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Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS) Review
Review by 
8.7/10 from 24 user ratings
 

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is the second Castlevania game for the Nintendo DS. It was released on December 5th, 2006, a little over a year after Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Just like its predecessor, and all the GBA Castlevania games, it was modeled after Symphony of the Night’s Metroidvania style of gameplay. Also, like its immediate predecessor, it is a sequel to another Castlevania game (Castlevania Bloodlines), though not a direct one. The game is very different from the Sorrow games, however, as you will soon learn.




Story
The story in this game is very interesting, perhaps more so than Dawn of Sorrow's. It takes place in 1944, in the middle of World War II. The planet is going through such a tumultuous time that all the suffering in the world brings forth Castlevania, Dracula’s castle.




Our heroes.

Johnathan and Charlotte learn of Castlevania’s appearance and make their way to the Castle. On their way, they meet Vincent, a friar ordered by the Church to assist the heroes. We soon learn that Jonathan is the current wielder of the Vampire Killer, the whip of legend passed down through the Belmont line. Jonathan Morris, however, is not a Belmont, even though he is related to them by blood, and therefore he is unable to use the power of the whip, as his magician friend Charlotte Aulin points out to Vincent. After the introductions, they all make their way inside the Castle where Johnathan and Charlotte begin to explore, while Vincent literally sets shop in one of the rooms.




“So the Church sent you to set up shop in Dracula’s Castle, eh?”

Johnathan and Charlotte soon find out that the Castle is currently ruled by another vampire named Brauner, and he is assisted by his daughters Stella and Loretta. They also meet a ghost who goes by the name of Wind. And to make matters more confusing, they also run into Death, who claims that he is not working for Brauner. Who is Brauner? What secrets is Wind hiding? What is Death’s plan in all this? Where is Dracula? Why won't Stella return my calls? And how does this game tie into the SEGA Genesis title, Castlevania Bloodlines? All of these questions (except one) will be answered as you delve further into the game.




The main characters.

Graphics
Portrait of Ruin uses an anime style for its main characters, especially in the character portraits. While the change to anime wasn't well received in Dawn of Sorrow, in this game, it actually fits. This is probably because the characters are a little bit younger and less serious, plus we were not biased by seeing them drawn in the Aria of Sorrow animation style.The graphics in this game are great. However, they are not a huge step above those from Dawn of Sorrow. There are a few enemy designs which have been recycled from DOS such as Catopeblas. Others like Persephone have been given new looks and behaviors. Some of the new enemies look more detailed than those in the last game too. There are also a lot of enemies that have been taken from Rondo of Blood. In fact, most of the bosses are directly from Rondo of Blood with new looks and moves. Some of these are: Dullahan, The Mummy, and The Werewolf. Even though, the last two have appeared in other Castlevania games, their patterns and presentation are clear homages to those in Rondo of Blood.




Nearly headless Dullahan.

There is a great variety in backgrounds, much more than many other Castlevania games, but I will get into the reasoning for this later. There are polygonal backgrounds like in the last game, which change perspective as you walk. But most of the backgrounds are sprite based, though, and some of them have up to three layers. There is a cool effect in one of the rooms where, as you walk, there are bloody handprints that follow you on the wall.




Bloody fingers.....bloooody fiiiingeeeeers!!!

Sounds
The music in POR is excellent, better than the previous portable Castlevania games. Most of the musical pieces are upbeat and fit the game very well. There are some excellent tracks such as Victorian Fear, Jail of Jewels, and Iron Blue Intention. However, the best piece in the game is Hail from the Past from Sandy Grave. It has a very “Egyptian” feel to it and is unlike any musical piece ever heard in any other Castlevania game.

The sound effects in POR are very similar to those in Dawn of Sorrow. Everything fits into the universe and sounds great. Something new to the portable games, though, is the voice acting. Instead using the Japanese voiceovers, everything is now in English. I like it a lot, especially when you are using magic and the characters yell out the spell in English. The original Japanese language track is hidden in the game for the purists out there.

