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Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review

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Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami
Release Date: December 5, 2006 Also On: None

Just about 15 months ago I was whipped with Konami’s Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, which was at the time and still is one of the best Nintendo DS games. With its only flaw being a severe lack in touch screen support, Dawn of Sorrow was a game that even the most jaded gamer would have trouble complaining about. Just weeks ago, Konami released their second DS Castlevania, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Does this second attempt manage to replicate the same greatness of Dawn of Sorrow?

Jonathan, who’s inherited the Belmont vampire hunting mumbo-jumbo, is joined by spellcaster Charlotte in yet another journey to explore Dracula’s castle and defeat the bloodsucker himself. The pair finds out that Dracula isn’t the big boy in charge, however–that would be the daunting Count Brauner, who’s filled the castle with enchanted portraits that take Jonathan and Charlotte to different worlds. Jonathan and Charlotte have to stop Brauner and his minions. The story is very Castlevania-ish and won’t surprise anyone who’s played a game in the series before.

Two characters can be controlled at once on the game screen. Jonathan primarily attacks with weapons found throughout the castle, while Charlotte uses magic abilities that can be found randomly in the souls of defeated enemies. You have the option of playing with just one of the two characters or both at the same time, and both styles of play yield different benefits. Playing with two characters requires you to watch out for the health of the CPU-controlled second character, which is actually represented by the Mana bar that also limits your magic attacks or skills. If the Mana bar depletes, the second character disappears and you continue on normally with a single character. This system works but I felt at times that it made some battles too easy. Castlevania has, for years, been a game where even a single large enemy posed a huge threat. Now, with two characters attacking at the same time, that’s not such the case.

Still, everything looks and feels just right. Both characters control very well and special attacks are done easily with a simple button combination. Throughout the game you’ll find all sorts of special abilities that allow you to move around the environment even more than before–just like in every Castlevania, getting the double jump ability opens up a large amount of real estate, and it’s quite exciting to find any new ability. I’ve always put Zelda, Metroid, and Castlevania in similar places for their adventurous progression; it isn’t until you find a new item or ability that you can truly proceed or unlock every nook and cranny. I like this design, it’s simple but still forces you to look around and play with everything.

Replay value is extended beyond the normal kill-the-boss-and-proceed progression of past Castlevanias. You can now accept mini-quests and side missions to earn special moves, weapons, and the like. Some of these side quests are very simple, but others aren’t explained well and will have you searching high and low through every area of the castle just to complete. The rewards are well worth the trouble, making this distraction a worthy addition to the game.

Portrait of Ruin, like Dawn of Sorrow before it, has beautiful 2D visuals with a ton of detail. Enemy sprites seem to have several layers that react independently, making the animation that much better. Some of the 3D effects used are very, very nice, like 3D enemies and backgrounds. The only thing I’m starting to like less and less is the anime character style. What happened to the gothic style of Harmony of Dissonance, Circle of the Moon, and Symphony of the Night?

Overall, Portrait of Ruin is a good game that doesn’t outdo its predecessor but definitely deserves some attention from action, adventure, and Castlevania fans. In future Castlevania games I’d like to see Konami tinker with more 3D effects and less anime-inspired art, and I’d also prefer if they’d stick to a more traditional design. The portrait idea was cool but just seems like a cheap way to introduce levels that are dramatically different than Drac’s castle. So the final word: it’s good, even great, but not as good as Dawn of Sorrow.

Graphics: 9.5
Sound: 9
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 7
Replay Value/Game Length: 8
Final: 8.5
Written by Cliff Review Guide