The game that would have been named Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is quite famous for being a really good Castlevania game that was only released in Japan, on an obscure home console known as the Turbografx CD. In fact, a lot of people consider this as the best classic Castlevania ever made. I was really looking forward to finally playing this game.
Let’s talk about my experience with this game today!
Akumajo Dracula X: Chi No Rondo, as it was known in Japan, is an action platformer developed and published by Konami for the Turbografx CD. At the start of the game, you’ll take on the role of Richter Belmont as he attempts to rescue several kidnapped women and take on the revived Lord of Darkness, Dracula.
Similar to other action platformers and Castlevania games, this game employs a health meter and a number of lives. You start each game with 4 lives and can earn more by picking up extra life power ups or by exceeding specific score thresholds. When your health meter is completely depleted, you lose a life. You can occasionally find pieces of meat hidden in breakable walls. These can heal you up, with the amount of health restored dependent on the size of meat you’re able to find.
The game has a save system and unlimited continues, so even if you lose all your lives, you can keep playing the game from the stage where you last died. The save system has three save files so you can have multiple playthroughs going on at the same time.
Each save file has its own completion tracking, including which hostages you’ve rescued. The game even tracks how many continues you’ve used and which stages you’ve beaten. The game has a boss fight mode named Tactics – you can fight any boss you’ve already beaten. This game has a lot of replay value because there are alternate stages and bosses that you can discover.
Richter’s Moves and Abilities
Richter Belmont, the main protagonist of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, is your typical Belmont. He can move left and right, jump, and crouch. He’s got a backflip evade maneuver that I had trouble finding any good use for. This is actually my only complaint about this game – Richter doesn’t have good new moves.
He’s also got the usual Castlevania sub-weapons with him, which uses up Hearts upon use. The Axe is thrown upwards and forwards, allowing you to attack enemies above, in front, and even below you. The Knives are thrown in threes and fly directly forward. The Cross also flies directly forward, but returns to you and hits enemies on its way back. The Pocket Watch temporarily slows down some enemies. The Holy Water is thrown forward and downward. Whenever it hits an enemy or the ground, it’ll burst into flames that will move forward a short distance.
At least he has a new sub-weapon called the Grimore, which is a book that flies outward following a spiral path. It can hit enemies around you, but uses up more Hearts than the others. Richter also has an Item Crash move which is essentially an all-screen attack that costs a bunch of Hearts but gives you a few frames of invincibility.
Maria Renard – The Secret Protagonist
The addition of Maria Renard as a playable character is what I think really brings Rondo of Blood to another level. She is one of the four hostages that you’ll need to find in the game. Just like Eric Lecarde in Castlevania: Bloodlines, she’s got additional moves that make her a lot more fun to play as. She can double jump, which she can use to get to high places or as an evasive maneuver. She’s also got a roll and a slide.
Her normal attack comes in the form of doves. They have a similar range to the Vampire Killer, but Maria can have two of them out at the same time. They also keep their path since they’re not attached to Maria (unlike Richter’s Vampire Killer), so she’s got a bigger margin of error when timing her attacks.
I also found her sub-weapons to be a lot more interesting. The Cardinals are two birds that fly upwards and back to her, which are excellent at attacking enemies above you. The Dragon flies directly forward and deals damage to anything in it’s path. The Cat runs forward and keeps going, able to kill more than one enemy at times. And the Grimoire allows Maria to shoot a stream of musical notes forward.
My absolute favorite of Maria’s sub-weapons is the Egg. She throws this in an upwards arc like the Axe, but when it lands on the ground, it hatches into six little doves that fly upward in a spread formation. This sub-weapon easily destroys airborne enemies, making some boss fights really easy.
The only drawback to playing as Maria is that she takes a lot more damage compared to Richter, so she dies easily. But that drawback isn’t much, if you can avoid taking damage. With her additional abilities, it’s pretty easy to do that.
Monstrous Boss Battles
Another aspect of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood that I really enjoyed are the boss battles. The game even has really interesting sub-bosses, or mid-bosses. They’re not just stronger versions of regular enemies, but they’re entirely different enemies that don’t repeat in the game. The most memorable mid-boss for me was the painting that would instantly kill you if it ever managed to catch you.
If the mid-bosses are good, you can bet that the end stage bosses are too. Most of them offer a good challenge without being unfair or cheesy. The bosses I’ve faced are well-designed and are fun to do battle with.
I did say “most”, right? Usually, Death or Dracula offer the hardest boss fights, but not in this game. That honor goes to Shaft, the evil priest who revived Dracula. Before you can even fight Shaft, you’ll need to beat a gauntlet of four bosses from the original Castlevania. You get a health refill in the middle, but that’s it. So it’s essentially a gauntlet of five bosses.
Thankfully, the stage that features the battle with Shaft doesn’t have anything else, so if you get stuck there, you can immediately go back to fighting him. The rest of the bosses are quite manageable with some pattern recognition and practice. Knowing that you can unlock these bosses in the Tactics mode is added incentive to replay the game and discover the alternate stages.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
The graphics of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood can really give any Super Nintendo game a run for it’s money. Everything is just beautifully rendered, with great use of color and pixel art. So even if the Turbografx CD can’t do some of the effects that the Super Nintendo can, this game still manages to hold it’s own.
Even if you still choose the Super Nintendo’s special visual effects, none of it’s games can match the CD quality soundtrack of Rondo of Blood. Castlevania music has never been as good as it is in this game. And there’s one other area of sound design that this game excels in – voiced dialogue.
If we only consider the basic elements of presentation, this game is quite good. The HUD is clear, and so is the main game menu. Fonts are very readable all throughout. But the game’s cutscenes are better than anything you can see on a 16-bit console. From the intro explaining Dracula’s resurrection, to Maria’s rescue, and up to the ending, all the cutscenes make the game a lot more immersive. I’ve played several Castlevania games already, but this one game has made Richter my favorite Belmont simply because of this.
Not releasing Castlevania: Rondo of Blood outside of Japan is definitely a huge blunder by Konami. the SNES version of Dracula X isn’t a terrible game, but it’s not even half as good as this game. I think Konami would have gotten strong sales had they released Rondo of Blood on the Playstation 1, even after they released Symphony of the Night.
Well, we can’t change the past anymore. Thanks to fan translations and emulation, I was able to experience the original Rondo of Blood in a language that I can understand. And I’m really glad I played this before Symphony of the Night. I can now agree with anyone who thinks that this is the greatest classic Castlevania game ever made. Any Castlevania fan should play this at least once.
If you want to read about other Castlevania games that I’ve played, click here!