Gameplay
Portrait of Ruin starts off like most other Metroidvania games, near or inside Castlevania. However, you will soon find out that this game is pretty different from its predecessors. One of the biggest complaints of Castlevania games is the lack of variety in locales. This game deals with that problem brilliantly. Brauner, the current resident of Castlevania, is an artist and his paintings are windows into the worlds he creates. There are a total of 8 different worlds that Jonathan and Charlotte must venture into in order to weaken Brauner's hold over the castle. The worlds are pretty big too, easily making this one of the biggest Castlevania games yet. Some of the portraits include Sandy Grave (a pyramid), City of Haze (a town reminiscent of the town at the beginning of Dawn of Sorrow), and Nation of Fools (a topsy turvy world). The only gripe I have with the portrait system is that two of the portraits are very similar to two other portraits. Other than that, the idea is fantastic and should probably be used by future Castlevania games in some way.




Wait. This is a Castlevania game right???

Portrait of Ruin is also a very unique Castlevania game because you control two characters…at the same time. You can switch between the two characters, Jonathan and Charlotte, by pressing the "X" button. You will take direct control of your chosen character while the other one follows and emulates your movements. You can also force your secondary character into certain actions by using different button presses. You can force him/her to stay put, use magic, etc. You can even use them as a stepping stool by jumping on their heads. Sometimes, you will have to make use of these actions when fighting bosses such as Keremet.

Each character controls basically the same, but they still feel very different. Jonathan will attack using a variety of weapons, including swords, axes and, of course, whips. He can use and obtain subweapons from enemies in a similar way that Soma does in DOS. These subweapons include the usual suspects such as axes, holy water, and crosses. There are a lot of new ones, though, such as paper airplanes and cream pie. You can make these weapons more powerful (master them) by using them to kill a lot of enemies. Charlotte, on the other hand, uses books as weapons. Weapons literally come out of the pages of the books she uses. Unfortunately, they don’t have much range. Also, instead of subweapons, Charlotte obtains and uses spells. Some of these are offensive, some are defensive, and some can even be used to transform into animals.

Jonathan and Charlotte can also combine their skills in order to unleash even stronger attacks. These magical skills are scattered throughout the castle and you have to find them. The coolest of these attacks is “Greatest Five” which unleashes the power of Five Belmonts on all enemies in the screen. These Belmonts are: Leon, Trevor, Simon, Juste, and Richter.




Warriors Revive!!!

In order to obtain the “Greatest Five” skill, you have to finish the Nest of Evil. The Nest of Evil is a hidden area in the Castle that is revealed after a certain condition is met. This area is extremely difficult but it is a great place to level up. Here you will fight monsters from the game, and even monsters from previous games. The final boss of the Nest of Evil is a trio you've met before.

Another way to obtain items and skills is to complete Wind's Quests. Wind will give you certain tasks which range in difficulty from easy to very hard to downright annoying. One of the quests requires that you get rid of all your money. Doing these quests is worth the trouble, though. The rewards are very useful.

One last thing, I would like to comment on the last boss without spoiling much. The last boss of the game is actually a tag team of Dracula and Death. This has never been seen before and really surprised me in my first playthrough. Even Charlotte comments on this before the fight. I think you guys will be pleased when you reach it.

Portrait of Ruin is a slightly longer game than Dawn of Sorrow or any other portable Castlevania game before it. I finished the normal game in 12:57 (hr:min) compared to Dawn’s 15:00. After that, I played it in Hard Mode and finished it in 4:25 compared to Dawn’s 3:34 (you can carry over skills and weapons). I finished Richter Mode in 4:03, Sister’s Mode in 1:49, and Old Axe Armor Mode in 2:32. I finished the three Boss Rush Mode Courses in 1:17:58 (min:sec:ms), Course 2 in 4:03:74 and Course 3 in 3:37:16. My total playtime was roughly 25hr55min compared to Dawn of Sorrow’s 22hr:27min.

Extras

Endings: Two endings. One where you have not defeated Brauner and one where you have defeated Brauner, Death, and Dracula. The second ending also differs slightly depending on whether you cured Vincent or not.

Sound Mode: Sound test mode.

Shop Mode: You can sell your items to other players through Wi-Fi or Local Wireless.

