Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Game Review

The Castlevania series has the distinction of being one of the oldest gaming franchises in history. While its origins can be traced to the Nintendo Entertainment System, it has since appeared on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo’s original Game Boy and Game Boy Advance, both iterations of Sony’s Playstation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Nintendo’s dual-screened handheld, the DS. Castlevania’s age places it in the leagues of veterans such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario, and is enough to threaten even those individuals.
Although Castlevania’s place in gaming history is vaunted, its position in the hearts of gamers is often called into question. Some gamers hold high reverence for the Castlevania franchise, while others wish for its eradication, claming that its predictability is a source of boredom, a symptom akin to Capcom’s Mega Man franchise.

Castlevania’s questionable position in the hearts of gamers can be attributed to the varying quality of its products. Most gamers wax nostalgic over Castlevania’s earliest iteration; the first adventure, which featured Simon Belmont on a quest to defeat Dracula, was considered challenging for its time due to its level design, enemy encounters, and complex control system (you were unable to change your direction in mid-jump). Gamers also express appreciation over Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, one of the few adventures on the original Playstation.

Unlike previous adventures, which tasked you with controlling a whip-wielding adventurer, Symphony of the Night tasked you with playing as Alucard, Dracula’s son, and charged you with defeating your father, Count Dracula, once again. However, these same gamers express disgust whenever Castlevania travels into the third dimension (Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness were universally panned by gamers and reviewers alike; Castlevania’s two iterations on the current-generation systems, Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness, also received a mixed reception).

The general consensus among gamers remains that Castlevania is the most successful when it remains in dual dimensions. Symphony of the Night was the last to adhere to this standard, thus explaining why it is regarded as one of the best two-dimensional adventures of all time. Subsequent Castlevania games have tried to recapture this magic, with varying success; while Castlevania’s console quests have fared inadequately, its iterations on portable platforms have been successful. The three GBA {Game Boy Advance} Castlevania adventures (Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow) have been regarded as the best GBA games of their time, while Aria’s sequel on the DS (Dawn of Sorrow) was heralded as one of the better DS games available.

With allocates like those, the latest portable Castlevania adventure, Portrait of Ruin, had a great deal to live up to. It succeeds in standing up to its predecessors due to making some key changes in play mechanics while still offering time-tested dual-dimensional Castlevania game play.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin separates itself from its predecessors by offering a dual-character mechanic, a tactic not explored since Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. The initial set-up has players guiding Jonathon Morris, the son of a related Castlevania hero, and Charlotte Aulin, his close friend. These two characters have differing skills which can be used in tandem or alternated upon depending on the needs of the player.

Jonathon is skilled with whips and melee weapons, while Charlotte is well-versed with magic. Players are charged with guiding these two through a recreation of Castlevania, with the intent of defeating a new villain (not Dracula, at least not initially…). Like recent Castlevania adventures (Symphony onwards…), Jonathon and Charlotte gain new weapons and experience as they venture through the castle. They also level up at the same time, allaying fears that one may turn out weaker than the other through extended play.

While most Castlevania titles task you with simply exploring Dracula’s castle, Portrait of Ruin improves on this staid formula through the introduction of ‘warp paintings’ that transfer the main characters to distinct worlds. Jonathan and Charlotte will explore Egyptian deserts, an ancient city, an old English town, and other unusual areas in addition to Dracula’s abode. These areas add variety to the adventure and should please fans that by now are sick of exploring Dracula’s castle for hours on end.

The graphics in Portrait of Ruin are solid; although they may cause frequent Castlevania players to recall the previous DS adventure, Dawn of Sorrow. Jonathan and Charlotte animate well, and are able to move and attack without difficulty. The backgrounds possess a great amount of detail, and the constant change of scenery should eliminate boredom. However, later in the adventure, areas tend to repeat, which could cause that tedium to quickly return. The sound consists of the usual mix of stellar Castlevania music, along with the comments of the two main characters when they attack individually or in tandem.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin ranks as a solid adventure through and through. While it may cause flashbacks to the previous entries in the series, the game has enough new content and mechanics to distinguish itself from the competition.