Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review
Vampires are one of the most known villains in the world of horror films. You could probably walk up to anyone on the street, ask them who Dracula is, and they could instantly tell you that he’s a vampire. Sure, some may not know all the history behind Dracula, but I’d bet everyone could tell you where he lives.
Early on in the life of the NES, a game came out that captured the fans of Dracula and fighting him – Castlevania. At first, the game was hard and not very big, but that was to be expected of early NES games. However, the popularity of the series spawned a ton of sequels, remakes and introductions on new systems. Castlevania games have appeared on the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Playstation, Playstation 2, Xbox, GameBoy Advance and the Nintendo DS. The series just recently celebrated its 20th anniversary with the newest release on the DS, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.
Portrait of Ruin is the second game in the Castlevania series to appear on the Nintendo DS. At first glance, it just appears to be another version of Dawn of Sorrow – however, anyone that takes more than a few minutes to sit down and play the game will realize that it is far more than that. Firstly, you’ll have two characters this time around that you can swap out (or control both of them at once if you want). Also, the actual game world is far larger than it was the first time around. Finally, the graphics have seen an improvement in areas.
Yes, this game is going to draw many parallels to Dawn of Sorrow – similar graphical styles and similar gameplay really don’t lead to a different looking game to those that don’t play it. However, when you pop this game in your DS, you’re going to see a fresh game. Instead of just one character, you’re going to have two now – Jonathan and Charlotte. Jonathan is your traditional Castlevania main character. He starts off using a whip and looks really similar to heroes from the past games. Charlotte, however, plays a bit differently. You see, she’s quite the mage and, as you go through the game, you’ll find spells scattered around that she can use. Equip one and you can throw out spells as an alternate attack instead of Jonathan’s special abilities.
The multi-character dynamic adds a bit of strategy to the game that wasn’t there in the past. Charlotte, with some of her spells, has an absolutely ridiculous range (like, all the way across the screen) but has less armor. Jonathan typically will have less range with his melee attacks but can put out good damage and take some damage since he’ll typically have better armor to use. Sure, Charlotte can get into melee and fight with various books (some of which have really funny looking attacks) but she really should stay at range. What makes things interesting is that both characters share a health and mana bar, even if they aren’t each out at the time – you have to be careful when bringing Charlotte out to toss a spell. You can also have Charlotte cast a spell while using Jonathan if you want, but you won’t be able to charge up said spell for a greater effect. Finally, you can have both characters out at once if you want – this will let you put out a larger chunk of damage (and is necessary for some puzzles) but has both characters out there taking hits. While having two characters didn’t totally revolutionize the gameplay, it really did give the game a different feel from Dawn of Sorrow.
Something that I wasn’t so sure I liked was the boss difficulty. In a strange twist of fate, the earlier bosses seem to be significantly harder than some you’ll face later. While they do each still have a pattern they follow, your characters are weaker at the beginning making the first two bosses you face very hard. Oddly enough, the bosses you face later on get easier before they get harder again. While it doesn’t end up being a big deal after you do push past them, this high difficulty at the start of the game may turn a few people off that are just giving the game a quick try. If you have patience, though, and realize that the bosses are very old-school styled (they have patterns they follow and give away the attack they’re about to use), you shouldn’t have a problem getting past them after a few tries.
You’ll have a far larger area to explore this time around, too – the main area itself is pretty decently sized but the different ‘portraits’ give you an area with a totally different graphical style to explore (Nation of Fools was my personal favorite). Each of the areas have a unique flavor and also their own style of enemies. Take the one I mentioned as my favorite, Nation of Fools. The area is circus themed and, sticking with that theme, you’ll find lots of clowns and tightrope walkers as enemies, along with cannons to shoot said tight rope walkers onto the rope. Sure, the boss felt a bit odd there…but was fun to fight too and well designed.
Portrait of Ruin’s graphics are also slightly improved. While most of the enemy designs are re-used, the bosses seem to be different than what have been in games before. I’ll admit, I’ve not played any of the earlier games but did play through Dawn of Sorrow. Stuff like the clowns I mentioned do re-appear but I don’t recall seeing a boss like Dullahan in Dawn. The bosses are absolutely massive, too, often taking up most of the screen. Yes, the graphics are mostly the same – but why mess with something that was really successful the first time around?
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is an enjoyable game that I’d highly recommend to any DS owner. Having not been a fan of the series before, picking up Dawn of Sorrow got me into the series. I was glad to find out Portrait of Ruin was much the same. The addition of a second playable character in the first run through (you could unlock a mode in Dawn of Sorrow that let you use two characters), the increased area for exploration and the slightly improved graphics make Portrait of Ruin both a must-have for any fan of the series and a recommended pickup for those wanting to see what all the Vampire-fighting craziness is about. While it doesn’t innovate that much, it adds just enough and gives you a more than satisfactory amount of new areas to explore to make it a worthy sequel.