Portable Review

Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin


It’s no secret that I love the Castlevania series as a whole. Ever since my friend had the original on his NES, I fell in love with the games. It’s quite an anomaly as I wasn’t even a big fan of vampires or anything of the sort. There was just something about a guy with the courage to fight a supernatural creature with nothing but a whip. Who does that? The Belmont clan, that’s who.

I mention the classic games because Portrait of Ruin seems to realize that some players prefer the original stage design to the newer “Metroidvania” style of exploration. The castle in this game has 4 portraits hidden throughout it that take players to entirely new locales. It also works in a way to break up the exploration into stages. While this isn’t quite what players looking for the classic design were hoping for, but it works well in that it allows the creators freedom to explore new worlds such as an Egyptian tomb or the streets of London. Each world acts as a whole new castle for exploration, making this one of the largest Castlevania games to date. What’s more, the game doesn’t rely on going through a mirrored castle or and upside down one to give the player an illusion of a bigger game.

One thing that feels better is that the monsters tend to “fit” their locales better this time around. Instead of having mummies randomly appear from sarcophagi in seemingly odd places, you’ll only encounter them in the Egyptian area. Likewise, monsters like Frankenstein will appear in the confines of the foggy streets of London.

As far as the artwork goes, the game is as beautiful as its predecessor, Dawn of Sorrow. Like DoS, characters profile images use the utterly repulsive anime style rather than the beautifully well-drawn artwork of Ayami Kojima. Aside from that, the animations of the character sprites are fluid and colorful. Perhaps because of the many locales, the game seems to be brighter and more colorful as a whole. If you like your Castlevania to be excessively dark, this game won’t quite live up to your expectations, but it is easier to see what’s going on when compared to previous GBA games.

As with Aria and Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin offers a unique collection aspect for players. This comes both in the form of weapons for John and books for his more learned companion, Charlotte. The main character’s weapons range from Vampire Killer (which he begins the game with, but cannot use it properly) to maces and other various weapons. These all work just as they have in past Castlevania games – short swords and daggers thrust straight out while great swords and maces have an overly large downward arcing swing.

What’s new to the game is the female protagonist who accompanies you on your quest. Instead of getting captured or just being someone the main character chats with from time to time for moral support, you can actually use Charlotte for most of the game. Whenever John gets a new ability like double jump; so does Charlotte. The only difference I’ve found is that she doesn’t possess a dive kick after the double jump. In a very unique and artistic way, Charlotte’s weapons are books that she brings to life. One book, the Book of Arms, has a sword thrust out of it when she “swings” it. Another, Don Quixote, has a knight on a horse spring forth and attack for her. Charlotte is a magic user who uses her spells much in the same way John uses sub-weapons. The difference here is that she gets many more to choose from, including stat boosts, transformations, and summons.

You can switch between both of the characters at any time, or even have them adventure simultaneously. The rather basic AI the computer employs doesn’t lend all that much help, but when both characters are on screen, the AI-controlled one will not take damage. Instead, your heart meter will decrease as they take hits. For certain bosses, you can make short work of them with this function. Other bosses will make short work of you if you don’t approach them the right way. For instance, the Egyptian queen Astarte’s charm spell will take control of John and put Charlotte in your hands, essentially losing the battle for you.

Another mechanic the game employs using the dual character approach is in the puzzles. Certain puzzles (although not nearly enough for my tastes) will have you switching characters to access out of reach areas. One of the things you can do in this game, unique to this game is the “triple jump”. You can jump off a partner’s head and then double jump from that. It’s very useful in accessing certain areas earlier than they may have originally intended. This always happens, and I see it more as something they do on purpose for those more inventive players.

Another hit or miss feature would be the missions that award you with various skills and items. These missions are given to you by a mysterious entity that goes by the name Wind, who is bound to Dracula’s castle. By helping him, he’ll help you take on the castle. It’s a nice addition, but some of the missions are just plain stupid. Sending me out to punch some meat is a pretty ridiculous request. At times, I wonder if he’s just fucking with me.

The music in this game, in some parts, feels like its taking a step backwards. There were times when I felt as if I was listening to old midi-music from the SNES era. Other times, it’s better than I remember in any of the past games. In fact, for the most part, the music is astounding. Only in a few select areas does it feel old. I’m not sure if this was an intentional thing to go along with the throwback theme of stages, but it just doesn’t work well for me.

At last, we come to the multi-player aspect of the game. You can attempt to tackle a hand full of stages with a friend. At first, you only have one stage to play, but after beating it and accomplishing certain goals, you will unlock more. This mode, more than anything else, feels a lot like the classic stages, albeit a competitive take on it.

As if that weren’t enough, Konami has included a neat little online shop mode where up to three players can join your shop to see what you have up for sale. If you’re looking for a certain item, you can go to many online boards for the game to see if anyone has what you need, trade friend codes, then get exactly the item you’ve been searching for. This is, as I stated above, a neat little thing, but I really don’t see much of a point in it.

At the end of the day, I still see this game, along with Dawn of Sorrow, as one of the only real reasons to own a Nintendo DS. If you’re a big fan of using the touch screen in your games, you might want to look elsewhere as Portrait of Ruin kind of overlooks that whole thing. This, in my opinion, is for the better. The last game’s touch screen aspect felt like it was tagged on and a throwaway element. If you’re a fan of Castlevania or action/adventure games at all, you should definitely pick this title up.

-Originally Posted by Bloodspoor


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