These games keep getting bigger and longer! But I’ve finally finished my playthrough of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Once again we’re back in 2D land. This installment returns to the familiar “castleroid” style of gameplay hailed by fans.
At this point in the life of the Castlevania series, the timeline had grown convoluted and confusing to many. Fans had questions about some of the heroes found in a few of the games, as many of them were not part of the Belmont family. (The only family that is supposed to have the power to destroy Dracula.) This game was made to help answer these questions. Portrait of Ruin is also, in many ways, a direct sequel to the obscure Castlevania: Bloodlines.
In this title, you control Jonathon Morris – son of John Morris (from Bloodlines). You also control Charlotte Aulin – gifted mage and lifelong friend of Jonathon. Jonathon possess the legendary Vampire Killer whip. Handed down to this family from the Belmonts, he finds that, unlike his late father, he is unable to wield its power effectively.
When Castlevania mysteriously appears, the two heroes arrive on the scene to investigate.
They soon learn that the castle has been occupied by another vampire named Brauner. While he has no loyalty to Dracula, Brauner is hellbent on destroying all of humanity. Using his dark magic, Brauner has created a series of secret worlds hidden in oil paintings. Jonathan and Charlotte must explore these worlds to find a way to put a stop to Brauner’s plans.
During their journey they encounter the ghost of Eric LeCarde, friend of Jonathan’s father. They learn that Brauner has turned his daughter’s into vampires. Eric promises to teach Jonathon the secret of unlocking the full potential of the Vampire Killer in exchange for saving his daughters.
Eventually it is learned that the Belmont clan was stripped of their powers to fight Dracula until his final resurrection sometime in the future. In the meantime, any who wish to wield the whip must first earn its power by defeating the “Spirit of the Belmont”, locked away in the whip’s memory. The downside to this, anyone other than a Belmont who takes on the whip must use it sparingly or it will slowly drain them of their lifeforce. Such was the fate of John Morris.
After traversing thru a number of panted landscapes, the portrait hiding Brauner is accessible and the heroes confront him. Upon his defeat, the magic seal Brauner erected to ward off the power of Dracula is broken. Dracula is temporarily resurrected and our heroes do battle, once again sending Dracula’s spirit to the netherworld.
This game is similar in many ways to Dawn of Sorrow. However, gone are the annoying hand-drawn seals. This time the touch screen is used to send commands to the secondary character. Aside from that, you can switch the lead character from Jonathan or Charlotte at will. While Jonathan excels at physical attacks, Charlotte is adept in magical arts. There are few puzzles in the game that require quickly switching from one character to the other.
I found the game to be a nice upgrade in many ways from the previous DS title. The graphics are improved and new dual-character system makes for a fun dynamic.
1897: Dracula the novel
Difficulty: Hard – This title is about as difficult has Dawn of Sorrow. Some of the boss battles seem kind of cheap until you figure out the right combination of moves and weapons. The overall game maintains a bit of a challenge too.
Story: As I said earlier, this game attempts to explain a lot of gaps in the series. In fact, until this title was released, many of the earlier games had been retroactively removed from the timeline. Namely, titles such as Castlevania 64, and Circle of the Moon. The explanation of how various people can effectively control the whip helped to restore these titles back to their former glory. The overall story in the game is well done and the chemistry between the characters is quite enjoyable.
Originality: Just when I thought the 2D handheld style was getting old, Konami managed to pump a little “fresh” back into things. The portrait system helps keep the level design interesting. Also, new to this title is the addition of Online functionality. Through WiFi, you can purchase items for sale by other players. Thus allowing you to obtain things needed for quests that you may have missed or sold to the shop NPC by accident.
Soundtrack: Not the best, but not the worst either. This game has a pretty much middle of the road score. A few catchy tunes here and there, but overall nothing to write home about.
Fun: I found a lot of fun in this title. Playing casually, it took me about a month to complete. I spent maybe a few hours on it at first, but as I got farther into the game I did get a bit hooked and sped through the last half in just a few days.
Graphics: A bit better than DoS! The background scenes are especially well done. I was a bit impressed with over all look of the game. The anime art is clean and colorful, as is the overall level design.
Playcontrol: No complaints. Spot-on controls for a 2D game. However, I do feel it’s best played on an actual DS or DSi. I played half of this title on a first gen 3DS and found the device to be a bit too small for my big hands. I actually cramped up a few times, but this is no fault of the game itself.
Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Overall, there not anything to complain about. This is a solid title, and a long needed addition to the Castlevania mythos. This is another example of how the later generation 2D Castlevania titles really shined with each new release.
Currently available on: Nintendo DS
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