Castlevania games tend to pop up each year on Nintendo’s Handheld platform. The last entries: Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, followed the story of Soma, who mysteriously inherited Dracula’s dark abilities. Forget about all that, and the soul harvesting system. Portrait of Ruin is the spiritual successor of Castlevania Bloodlines on the SEGA MegaDrive/Genesis. Jonathan Morris is the son of Bloodlines’ whip-equipped hero. PoR takes place during or just after the second World War. Dracula’s castle reappeared because of the many sacrificed souls during that era. Together with your childhood friend Charlotte, you’ll have to explore the castle and beat Dracula, again!
Yes indeed, like the unlockable Julius mode in Dawn of Sorrow, you can now switch between characters (Jonathan or Charlotte). But instead of just switching to the person which suits your combat style, now the AI takes care of the non-active person. For instance, you can order Charlotte to cast a spell by pressing the R button if you are controlling Jonathan, and vice versa. Charlotte will automatically attack enemies and the AI does a pretty decent job at it too. Although sometimes she gets stuck but you don’t have to worry about that since the non-active character teleports directly to you if the distance between both of you is too big.
Using these two vampire hunters, Konami implemented a couple of little puzzles which can only be completed using them both. You can order one of them to “standby” instead of following. New orders are received through cubes like in Symphony of the Night and Harmony of Dissonance. Sadly these puzzles are more annoying than enjoyable, just like the ice blocks in Dawn of Sorrow. Speaking about those: there is no touch interaction, whatshowever. Which is good. The upper screen is still used as a map though. Many monsters make their return (of course there are new ones), mostly copied from Symphony of the Night. Most of them have been completely remodelled, which gives PoR a nice retro feeling. As said before, the soul hunting system has been replaced by a similar skill system: monsters drop either weapon or spell skills, usable by Jonathan and Charlotte respectively. Killing enough minions using these techniques allows you to “master” it and do more damage.
Instead of using souls to create new items, you can now only buy weapons, or of course find them in the castle. And of course, the whip is back in all it’s glory! Buying can be done throughout the usual NPCs or this time even via WiFi. Setting up a shop sounds exciting, but almost every item can be found while playing solo so this feature is kind of useless. To lengthen the game, a series of quests are available. Kill 10 Axe Armors, Find 5 cakes, Build your INT to 100, … All quests are too liniar and involve going back and forth in the castle. Rewards are either items to equip or MP/HP up potions. Yes, they are back, and can also be found in secret areas. Sadly 80% of those secret areas only conceal special food types which completely replenish your HP or MP. Sounds good but most potions can also be bought in the shop and the game is not that hard, apart from some amazingly well animated bosses.
What is really new in Portrait of Ruin? Portraits! In the castle, you will encounter some portraits, which each holds a completely separate level, besides the main castle. Every portrait includes their own unique style: a forgotten city, an egyptian pyramid, etc. The main castle is rather small and uninspired (it only contains four areas) but the portraits more than make up for it. Sadly, the last 4 portraits are complete copies of the first 4 ones. Seems like the developers ran out of level design ideas. This game feels more repetitive than other Castlevania games because of the heavily reused level design. Too bad!
Besides the rather uninspired level design (except the first few paintings of course) and the sometimes clumsy partner system, Portrait of Ruin is still a very good Castlevania game. The soundtrack is as awesome as ever, the whip weapon class is back and the bosses are very nicely done. I really hoped the main castle would be much bigger but oh well. I burned through the game in 10 hours but I did not finish many boring quests (Dawn of Sorrow took me 12). Despite those disappointing facts, Castlevania Portrait of Ruin still stands very strong. No other platform game on the DS achieved this level of addiction, except for the previous Castlevania game and maybe New! Mario bros.
Review-Cat says: If you’re a Castlevania, Platform or Metroidvania style fan: buy! If you’re not, buy Dawn of Sorrow instead..