Thursday, December 14, 2023

Castlevania Chronicles (Sharp ZX68000, 1993 / Playstation 1, 2001)


This is the 4th out of the five 'Vanias that I wanted to play for Halloween. I got to two of them at the time, Kid Dracula was the 3rd.

I'm playing the PS1 version (which is $6 to download on PS3 and well worth that). That said, technically this game actually came out in 1993 on the Sharp ZX68000, a system I've never heard of and chances are you've never heard of either outside of when people are talking about this game. The ZX was more of a computer than a console, and got a few revisions/updates between 1987 and 1993. 

The system also only got released in Japan, so most people didn't get to play this game until it got a PS1 port in 2001. That's right, this series got four different huge games on four different systems in the early-mid 90's. It was everywhere! Though this is probably the least by a good margin of the Rondo / Castlevania IV / Bloodlines grouping, I still had to check it out.

Before anything else I'd like to pour one out for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. RIP E3. It now joins its fallen brothers E1 and E2. That's right, Expo and Entertainment Expo.

This game has a couple modes. Original Mode is the ZX68000 version, and it's super-difficult. Arrange Mode is basically the PS1 revision, and cuts the difficulty in half (at least) by making you take less damage and not be knocked back. Also it adds a few minor graphical effects in some places and remixes the music. Most notably, it gives the hero pink hair. So if you want to play easy mode, you have to do it with pink hair.

One thing is very quickly apparent: This is a remake of the original Castlevania with Simon Belmont. Much like CV4. Except this keeps the controls largely intact (no whipping in 8 directions or limp-swinging) and also deviates from the level layouts less often. It does change the levels themselves a bit, though. There are a couple of new levels, while also not using some of the NES version's. Also, they amped up the challenge level for this one and I'd say it's above either of those games. Unfortunately, since it's a remake and a better remake exists for the same game, I'm not sure if there's a ton of reason to play this except for 'Vania superfans and people who want to complete the series.

We've got 3 levels of whip in this game. Chain whip does 2x the damage of the regular whip, then there's an extended version of that. While you lose your whip upgrades and go back to the initial one on death, generally you find whip powerups pretty much right away. So most of the time you have the L3 whip and at worst you're only really stuck with L2 on respawns.

Personally I was a big fan of how the L3 whip in the Game Boy games flings a fireball. My favorite overall though is probably the fire whip in Simon's Quest, where the whip just turns into a straight-up flaming whip.

Stage 1 is full of shambling cultists, and they spawn infinitely so in theory one could stand here farming lives if they were (extremely) patient. It'd probably take around 6-8 minutes of standing here whipping for each life farmed. There's a MUCH better spot later on where you can get a life every minute, and it isn't necessary to farm anything here really.

There are 8 levels in this game, and each one is split into 3 "stages" that are denoted in the top-right. Dying puts you back at the beginning of the current stage, while running out of lives puts you back at the beginning of the overall level. Unlimited continues at least. Reloading a save does that as well. You can only save on game over, so don't expect any autosaves. At least it has a save system at all! I can't imagine how nearly-unbeatable this would be if it had no saves and no continues.

Oh shit, in the sewers we find my mortal enemies the Sahagin. They've really fallen on hard times if they've taken up residence in here.

"Our time has come!" bark the Sahagin as they attack en masse and get swatted out of the air by Simon.

First boss is this giant bat, as is first game tradition. Not much to say about this one. Some time after this, I switched over to Arrange Mode and found that to be a much more enjoyable run all things considered. Original Mode is there for series pros. The thing is, Original Mode is harder than most of the series (everything except CV3) while Arrange Mode is more standard 'Vania difficulty. So you aren't getting any kind of free ride, it's more like you're normalizing the difficulty level to be in line with what you expect from a 'Vania game. I also suggest turning the timer off in the options, because these levels are LONG and the timer is very antiquated to begin with. You want to be able to think through your moves in levels this deadly.

Level 2 is a cave system, which wasn't in the NES version. Yep, it's a new level specific to this version. This throws you for a loop early-on if you're expecting a 1:1 remake.

"WE WILL NOT BE MOCKED" screech more sahagin as they ambush Simon on a raft.

"IT IS OUR TIME, HUMAN!" says another one as Simon knocks 3 of them out of the air at once.

Well, the latest Sahagin Takeover didn't work too all the other ones.

Level 2 boss is a giant dragon skeleton. Damn, this is pretty impressive. And probably not doable on the NES, so that alone is a good reason to give this a whirl.

The map system. You start outside Dracula's Castle and don't actually reach it until about halfway through the game.

Here's the legendary fountain outside of the castle, which ushers in level 3.

Also notable from level 3: These damn paragliding flea enemies that glide in on birds. They're probably the most obnoxious enemies on the NES and they're pretty bad here.

This next part is weird. You've got crystal walls that block you off, then randomly open. Looks like something from a completely different game too. Final Fantasy IV wants its tiles back.

This part is particularly weird. There's this giant piston that crushes you against the ceiling, though you can duck while standing on it to avoid that fate. The problem is that when I leap off of it to the right, half the time I just die as soon as I land on the platform. Putting aside any jokes about how injury-prone Simon is or how he must have just won the AEW World Title, I really don't know why he dies when landing on this platform. The whole thing is bizarre. I found that by leaping over from a lower level, he was fine.

Next boss is this wizard that teleports around the room while crystal walls move up and down out of the floor to give you a step to reach him.

