In 1993, Konami released Castlevania for the Sharp X68000 personal computer. Except for a few stages, the game was basically a remake of the original Castlevania for the Nintendo Entertainment System with substantially improved graphics, a remixed soundtrack, and a few small gameplay refinements. Unfortunately, because the X68000 wasn't the most popular platform back in the early 1990s, very few people heard about the game, and even fewer people actually played it. For a while it seemed the game was lost in obscurity, but thanks in large part to the success of Symphony of the Night, Konami went back into its library, rediscovered the X68000 version of Castlevania, and decided that it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce the game to a much larger audience. Now, the original, as well as a slightly improved version of Castlevania for the X68000, is coming to the PlayStation this fall.
The gameplay in Castlevania Chronicles bears a stronger resemblance to earlier games in the Castlevania series rather than Symphony of the Night or Circle of the Moon. As Simon Belmont, your weapon of choice is the trusty whip, which you can upgrade twice by collecting whip power-ups cleverly hidden in candles located around the castle. Unfortunately, you can snap the whip only to the left and right while remaining stationary and downward in three different directions while in the air--a step backward from the dynamic whip system in Super Castlevania IV, which was released two years before the original Castlevania X68000.
Aiding your battles against Dracula are supplementary weapons that can also be found lurking behind candles. The traditional Castlevania weapons are there, such as the ax, cross (boomerang), holy water, and the dagger--some being much more valuable in certain situations than others. There's also a healing item that you can use to replenish some of Simon's health, but it uses the most number of hearts of any secondary weapon. By finding Roman numerals hidden throughout each level, you can increase the firing rate of these weapons--a Roman numeral two lets you throw two axes at once, and a three lets you throw three axes.
As in the older Castlevania games, the level structure is linear, so you don't take any detours on your journey from the outer walls of the castle to Dracula's hideout in the tower. The level design is fairly straightforward, but there are some memorable moments, such as climbing the massive statue of Medusa or walking along a background with a vast field and blue skies, only to see it crumble. Some old friends, such as Medusa and the Grim Reaper, are waiting for you at the end of these levels and might even hold the record for consecutive appearances in the series.
All these features can be found in both versions of the game, but the PlayStation-specific remake has a few new options, some of which are not even available in the Japanese version of Castlevania Chronicles.
A Remake of a Remake
The first difference you'll notice between the original and the PlayStation's arrange mode (other than the new CG intro) is in the Simon Belmont character sprite. Thanks to Symphony of the Night artist Ayami Kojima, Simon now sports a much more dynamic and romanticized look, complete with leather, sword, and red hair--certainly a welcomed change from the original sprite that mimicked the original NES Simon Belmont a little too closely. Dracula has also benefited from Ayami Kojima's redesign, as he now looks a little more rugged and villainous. The only other noticeable differences between the two versions are the halos on candles and the fire that appears after defeating certain types of enemies, both of which look a little more realistic. Otherwise, both games are the same visually, which is unfortunate in some cases, as a few levels and character sprites look dated. For example, in one of the later levels, the scrolling effects don't blend into the environments incredibly well.
The arrange mode also includes an entirely remixed soundtrack, and not surprisingly, it's quite good. The classic Castlevania tunes, such as Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and The Theme of Simon Belmont, sound great in the original mode, but in the arrange mode, they are much more vibrant with their near orchestral quality. Fans should be happy to know that the problems with the music skipping in the Japanese version of Castlevania Chronicles, particularly in the second level, appear to be completely eliminated. The only qualm you might have about the music is that some of the remixed tracks tend to be little too short.
Some much needed changes in difficulty have been made for the arrange mode as well. Easy, normal, and hard difficulty settings are now available to choose from. You can also designate the number of lives you start out with and can turn the time limit off and on. Despite its name, the normal mode is actually quite difficult and should cause some major headaches about halfway through the game, but the easy mode shouldn't pose much of a problem. When you beat the arrange mode on any difficulty, a time attack mode opens up and keeps track of how quickly you can finish each level.
As far as extras are concerned, Castlevania Chronicles has a few surprises, some of which are exclusive to the US version of the game. In the special options menu, there's an interview with the producer of Symphony of the Night, in which he discusses the reasons for remaking the X68000 version of Castlevania. He also answers the question of whether there will be more remakes, and he even talks a little about the next Castlevania game. The US version of Castlevania Chronicles also includes a special art gallery filled with Ayami Kojima's illustrations of the new Simon Belmont, Dracula, and some older Symphony of the Night images. Castlevania Chronicles is due out on October 9.