CASTLEVANIA CHRONICLES / Konami / Playstation
Castlevania Chronicles is a bit mystifying if you fire it up without knowing anything about it in advance. Here is this game, released four years after Symphony of the Night and seven years after Rondo of Blood, and yet it looks and plays like something from the 16-bit era! And on a Playstation CD! The reason for this is that it is basically a port of a remake of the first Castlevania game, which was released originally back in 1994, and then only for Japanese PCs.
So the game is basically a remake of a remake, but not much seems to have been added or changed. I have not played the PC original, but an in-game interview with "Iga" claims that the play control has been tightened up a bit, and Simon's ability to whip downward while jumping is new. The levels hew to the basic structure and bosses of the original Castlevania, but a lot of stuff has been expanded and tweaked around with. For example, the second level now ends with a Treasure-esque raft ride on rising water as you dodge fishmen and have your raft continually tipped to one side or another.
There are two modes of play - Original and Arrange modes. Both give you the same game, both allow you to save at the end of every level, but Arrange mode gives the game a whole new set of music, apparently re-jiggers some of the enemy and hidden item locations, and makes Simon look like Nei from Phantasy Star. As you progress in Arrange Mode, you also unlock concept art for a picture gallery viewable off the main menu.
The original version came out roughly around the time that Super Castlevania IV came out for SNES, which is yet another remake of the first Castlevania, and the two games are comparable. Simon here looks and moves much like he does in the SNES game, but without the ability to whip upwards, swing on stuff and twirl his whip. The old-schoolness is kind of frustrating after getting used to the fluid Alucard; even Richter's humble complement of extra abilities seems like a vast improvement over this guy. The game is, consequently, very challenging. The ability to save every level seems like it would make it a cakewalk, but some of the levels and bosses are so tough you'll be stuck for a good bit anyway. The problem is that the level design is really so-so here, as compared to past Castlevania greats; most of the difficulty comes in the form of cheap hits and cheap instant-death traps.
It doesn't look like the graphics got a whole lot of enhancement; even for a 2001 release this game looks very dated, more like something from the mid-90s. The backgrounds and sprites are not unpleasant, but lacking in that fine detail and "wow" factor that the best CV games delivered.
The one area that really shines is the music. In that aspect, the game is like discovering a wonderful time capsule from the Konami Kukeiha Club; since they were the go-to squad on Castlevania back in 1994 when this originally came out in Japan, the soundtrack is all theirs, and it has been retained un-messed-with for the most part. It's also a big one, since there are different pieces for each level for Original and Arrange modes; and there's a nice sound test for each mode to check out all the songs up-front if you so desire. There's a lot of remixes, and on the whole I wouldn't say it is one of their best, but it is consistently very good, and there are some gems in there (such as the Doll Tower song, which would not see a revival until the recent Order of Ecclesia).
The music and the infrequent cinematics are the only things I can effusively praise, since they are old-school Golden Age of Konami all the way, and those who enjoy such atmospheric vibe might want to check this one out for that reason alone. Honestly, though, the game itself is pretty mediocre. It is far from the worst Castlevania game, and has some fun bits, but it also has some long, uninspiring stretches and really seems like a disappointment after the bar had been set so high by Rondo, Symphony, and even Bloodlines.
* Gameplay Video