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User Rating: 6.5 | Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin DS
Alright, so I'll start this off with a little confession. I fell for the hype, big time. Video after video of the impressive animation, remarkably well designed beginning stages, and screenshots of single areas, all of which made this game look, frankly, like the game to beat SotN.
And man oh man, we got majorly lied to.

Gameplay wise, PoR takes whats great about the series standard gameplay, and does some extremely mild edits here and there. Smooth animation, nice and loose controls, and the classic button setup. You'll have no problem with the gameplay and controls, that is, if your Johnathan. The most noteable change in gameplay that any experienced CVer will notice immediately is Charlotte. Sure, she moves nice and smooth, and has some decent animations, but come one. She has 1 single attack: Beat stuff with her books. No combos, no learnable techniques and her really powerful attacks require charging, while Johnny runs off to hit stuff. All she ever does is beat things with her books, or set them on fire. With her books.

Thats, of course, also ignoring the blatent fact that this is nothing new. We've had the exact same style, gameplay etc since 1997, and SotN. Johnathan, with a sword, controls (and hell, looks) almost identically to Alucard and Soma. With a whip, he's Richter, Julius and Juste, with a few more subweapons. Mix that in with a virtually unneeded second character (you can complete most of the game with just Johnny boy), and you get disappointment.

At least they gave the feeling of trying in the visuals department. Unfortunately, though, its almost identical to DoS, in terms of visuals. It starts out very strong, with decent variety in the rooms, and looking quite nice. Then...slowly, you get the feeling your running through the same rooms repeatedly. Then you get to the Nation of Fools, and you are literally running through identical rooms with absolutely no forms of variation. Every now and then, you'll run into a nice, flashy room with a total change of pace, that just feels out of place. Sometimes, you'll encounter rooms that change the pace with out looking obnoxious.
Hey, at least the animation and the reused sprites looks pretty.
And thats another thing. Reused Sprites and AI. Nearly every single post RoB game has had reused sprites, and had unchanged AI. Come on, seriously? Is it that hard to make a quick new skeleton sprite, or fix the AI so it wont try to give your whip a hug? Please?

Soundwise, Yamane and this Yuzo Koshiro (I hear he's rather famous) fellow did quite well. However, there is limited variety. Action seems to be the main theme in this game, as even the cutscene and shop songs aren't that laid back and relaxing. All that action sounding stuff starts to run together. Interestingly, one of the calmer pieces, Silent Prison, is used in a single, basically useless little prison like area, that anyone who's played Symphony, or more specifically, Nocturne in the Moonlight, can't help but feel like they took the chambers of Orlox quarters, and put them in an area thats as useful as the Cursed Prison. Painful, really. Doesn't even have a boss, just a little connecting area, with a really nice, calm song.

Now, imagine for me this: You have just read a summary of a really amazing story revolving around betrayal, love, trust, courage, strength and truth, with a well done fight against evil Vampires who want to take over the world. Excited, you read the story, and discover, to your overwhelming disappointment, that the writing is poor and bland, the characters are annoying and dislikeable, and the main antagonist is killed off so ****ing Dracula can make an appearance.
Say hello to PoR's story. Brilliant in theory, pitiful in execution. How sad, really.

Also, let me just take a moment to recite a few lines of the script for you.
Death: (HA-HA-HA-HA)
Brauner: (Screams)
Brilliant, isn't it? How about this:
Vincent: (ROARS) You did it! You two really are fantastic.
Charlotte: Except it was just me who did it.
The script writing is riddled with pitiful examples such as that, mistranslations (my personal favorite: "Summons four warriors", the greatest FIVE description), spelling errors, and overall poor script writing. Hooray for dislikeable characters?

At least, if reused background and bonus modes are your thing, then your in luck. 4, count em, 4 different modes: Johnathan mode, Richter & Maria mode, Sisters mode, and Old Axe Armor mode all make for impressive replay. Throw in the hard modes, and you have 12 different modes.
That is, if you can stand running through those cursed rooms over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over. And over...

Sad, really. One of the highest potentials in the entire series, squandered by both the fear of taking a risk, and the suits over at Konami not giving enough time to build a decent game. 9 months. Thats just SAD.
This whole series is beginning to feel more than a touch stale at this point, and a game with a barely noticeable difference is not going to change jack squat.