince of Darkness. That’s kinda sad… and uncomfortably funny.
What is a Girl? A miserable pile of sweets! Seriously, I wouldn’t suck this girl’s blood even if I wanted to. I would instantly get diabetes from all that sugar.
If this were something like a Psycho Soldier game, I can kinda understand that. The game is meant to be silly and over-the-top. But why the fuck CASTLEVANIA of all series? And why is it canon?
Yes, joke characters happen all the time in video games and even end up part of canon. I can list some too.
- Dan Hibiki from Street Fighter – Made specifically to mock SNK’s Art of Fighting series, particularly the characters Ryo Sakazaki and Robert Garcia. However, Street Fighter is already full of eccentric characters. It’s just that he is one of the most eccentric. Also, he generally sucks, unless a real skilled player uses him.
- Magikarp from Pokémon – Probably one of the most famous and oldest examples in the series, considering it evolves into a really powerful beast of mass destruction.
- Yuri Sakizaki from Art of Fighting/King of Fighters – Before Dan Hibiki’s creation, her character was revamped to mock Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter, as her moveset tends to be a weaker pastiche of both characters. Despite that, she can fight on par with most characters. While SNK fighting games have a more serious tone, they still have their goofy moments.
- Gau, Mog and Umaro from Final Fantasy VI – The Final Fantasy series tends to vary from campy to serious. However, these three characters are real oddities in a game I loved. The reason is because they have special traits that completely relinquish player control over them, but somehow become quite lethal in doing so. It’s like the game is beating ITSELF for you when you use these characters. But it also restricts your control over them immensely.
The difference here is that all of these characters fit into their respective franchises, as in they’re not out of place. Maria Renard is like this instant whiplash of What-The-Fuckery. If I had played Rondo of Blood after the first few home console Castlevania titles at a younger age… I would be super confused. Look, I get Maria has some fans in the series and she would classify as the Badass Adorable trope. But what I think I’m trying to say is:
There is nothing more immersion-breaking than a Sailor Moon extra spreading her diabetes in a game about killing vampires and god-knows-what-horrors.
In other words, I don’t want sugar and lollipops in my violent game about whipping people!
…Wow, that sounded weird. Umm. Let’s try again.
Okay. Imagine if a game like God of War had a whole segment of a little girl acting all whimsical like there’s no serious shit happening. Then she confronts the Gorgons, calls them meanies, and beats them by throwing house cats at them… because the world for some reason revolves around her. That is Maria Renard in a nutshell. She is a little girl in a pink dress, which is not exactly suitable attire for combat. She attacks by throwing birds at her enemies, which is somehow more effective than Richter’s Vampire Killer whip. And she’s generally more agile than Richter. The only real downside to her is that she dies more easily, but she makes up for that with superior dodging ability.
I don’t mind more playable characters, but couldn’t she be at least made a more balanced character? What about made older and given a better personality than a bubbly little magical girl screaming, “YATTA!?” It’s like Konami at the time hired a completely different character designer who created a Mary Sue to basically usurp the main hero’s role. You just don’t do that, guys!
So here’s my theory on Maria Renard: as I mentioned, she’s a character that classifies as Easy-Mode Mockery. More specifically, the “humiliating way.” By playing as her, you’re playing Rondo of Blood in easy difficulty. She does not control like a conventional Castlevania character nor is she balanced out.
Keep in mind that Rondo of Blood is the second game in the series to include more than one playable character, the first one being Dracula’s Curse. And in Dracula’s Curse, all four playable characters have their strengths and weaknesses. While Trevor Belmont was your main character, some levels were easier to complete with the help of the other three characters. But despite that, the game was still very challenging.
Rondo of Blood threw challenge out of the window with Maria. You can complete the rest of the game with her, but it’s not nearly as satisfying to complete as with Richter. I’m not kidding when I say Maria’s ending had graphics that resembled a cartoon for infants, as if saying, “Congratulations, Fairy Princess! You have saved Sunshine Lollipop Land from the clutches of Evil Meanie Man! Enjoy this braindead credits sequence, you poor wittle baby.”
This could be a subtle message from Konami made specifically to mock players trying to complete the game the easy way. Or maybe players who complained that Castlevania was too hard for them. Or I could be reading too deeply into it. I dunno.
I know this is a petty rant and I’m probably in the minority of people who doesn’t like Maria Renard. But based on how she is characterized and how she plays in Rondo of Blood, I just can’t help but think this is an incredibly stupid addition to an otherwise great platformer. Maybe it’s just some surreal Japanese humor that flies over my head and someone thought it would be a good idea to have two clashing art styles and tones, but I don’t find it that hilarious. It just left me speechless on how surreal it is to beat Dracula (by pelting him with doves) on your first try with this kind of character and get one of the stupidest endings in the series ever.
Castlevania was supposed to be a series loosely based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other horror-based myths. Even though it can get cheesy and broody at times, it’s still a breath of fresh air with its dark, gothic atmosphere since there are surprisingly not that many games with that trait. So having this Sailor Moon reject as part of canon just doesn’t sit right with me. She could’ve been characterized better and have a less jarring art style.
And for the record, yes. I think her Symphony of the Night portrayal is much better in this regard and lets her fit right into the series. But we’ll get to that beast eventually…
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.
Still, this is not to say that Rondo of Blood is devoid of challenge. It’s just that it’s not as hard as other 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 the hell 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. 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.