Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin proves that two heads are better than one.
In 2006, Castlevania celebrated its 20th Anniversary. Such a landmark time for the franchise. Konami recognized that this was a special occasion, so they had to do something for all the fans.
They put together a lovely 20th Anniversary package full of awesome goodies to celebrate. And it was pretty:
This was made available for pre-ordering the newest game in the series at the time; an entry that once again puts the fate of mankind on the shoulders of a man… and his whip. And a bookworm sorceress. Oh, and a priest charging an arm and a leg for healing items. Oh, what a wonderful night for a celebration! Behold Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin for the Nintendo DS!
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Genre: Action/Adventure; RPG
Developer/ Publisher: Konami
Platform: Nintendo DS
Original Release Date: December 5, 2006
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Reason for Rating: Blood and Gore; Mild Language; Suggestive Themes; Violence
The year is 1944. The world is reeling with fear and despair as World War II rages on. A vampire name Brauner uses the negative energy unleashed by all the lost souls to summon Dracula’s Castle, planning to use its power to destroy mankind. The church sends two warriors – Jonathon Morris, son of John Morris from Castlevania Bloodlines, and scholarly sorceress Charlotte Aulin – to put a stop to Brauner’s plan.
Portraits of Beauty
Producer Koji Igarashi and his team have stepped up their portable game in terms of the visuals. Like Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin has some intricate details in the environs that you visit, and the backgrounds all have some 3D effects. And once again, there are lots of small touches, like being able to knock over produce from shelves in the “City of Haze”, or a lone ghost playing a sad tune in the piano room in the “Dark Academy”. I know that it’s silly to get excited over that, but the fact that Konami actually added these touches add that lil’ extra something-something to the backgrounds and makes them special.
As for the character designs… well, Konami stuck with the anime fare. It’s all good.
The music is absolutely top notch, with some amazing original tunes, and great remixes of tunes from other Castlevania games that I haven’t heard in ages (remix for “Iron-Blue Intention”? Hellz yea!).
Wonder Team Powers, Activate!
As you probably expected, Portrait of Ruin is part of the long list the “Metroidvania”-style of games, so you know you have a large castle to explore and backtrack through.
But… that’s not all you’re exploring. Brauner is using these magic Portraits to seize control of Dracula’s Castle, so you have to go into each of them and defeat the Big Bad that’s running the roost. Each of the Portraits is their own self-contained world, with their own secrets to uncover.
Teamwork is the name of the game in Portrait of Ruin, as you have control of both Jonathan and Charlotte. Normally, you’ll control one or the other, but you can switch between them at any time, and you can summon your partner and have them fight alongside you. They play differently, to be sure: Jonathan has command of traditional Castlevania subweapons as well as a host of others, while Charlotte has a wide array of spells. The big difference is that Jonathan’s subweapons can level up. Each enemy gives out a certain amount of skill points that you will gain after beating an enemy (so long as you smack them with a subweapon once). The more SP a subweapon has, the stronger it becomes until it’s fully “Mastered”. Charlotte doesn’t need to level up her spells, however she can charge them up to do more damage or buff you for large amounts.
If that’s not enough, you have a special Team Attack. While it eats up a huge chunk of MP, it does pack quite the punch.
Jonathan and Charlotte aren’t doing this by their lonesome. The Church also sent the enterprising priest, Vincent, who sets up shop near the entrance of Dracula’s Castle. The more you buy from him, the more things he has for sale.
Next to Vincent’s room is a friendly ghost named “Wind”. Besides giving you moral support, he’ll give you Quests to do! They range from being straight forward, to a bit cryptic. You can only do five at a time, and when you complete a Quest, Wind will give you a new item, an MP or HP increase, or new subweapons and spells.
And The Touchscreen!?
Oh yea… ya know, there is some functionality to the Touchscreen, but ya know… I forgot it was there!
You can use the Stylus when your partner’s out to move him or her around screen. But ya know something? Unlike Dawn of Sorrow and its Stylus functionality, this is OPTIONAL. You can get by just fine without using it.
Speaking of controlling, the controls are solid (as usual). Not complaints there.
All That Fun!
Ya know… I have a confession to make.
The “Metroidvania” games were starting to get a lil’ stale with me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love ’em, and this style did wonders to revitalize the franchise back in the ’90s when it was first used in Symphony of the Night. I think the problem was that they kept going back to that style over and over again once they saw how well Symphony did. It really was a case of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” I think that because it was, essentially, the same thing over and over again, I kept wishing that they would try something to shake it up a bit.
Playing Portrait of Ruin got me as giddy as a school girl. I think the reason for this is two-fold.
One is the return of the partner system as a central part of the gameplay. First introduced in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and brought back in Rondo of Blood and as a hidden mode in Dawn of Sorrow, I really enjoy the fact that we’re not just controlling one hero anymore. Not only that, but Konami really gave this system a makeover; having your partner play a role outside of simply switching to that character, like calling them out to help you push a heavy object, or using them as a springboard to help you get up tall walls early on in the game, for example. Also, simply having your partner come out and fight alongside you; getting out of sticky jams and even the special Team Attack is a big plus.
The other thing that got me excited were the Portraits. Exploring Dracula’s Castle is quite the task in and of itself. But now we have an additional eight maps to explore, each with their own set of secrets to discover. And just as Dracula’s Castle has Warp Portals to help you go back and forth between areas, the Portraits each have their own sets of Warp Portals so that you can zip between different points of the Portrait you’re in.
That said… there are, really, only four different Portraits types. The four that appear in the latter half in the game are the same as the four you play through in the first half, except with some changes (like starting at the other end of the level, and different enemies). The whole arrangement reminds of Symphony of the Night, where the second castle is really the first castle upside down/in reverse.
I honestly sat down and try to find something that I felt fell short of the mark. But I couldn’t really think of anything at all. I really, really enjoyed this. A lot.
Teaming Up Again and Again
We got reasons up the wazoo for coming back.
For starters, there’s always going back to finish up Wind’s Quests, if you haven’t already. One of the last ones you get opens up a secret area in the castle. It’s an Endurance run pitting you against some pretty tough competition (at least in later rooms), and each stage has you going up against a boss who previously appeared in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Symphony of the Night. Good stuff right there.
Upon finishing the game, you’ll have a bunch of new modes available to, such as playing the game over again in one of three different modes, and access to additional Boss Rush levels.
Oh… and then there’s Co-op mode. Take your DS online and enlist a buddy to help you get through one of the courses as quick as you can.
Portrait of Fun
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin was the shot in the arm to bring something fresh to the “Metroidvania”-style. It’s pretty to watch, lovely to listen to, and — most importantly — hella fun to play. Pick this one up! It’s a keeper!
10/10 – A classic. One that every gamer should play. Can’t recommend it enough
+ Great visuals and wonderful music
+ Exploring the paintings as well as the castle gives you more bang for your buck
+ Quests are fun to do
+ Playing through the game with a partner is great fun
Anything of Ruin?
Not really. Maybe different Portrait locales for the last four Portrait worlds, but otherwise, nothing gameplay wise. Go play it!