Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Turbografx/PC Engine 1993)

This rare gem is the Castlevania made for the “PC Engine” console in Japan. The reason it is so uncommon is because it was released only in Japan and only for the PC Engine CD add-on which was expensive and not as popular as the SNES in Japan. A copy in good condition is being sold from around 160$, 110GDP or 150EUR. The PC Engine CD itself will then cost you about 350$.
You can burn that cash, or just buy it on the PSP/Wii virtual console 🙂
UPDATE: The game is available as a part of the Castlevania: Requiem on PS4 but beware of the input lag! It is not game breaking but certainly is noticeable. And the Wii VC is of course closed so only modded Wii’s can play it
Let’s see if it is worth the hassle!

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“Akumajou no Dracula: Chi no Rondo” menu

In Rondo of Blood we play as the young, strong and handsome lad Richter Belmont. Dracula is brought back by the dark priest Shaft and his evil servants. It seems like Dracula will always come back if there are still wicked people in the world…
Draculas’ minions are attacking nearby towns and meanwhile Dracula kidnaps four girls(maidens), one of them being Richter’s girlfriend. Richter then of course has to fight through Draculas’ minions , save the girls and slay Dracula once again.

And daaaamn does this game start off cool! Since Rondo of Blood is released on a CD for the PC Engine there is space for some wicked cool anime like cutscenes. Another benefit of the CD is that the music files are big and proper so the tracks sound amazing.  When the first stage theme “Bloodlines” or “Opposing Bloodlines” starts blasting you can already see that here we have a pretty cool game. Richter looks great and the background in the stages looks amazing. My first impression was very good to say the least.

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Stage 1. The first town from Simon’s Quest, i thought that was pretty cool.

Ok, I start playing and you notice something right away. No 8-directional whip, no defensive whip stance and less control of Richter in the air (although it is more control than in the NES games). Now is this a bad thing? Yes and no… If you read my review on Super Castlevania IV(SCIV) I am not very fond of the 8-directional whip, at least not combined with the level design which made the 8-directional whip broken.
How you can control yourself in the air in this game is a healthy middle for me between SCIV and the NES games. You cannot change your jumping direction in mid-air like in Mega Man but you can turn around and whip back. You have the regular jump and then a shorter jump plus a backflip that can sometimes be useful but not very often. The backflip looks really cool so it makes you want to use it more than you should. The sad truth however is that it is very situational.
I would have wanted to keep the defensive stance though. It did not break SCIV and it did very little damage but it helped with birds and bats and flea men that are annoying and hard to hit. The hit box for the only one-directional whip in Rondo of Blood feels smaller for me than in earlier titles so hitting these small annoying enemies can be a bother. I would have liked them to either make the hit box a bit wider or keep the defensive stance or maybe have both.
As in SCIV you can jump and land in stairs so they won’t give such a horrible time like in Dracula’s Curse but these mechanics feel a lot better in Rondo of Blood than in SCIV.

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Bosses look great, are fun and very challenging

Being a PC Engine game it is limited to the controller that has the same amount of buttons as the NES so we go back to pressing up+whip to use the items. I don’t mind this personally and technically SCIV didn’t really need the extra buttons but it was nice being able to use a weapon without accidentally start going up stairs like can happen in this one and the NES games.
So yes, Richter can be a little too stiff for some, but if you are having trouble or get frustrated with it you can always just unlock Maria the little vampire hunter girl and give her a shot. She can double jump, change directions in the air, slide like in Mega man 3 and she has a boomerang attack that is easy to use. In the more platforming focused stages she is the “easy mode” choice over Richter and sometimes she kind of breaks the game as she can double jump on platforms too high for Richter and skip big parts of some stages. Richter however has more health and is the stronger fighter. Some say that Maria is the easy mode of the game but I feel like both characters have their strong points and it depends on the situation and stage which character is the easy mode.
She has her own set of items instead of the normal knife, holy water etc. She has a platoon of cute animals like birds, cats and a dragon which are fun to use. Unlocking Maria is however optional and most players probably will not find her on their first run unless you are being pretty thorough and get a little lucky.
Even though I unlocked her on my first run I still decided to beat the game with just Richter and I found the difficulty to be high but satisfying.
Both characters have the cool and highly satisfying “item crash”. The item crash is a kind of a super attack you have for each corresponding sub-weapon item you have at the time. These are fun to use, very useful against bosses and a great addition to the game I think. They use up a bunch of hearts, so you better stock up before some of the tougher boss battles.
All this makes up for an expertly crafted Castlevania game that ranks among the best in the series. The stages are expertly crafted, the  controls are smooth but just stiff enough not to lose its “Castlevania” identity, enemies are varied and fun, platforming is solid and bosses are badass but fair. Extremely fun game all-around, addictive and challenging. I just keep coming back to this game it just has this great game feel when all these factors are combined.

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Little cute girl vs. Death

Rondo of Blood is less difficult than Dracula’s Curse and the NES original but more difficult than SCIV. Unlike SCIV, you will die fighting in this one, not platforming. If you fall into a pit you will most likely just have to go a longer, alternative route instead of just dying, this I think is awesome. The pits and the more direct routes lead to the “normal” way of beating the game but dodge the pits and finding some secrets will lead to to the alternative stages. The difficulty is engaging enough to be fun, and rarely gets frustrating. This is a delicate balance the developers got right in Rondo of Blood.

map
Stage select of a completed Rondo of Blood with the 4 alternative stages being the 4 red squares in a straight line at the bottom

There is not just one fork in the the road like the map suggests but you can go criss-cross between the routes since all stages have 2 exits with different bosses.
All these stages are beautiful and expertly designed in my opinion, everything from sprites to backgrounds looks amazing. So amazing that they felt they could use most of these sprites in the PS1 sensation that was Symphony of the Night which is a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood.
The music makes you feel so good in this one, it has kind of a jazzy feel to it mixed with the older gothic themes and it has a few original hits like Bloodlines and Opus.13. The game’s earlier stages boast some of the best remixes of the classic NES Castlevania tunes you can find. Normally I would not praise a game for having 3 older tunes in the game but the Rondo of Blood versions of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears and The Beginning are absolutely insane! These are the go to versions of the tunes I listen to on my mp3.
One great thing about this game is that you can save your game! Yes finally you do not need to input a password! A big plus for a game this old.

Here is a detailed longplay… Take a look for yourself ***contains spoilers***

The gameplay is fantastic, it looks, feels and sounds amazing and the task of the alternative stages, unlocking Maria, saving the other girls and getting that elusive 100% clear of the game adds up to Rondo of Blood probably being the best classic Castlevania game ever made. You will probably end up completing everything in the game more than once if you are a Castlevania fan like me. Playing the game is that much fun! This is the coolest Castlevania game out there by far and I just keep coming back to it.
Overall I think Rondo of Blood is such an amazing game that it’s a shame that it’s so hard to reach. Like I said a PSP version exists. It is actually a remake but inside the remake you can unlock the original game (and Symphony of the Night) and it plays the same as the PC Engine original but you are going to want to play the game on a big screen with good sound. So either go to the Wii virtual console, get a translated ISO and burn it on CD yourself. The PSP remake version is still  a very solid purchase if you ask me. Great remake of a masterpiece!

Gameplay 9,5
Visuals 9,5
Music and sound 9
Lasting appeal 9,5
Is it fun? 9,5

Overall, 9,5 a masterpiece!

Thanks for reading!

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