Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Nintendo DS
Reviewed: 01/21/2007

Another year, another Castlevania. This year, however, is the 20th anniversary of the series, and Konami has made sure that references to previous titles appear. These add to the atmosphere, while not intruding upon it, allowing Portrait of Ruin to stand on its own.

Portrait of Ruin stars Jonathan Morris, who is the son of John Morris, the hero from Bloodlines, and the next inheritor of the legendary Belmont whip,” Vampire Killer.” He doesn’t have the power to wield the whip, so he’s brought along his friend, Charlotte Aulin. She is a powerful witch, a descendant of the Belnades clan. Together, they discover Dracula’s Castle, only to find that Dracula isn’t around–no, there’s a new vampire, named Brauner who intends to destroy humanity. The plot of Portrait of Ruin isn’t at all new to the Castlevania series, but the finer details make it shine. The characters have depth, the plot twists are conceivable, and various surprises strewn throughout help to polish a story that’s been told many times in many ways throughout the series.

Portrait of Ruin simply looks above average graphically, though not quite reaching the amazing visuals last year’s Dawn of Sorrow managed to pump out. It’s nice to go to areas outside the castle, exploring different locales of the world, but these areas generally are on par with Dawn, which is still nice, just not quite the usual upgrade each installment receives. As usual though, the various different sprites of characters and enemies look amazing, wonderfully detailed, and are very fluid in movement, although quite a few monsters and weapons are pretty much copies of their previous incarnations.

Musically, this is another success for the Castlevania series. There are plenty of new tracks to go along with the new areas, and each one sounds great, from the Egyptian sounds that play in the desert and pyramid, to the haunting music that plays in the front corridor to the castle. Also, there is voice acting, and not the usual screams and battle shouts of previous installments. There are full conversations, and the acting is very well done, with actors that really match the personalities, providing believability to the characters.

Portrait of Ruin puts a brand new twist on the typical vampire hunting with the addition of a second character. The two characters are very different: Jonathan is the brute force, able to use the stronger weapons, and wear the heavier armor. Charlotte doesn’t hit as hard, but when she uses her magic spells, she can really do some major damage. The key is knowing who will do more to a particular enemy, and switching for optimal pain. Also, while playing one character, the other can be brought out and controlled by the A.I. to help fight, but this isn’t incredibly effective, as they won’t use magic. There are some inventive puzzles though, involving the use of both characters to progress, such jumping from one’s shoulders to reach higher areas, or having both characters push a heavy stone to progress.

There is the very unique and cool “Quest” system, in which an NPC will offer certain quests to go out and complete, and upon return, the characters will get one of many various rewards, such as equipment, permanent stat boosts, and spells. However, there’s a crucial error here: Portrait of Ruin is filled with tons of glitches. Twice during play, the game suddenly completely froze, and had to be restarted. Also, there is a key glitch, which, if activated, makes it impossible to complete the game. This happens about halfway through, which means, if encountered, all the work up the that point must be done all over again. That is inexcusable, and Portrait of Ruin should have been playtested much more throughly than it apparently was.

As with most Castlevania games of late, Portrait of Ruin contains some massive replay value….more so than some recent installments, even. There’s the usual extra character mode, where completing the game unlocks a new mode for play, but this one has three of them. Also, one of these modes is incredibly different and fun, requiring only the directional pad and the touch screen to play. There’s also a boss rush mode, and then there’s the new co-op mode, in which two players work together to do boss rush and strive for the fastest time.

Portrait of Ruin stands as yet another welcome entry into the franchise, and could have been one of the best in the whole series, with its awesome replay value and just great gameplay overall. But, coming so soon after Dawn of Sorrow, it just doesn’t feel as fresh as it could, and worse yet, there are numerous glitches that really hold it back. Hopefully Konami will take a little more time between the next entry, and make it something that feels, and plays, more complete.

-Joey Janowksi

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Great
Graphics Good
Sound/Music Legendary
Replay Value Excellent
The Verdict: Six