(Review archived from October 14, 2018)
Castlevania: Dracula X is often remembered as being one of the weaker entries in the Castlevania lineage, and that’s only if it gets remembered at all. Because for better or worse it also tends to be shuffled off as an extremely scaled back port of Rondo of Blood. But that’s only half true. While Dracula X shares some DNA with Rondo, it’s largely its own thing. Is it a top shelf entry in the Castlevania franchise? Well … probably not by most measures. Does it deserve the reputation it’s been saddled with? Read on to find out!
The main problem with Dracula X, as I see it, is that it stands in the shadow of giants. Let’s make no bones about it, the 16-bit era was very good to the Castlevania franchise. The SNES fired the first shot across the bow with Super Castlevainia IV, an early release for the system. This title set the stage for what was even possible for Castlevania in the 16-bit era. It was an absolute treat for the senses and (at least at the time) revolutionized the gameplay we’d seen in the 8-bit generation. Gamers overseas were treated to a remarkable 1-2 punch in the form of Castlevania Chronicles and the legendary Rondo of Blood. As opposed to Castlevania IV, these games pushed the ‘classic-vania’ formula farther than ever before. Massive levels and branching paths made each of these titles feel like a vital evolution to the series. And let’s not forget the release of Bloodlines for Genesis, another consistent fan favorite from this era. So it’s only after the release of all these landmark Castlevania games that we finally got Dracula X. How well does it fare in comparison? Well after these earlier games had steadily pushed the series forward in new and interesting directions, I’m afraid Dracula X feels a bit regressive by comparison. But how could it not? It was basically the video game equivalent of having to go onstage after The Rolling Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin had already brought the house down.
But the thing is that on its own merits, Dracula X isn’t half bad at all! The graphics are faithful to the Castlevania tradition of quality even if they don’t pack quite the same visual punch as the other 16-bit-vanias. The music though can easily hold its own against anything else in its generation. What we have here is essentially a greatest hits album of your favorite Castlevania tracks upgraded to 16-bit levels of quality. Likewise the gameplay feels solid, responsive, and true to that classic-vania feel. Are the graphics on par with Castlevania IV? No. Are the levels as intricately designed as Chronicles? No. Does it replicate Rondo’s endlessly branching paths through the game? Sorry, Tiger. If anything the closest comparison to Dracula X within the series is probably the very first Castlevania game. But when framed under that light, it doesn’t seem like a bad thing at all! I think fans of the first game can find a lot to love about Dracula X.
Unfortunately Dracula X didn’t seem much longer than the first game. This is a short game, yo. The challenge level likely helps to balance out some of this shortness, due to the fact that some of these levels take some time to master. But once you have the game down pat, you can buzz thorough it pretty quickly. It makes the password feature feel almost laughable. The other legitimate complaint I’d level against Dracula X is that the final fight against Dracula … well it’s honestly just not that difficult. It does take place on a series of pillars, which is interesting, but if you use the Axe sub-weapon, the only time you really have to move is if Dracula literally tries to materialize on top of you. Beyond that you can just take cheap shot after cheap shot until he takes on his second form at which point you can mostly just axe-spam him to death. Like most Castlevania games, Dracula X is not a game without its challenges. So the fact that Dracula is a bit of a pushover … well it feels like a letdown, especially when it occurs at the end of an already abbreviated game.
Still, I can’t knock Dracula X down too hard. There’s plenty of series fans to do that already, lol. As a longtime player of Castlevania though, there’s still a lot here to love. I only wish there was more of it to love. And really if the game leaves you wanting more, is that really such a bad thing? Recommended for Castlevania series completionists. Even in light of this ‘redemptive reading’ you’d probably be better off playing the other 16-bit-vanias first.