Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Many installments of Konami’s Castlevania franchise adopted a style termed by fans as “Metroidvania” and “Castleroid” starting on the Sony PlayStation with Symphony of the Night, the series containing this formula continuing on the Nintendo GameBoy Advance with Circle of the Moon, and debuting on the Nintendo DS with Dawn of Sorrow. The second installment of the franchise to bear the Metroidvania/Castleroid formula on the DS is Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, which proves to be one of the strongest installments of the series.

As in other Metroidvania/Castleroid titles, the player controls a character they can move through various sidescrolling environments, although in Portrait of Ruin, the player has two playable characters, Charlotte and Jonathan, between whom players can switch with the A button. Jonathan specializes in melee attacks with various kinds of weapons from whips to axes, while Charlotte is physically weaker, although she’s a master magician. The two protagonists can use MP-consuming combination magic to deal heavy damage to all enemies on the screen, useful for tough boss fights in which the player wishes only to use one character’s skills, with each character having individual MP-using spells and skills as well.

Killing enemies nets the two heroes experience for occasional levels up, occasional items, and infrequent new skills. The player can acquire money by breaking candles and torches, with the player able to purchase new equipment and consumable items from the castle’s monk. A ghost named Wind also provides occasional sidequests with various objectives, and hidden in the castle are occasional powerups for both HP and MP. The battle system works well for the most part, although the difficulty of a few bosses is slightly above average than a few other Castlevania titles, the two-part final boss battle in particular being a lesson in analyzing attack patterns, rationing items, avoiding attacks, and so forth. Regardless, combat is generally above average.

Control, as usual, is well above average, unsurprising since the title’s predecessors were generally fluid in terms of the game interface, what with an easy menu system, tight battle control, a suspend save feature, and a general good direction with perhaps one exception on how to advance the main storyline and avoid a premature bad ending. In a change from other installments, moreover, there are several portrait portals that lead to environments other than the titular castle, a welcome diversion from the standard series formula. The retention of dated save points (although they do recover HP and MP) is a mark off, but like combat, interaction is well above average.

As with most other Castlevania installments, story is the game’s weakest aspect, although it’s by no means a bad narrative. The setting is during the Second World War when protagonists Charlotte and Jonathan encounter a castle the war’s chaos helps create. The translation is largely flawless aside from “Richter” being spelled “Richiter” when the player unlocks modes where they control other game characters, although this is a negligible flaw at best. There’s one decent plot twist revolving around the ghost Wind, and multiple endings, and ultimately, while the story doesn’t excel, is it somewhat above average, particularly for a Castlevania title.

The music and sound are largely flawless, and for once, Konami localized the voice acting, which shines as well and is hardly annoying. The soundtrack itself contains a variety of pieces that always enhance the mood, and overall, Portrait of Ruin is an aural treat.

The visuals shine as well, with well-designed two-dimensional scenery with occasional three-dimensional aspects and decently-proportioned and believable character and enemy sprites, although the former lack faces and don’t show emotion, that honor going to the anime character portraits that share the same style as Dawn of Sorrow. In the end, though, the game looks superb.

Finally, the game is short like its predecessors, taking less than ten hours to complete, with plenty to boost playing time such as a New Game+ and alternate character modes. In the end, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is perhaps one of the best installments of the franchise to date, what with fun gameplay and exploration, tight control, a story with some decent twists, great music and voicework, and superb visuals. It doesn’t leave much room for improvement other than the challenge of certain bosses and that the story is sometimes thinly-spread out, although series fans and newcomers to the franchise will likely have an excellent time.

The Good:
+Solid side-scrolling gameplay and exploration.
+Great control.
+Story has some decent twists.
+Excellent music and voice acting.
+Nice visuals.
+Superb replay value.

The Bad:
-Some bosses can be tough.
-Story is thinly spread out at times.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best Castlevanias.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10
Localization: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: Less than 10 Hours

Overall: 9.5/10

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