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Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Review
Posted on January 08, 2009 by

Castlevania:Portrait of Ruin was released on December 5, 2006 to coincide with 20th Anniversary release of the original Castlevania. Many innovations were to come alongside this celebration of Castlevania history. There would be two playable characters, each similar to past CV archetypes, that you could control one at a time or simultaneously have them on screen for computer assistance and team up attacks. Would Portrait continue the excellence of Castlevania handhelds?

Portrait of Ruin is an indirect sequel to Castlevania:Bloodlines in that the main character Jonathan Morris, is the son of John Morris from the Genesis game. Jonathan is accompanied by Charlotte Aulin, a descendant of the Belnades clan and a mage in training. The story takes place about 20 or so years later, in the midst of World War II with the same basic plot. The carnage and tragedy of the war has created an opportunity for evil forces to benefit. But something different has happened. A vampire named Brauner has taken control of Dracula's Castle for his own benefit. Brauner seeks the destruction of humanity due to the hate that led him to become a vampire after a tragic event 30 years ago in World War I.

Ruin's storyline is interesting right off the bat, and has plenty of original story elements as well as Castlevania references to make it familiar to long time fans. Unlike Bloodlines, whose story is a fairly convoluted mess (and thankfully not present throughout that game) Portrait is well fleshed out and develops into something greater as you play through the game.

The graphics in this game continue Dawn of Sorrow's establishment of more anime like appearances for the heroes and villains. Mostly because these are new characters, not as much criticism was directed at the art style of this game. I never had a problem with Dawn's new art style and I also enjoy Portrait's, especially the Nosferatu inspired look of the vampire Brauner.

The technique of ripping sprites from previous Castlevania continues unabated in Portrait of Ruin. There are some good new enemies like Lerajie, the sniper or Zacchino, whose speech differs based on whom you fight him with. However, the shadow of unoriginality, especially because several bosses from 2005's Dawn of Sorrow are ALSO included, still hangs over this game. The game's bosses, both old and new, are impressive and often screen-filling.

Music was a source of great anticipation due to the announcement that the legendary Yuzo Koshiro would be composing alongside Michiru Yamane. Koshiro is best known for ActRaiser and the Streets of Rage Trilogy. I also regard him highly for his NES musical contributions, like Legacy of the Wizard. He has said that the key to music is understanding the sound hardware, and he definitely proves the wisdom in that. Whereas as many NES scores are barely listenable even ingame, Wizard is one of the few I love even outside of the game.

Now to address Portrait of Ruin's actual score: Yamane and Koshiro craft a melodic and very pleasant musical journey that lives up to the pedigree of the composers. Some Castlevania fans are pretty indifferent to this score, but pieces like Hail from the Past, Jail of Jewel, and a Small Prayer are great original pieces. There are some very well composed remixes, including Cross on the Chest from the very bad Castlevania arcade game and Iron Blue Intention from Rondo of Blood. The lack of the CV staples, Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and Beginning is perhaps why Portrait of Ruin's score isn't as highly regarded as others. I think this was a wise decision, because including them in many Castlevanias is a nice homage, but it shouldn't overpower the original written pieces.

Portrait's gameplay is a modification of the standard Castleroid system in that while you still have equipment, relics and level up by gaining experience, the new dual character system brings a unique twist. The system works this way: You can have Jonathan or Charlotte on the screen once at a time or both, with the computer controlling one of the two. The player can give simple orders using the shoulder buttons. The computer-controlled character is powered by your MP, once it is depleted, they leave the screen. Because of this, you can't really have an unfair advantage against enemies; in fact oftentimes it is best to have only one character at a time to conserve your MP for your magic attacks and the devastating Dual Crashes.

These Dual Crashes are equipped similar to relics and require tons of MP, but can definitely save your butt. My favorite is the Greatest Five, found later in the game and a nice Castlevania reference.

As for the individual characters, Jonathan Morris plays similar to the Belmonts but can equip many different weapons like Alucard. He also has access to the traditional subweapons and many other enemy abilities, gathered in the standard way. Perhaps due to his inexperience, these abilities need to be powered up by defeating enemies to reach their full potential. The system is interesting, with some funny gag choices, like the cream pie and the paper airplane. You'll feel compelled to power them up (some of which take WAY too long) just to see how their graphics and effects change as they grow stronger.

Charlotte Aulin is similar, except all of her abilities are spells of different varieties. She has plenty of impressive attack spells but rounds out her arsenal with defensive buffs and healing spells. She is weaker physically than Jonathan and is best at distance fighting. Luckily Charlotte does not have to power up her spells thru repeated use. Remember she's NOT a kid!!

The best thing about this game is it does away with the tacked on DS features used in DOS. As far as I recall, the touch screen is only used in one of the bonus modes, and only serves to make its gameplay broken. I guess it is a fun diversion though.

Challenge is once again subject to your leveling discretion. The normal difficulty is really pretty easy, but there exist harder modes with tangible rewards that make them worth playing. In Hard Mode, enemies can kill you in 5 or so hits, and while you can still heal with Charlotte, you definitely have to be more careful. As usual, if it is straight up challenge you want, try the other bonus characters, neither of which have direct healing capabilities.

Portrait of Ruin continues the handheld excellence of high replayability. Both characters have lots of different and fun ways to play the game. Sole subweapon runs seem to make sense if you are looking to master the weapon as it is certainly less tedious that grinding against the same enemies. Some of these subweapons require thousands of uses to master, so a game runthrough using one or two of them in total is a good plan.

POR may not have the massive number of modes that Circle of the Moon had, but unlike Circle, each different character mode is a new experience. This is as such because while the goal and stages are the same, each character plays quite differently.

In summation, Castlevania Portrait of Ruin continues the excellence of Castlevania handhelds while astutely acknowledging the 20th year history of Castlevania in its bonus modes. If these portable CV games continue to be made with the same care and fan service, gamers like me will be able to overlook their minor problems to see that they are some of the best in the Castlevania series and tons of fun for gamers both old and new.

- Ugly Bob - og (@) | all author's articles

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