GameSpite Journal 10 | Castlevania: Dracula X

Castlevania: Dracula X | Dev.: Konami | Pub: Konami | Genre: Platformer | Release: Sept. 1995

Like Secret of Evermore?, Dracula X is one of those games whose reputation and legacy are almost entirely a product of the growing influence of the Internet and the general awareness of the state of gaming beyond American shores that took root in both press and fandom around the beginning of the Ď90s. The long lag that afflicted the localization of games like Zelda II and Super Mario Bros. 3, along with the fact that much of the content seen in Electronic Gaming Monthly during that publicationís early years was often lifted wholesale from Weekly Famitsu, engendered a real fascination within gamers of the mysteries of the East. Sometimes, this gave rise to a keener breadth of knowledge... but mostly it just led to lots of hurt feelings as Americans were made aware of the cool games they were missing out on.

Dracula X was the nexus of an unusually dense helping of bitterness, perhaps unfairly. Canny gamers were aware that the most amazing Castlevania game in years had appeared on the Japanese PC Engine Duo system, and that for some inexplicable reason it never showed up on its American Turbo CD counterpart -- or perhaps not so inexplicable; practically nobody owned a Turbo CD. Needless to say, Castlevania fans were relieved when the game made its way to Super NES. That is, until they played the game and quickly discovered that it was an empty husk, a hollow mockery of the original.

Dracula X: Rondo of Blood was a PC Engine masterpiece that expanded on the branching-path element of Castlevania III while streamlining the Castlevania concept with sleek, fast-paced action and vivid graphics. On the other hand, Castlevania: Dracula X -- called Dracula XX in Japan to help denote its differences -- was far less substantial. The multiple paths, secret objectives, and hidden playable character that made Rondo so mind-blowing were scrapped in favor of a set of simple, straightforward levels. It was not unlike the feeling NES Castlevania fans might have had if theyíd picked up a copy of Draculaís Curse after hearing about all its cool features in Japan, only to discover the U.S. version had been gutted and replaced with the original Castlevania gussied up in its sequelís graphics. Of course, the American release of Castlevania III was compromised, but not nearly to the degree that Dracula X was.

And yet, the thing is, itís not a bad game at all. The problem with Dracula X on Super NES isnít the game itself, but rather the nagging realization of what it could have -- should have -- been. As the only English release of a PC Engine classic, itís a crushing disappointment. As a game taken on its own merits, itís damn good. While it lacks the variety and innovation seen in Rondo of Blood, itís still a great-looking action game with awesome music (arguably better than the CD-based stuff from the PC Engine version, if you can believe it) and ball-busting challenge. Rondo of Blood is no cakewalk, but anyone who can claim to have finished Dracula X on Super NES has earned genuine bragging rights. And many of Rondoís best features were left intact for the Nintendo faithful, like Richterís considerate habit of dropping subweapons in case the new one turned out to be something bogus, like the Stopwatch.

The gameís reputation dove even further once Symphony of the Night -- the true sequel to Rondo of Blood -- arrived and made even more people aware of their loss. Now that the original Rondo is available in the U.S. in multiple versions, maybe itís time for fans to put down the torches and pitchforks and stop mustering at the gates. Dracula X isnít Rondo of Blood, and itís not a masterpiece. But itís an excellent slice of Castlevania nevertheless, an expert-level alternate take on a beloved classic. And that counts for a lot, you know?

By Jeremy Parish? | March 22, 2012 | Previous: Clock Tower | Next: Tactics Ogre