In addition to having the original PC version on the Chronicles disc, an enhanced version of the X68000 has been created specifically for this 2001 release. This mode features new sprites for Simon Belmont and Dracula amid other enhancements, both apparent and subtle. It is called arrange mode within the game, and I will call it as such here.
The story has only been slightly changed from the 1993 version. This is reflected in a new and very grainy FMV intro, which only serves to make the very basic story slightly convoluted. What is going on with the giant spiders? Other than this, we have the same classic story of Simon Belmont battling the forces of evil.
The graphics in Chronicles are pretty much lifted straight from the 1993 version, with new sprites for Simon and Dracula, done by Ayami Kojima. Simon is certainly more flamboyant in this new illustration with red hair and a very stylized outfit. Me like this new badass look. Dracula is drawn to be closer to the original Rondo of Blood version, whereas in the original Castlevania and X68000 version, he was meant to resemble the most favored Dracula of all, the 1930 Bela Lugosi portrayal.
There are also some new effects in certain areas of the game, like in Area 4 we have a statue crying bloody tears. A little bit of nothing to many, but definitely something neat to big Castlevania fans, especially considering that area's music.
The music is definitely the area of the arranged mode that surprised me the most. I knew that the soundtrack has been remixed from the 1993 version, but a remix is putting it lightly. Sota Fujimori, a known synthesizer enthusiast, puts his tremendous skill to great use in creating a score that is simultaneously familiar and totally new as well.
Every track benefits: Bloody Tears in Arrange Mode is the greatest arrangement of the classic piece I've ever heard and it is still my favorite version by far. Tears has always been an epic sounding track, but never has it been more fully realized that in Arrange Mode. Simon's Theme is redone similarly, and is definitely better than the SNES version, with booming bass conveying a real sense of accomplishment, as Simon draws ever nearer to Dracula's keep and the final battle with his eternal foe (for now at least...)
Other enhanced favorites include Etude for the Killer and the newly trancelike Vampire Killer. This Vampire elicits different opinions from CV music aficionados, some like the new direction, others find it silly. As there is an entire album of Castlevania dance type music called Dracula X Remixies, I was already warmed to the style and I enjoyed it greatly. I urge you to check it out.
Gameplay in the Arrange Mode is identical to original, with all the same subweapons, whip attacks, adjustable midair jumps and suchlike. I didn't expect any real gameplay changes if the goal was to mirror the original gameplay. As it was, I got what I expected.
Challenge can be adjusted due to the new ability to select one of three difficulty settings. Hard mode is the equivalent of the X68000 version. Medium is slightly easier and Easy is just that, all enemies and attacks only take 1 bar of life off Simon, so if you want, you are often able to just go right up to enemies and bosses and beat them simply due to attrition.
Simon also has a new ability that is present in all difficulties. When hit, he will not jump back nearly as far as in the original. This is a great option to reduce cheap deaths, especially against the pernicious platforms of Area 2.
Replay value is enhanced through a new mode. Upon finishing the Arrange Mode, Time Attack mode is unlocked. This mode is just what it sounds like; beat the stage as quickly as you can, with an onscreen timer to monitor your progress. I don't care much for Time Attacks that have no clear reward, but it is useful for non-tool assisted speed runs.
There is also an art gallery that unlocks as you complete areas in the Arrange Mode. Besides the new Kojima sprites for Chronicles, there is also a collection of Symphony of the Night Images from the Sega Saturn version. Though some of the images are censored, it is nice for Symphony fans in the US to have easier access to these great illustrations.
Finally, there is an interview with IGA, exclusive to the US and European releases of Castlevania Chronicles. This is a pretty solid interview with a decidedly different looking IGA. I almost didn't recognize him without his goatee. Now that I follow Castlevania closer than ever, seeing Igarashi in normal clothes was a bit jarring. He is known to dress up in costumes at press events and suchlike. It seems odd to observers but it is part of the fun. Don't forget that a producer's job first and foremost is to sell his product.
This interview is definitely worth watching as IGA covers many topics and there are many interesting bits. This conversation annoyed some people as he hinted at a release of Rondo of Blood as his main interest. Given that it was filmed in 2000, many fans would rather have had a PSX version of that masterpiece over the Sharp PC version. You can definitely include me in that bunch. Fans would have to wait a few years for Rondo to be released as part of the Dracula X Chronicles on PSP.
In summation, Castlevania Chronicles' arrange mode is all about the little changes that may not be initially apparent. It really feels like it was made for the fans, as these are the group likely to enjoy the changes the most. These are both obvious as with the complete musical overhaul and subtle with the slight graphical changes. I think the best way to express my approval is to say that the Arrange Mode not only makes the Sharp version better, it makes it more acceptable as part of the Castlevania series.
It may be odd to say that a 2001 version of a 1993 remake of a 1986 game is the best version, given the comparable games of its time, but this is the truth. Even though this version is technically the 2nd remake of the original Castlevania, Super Castlevania IV just seems so different in presentation that it should not be directly compared to Chronicles' arrange mode.
This version seems to somehow give credence to the 1993 release, as if it was a worthy project that was just released at the wrong time on the wrong system. Perhaps the whole idea of another Castlevania remake should have waited until the whole idea of Castlevania Chronicles took root in 2001. It took 14 years to see a Rondo remake, and everything seemed right there, both in the remake and the original PC engine version. This isn't the case with both versions of Chronicles. Ultimately the Sharp PC version feels like it is more for masochists than anyone else. I played through it once and probably will always defer to Chronicles' Arrange mode in the future.
There is a reason that remakes should not be undertaken lightly. Time and demand must not only be considered, they are the paramount concern.