Title Dracula X: Nocturne In The Moonlight
Developer/Publisher Konami
Type 2D Action
English Version Available (renamed as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)
Reviews #1, #2, #3

Review #1 by Michael Motoda

Once in a long while, a game will come along that will completely shatter a game player's perception of a certain genre. I experienced this recently with Taito's fantastic shooter, RayStorm. I still play this game frequently, because it is a shooter that excels on so many levels. Many of you have also been enjoying the definitive and new benchmark to which all RPGs will be judged: Squaresoft's Final Fantasy VII. And here it happens once again with Konami's gorgeous platform game, Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight.

First of all, I must stress that you should not judge this game by screenshots. They simply cannot do this game due justice. From the game's opening scenes, you are treated to multi-layered backgrounds, full 3D objects combined with fantastic, colorful, and amazingly animated characters and background objects. Some of the greatest graphical tricks are conjured up in this game that are inspired and amazing. Think back to the first time you saw the Leviathan spell in FF7... I felt a similar surge go through me with some of the events in this title.

GRAPHICS -- You have never seen 2D animation quite like this before. Think of the fluid animation of Psygnosis' Adventures of Lomax coupled with some of the 3D elements in Sega's Clockwork Knight. Throw in full-blown object morphing, complex mathematical background effects, gigantic sprites that rotate, grow, and move around the screen at a pace not seen before on the PSX, and you get a small idea of what this game might look like. The animation on some of the bosses is astounding, and you'll probably be caught staring at them for a few seconds while they pummel you. They are really beautiful creations for the most part, and will give you a clear understanding of what the next generation in 2D gaming will bring. The colors are vibrant, making full use of the PSX's lush color palette. Nothing feels dull. Konami put a lot of time into this game, and it shows.

SOUND & MUSIC -- the sound effects in this game are what you would expect from a Konami platformer. Crisp weapon, spell, ambient, and character sounds. They are done very well and don't interfere with the game -- rather, they compliment it quite well. The music, on the other hand, is truly state of the art, and is beautiful on its own. The compositions are wonderful, haunting, and perfectly suited for a game like this. Once you hit that start button on the main menu, the first music you hear will make you nod your head in agreement. This is truly a special soundtrack. Unfortunately, the audio is streamed, so you can't play it in a CD player (much like Taito's RayStorm). Even more unfortunate is the fact that the soundtrack doesn't seem to be available yet, as of 04/21/97. As mentioned in another review on this site, the end song is worth the price of admission in and of itself. I won't spoil it, but it features some of the biggest names in the music industry, and you'll undoubtedly recognize some of the musicians who help bring this song to life. It's a classy and melancholy tune that adds a wonderful sense of closure to the game.

Speaking of sound, this game features some of the biggest names in Japanese voice actors/actresses (seiyuu). This comes as no surprise as Konami got the help of Arts Vision. Among them are Yokoyama Chisa (Sasami/Tenchi Muyo!, Sakura/Sakura Taisen, etc.), Okiayu Ryuutarou (Yuu/Marmalade Boy, etc.), and Shiina Hekiru (who just recently released her fourth album, "With A Will"). The list doesn't end there. There are also a number of other easily recognizable voices in this game as well, and they all lend their talents to the characters in this game beautifully and convincingly.

GAMEPLAY -- This is straight-up platforming... with a twist. In an effort to breathe some life and diversity into this game, Konami included several elements that hint at RPG overtones. Your character now has statistics, such as Intelligence, Strength, etc., and items you collect and equip (there are a LOT of them) alter these stats as well as giving your character special abilities. All items have a description attached to them, so item management is simple. Your character can gain levels, allowing him to have more MP as well as hit points and attribute enhancements. It's a nice feature. Unfortunately, you'll probably find that you don't use ~80-85% of the items you acquire.

The control in the game is perfect for a platform game. It is tight, concise, and immediately responsive. You never feel like you don't have control over your player, which further helps in establishing that much needed connection between the player and their on-screen alter ego.

