Gameplay, Story and Value:
I don’t want to say that Castlevania: Dracula X gets a bad rap, because I don’t know that that’s true, but I definitely think it’s criminally underrepresented as the game that simply “isn’t Rondo of Blood”
This is too bad, as Dracula X is really an excellent game, and one that would lay the groundwork for Symphony of the Night both stylistically and to a lesser extent mechanically.
You play as Richter Belmont in his quest to slay Dracula who has once again risen appeared in our world. The core gameplay is classic Castlevania, almost to the letter. The item system is improved, both by allowing you to pick up your old weapon if you accidentally grab a new one, as well as in the introduction of Item Crashes – super moves with different effect depending on the item used at the cost of several hearts. Item and whip upgrades are also gone ensuring you spend less time finding your chain whip and cheesing candles, and more time playing the actual game!
New to the arsenal is a backflip dodge ability which can be activated by double-tapping the jump button. Monsters and bosses are more complex this time around, ensuring you’ll need to make use of this technique to stay alive. Combat is fast, fun and feels really great especially when factoring in the responsive controls and faster item attacks.
Some stages off branching paths which result in you fighting entirely new bosses, or just skipping levels entirely! This adds both a bit of replayability to the game, as well as a slight sense of exploration.
The series established difficult makes its return here, and while the game is manageable for the most part not all of the challenges feel entirely fair. The best example of this is that enemies tend to guard the ledge somewhat frequently in this game which can lead to some very frustrating encounters. In one instance I had to move back and forth between two screens to stock up on hearts, just so I could use holy water on enemies that were otherwise impassible. Of course you should also expect to get knocked off many platforms by bats, birds, Medusa heads and other horrible flying creatures.
One great new feature is how Richter interacts with stairs. For the first time ever you can jump off of and on to stair ways, as well as force fall through them! In addition, you now have a little bit of control over your jumps after leaving the ground. All this results in a platforming experience that feels much better than in previous games in the series.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
While Dracula X doesn’t do as much with the hardware as, say, Super Castlevania IV, it still establishes an excellent visual style that would carry on into future Castlevania games. Sprites are large and colorful with fluid animations, and there’s an excellent contrast between the bright, bold characters and dark, haunting environments.
The soundtrack to this game is absolutely fantastic and deserves to be played loudly and live on just about any device that plays music. Every stage sounds phenomenal, and while the sound effects themselves are pretty standard Castlevania fare, they fit in perfectly with the rest of the game.