Co-Op Mode: You can play Boss Rush Mode with other players through Wi-Fi or Local Wireless.

Boss Rush Mode: Boss Rush Mode is separated into three courses, each more difficult than the last. Each room contains monsters or bosses from the game. Your rewards will depend on how fast you finish the courses and they can be added to your inventory in the main game.





Hard Mode: In Hard Mode, the enemies will hit harder and Jonathan and Charlotte will be weaker. You are also capped to either Level 1, 25, or 50. Lower level enemies will also have more HP.

Richter Mode: In Richter Mode, you play as Richter but there are no story elements. There are HP and MP Ups but there are no recovery items. Richter looks like his Rondo of Blood counterpart. He moves faster than either Jonathan or Charlotte. He comes equipped with the Vampire Killer which he can whip straight ahead either stranding or ducking. He also carries the traditional castlevania subweapons: Holy Water, Knife, Axe, Bible, Cross, and Holy Cross Crash. He can also double jump and “infinite jump” using the “L” button. In addition, he can slide and then do a flying kick from the slide.

I was surprised to learn, though it makes a lot of sense, that you can also play as Maria in Richter Mode. She also looks like her Rondo of Blood counterpart. She attacks with doves. She also carries the subweapons she used in Rondo of Blood: Dragon, Red Birds (???), Cat, and Turtle Shell. She can slide like Richter, but she can’t do a flying kick from it. She can’t super jump either.




Sisters Mode: In sisters mode, you control Stella and Lorretta. This mode is actually a prequel to the main game which I’m not going to spoil here. Both sisters move around by floating. Loretta fires blasts of ice while Stella slices with a sword. You perform both of these actions with the stylus instead of the buttons. There are MP and HP ups but no recovery items in this mode. At least, one voice over is changed in this mode which I found amusing; Lilith calls you a filthy cow. Of course, you never fight the sisters in this mode since you’re playing as them.




Old Axe Armor Mode: There are no story elements in Axe armor mode, nor are there any recovery items. There are MP and HP ups, though. Axe armor attacks by using an axe, of course. He can attack forward and ducking forward, just like Richter. He can also raise the axe which will cause damage to enemies in it’s vicinity. You can also dash forward, backwards, double jump, and super jump. He can also “slide,” though he doesn’t have a specialized animation for this action. Old Axe Armor can also throw his axe in an upward arching motion. Finally, he can also throw a doll and switch places with it, though I never had to use it in-game. Unlike all the other modes, Old Axe Armor doesn’t have a partner.



Final Thoughts
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is one of the best Castlevania games ever made. Everything from story to gameplay to music merges seamlessly into an amazing product. There are also plenty of unlockables to keep the player busy for months. I really cannot recommend this game highly enough.

Trivia
  • The final four bosses you face before being able to fight Dracula are Medusa, Frankenstein's Monster, the Mummy, and The Wolfman. This marks the second time in the series that all five of the "classic movie monster" enemies have full boss character status.
  • When battling Stella, you can hear her pronouncing the name of an attack sounding like "Secret Surious Wave". These actually are two overlapped samples, "Secret Strike" and "Furious Wave" (original Japanese samples were much shorter, and didn't overlap). The simplest way to hear "Secret Strike" alone is by pressing "Start" during the word "Secret". The game will open the menu, but the sample will play to the end. When you close the menu, Stella will say "Furious Wave".
  • When closing the cover of the DS to enter sleep mode (with the game still powered on), the game will make a sound effect simulating a coffin closing shut.
  • Portrait of Ruin is the first Castlevania to feature a cooperative multiplayer gameplay mode and the first handheld Castlevania to have English voice-overs, outside of its original Japanese release.
  • Richter' is misspelled as Richiter within dialogue boxes in the main game.
  • Brauner is based on the real life artist Victor Brauner.
  • Igarashi commented the two player game play was an homage to Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, his favorite Castlevania game.
  • The player can collect records of certain tracks that can be used to replace the game's default background music.
  • The songs Sandfall and In Search of the Secret Spell that play in the Forgotten City level are originally from Konami's own King’s Valley 2 released on the MSX2 computer.
  • In celebration of their 20th anniversary of the series, anyone that pre-ordered Portrait of Ruin at any popular game outlet, received a free bundle, along with the game. The bundle includes a variety of Castlevania products contained in a cardboard sleeve with a plastic Seal of the Castlevania logo. The products include: a soundtrack CD containing songs from the Castlevania series, a timeline poster covering many of the significant characters and events of Castlevania history, a 48-page art book containing artwork from the entire series, a clear/white game case designed to hold both Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, and an extendable stylus.

