Following up last years tough act, "Dawn of Sorrows," "Castlevania: Portrait of Ruins" is a game set to satisfy a lot of high expectations. For years now, Konami has established the Castlevania series as the ultimate vampire killer franchise delivering one solid sequel after the next. It’s safe to say that, at least for this year, that tradition will continue on as Portrait of Ruins proves to be worthy of carrying on the legacy left by its former predecessors.
Deviating from tradition just a bit, this year’s game focuses on, not one but two heroes. Jonathan Morris, a fiery vampire hunter who wields the legendary whip of the Belmont family, "Vampire Killer" and Charlotte Aulin, a spellcaster with tremendous magic abilities team up to undo yet another evil undead plot brewing in the house of Dracula.
Ironically, while the two team up to battle against the forces of darkness, each of them seem to be struggling with their own inner battles, Jonathan vexed by his inability to harness the true power of Vampire Killer as his father and those before him did, and Charlotte yearning to unlock the magical potential within herself so that society might perhaps take her more seriously. The only thing for certain for the both of them is that the answers to their inner enigmas may very well lie with in Dracula’s Castle and only by working together as a team will they have a chance to unlock the questions within themselves.
Meanwhile, evil things are brewing and stirring once again back at Castle Dracula. An ancient vampire is beginning to rise up and threaten the fate of the world once again drawing off the power within Dracula’s accursed castle. With Dracula’s powers at disposal this vampire is using the mystical paintings placed throughout the castle to open portals to Death. With these portals opened hordes of undead and higher undead beings are free to wreak havoc as they so see fit and all will have to be vanquished before the day is won on the side of good.
As its predecessor before it did, Portrait of Ruin also boasts a respectably strong graphics and sound engine. The layout of the game is arguably at its best consisting of enormous and richly detailed environments, a colorful variety of undead enemies and as always larger than life mid-bosses. All of these elements along with a dynamic orchestrated soundtrack work together to set the tone for this new gothic plot about to unfold.
Though the game primarily sticks to its roots, the newest thing to talk about in this year’s vampire hunter is the "partner" feature. Now players can swap out, play simultaneously, or have Jonathan and Charlotte perform a dual crush attack on the fly at any point during the action. All of these moves can be performed with the simple press of a button and when the proper combination is unlocked can make for a recipe of mass destruction.
Jonathan is pretty much the brawn of the group and players will probably rely heavily on his services throughout the adventure as he can unleash extremely powerful melee attacks, wielding a number of large weapons such as claymores, axes, pole arms and the like. Not to mention he’s pretty handy with that whip.
Charlotte, who is not to be underestimated by any means, is the brain of the group. Talented in the field of magic, she can summon a slew of powerful magic attacks and is actually pretty good with a sword from time to time. She’s also a little quicker on her feet and seems to be able to jump a tad bit higher than Jonathan.
The game will challenge you at times to solve little cooperative puzzles with the two of them or exclusively call on a particular ability of one or the other to bypass an obstacle. Ultimately, players must perfect the efficiency of this dynamic duo if they are going to have a chance at thwarting the forces of evil.
At some point during exploration players will come across a spirit being who goes only the name "Wind." Wind will help point the way as well offer personal quests for players to complete while they’re out adventuring.
Upon completing these mini-quests, new skills and items will become unlocked and accessible for Jonathan and Charlotte’s use.
The rest of the game is everything we have known and come to love about the Castlevania series for the last 20 years. There will be lots of hacking, and lots of slashing, and yes a bunch of monster bashing and you can probably expect a meeting with the Notorious Count Dracula before your adventure is over with. As many times as we’ve been there and done that you’d think that it would get pretty old after awhile and yet, from one year to the next we find ourselves anxiously mashing away at the buttons to once again hold the darkness back.
Ultimately, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruins makes a solid addition to what is now becoming a pretty extensive series. The game safely follows in the footsteps of its predecessors boasting top-notch graphics, great sound and sound effects, and keeping that familiar game play engine intact which players have come to respect over the years. The new partner system does sort of give things a fresh perspective and with its user friendly control scheme makes for a particularly interesting adventure.
Celebrating 20 years of production Konami still seems to be doing things right with their infamous Vampire Hunter series as this one racks up a solid four GiN gems.