Akumajou Dracula: Mokushiroku / Castlevania (N64) (1999)
Akumajou Dracula: Mokushiroku Gaiden /Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (N64) (1999)
Review written by Faididi and Co.
Why does the little girl always kick more ass?
It's that time again, when the biggest and baddest-ass vampire of them all, Lord Dracula, rises to terrorize the world of the living. The task of stopping him falls upon the current Belmond successor, an ultra-Germanic-sounding dude called Reinhart Schneider. For some reason, the current Fernandez successor, a little magical girl named Carrie, can take Reinhart's place and beat up Dracula instead. The plots for both characters are standard stuff, and the supporting characters should have had better roles or been dropped altogether. Too bad Reinhart's and Carrie's stories aren't tied to each other within the game in any way.
Gameplay: Above Average
Konami's Akumajou Dracula: Mokushiroku (Castlevania, without any "64" in the official localized name) is a 3D action adventure unlike any of the installments before it. Reinhart or Carrie, with you playing as only one hero, will run, jump, and fight through plenty of large, chapter-like stages. Your character's progress can be freely recorded at the save points scattered throughout the place.
The game is mostly linear, but there are several areas that require the heroes to explore for switches or keys that'll help them unlock doors. Although there aren't the myriad items and tiny bonuses of Gekka no Nocturne (Symphony of the Night), it's definitely far more lenient than other platforming-heavy action adventures like Core's Tomb Raider and Asylum's Deathtrap Dungeon. That's thanks to the gently balanced combat and the fairly streamlined level and puzzle designs.
The heroes each carry a primary weapon and a secondary weapon, in addition to other tools that give them the upper hand. Reinhart relies on the classic whip and a short sword, while Carrie wields an overpowered homing energy shot and a cute pair of bladed dancing rings. They can boost their primary attack strength by grabbing certain upgrades. They can also pick up the series' trademark subweapons, like the axes and the bottles of holy water, which still cost heart-shaped power-ups to use. More importantly, the heroes can stock up on items that include stamina-restoring food and poison-cleansing antidotes, which is a great way to reward patience and careful preparation.
Funny enough, the large degree of variation in the level and enemy designs that makes them so imbalanced also keeps them from becoming repetitive. Though the sizes of the areas and the traps contained within them vary wildly from stage to stage, each part of the castle features completely different sets of obstacles. The towers of the outer gate, for example, present lots of vertical climbing and jumping challenges. The villa, on the other hand, is highly exploration-oriented and requires the heroes to check every room for clues. The bosses appear fearsome without ever being insanely difficult, but they're clearly easier to beat with Carrie, who can keep running away while letting loose an unending barrage of her homing energy balls. The game also borrows the day-night system way back from the series' second installment, where the bad guys grow a little tougher during the later hours. Some of the stages and bosses differ depending on which hero you play, too.
The game's greatest flaw isn't its straightforwardness but its failure to integrate the two heroes' experiences. Reinhart and Carrie go through independent quests that have nothing to do with each other. Things would be way more involving had Mokushiroku made both characters actively travel together.
Controls: Above Average
The controls are responsive, and moving and attacking are all easy to do. The intuitive use of the jump button to grab onto ledges is very handy, and the manual lock-on feature is almost unnecessary, due to the effective auto-aiming. Still, having greater control over the camera at certain points of the game would've been nice, however agreeable its automatically determined views are in general.
Graphics: Above Average
The characters and the lighting effects are rendered smoothly. The decently textured environments are massive in size. The heroes' several different walking and running motions, depending on their speed of movement, are a cool touch.
From the footsteps across different types of surfaces to the booming explosions to the creaking of old iron gates, everything sounds great. Another of Mokushiroku's strong points is its music. Ditching the pop rock and other modern styles found in the preceding installments, the beautiful tunes here are composed along more orchestral lines. Where they exist, the vocal effects are perfectly fine, although the spoken portions of the introductory scenes are pointless, because the dialogue in the rest of the game is silent.
Overall: Above Average
Akumajou Dracula: Mokushiroku is a solid action adventure with varied level design, mostly friendly controls, respectable graphics, and impressive music. If it had actually combined its heroes' quests instead of leaving them as two separate experiences, it would've been even better.
Expansion: Above Average
Akumajou Dracula: Mokushiroku Gaiden (Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness) is, for all intents and purposes, what the first Mokushiroku is originally supposed to be. It's a greatly expanded version of the game, containing features that haven't made it into the earlier release, including two more playable characters (one of whom carries a ridiculously powerful weapon), several new stages and bosses, radically altered layouts for some of the old areas, strictly character-oriented ledge-climbing controls, extra music of equal or better quality, and an optional high-resolution graphics mode.
Unfortunately, Mokushiroku Gaiden still fails to integrate its heroes' independent quests, even when accounting for the fact that one of their stories takes place years before the rest. The new characters may be fun to play in their own ways, but their stories are nothing special. If you've already gone through the first Mokushiroku and had your fill of it, you can afford to skip this expanded edition without fear of missing anything big.