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    Posted: 05/06/12, 04:24:32  - Edited by 
     on: 11/27/12, 05:17:07    
     
    Why not sign up for a (free) account and create your own content?
     
    Good review! Love this game! I actually like it better than Order of Ecclesia which seems to be the favorite DS iteration of the series. Dawn of Sorrow is probably still my favorite of the DS games, although Aria of Sorrow trumps them all.

    Why oh why isn't there a new Castlevania on the 3DS??? E3 maybe?!

    BTW I have that 20th anniversary bundle, it was kinda cheap.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 05:16:51  - Edited by 
     on: 05/06/12, 05:17:13
    Holy F your reviews put mine to shame.

    I did enjoy this game, although it was my least favorite of the DS games.

    deathly_hallows said:
    I actually like it better than Order of Ecclesia which seems to be the favorite DS iteration of the series.

    Huh? Dawn of Sorrow is generally considered the best DS game.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 08:01:44
    Now that's a detailed review.

    I pre-ordered the game and got the 20th anniversary bonus. It's actually the only pre-order bonus I've ever had (except for the Mario Galaxy coin but yeah). I thought it was pretty cool and even used the extendable stylus (until it cracked). That was a mistake, as the pre-order bonus was going for $50+ on eBay when the game launched. That would have made up the cost of the game and then some! And I'm hardly a collector, so really the thing just takes up space on my shelf now.

    POR is probably my least favorite DS Castlevania, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. If the day was longer and I didn't have a bunch of unplayed games on my shelves, I'd go back and play through my whole Castlevania collection.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 17:28:31  - Edited by 
     on: 05/06/12, 17:43:36
    I absolutely agree with you. Back when these three games came out, it felt like Portrait had received the worst reception of the three, but it was definitely, definitely my favorite. It had a lot to do with Bloodlines being my first Castlevania game, but your review covers my thoughts about the gameplay rather nicely. Good stuff!

    I got the pre-order bonus as well. Best one ever. Stylus, game case, art booklet, and a timeline all packaged in a Castlevania-themed box. For no extra charge. Awesome.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 17:44:16
    @Zero
    I thought DoS was the best, but a lot of folks said it was too much like AoS, I just really liked Soma as a character. When OoC came out people went nuts because it "wasn't just a castle" and that big world map. Which was really cool I have to admit. All the games are pretty good, I want another!


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 18:55:28
    Hmm, I think pre-release of OOE people were talking like it was going to be the best one, but afterwards the reception was well... great but not "best ever". In the end I think DOS is generally still considered the best of the DS games.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 19:42:34
    @ZeroThat the way it should be because Soma is the best! Aria of Sorrow is my favorite Castlevania game, full stop, it's better than SotN IMO!


    Posted by 
     on: 05/06/12, 23:13:10
    Great review as always SirMasterSephiroth! This is definitely one of the strongest entries in the portable Castlevania series. It's been a while since I played this one, but reading this review and seeing the clips and animations reminds me why this game is utterly fantastic.

    I… did not know about "Greatest Five!" That is just too cool, and I'm not surprised I never got it since I don't remember doing the Nest of Evil or fighting that boss of three characters. Mind blown.

    I did get the pre-order bundle, which is why I am able to listen to the soundtrack as many times as I want. 'Hail from the Past' is definitely one of the best tracks in the game, no doubt.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/07/12, 04:28:12
    Great review! Well done, sir.

    I loved the pre-order bonus for this game. I still have it, safely tucked away. It was such a cool package. Probably the best pre-order bonus I've ever received.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/07/12, 05:43:02
    Thanks all!

