Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is like the missing link between those two eras of the brand. When I left Castlevania in the early ’90s, it was still a linear adventure — a whip-cracking Belmont hunting Dracula through straightforward, timed stages that had a defined beginning and end. When I returned to the castle later in the ’90s, everything was different — the environment was open and interconnected, you weren’t playing a Belmont any more and there was definitely no clock demanding you had to be anywhere at any specific time. Rondo of Blood is the missing link between those two eras, because its design bridges the gap by containing elements of both.
In Rondo, you play the role of a whip-cracking Belmont hunting Dracula through non-straightforward, untimed stages that have a defined beginning, but frequently more than one end. You’ll often come across the opportunity to choose which path you take to progress, and the choices you make can take you to entirely different areas of the castle — facing a totally different set of environments, enemies and boss battles on your way to the ultimate showdown with the Count. And, all the while, there’s no clock counting down, forcing you to be on the move. You can explore at your leisure, like Symphony of the Night.
The Clock Tower level is always the best.But, again, stages still have a defined beginning and end — even if there’s more than one end to find in any given level, you’ll always get that little red orb that signifies “Stage Clear” along with a tallying-up of your high score when you beat a boss. Like Super Castlevania IV. So it’s all a very odd hybrid, and especially interesting to be playing for the first time now, years later, when I know both where the series came from to get to this point, and where it went after this installment concluded.
The reason it’s my first time playing Rondo is the same reason it’ll be the first for many of you, too — this is the first time it’s been made available on a Nintendo system. The game was only released in Japan as “Akumajo Dracula X Chi no Rondo” originally, for Hudson’s PC-Engine platform (the TurboGrafx here), and never got an English localization in that era. We did get a different SNES game called Dracula X, but it wasn’t the same game — it had elements in common, but it was an inferior attempt at a conversion.
Then, just a few years ago, we American Castlevania fans finally got the chance to play this long-lost installment in English — through Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, a 2007 PSP remake that also contained an emulation of the original version. I decided to wait then, though. I’d already waited a decade and a half, after all, and I was confident that the Wii’s Virtual Console (already a year old by that point) would save me from having to dust off my portable PlayStation and plunk down 40 bucks. And so it has. Three calendar years later.
It’s taken a very long while for this long-lost installment of the Castlevania series to finally be found, in America, on a piece of Nintendo hardware, but it’s finally arrived — and it’s been worth the wait. Rondo of Blood really is one of the finest sequels in the series, and Richter’s adventure is all the richer for the added perspective these extra years have added to the experience. This design combines the straightforward vampire-hunting action of the earliest games with hints of the open-world exploration that would later come to characterize the series in Symphony and beyond, and walking the bridge between those two eras is something that’s been incredibly fulfilling for this old Nintendo loyalist to do.