Castlevania: Rondo of Blood Throwback Review

When it comes to the classic-style Castlevania games, often referred to as Classicvanias, there are two games that many fans consider to be the best: Super Castlevania IV on SNES and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on the PC-Engine. Rondo of Blood was originally not released outside of Japan, however. For the longest time, the only thing us Westerners got was a downgraded port on SNES titled Castlevania Dracula X. It wasn’t until 2007 when the game was finally released to English audiences through Castlevania The Dracula X Chronicles on PSP, a collection that included the original Rondo of Blood, a 2.5D remake, and Castlevania Symphony of the Night. It was similar to the recently released Castlevania Requiem except, well, better, because it had an extra game.

The PSP version is the one I recently played, and it took a while for me to finally get around to it. I’ve had the game for years, but never finished it. However, with Richter Belmont having been announced as a playable character in Super Smash Bros Ultimate, it reignited my interest in this game. It’s time to see why Rondo of Blood is so beloved and even seen as superior to the other favorite in the series, Super Castlevania IV.


Let’s start with the story. Dracula has once again been resurrected, the demon castle (Castlevania) has returned, and his army of undead monsters are terrorizing humanity. This time he has kidnapped 4 maidens and locked them away. It’s up to Richter Belmont, the descendant of the legendary Simon Belmont, to defeat Dracula and rescue those 4 maidens, one of which happens to be his lover Annette.

Rondo of Blood

It’s a pretty simple story, but a bit more detailed than other Castlevania games at the time. Because Rondo of Blood was on the PC-Engine, it allowed for higher sound quality as well as more advanced in-game cutscenes. The opening, rescuing of a maiden, and ending all have simple but charming anime-style cutscenes that are fully voice acted. I can imagine being blown away by this stuff if I’d played this back in 1993. No other Castlevania game before had this level of presentation. Simon Belmont has always just been “the guy you control”, a completely blank slate character that the player has to put themselves into. But with these cutscenes, you can actually see a personality in Richter, simple as it may be.


Now for what really matters, the gameplay. It’s what you’d expect from classic Castlevania. You jump and strut through levels, whipping enemies and candles for hearts, grabbing sub weapons, fighting bosses, and ultimately making it to Dracula. The game controls quite similarly to the NES Castlevania games: you can only whip in front of you and you can’t adjust yourself when jumping forward or backward. If you’re familiar with the NES games, this should be perfectly fine. However, if you’ve played Super Castlevania IV, this may sound like a pretty significant downgrade. In SCIV, you could whip in pretty much any direction you want; forward, upward, diagonally up, diagonally down, whatever. You could even dangle your whip and flick it about which had its uses. On top of that, you had full mid-air control of your character, so when you jump forward, you could adjust where exactly you wanted to land like in most platformers. It was a very welcome upgrade to the controls by most fans, so for Rondo of Blood to revert back to NES style, it may turn some people off.

However, I feel Rondo of Blood more than makes up for this in many ways. For starters, the way the very levels themselves are designed makes this a non-issue. These limitations were kept in mind during development, so I rarely ever felt hampered by the controls. These limitations also make the various sub weapons very useful, as they make up for what your whip can’t do. You’ll be utilizing just about everything the game gives you, so nothing feels wasted.

Speaking of sub weapons, Rondo of Blood also does something that even SCIV didn’t. Whenever you grab a new sub weapon, the one you were previously carrying will drop to the ground, allowing you to pick it back up. This change is a lifesaver, because I can’t tell you how many times in previous games when I already had the sub weapon I wanted, but whipped a candle I didn’t know had another sub weapon in it and it replaced my old one.


Rondo of Blood also has some other great additions. Although you can’t freely control Richter in mid-air, he does have a backflip maneuver that can be useful when trying to dodge especially tricky projectiles. There’s also the new Item Crash move, which is a really cool addition. Item Crashes are basically super moves that differ depending on the sub weapon you have equipped. With enough hearts (sub weapon ammunition), you can do an Item Crash that does a ton of damage to enemies on screen. I usually save them for boss battles when I’m in a pinch.

Levels now have a lot more secrets to discover than ever before. These could be secret rooms, pathways to alternate bosses, pathways to alternate levels entirely, or ways to rescue the 4 maidens who are hidden throughout the game. If you manage to find and rescue all 4, you get the best ending, however rescuing one particular maiden should take priority over the others, and no, it’s not Annette.

The first maiden you’ll be able to rescue is a little girl named Maria. Unlike the others, by rescuing Maria she’ll actually join Richter and become a second playable character. And lemme tell you, Maria is BUSTED! She can move faster than Richter, she has a dodge roll and slide maneuver, and she can double jump. I repeat, DOUBLE JUMP! Her standard dove attacks are sent out twice as fast as Richter’s sluggish whip, she can attack while moving forward, and her sub weapons (which take the form of animal buddies) can do some serious damage. The ONLY downside to Maria is that she takes more damage than Richter when she gets hit, but honestly, with everything Maria can do, you’re not going to get hit in the first place. She’s clearly a more capable vampire hunter than Richter, and essentially the easy mode of this game.


When it comes to difficulty, as I already mentioned, the game does a good job of designing challenges around Richter’s controls. Castlevania games are known for being difficult, and Rondo of Blood is no exception, but levels offer a difficult but fair challenge to players…for the most part. I won’t lie, there were some parts that got really aggravating, like the collapsing bridge in the last level with all those bats which I swear is impossible not to get hit from. The boss in the last level is also really frustrating and the one time I actually felt like the game didn’t take Richter’s limited movement into consideration. Actually, there were a couple other parts in that last level that annoyed me too, so maybe it’s just that one level.

Protip: On the last level, just switch to Maria. I won’t judge you.

Despite the last level being a pain, the final showdown with Dracula is actually pretty dang easy. In fact, it’s the easiest Dracula fight I’ve played. Sure, I did die maybe twice, but after that I managed to win with only one damage taken, and that’s with Richter. With Maria? Psh! The fight was over the moment she waltzed through the door.


Now since I was playing on the PSP version, I want to briefly talk about the 2.5D remake, which I also played. As a remake, it of course has updated visuals and presentation, a slightly more fleshed out story, and a few additions. For the most part it’s the same game, but the other maidens were given a bit more significance. By rescuing them, you’ll be able to break special walls that usually hide collectibles exclusive to the PSP version.

Having all maidens rescued will also unlock a brand new 3rd phase to the Dracula fight. Now THIS phase is hard! Dracula has a ton of attacks that do major damage and they’re pretty deceptive in how you might think to dodge them. This phase requires a lot of memorization, and you’ll basically need to get through the other 2 phases without getting hit to stand a chance (which isn’t hard, but still). Even with Maria, it can be somewhat challenging…somewhat.


To wrap things up, this is a great game and definitely one of the best in the whole series. While I do really enjoy Super Castlevania IV, I gotta give it to Rondo of Blood as my personal favorite Classicvania. The levels are well designed, being able to play as two very different characters is fun, Item Crashes are a great new addition, and the presentation overall is a huge step up. I haven’t even mentioned the music yet, which is some kick ass stuff. Since it was originally on the PC-Engine, the game had CD quality music that’s never sounded better. You’ve got some pumping energetic remixes of classics like Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears, as well as brand new iconic tracks like Divine Bloodlines and Dance of Illusions. This is a game that I think all Castlevania fans should play. It’s also the perfect game to start with for newcomers to the franchise, as it’s difficult without being too punishing and it’s a direct prequel to another very beloved game in the series, Symphony of the Night. With Castlevania Requiem having come out recently featuring those two very games, it’s a great way to get into this series.