"It has been decreed that Dracula shall only rise from his grotesque slumber every 100 years. Pity then poor Simon Belmont, who has been burdened with no less than four battles with the demon. As many times as Simon has willed himself to fight, so too has there been some loophole for the Count to slip through after his defeat. His body nearly broken and his heart in tattered shreds, Simon's fatigue is metaphorical for that of the game; this game kills him and his legacy with its own lethargy. And..."
It has been decreed that Dracula shall only rise from his grotesque slumber every 100 years. Pity then poor Simon Belmont, who has been burdened with no less than four battles with the demon. As many times as Simon has willed himself to fight, so too has there been some loophole for the Count to slip through after his defeat. His body nearly broken and his heart in tattered shreds, Simon's fatigue is metaphorical for that of the game; this game kills him and his legacy with its own lethargy. And then it tramples on his grave with an insidious smirk.
Chronicles is the rerelease of an X68000 computer game brought out around the same time as the Japanese Rondo of Blood (1993); its original incarnation was something of a rerelease as well. You see, Chronicles, then known simply as Akumajo Dracula X68000, was basically a smattering of rehashed Castlevania elements slapped together and shipped to the shelves for the computer in question. Rather than arriving as a keen mixture of the series' greatest moments, it instead steps backward from the first game, with none of the controlled intensity or precision of the earliest offerings.
The Original Mode is Konami's offering of the game in its pure X68000 form. A challenging affair, to be certain, but one of enormous design flaw.
Immediately, you find yourself at the door of Dracula's Castle, just as Simon found himself seemingly ages ago in Castlevania, and just as John Morris did in Bloodlines. You trudge through the zombie-infested mess only to discover little difference between this level and its appearance in the first game. Defeating the boss demands you press on to an underground level mimicking the design of Super Castlevania IV's cavernous expanse. Although, it is here where you discover the largest problem with Chronicles' formula: it borrows and plagiarizes ideas from its previous incarnations, but fails to even decently capture the ingenuity that made them so playable in the first place.
The insipid caves are a sparse assortment of pathetic precipices and stalactites. Traversing the level is more a matter of work than joy, picking up slightly with the rising water in the latter part of its otherwise boring landscape. The flooding does little to quench any thirst for gaming pleasure, though, as the dull caves soon give way to a desolate third level, a garden reminiscent of the fifth level of Bloodlines. Naturally, it fails to excel like it would in Bloodlines, especially since it curiously leads to another underground encounter (this time with oddly placed ice), but its boss is easy enough to destroy. It's on then to a remake of Castlevania's second level to masquerade as this gaming mistake's fourth. And on to another discovery: the game's control is bad.
If you are on or near stairs, bet on death. Death from above, death from below- you will watch your life meter dissipate, followed soon by your patience. The always intimidating Medusa heads will fly at you like frightening Kamikazes, never before so dangerous; bone-throwing skeletons will aim perfectly for your ascent up the stairs, where you will be utterly without option. Life meter reduction seems brutally enhanced as you watch your chances at success evaporate. Should you avoid climbing the stairs at all, you'll find yourself continually stepping up them accidentally as you futilely attempt to maneuver around them; this robs you of valuable seconds of combat, making you nothing more than a target for the devilishly unfair enemies. But what is this fourth level in a game so poorly handling stairs? It is flights and flights of stair climbing, the game all the while victimizing you with its neanderthal control. You cannot jump off of them. You cannot jump onto them. You take each step slowly and turning is awkward and impractical. And the enemies are right there to take advantage of this macabre collaboration of poor control and poor level design.
Curiously, Simon has the ability to control his jump in midair, a feat not seen in the first three games and certainly out of place in a game of such backward thinking. He can also whip downward while airborne. Rarely do these abilities come in handy- Akumajo Dracula X68000 is not a game of challenging platform manipulation. What these are are wasted implementations of unrefined concepts. What good is whipping downward with no upward swing to balance? Little, especially since it seldom proves worthwhile in even the most appropriate situation. It is better to take your lumps and play this as it was designed: a botched remake with several once-great concepts burned to the dirt.
Same dead horse, new coat of hair. The Arranged Mode puts fresh paint on a game already not worth the effort of playing.
Whereas the Original Mode's Simon looks as if he is wearing practically nothing, the Arranged Mode's Simon comes spruced up with clothing and magenta colored hair. Since Simon, the box cover boy, used to come sporting blond locks and Simon, the game hero, used to banish evil with brown, it is only fitting that Simon, the star of a mediocre game, would eventually get around to donning such a wig. Other than this noticeable, ghastly cheveux, the Arranged Mode touches up a few graphical areas worth noticing, such as the SOTN-esque bleeding statue area of Medusa's level.
Differences between its own internal divisions aside, the whole game is pretty attractive. At times, it looks better than both SCIV and Bloodlines, and at times it looks worse. It struts large objects and pictures around effortlessly, such as the huge portrait in the first level. By a reverse token, it often employs eyesore tile constructions, such as the darker backgrounds of the same first level. The bosses are well animated, as is Simon himself (although his idle pose is the same garbage used in SCIV). It is a shame he moves so lethargically; it is an attractive and determined plodding otherwise.
Regardless of any graphical headway made by Chronicles, the game turns very sour with its mixture of Castlevania music. The Original Mode contains some of the worst incarnations of classic Castlevania tunes imaginable; think of songs like Bloody Tears and Wicked Child performed by 80s crap-rockers Roxette, and you'd be halfway there. The songs have been molested with a wretched techno influence, ruining their once flawless ambience and tarnishing their worth as thematic pieces. The Arranged Mode is another disgusting collage of abhorrent mixes; here songs are rendered with drum & bass nonsense in addition to other blasphemous modern techno elements. An acceptable rendition of Bloody Tears is about the only track worth listen on this disc of aural death; short as the version might be, it is still a decent, symphonic composition.
But even though music is integral to a Castlevania game, a soundtrack of epic grandeur would do nothing but cause lament for its misplacement on this disc. Chronicles is simply not a good game, Castlevania or no. The fifth level, the trademark Clock Tower inspired gallivant, is the best this Chronicle sees, and you have to drag yourself stiffly through four preceding levels of malcontent mediocrity. Chronicles is the rerelease of a collection of poor rehashes; this alone should state the overall quality of the disc. I've yet to play a Castlevania game as absolutely worthless as this, this pointless port of a pointless game. There are several obscure Castlevania games worthy of a new chance at life; this is the furthest from that dignity I could imagine.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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