The game is also huge. While I've never met a game that surpassed excellent games like Yoshi's Island in terms of length and depth, Dracula X gives these games a run for their money. It's nice that Konami gives the player a huge castle to explore, full of secret passageways and monsters, but if you complete the castle entirely, a gateway opens up for you to go up into a SECOND castle, full of new monsters, effectively doubling the size of the game. And as most of you already know, you have the option of playing the game as Richter (as opposed to Alucard) if you achieve 200%.

"So, what's wrong with this game?" you might be asking yourselves, after seeing 2 sterling reviews. The game is not without its faults. The most glaring problem with this game is the difficulty of the area bosses. Aside from a certain boss (those of you who meet him will KNOW the pain that this guy is capable of dishing out), literally ALL of the area bosses are defeated easily, including the final boss in the game (I beat him the first time I met him only losing about 180HP out of approximately 700HP). Luckily, this game has massive diversity in its levels, monsters, and bosses to help you overlook a problem like this. Aside from the aforementioned boss, I never felt like my character was in any danger. In fact, some of the regular monsters roaming the halls do more damage than most of the bosses. Their attack patterns are also very predictable, and within 1 pass, you can tell what they're going to do. This is pretty much my main gripe, and it didn't really detract from the overall experience of this game. Those of you looking for really challenging bosses will not find them in this game. Those of you looking for a gorgeous adventure through one of the best programmed platformers of the past year should look no further.

OPTIONS -- The game is full of them, and some of them you have to purchase for the bargain price of $500,000. And believe me, building up funds isn't a walk in the park. Konami thought of everything. From the RPG-inspired "change window color" to assigning your keys while in-game, to an entire slew of other options (you can listen to interviews with the voice actors and actresses as well!), this game never leaves you wondering, "Now, why didn't they put in here?" You can also rotate and twist the "NOW LOADING" logo by moving around the D-pad. Not that the load times are long (they're quite short), but being able to mess around this way makes the wait even shorter.

Since most of you will be paying upwards of $70-$80 for this title, the question you're probably asking yourself is, "Is it really worth that much?" Well, aside from the obvious answer I would give you, there are also additional incentives to purchase this title. First of all, it comes with a 16-track CD with music from all previous Dracula titles (each track has anywhere from approximately 3-8 different tunes, so you're actually getting a really large collection of game music, not just 16 songs). This CD, if sold in stores, would probably cost you about $27-$30, so the game is already a bargain. Additionally, you receive a gorgeous 32-page art/manga book containing the work of Kojima Ayami, the character designer for this game. Again, perhaps a $10 value, included in the Y5,800 package for free. This game is an absolute steal.

All in all, if you like platformers, or only slightly like platformers, you really do owe it to yourself to buy this game. This is the best offering from Konami since Tokimeki Memorial, and I can only imagine what Contra COULD HAVE been had KCET done the development on it instead of Konami UK. The music is worth the price of admission, and if any of you grew up with a FC, this will be a blast of nostalgia, although it isn't a game that relies on the feelings of the past to be enjoyed. This game is an instant classic. It's unfortunate that it isn't selling very well in Japan, but hopefully Castlevania's popularity in the US will help to boost sales of this incredible game when Konami US releases it stateside.

Final Scores:

 
Graphics
9

+ seamless blending of 2D and 3D.
+ the most fluid 2D animation I have ever seen in a home video game.
+ gorgeous character designs.
+ beautiful transparency effects, explosions, and use of PSX hardware.
+ great savegame presentation -- you get encased in a 3D coffin. ^_^
- some monsters get a little pixellated as they are scaled too much.
- opening CG leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Sound/Music
9.5

+ in-game music is among the best ever.
+ end-game song is striking, beautiful, and professional.
+ ambient sound effects (wind, etc.) are convincing and realistic.
+ in-game interviews/bios of the game's voice talent. A nice touch.
+ voices are done extremely well and are crystal-clear.
- some of the voices are a bit muffled.

Gameplay
8

+ tight, responsive control.
+ lots of secrets to uncover.
+ tons of items and spells to use and master.
+ large levels to explore and some tough corridor monsters.
- bosses are unusually easy to defeat.
- no difficulty setting (this may be an option that becomes available)

Overall
9

Please email me with comments or questions about my review. Thank you for your time.

 

 

 
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