If you are a fan, definitely check this one out. However, if you are not, I still recommend it as it is quite fun.
Portrait of Ruin is the second installment of Castlevania on the DS with the first being Dawn of Sorrow and the most recent one being Order of Ecclesia. As you might have guessed, this game takes place during World War II in 1944. It continues the story of Castlevania: Bloodlines as you play as the son of the hero in that game, Jonathan Morris. That is not all though as you also control a mage by the name of Charlotte Aulin. Jonathan is relatively energetic and more based on physical combat and as you would expect, Charlotte is book smart, usually ends up explaining a lot, and is more based on magical damage. As you begin your adventure into Castlevania, you will encounter two other characters pretty early on. Vincent, a monk who will be serving as this game's merchant, and the enigmatic character simply known as "Wind". He offers quests that you can fulfill in exchange for certain weapons, spells, etc. You will also find that since Jonathan is not a Belmont, he cannot use the Vampire Killer to its full potential, at least not yet. The game does not take place entirely in the castle. It also takes place in various portraits of different areas. For example, one of the areas is in a pyramid. These portraits are serving the needs of one of the game's antagonists, Brauner. He claims to be the master of the castle and uses these portraits to gather power for his own needs. He is not alone as he is also joined by his daughters, Loretta and Stella. It is also worth noting that he has no interest in reviving Dracula, but, there is another party who is interested in reviving him, and that would be Dracula's long time ally, Death. Overall, the plot is actually pretty decent considering these games have been telling the same relative story for a long time and it actually felt pretty fresh to me.
The game follows the well-established "Castle-roid" or "Metroidvania" formula in that most of the castle/portraits are open to exploration as long as you can access it. One thing that makes this different from the other two on the DS is the fact that you now control two characters instead of just one. It is true that in "Julius mode" in Dawn of Sorrow, you could control up to three characters, but, what makes Portrait of Ruin different is that you can have both characters on the screen both attacking at the same time. However, you essentially still control one character as the other will be controlled by the AI. Both of your characters are equipped with different types of weapons and armor to help you deal with your enemies. Jonathan can use swords, whips, spears, and many other various melee weapons. His sub-weapon is mostly the ones you see in other Castlevania games such as holy water, the cross, but, it also has different ones too such as a kunai. Charlotte uses weapons called "Tome of Arms" which is essentially a book that weapons come out of. However, you will likely not be using her for that. You will be using her for her sub-weapons which are all her spells. They vary in charge time, but, the longer you charge, the more effective the spell will be. She can use gale storms, lightning, and even summoning a salamander to dispatch your foes. The pair also have an attack that they perform with each other.
This is what is called a dual crush in which both characters will perform an ultimate attack at a large expense to your magic gauge. However, this varies depending on what your currently selected character has equipped for their dual crush. I really enjoyed the fact that you cannot get through the game entirely with just one character. There are some enemies that are strong against physical attacks, but weak against magic and vice-versa. This makes it so that you must switch between Jonathan and Charlotte for the enemies at hand. This is especially the case with the some of the bosses. Some of them, you can just wail on them with either character, but, some require a little strategy. For example, the one boss will allure Jonathan if you have him out during the fight and he will start attacking you. Also, you will need to have both of them on screen at times to get by some areas in the game such as jumping off of the other's shoulders to get to higher areas. You can also have your partner assist you in combat with the magic gauge doubling as their health bar. You can also make them use their sub-weapon by using the R button. I really enjoyed how the two character feature did not feel tacked on and I feel it added a lot to the fun of this game. Basically, if you played one of these games already, you will feel right at home. If you are looking to get into this series, this is a good a place as any. It is much like most of the games after Symphony of the Night as the formula has not changed that much. However, I have to admit. This type of game is starting to get tiresome as it is essentially the same with a few tweaks and additions. The main game will not take you that long to complete, but, there are many things to do outside of that such as the sidequests offered by Wind, or, as with every Castlevania, there are many areas to explore and many hidden items to discover. One final note is that the game does not make use of the stylus controls that much. The only time you may use it is if you decide to play the game with one of the bonus characters as their entire gameplay is based off of touching the screen with the stylus. That being said, I never felt that using the buttons hampered the game in anyway as it controls really well.
Portrait of Ruin's graphical style follows its predecessor on the DS, Dawn of Sorrow. All the characters' portraits are still done in the same anime-esque style and for this game, I think it works well. The game is colorful and it looks great in motion. However, I do have some complaints. I thought it was fun that you are not in the castle the entire time as there are many diverse areas in the portraits as well. These areas are all different until the final ones which I was disappointed to see again. For example, early on, one of the portraits is based on Egypt and later on, you run into the same type of area. While it is not the exactly the same, the style of it is which makes it boring to be going through the same type of area. It is not the only area which does it either. Another thing that is starting to bug me with this series in general is the fact that you see the same enemies from previous games. This would not be as annoying if their sprites were different, but they are not. Some of these enemies have been used since the SNES days. I think it is time to redesign some of these enemies. Thankfully, the bosses all look different with exception of the extra ones which were directly taken from Dawn of Sorrow, but they are optional. Overall, the game looks fine, but it is starting to get tiresome with many reused enemies and some backgrounds.
Castlevania is known for having great and memorable background music to go along with the action. This game does have some decent music, but I cannot say it was all that memorable. I do not recall any of the tunes being stuck in my head, or going out and searching right away to listen to the song again on the internet like I have done in the past. However, I must say that as much as I like some of the older Castlevania songs, it was nice to not hear "Vampire Killer" or "Bloody Tears" remixed for the twentieth time. Do not get me wrong, I like these songs, but I do like to hear some original ones as well. The enemies in the game will yell at you, grunt, or howl. On the player's side of things, Charlotte will call out the names of the spells she is using and Jonathan will grunt as he uses his weapons. I never found any of these to be annoying and did not hear any that felt out of place. The sound in this game was nothing special, but it was not bad and does not distract the player from the action.
In conclusion, this game is a welcome addition to the series. It brings the familiar "Metroidvania" formula and makes some additions to it, but I have to say, it is starting to get stale. The addition of the portraits is a breath of fresh air to get out of the castle in a sense, but even then, I do not feel it is enough. The game does offer some replayability in the form of additional characters you can play through the game as. There is a boss rush mode which is exactly what it sounds like in that you run through most of the game's bosses and try to get the lowest time possible. If you are a Castlevania fan, definitely check this one out, I doubt you will be disappointed. However, if you are not, I still recommend at least giving it a try because even though it is relatively the same as the others, these games still remain fun.