Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (NDS) – Review

Portrait of Ruin CoverA continuation on the long-lasted Castlevania series from Komani, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin keeps most of the same gameplay as it’s previous 2D side-scrolling predecessors, adding a partnering mode previously seen as an unlockable version from Dawn of Sorrow and the use of Quests to give bonuses to the players. The game comes off quite well polished and is definitely another hit for the DS.

Story: A

The most modern of the Castlevania series, the game takes place during the WWII era, where an evil man named Brauner has attempted to recreate Dracula’s castle using the death toll for the war to build up, and both he and his two daughters, Stella and Loretta, have become vampires and are preparing to raise Dracula again. The game’s main protagonist Jonathan, while a descendant but not a direct one of the Belmont clan, is the current owner of the Vampire Killer whip, but he is unable to power it, and thus has brought with him Charlette, a magic-using member of the Belnades clan that has the potential to be the needed weapon in the fight against Dracula. The two find that the castle is infested with evil creatures and that much of the castle is sealed away through quantum entanglement with magical portraits throughout the castle that lead to the worlds they depict; by destroying the evil in those pictures will the path to Brauner and Dracula be revealed.

Gameplay: A

The gameplay in Castlevania: Portrain of Ruin (PoR) is pretty close to the past 2D Castlevania titles, that is, as “Castletroid” platformers. You explore the castle made up of several rooms, collecting new weapons, spells, subweapons, usable items, and other goodies. Similar to Metroid, some parts of the castle are inaccessible until you have acquired certain skills which then allows you more space to roam in. The castle in this game is relatively small, but as part of the title, there are special portraits about the castle that one can travel through to the world held within it and a boss that you need to defeat to be able to progress further, which gives the game the size that it needs. Throughout each level are a healing/save points, and warp statues that allow you to travel to other warp statues within that world, which, for late game exploration, helps to move you quickly through places you’ve already been to. Your characters level up through gaining experience by monster kills, increasing their health and magic point amounts. Armor, clothing, and weapons helps to boost your stats to make you more powerful against late-game foes. For Jonathan that uses secondary weapons as his special skill, these can be mastered by killing enough creatures with the subweapons, making the damage they deal even more powerful.

Portrait of Ruin - Partner gameplay

One (somewhat) new addition is the double-team interaction. You always control one character, swapping at will, but you can call on your partner to help out with battles and puzzles (for example, requiring two people to push away an obstacle or jumping off their head to get a good jump height). The partner is controlled by the computer and will try to keep up with you (as Tails would try to follow Sonic), though you can invoke their current special ability as needed, but the trick is that any damage they take is deducted from your magic points, and if you run out of magic points, your partner will be out of battle; fortunately, you can dismiss your partner any time at any time as well. Additionally, if you have enough magic points remaining, you can initiate one of several double-team powers which consumes a lot of magic but does a good amount of damage. I found myself playing Jonathan 95% of the time simply due to whip range and overall power, and having Charlotte back up with healing magic, which appears to be the intent of the game.

A second addition is the use of Quests. A friendly spirit near the early part of the game called Wind will ask you do perform certain actions. Some require defeating rare monsters, others ask you to locate special rooms in the portrait worlds, and so forth. Completing a quest usually grants you a rare item or a stats bonus. Quests can sometimes be very easily to clear (some just require you to perform special moves right there), others take a bit of work and secret hunting to find, but they do give you reason to go back and explore the portrait worlds after you’ve cleared them the first time, taking advantage of the warp system that is available. I found some of these to be very cryptic as they hint where you might find a rare monster but give no detail beyond that to it’s location, so it may a few hours of searching to locate it. Also, a bonus portrait world is opened up by one of the final quests you can get in the game, which is a rather tough battle through several floors of hard beasts to knock down.

There’s a few places where your actions can change the game ending. For example, there’s a boss battle about mid-way through the game that if you don’t do a proper step, you’ll end the game prematurely. Certain other actions will affect the ending and other modes that are unlocked, so it’s actually important to pay attention to cutscenes to realize how you need to clear the game to get the ‘best’ ending.

Portrait of Ruin - Two screen modeThe game doesn’t use the touch screen (at least, in the first play through) unlike Dawn of Sorrow, though it uses the two screens effectively, the bottom being the key action while the top can be switched between the known map and your current stats and monster details. If you beat the game, you gain access to the two sisters who you move about by pointing on the touch screen, a bit more difficult challenge than the first run through. However, I found the lack of the need to use the touch screen rather good only because it allowed me to play the game when I had a few minutes of spare time without having to get comfortable with the stylus, as was needed in Dawn of Sorrow.

PoR also added a limited Wi-Fi feature that allows you to sell and buy items that your friends have put up for sale. This is helpful, for example, to get unique items that you may have used up or sold in-game needed to clear a quest or the like.

Value/Replayability: A

The game’s got a pretty good length for a single run through; I clocked in about 9 hours with only a little bit of level building included in that, though I certainly didn’t get all the secrets as my map completion rates were still around 96%. As noted, there’s additional character sets that you can unlock (2 different ones) with a higher difficulty in the challenge once you’ve completed the main game. There are also special ‘boss runs’ that you your current characters with their weapons and skills pitted against a path of high level beasts, trying to work your way through these as fast as possible.

Graphics: A

The graphics are quite comparable to the previous GBA Castlevania games as well as borrowing monster animations heavily from Dawn of Sorrow. The backgrounds are interesting using various combinations of parallax, 3D objects, and other effects to help bring atmosphere to the game. However, all the graphics are really sharp and it’s easy to make out the action on the screen when needed.

Sound: A-

Background music fits the mood for the various portrait worlds and keeps the pace of the game at a good rate. Most of the other sound effects are the usual for the Castlevania series, though there are a few bosses that you need to be listening to in order to dodge specific attacks.

Overall: A

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a great addition to the Castlevania series, adding a few new things while being readily playable by any newcomer to the series. The game is fun, sufficiently difficult but does allow one to grind as needed to become better at the game, and has a lot of places to be explored, and really has no problems or even annoyances in execution; it’s only major shortcoming is that it is pretty much like every other recent 2D Castlevania game, though by no means is it a stale formula. It’s definitely a great game to be added to any DS library.

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