How Can I Play It? Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night
How to kill vampires and influence people.
Our ""How Can I Play It?"series lays out the best options for legitimately and legally playing the classic games we cover here at Retronauts, ideally on current platforms.
Yep, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night debuted in America 20 years ago. After I posted yesterday's piece about some of my experiences and memories of the game, several people asked for recommendations on how to play it on current systems. So, I've put together a list not only of the various ways you can play Symphony, but also its direct predecessor (predecessors?): Rondo of Blood and Dracula X. We live in dark times, but it's not all bad when these classics are so easy to come by for a reasonable price.
Dracula X: Rondo of Blood
The "lost" Castlevania. This version of the game took nearly 15 years to make its way to the U.S. Konami published it exclusively on the PC Engine CD-ROM^2, the Japanese equivalent of the Turbo CD. Since Konami never localized a single one of its PC Engine games for the west, it languished in Japan.
PC Engine CD-ROM^2
These days, the original import game disc will run you $150 on the low end, and the hardware that supports it sell for $300-500, easy. If you want the premium classic experience, it'll cost ya.
PSP/Vita/PlayStation TV: The Dracula X Chronicles
A far more economic option exists in the form of The Dracula X Chronicles, a PSP remake of Rondo of Blood that adds 2.5D graphics, new secrets, new bosses, and new story events. In addition to the new version, the original Rondo appears here as an unlockable item. The emulation on the unlockable isn't the best in the world, but for the price it's hard to complain. The Dracula X Chronicles's physical UMD version works on PSP only, while the digital version also runs on Vita. Finally, you can supposedly run this version on PlayStation TV by working around Sony's built-in restrictions.
Wii: Virtual Console
The best price and best-quality reproduction of Rondo can be found on Wii, though. For a measly 900 Wii points — that's nine bucks — you can own a great recreation of the game. It also works in Wii U's backward compatibility mode. The downside? This version of Rondo will no longer be available for purchase after January 2019. Caveat: Due to Nintendo's requirement that Virtual Console titles remain unadulterated from their original releases, this version contains Japanese text only.
Castlevania: Dracula X
Since Konami didn't muck around with localizing PC Engine games, America saw this take on Dracula X instead. Not quite a sequel, not quite a remake — it was called "Dracula XX" in Japan — this Super NES game contains many of the elements seen in Rondo but completely rearranges them. It also drops things like the alternate stage routes, hidden endings, and voice-acted anime cut scenes. On the other hand, it's ludicrously difficult. So that's… something?
A bare cartridge of Dracula X costs nearly as much as Rondo of Blood now. The collector's bubble is stupid. Don't pay $150 for this game. Especially when…
Wii U: Virtual Console
…you can get it on Wii U. Although this release was something of a disappointment when it showed up in 2014 (pretty much everyone saw the press release and thought it was about Rondo of Blood), given the high cost of the original game it's nice to be able to pick up a digital release for eight bucks.
New 3DS/New 2DS: Virtual Console
The 3DS Virtual Console also offers the Super NES Dracula X rather than Rondo. I'd recommend the Wii U version if you want the ability to play on a television, whereas this version is more portable and offers a slightly richer set of emulation features. (Both cost the same: $7.99.) As with all Super NES Virtual Console titles, these only work on New 3DS and New 2DS.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Unlike the Super NES game, this is definitely a sequel to Rondo of Blood. (Just ignore the fact that the U.S. prologue text tries to pawn it off as a sequel to Bloodlines for Genesis, which was set about 100 years after this game.) It's an all-time gaming classic, rich in detail and nearly as influential on metroidvania game design as Super Metroid. You need to own it.
Surprise, the PlayStation original has become hilariously expensive, regularly selling for $100 or more. You might be able to find a discount on the Greatest Hits reissue, since some people are real weenies about that green "Greatest Hits" band Sony put on the cover of its budget reissues. If you're going to spend a ton of cash on this, though, I recommend the import version. Sure, you'll need to be able to play and read Japanese to appreciate it, but the Japanese release included a bonus soundtrack CD and a book full of original artwork and manga by illustrator Ayami Kojima.
For novelty, consider hunting down a copy of the Japan-only Saturn remake of Symphony. It has a lot of issues, but it also contains some cool extras: Two new areas (including a completed version of the area the developers had intended to put beneath the first screen of the castle, which terminated in a dead-end shaft on PlayStation), new music, and a bonus mode to allow you to take on the castle with Maria Renard's combination of kung-fu and summoned monsters.
Xbox 360/Xbox One
Backbone Entertainment put together a digital-only remake of Symphony of Xbox 360, including Achievements. Not only that, but the 360 version later showed up on the Konami Classics Vol. 1 retail disc. Both versions of the game play on Xbox One under backward compatibility mode. It's not a perfect remake, but it's the only way to play Symphony on a current-generation console.
PSP/PS3/Vita/PlayStation TV: PS1 Classics
Probably the best remake of the game, Konami released the PS1 version of Symphony of the Night as a PlayStation classics title for PlayStation 3 and PSP. While it won't run on PlayStation 4, it does work on Vita and PlayStation TV. (Which I guess arguably counts as a current-generation console, if you want to be all "well, actually" about it.) Sony's PS1 Classics emulation is top-notch, so this is a nearly perfect way to revisit the game. Highly recommended — and it's cheap, too!
PSP/Vita/PlayStation TV: The Dracula X Chronicles
Finally, Symphony also appeared as an unlockable in The Dracula X Chronicles. The emulation on this version is good, but it's not quite on par with the PS1 Classics version. On the other hand, this version of Symphony includes a new English localization that lacks the schlocky awfulness of the original release (though it sounds incredibly stilted, which might be as bad). It also lets you play as Maria, though strangely her play mechanics are completely different than in the Saturn version.
Images courtesy of VG Museum