At this point in the franchise, the Metroidvania format is what most gamers associate Castlevania with and its one that slowly became overdone. Released in 2006, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin manages to shake things up with a creative setting and some much-needed updates to the gameplay.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a sort-of sequel to Bloodlines
Castlevania Bloodlines is a fan-favorite, so it’s nice to see Koji Igarashi and his team acknowledge it. Starring John Morris’ son Jonathan and his friend Charlotte Aulin, Portrait of Ruin takes place during the dying days of World War II. The evil Count Brauner, (the only Nosferatu inspired villain in the series, by the way) has been using the souls of dead soldiers to bring the evil of Count Dracula back to life through the paintings in his castle.
Hence the name, Portrait of Ruin.
Having the chance to mix-up to playstyles on the fly with Jonathan and Charlotte is a welcome addition. Jonathan wields the whip and all of the classic Castlevania sub-weapons (the cross, holy water, etc.) and Charlotte knows a variety of spells and fights enemies in a simplified version of the Souls system in Dawn of Sorrow. It’s a lot of fun creating attack combinations between the two and neither of them never feel useless.
They also amusingly shout their names when the player switches characters like a mid-2000s anime. Boss fights are probably the most fun they’ve been in a while and don’t rely on the gimmick of “drawing a soul.”
Unfortunately, the two friends share the same life bar, so there is a challenge here. Also, many of the enemies may come off as uncreative.
Level design wise, it’s pretty simple, but the aesthetics make it worth the trip. Jonathan and Charlotte jump into Count Brauner’s paintings and are transported into different worlds. Portrait of Ruin carries on the creativity in Egyptian deserts, a Roman colosseum, and a fun house-stage. The actual castle hub is also MASSIVE. The whole game doesn’t feel too daunting, but in order to get the 100%, exploring every nook and cranny comes off as a chore.
Other features make Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin worth checking out
The game gives players the option to play as the original guy-and-gal vampire fighting duo of Richter and Maria from Rondo of Blood. However, this is only unlocked after the game is beaten.
In a franchise full of great soundtracks, Portrait of Ruin can be added to that list. There’s a great collection of original music, but it’s the remixes by Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage 2, Actraiser, dozens of other phenomenal OSTs) that take the cake. His remix of “Simon’s Theme” is incredible.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin keeps the wheels rolling on the Metroidvania subgenre with its unique premise and tight gameplay. At this point, it sounds like the handheld Castlevanias can do no wrong.
Maybe a mobile game won’t be a bad idea….