Noticing that special weapons seem exceedingly rare in this game compared to the others in the series, so much so that I've barely gotten much use out of them so far. It's been whip all the way pretty much. As for what you have, it's the usual series fare. Axe, Holy Water, Knife, Cross Boomerang, and... what's this? There's a new one, the Herb. It's the best, by far, but you can only get it as an occasional rare drop from enemies. I only saw two over the course of the entire game. The Herb uses hearts to heal your HP, and a lot of it no less. Once you have that, you're pretty much set for a while as long as you have a reasonable amount of hearts and don't die or pick up another special weapon. Unlike Symphony, picking up a new one just flat-out poofs the old one. Hearts can be farmed by going back and forth off a screen, so at least that isn't an issue here.

Halfway through the game, Simon reaches Dracula's Castle. Lots of stainglass windows in here, and also...

...the Medusa! One of 'Vania's classic bosses. The key to victory?

...whip her in the boob. Right in the boob!

Going from there we've got the infernal menace of the Clock Tower. Usually this is pretty late in 'Vania games because it's such a colossal threat. Here, they put it midway for some reason, right at level 5. I'd go so far as to say this might be the hardest level in the game.

Some of the gears spin super fast, and will spin you off of them like a kitten flying off of a fast-moving record player.

At the top, Simon meets this young woman. Finally, something good in this infernal hellscape.

...who then turns into the Werewolf. This is one of the toughest fights in the game, and being right after one of the most difficult sections doesn't count. Oh yeah, and you have to do this all on one life meter. Lose and you're back to the beginning of the last Clock Tower section.

The only reason I got past this was because after a bunch of tries, I got an Herb drop right before the boss and was able to heal to full before the fight. So pure luck got me past this.

Level 6 starts with the infamous collapsing bridge. The good news is that this is the last stage one has to beat before they can farm infinite lives, and this stage isn't as bad as the previous one.

It's also full of small, creepy dolls.

Including a vicious Maria action figure. The Devil's hands have been busy.

Boss here is the doppleganger, which leaps out of a mirror and shatters it while yelling "CRY ME A RIVER" for some reason. It has the same powers you do, so if you bring a special weapon here it'll make heavy use of it. Getting spammed with axes in particular is pretty rough. As a result it's better to fight this thing empty-handed. Holy Water probably isn't too bad.

Level 7 has you running through these long jail hallways while skeletons pelt you with arcing bones. Pretty sure this was level 2 in the original game...

After a bit, there's this spot where a bunch of red skeletons chase you around. These things respawn endlessly (and quickly) so all you have to do is run them all over to this wall and then sit behind the wall slashing away. This racks up a TON of points, and gets you a life approximately every 60-80 seconds. I sat here for a half hour or so and got up to 30ish lives, the traditional Konami Code number. TBH I probably should have gone for 50 because the last level is TOUGH.

Note: The Konami Code itself does basically nothing in this game. Punch it in on the title screen and it'll let you change the date... which has no effect on anything. Yikes. They knew they were making this game hard as hell.

Now I've seen everything. Skeletons...swinging jump-ropes.

My God.

Miniboss of sorts here is Frankenstein's Monster. Not sure if he can be defeated because I hit him a lot and it was to no avail. Seems like it's best to just take a hit and run past him while he gives chase. This is almost the end of the stage, so if you can just get through the door you're good. Just make sure to be sufficiently extra lived-up before leaving this room...

The last room before Death is this weirdly serene field, which is probably some kind of illusion. This is also debatably the hardest room in the game, with these damn medusa heads that just do NOT let up. Then you've got the axe knights as well, and... yeah, it's horrible.

Death himself is at the end of that hallway, and the most difficult part is just getting here with enough health to survive the fight. I found the best thing to do to be to get up on the right side and swing away from there.

Last level is Dracula's armory, and before long the place goes up in flames. A bunch of enemies attack here and I can barely even see them because of the flames. I ended up just booking my way through here. All the extra lives turned out to be crucial for getting a win on this game, because otherwise I would have been repeating these stages a LOT. The checkpoints (or lack thereof) are the biggest threat in this game, but it's a little better with tons of lives.

Next stage is the bridge atop the castle. The first boss appears a few times on this bridge to harass you, and I ended up just using the Time Stop and running past it.

This one pit is probably the deadliest pit in the entire game and has ended a few people's runs entirely. I got it on the first try, but I also jumped at like the last possible frame. It doesn't look like I'm gonna clear it here, but I did.

Made it to Dracula, and the music is so triumphant at this point.

You emerge from the dark and drab level of Death, after many many losses, to arrive at the final level with this music playing like some sort of musical sunrise.

Dracula himself is the hardest boss in this game. I've never been that good at fighting Dracula in these games, either. I found that what worked best was to get close to him as he's teleporting in, then move away and jump over his fireballs to hit him once (as he'll fire diagonally downward if you're close, making the fireballs much easier to leap over).

Still, it took me a bunch of tries to figure this out and get the hang of it, and my extra life count dwindled all the way down to 2. Yep, all those extra lives I farmed turned out to actually be needed. Good news though. Unlike every other level in the game, they actually checkpoint you right before this fight. So once you reach this fight, you don't have to repeat any of Level 8 on death, even if you game over here. Which is incredibly thoughtful of the devs, actually.

His second form from the NES returns here and does the same manuevers. This part is actually the much easier portion of the fight since he's big and slow, and your hits stall him. So if you can pummel him with whips and cross boomerang shots, you can stall him out and chunk his health between his attacks. The only problem is getting here with enough health to stand and slug it out with him. Getting here with more than a third of the health meter is enough, and half (seen here) is pretty much a guaranteed win.

IGA. Well, that was another great game. I've really gained an appreciation for this series, and (old-school) Konami in general this year. They really were at the top of the mountain for game development, especially in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. And the Castlevania series tends to almost never miss. These games are so much fun to play, even when they're whipping you. And whipped I got, as this game was tricky and gave you no quarter.

Not as tricky as some of the other games I've played this year, though. Been lucking out on finding absolute gems lately.

5th Halloween 'Vania next.

Other Castlevania Posts

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