Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a metroidvania game for Nintendo DS. The main story is basically that you have to control two characters trying to unlock the power of the Vampire Killer whip, defeat the evil vampire in Dracula’s Castle, and keep the evil creatures from resurrecting Dracula himself. The gameplay is similar to other Castlevania games of the genre. You can always check out my previous Castlevania reviews to learn more on what that’s like. You level up as you go, getting new equipment and fighting bosses along the way. One interesting change in this installment is that you can control two different characters with the touch of a button. Jonathan is a sturdy melee fighter while Charlotte is a more frail magic caster. You can switch between them at any time and sometimes summon them next to you to have the AI fight alongside you. You will also need to use each other to get through some puzzles and fights. There are also side quests you can complete in the game to get some extra spells and gear. You have the ability to upgrade some of your secondary items by killing enemies with them. While both characters share the same health and magic meter, each character has their own customization. Some equipment and spells can only be used by one of the characters, while others can be used by both. There also a special set of spells that requires both characters to summon. Unlike previous games with one large and connected map, Portrait of Ruin has one big hub world map connecting to a number of maps to other worlds. The more worlds you complete, the more side missions you can unlock and the more items you’ll find available in the store. To complete the game, you’ll have to conquer these worlds, defeat the vampire sisters, and defeat their vampire father.
I loved this game so much. It’s always nice to have the RPG leveling element to the game so that even if you’re not the best player you can still grind your way to the top and win. Grinding is also pretty fun in this game. You can gain levels as you try to explore 100% of each map, complete all the available side quests, collect all the items, fully level up your weapon spells, and fill out all the information on monsters by fighting them. There’s just so much to do that you will most likely be able to have a fun time grinding while doing those other things rather than being bored grinding simply for levels. It’s also neat that you can build both characters in a different way. The equipment having pros and cons, along with different ways of moving or attacking, is really nice to mix up your gameplay style and encourage trying different items and builds. There’s also an optional challenge area unlockable within the main game. It’s also visually and audibly interesting. Plus, the controls are very tight. You can toggle between seeing the map and your current stats on the top screen, which is very convenient. I personally liked that you don’t need to use a bunch of touch screen controls to play this either. I find that to be a welcome omission. There’s also a lot of extra stuff for replay. After beating the game you can play challenge modes, hard mode, new game plus, or start a new game as completely new characters that play differently. There’s just lots to love about this one if you like metroidvania games.
I did get pretty annoyed with a few things, though. I couldn’t take advantage of online play as that’s no longer available, but even so it was mainly to use the shop. The online shop would really only be good for buying unique items that either come much later in the game or that you may have sold earlier on. Why bother if you can get them yourself? Well, because if you sell certain pieces of equipment that are required for completing side quests then… you just can’t finish those side quests. That means you can potentially screw yourself out of collecting everything unless you know beforehand what is important and what isn’t. Also, while switching between characters can be useful and is needed in times, I basically just played as one the whole time until I absolutely needed the other. The big thing that pissed me off was that it’s possible for you to miss out on half of the game. At a certain point you’ll need to fight the vampire sisters at the same time. Your natural instinct is to beat them, and they are tough. However, defeating them will bring you to one of the multiple endings of the game… the bad one. If you save them you will unlock four more worlds and the true final boss. How do you save them? You have to cast a spell that takes a fairly long time to cast, not to mention just figure out that that is what you’re supposed to do. There’s a bit of a hint to it earlier, but it’s not super obvious. The screen reads game over after the cutscene as well, but it’s still presented as an end. It’s not cool that you can potentially miss out on half of the game in this way.
Even with the bad ending event and the ability to mess up your side quests this game is still amazing. There’s so much content and so much fun in the gameplay. It’s not too hard to mess up a metroidvania style Castlevania game, and Portrait of Ruin does it all incredibly well. It’s so fun that I practically started playing through the entire thing a second time with a new character right after completing it once. It is, by far, my favorite Castlevania game now and I highly recommend it because it’s definitely worth good money to play even though it probably won’t be too expensive to get. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is a great game that Castlevania and metroidvania fans MUST have.