Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin - Reader Review  

Who Commissioned Ruin's Portrait?
by JuMeSyn

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Castlevania action intact
+ Two character system nice alteration
+ Superb presentation
+ Respectable challenge
- Some backtracking necessary
- Optional fetch quests galore
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   1944 was a year of great historical consequence. The battles of the Phillipine Sea and Leyte Gulf crushed Japanese naval power utterly in the Pacific ocean as US forces island-hopped their way toward the home islands, the Soviet Union threw Nazi Germany out of its territory and took the fight to Germany while US, British, and Canadian forces commenced to move from Italy north and from France west, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented (and thanks to a subsequent amendment, unique) fourth term as US President, and Double Indemnity almost singlehandedly ushered in film noir. Unknown to the wider world until historical documents were unearthed by Konami in 2006, Dracula attempted once more to usher a dominion of darkness in upon the world. The tale of his castle's rise and subsequent fall at the hands of Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin is told in Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.

   Jonathan and Charlotte will explore Dracula's castle, engaging in combat with its many evil denizens via side-scrolling platformer tradition. Experience is granted upon defeat of enemies, and sufficient experience will grant a level-up to both Jonathan and Charlotte that increases their statistics somewhat. Portrait of Ruin differs from prior Castlevania titles that use RPG elements, however, in having two playable characters simultaneously. A simple press of a button switches between Jonathan and Charlotte, with them sharing the same HP and MP meters. Jonathan plays rather as most Castlevania heroes have in the past, with access to sub-weapons and multiple main weapons. Charlotte, by contrast, uses a book that springs deadly implements from its pages to fight. She eventually gains a few additional books with more deadly implements hiding in the pages, but Jonathan is the one with the greater physical range. His attacks are good against certain enemies, while Charlotte's magic-casting skills are better against others. There are a few points at which both characters need to be onscreen with the player quickly changing between them. Charlotte's magic also has a twist; it can be cast quickly at half-power or the player can hold the Y button to get a full charge out of the spell, at the obvious cost of leaving Charlotte immobile until the spell is cast. Jonathan has no such weakness even when he is summoned to attack for a moment, but his attacks are not always effective. Jonathan, moreover, needs to use a sub-weapon constantly to improve its effectiveness.

An extra moon in the sky would really cement a Star Wars influence. An extra moon in the sky would really cement a Star Wars influence.

   New sub-weapons for Jonathan and new spells for Charlotte come via two methods. Enemies sometimes leave these behind, though the majority of enemies have nothing to offer in the way of new attacks for the player. These new abilities can also be granted from a deceased fellow named Wind, who will give rewards for completing his trials. These tend towards the fetch-quest variety and can require a massive time investment. Accessing what is required turns out to be very simple, however, thanks to the menu feature allowing the player to check on everything without moving. The maps for the castle and all the paintings, Wind's trials, enemy lists, mastery of weapons - everything is conveniently accessible.

   Castlevania titles are never about the story, and once again Dracula's return is the centerpiece. Portrait of Ruin does something a little different by having a deluded vampire named Brauner be the instigator of the castle's appearance, and he serves as the main antagonist - but no one should be surprised as to the events that transpire at the end of the game.

   Brauner's presence does offer the explanation for prominent paintings in Portrait of Ruin, and another difference in this game from prior Castlevania titles. A number of paintings that serve as transporters to other realms outside of Dracula's castle appear, and the boss lurking in each one tends to offer something required for further progress inside the castle proper. The game does not play any differently inside these paintings than within the castle, but it does offer some new landscapes to observe.

It It's at the wrong angle, but that is definitely the X-men symbol.

   As per Konami standard, Portrait of Ruin offers impressive demonstration of the DS's audiovisual capabilities. The visuals are top-of-the-line 2D, with enemies impressively animating and dying. The audio is even more of a treat, with Yuzo Koshiro joining Michiru Yamane to create a soundtrack full of excellence. Unlike Aria of Sorror and Dawn of Sorrow, Konami actually bothered to change the voice acting into English this time around, and it is of quite good quality. Getting an ending will probably require 6 hours of playing time. That ending is definitely not a good one however, and playing time can close to double for the good ending. Chasing down the many optional things in the game will take much more time. Replay incentives abound with the Castlevania tradition of offering new characters to replay the game with. As for challenge, regular enemies pack a sizable punch but bosses are definitely to be respected until their patterns are learned. The limit of 9 on any one item impacts upon the potential healing a player can accomplish, making action skills all the more key. There are plentiful warp and save rooms to ameliorate the worst frustrations however.

   Portait of Ruin is not the greatest Castlevania action-RPG, but that does not detract from its high quality. Its individual components add up to a title that any RPGamer with an affinity for action-RPGs ought to at least attempt, the more so if one has played and enjoyed previous Castlevania titles with this style of play. Aside from being painful to attempt by players with no action skills, Portrait of Ruin is an easy recommendation to any interested player.

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