    @deathly_hallowsYou'll find out my sentiments on Order of Ecclessia during the summer, in my next review. And Soma is also one of my favorite Castlevania characters, if not my favorite.

    @ZeroI agree that DOS is considered the best DS Castlevania games by most critics. I think you're dead on with your perception of the whole OOE pre and post-release situation.

    @nate38 I love that bundle. I have the CD on my iPhone and I listen to it every once in a while. For those who have never seen it:


    @mr_chun I actually have a review for Castlevania Bloodlines already written up in outline form. I'm just waiting for it to be released on the Wii VC (wishful thinking). I also have three other Castlevania reviews in outline form. I'll probably save them for Halloween .

    @deathly_hallows My favorite part of the Sorrow games is the Soul System.

    @roykoopa64 Greatest Five is soooooo cool!!! I love unleashing it on bosses. Nest of Evil is hard though. Harder than anything in the main game, except for the last boss.

    @GameDadGrant This bonus rocks. I think the only pre-order bonus that was better than this was the 4 Zelda games in one disc. I think you just gave me an idea for a Top Ten.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/07/12, 22:57:25
    Nice review sirmaster as usual. I'm glad you finally got to my favorite DS Castlevania. I really liked the variety of the game and its locales. POR was a breath of fresh air from the previous "Sorrow" games. Which makes me think: why oh why hasn't Konami announced a 3DS Castlevania yet? What is IGA doing these days? The 2D Castlevanias have constantly been the highlight of Nintendo portables to me since GBA.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/08/12, 00:47:48  - Edited by 
     on: 05/08/12, 00:49:22
    @gencid Thanks. I also wonder what Iga is doing these days. I hope he's working on a new portable Castlevania. I wouldn't mind seeing it on both the 3DS and the PSV. The 3DS has the advantage of having two screens, one of which is 3D while the PSV has a bigger more vibrant screen and two touch inputs (front screen and back screen), but no 3D.


    Posted by 
     on: 05/08/12, 03:10:41
    Hey, Greg Leahy mentioned your review on his last show! An honor!


    Posted by 
     on: 05/14/12, 08:06:21
    Guillaume said:
    Hey, Greg Leahy mentioned your review on his last show! An honor!

    Are you serious???????? That's awesome!!!!!!!!! And on his last show too!!! I can't wait to hear what he has to say. I hope that made the cut.

    I'm a huge fan of his and will greatly miss him on the show. I will especially miss his "Hoy! Hoy!" at the beginning of each show. However, I know you will do an amazing job with the podcast like you've done here. RFN is in great hands and it will live on for hundreds of more episodes!


    Posted by 
     on: 05/14/12, 08:25:02
    @Guillaume

    An honor indeed! Nice job @sirmastersephiroth!

    I just listened to that segment, he brings it up during his 'Now playing' section when talking about Portrait of Ruin, and although he didn't mention the username, he did briefly want to point out there was a 'very in-depth' review that showed up recently on Negative World.

    It was great to hear his views on the game, especially since he had played Order of Ecclesia years ago prior to playing this one. He also pointed out how awesome the Death and Dracula team boss really is. His discussion complements this review quite nicely!


    Posted by 
     on: 05/15/12, 00:09:38
    roykoopa64 said:
    @Guillaume

    An honor indeed! Nice job @sirmastersephiroth!

    I just listened to that segment, he brings it up during his 'Now playing' section when talking about Portrait of Ruin, and although he didn't mention the username, he did briefly want to point out there was a 'very in-depth' review that showed up recently on Negative World.

    It was great to hear his views on the game, especially since he had played Order of Ecclesia years ago prior to playing this one. He also pointed out how awesome the Death and Dracula team boss really is. His discussion complements this review quite nicely!

    I just heard it myself. It's awesome and I hope it can bring in more readers to our site. I was thinking the same thing on how his views complement the review nicely, it's like he was talking point for point, even if we have different views on some things. After I heard the segment I couldn't believe that a Super Mario 64 analogy, which was perfect for this review, never occurred to me. So you heard it on RFN first and I will echo it here, "Portrait of Ruin is the Super Mario 64 of Castlevanias!"


    Posted by 
     on: 05/15/12, 01:14:19
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