Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS) Review

By Adam Riley 21.11.2006

Review for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on Nintendo DS

The Castlevania series may have appeared on many other systems, but the majority of its strongest outings have been released on Nintendo systems, such as three classics on the Game Boy Advance. When moving over to the Nintendo DS for the first next-generation 2D game in the series there were doubts about how well it would end up, but thankfully it was a massive success both at retail and amongst critics. Now the team has been made bigger, the budget seems to have been expanded and it is definitely back with a bang in the form of Portrait of Ruin. Can a game as strong as Dawn of the Sorrow really be beaten by such a margin, though? You bet it can!

The premise of the game is that a crazy artist called Brauner is on the rampage in wartime 1944 and desperately wants to resurrect Dracula himself along with the help of his two daughters, Stella and Loretta, and it is the job of two poor souls – Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Orlean, to save the day. They must enter evil castle and fight their way through Brauner’s magical portraits, beating out the devilish monsters that are contained within, before heading for the heart of the matter and ceasing the mayhem before it has chance to take hold completely. Can they reach their goal in time, though? That is where you come in…

Castlevania’s anime style has always been a point of contention amongst fans, with some loving it and others really not warming to it. However, PoR is packed with great character through and through, starting with the elaborate anime intro piece and continuing for the rest of the game with large character portraits and in-game enemies, main characters and gorgeous backgrounds. The attention to detail was immensely impressive in Dawn of Sorrow, but everything here has been ramped up several notches, with characters looking chunkier than ever, moving much more fluidly as well, plus backgrounds featuring large 3D aspects that move perfectly in time with the foreground action and then there are the little touches like female enemies blowing kiss hearts at you, Charlotte’s skirt flapping up to show her black knickers when she crouches and foodstuffs falling off table as you walk along them. We are definitely talking Miyamoto-level extra touches here, which is fantastic indeed.

Screenshot for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on Nintendo DS

But not only has the graphical prowess been sufficiently toned up, so has the soundtrack. Whilst the GBA has oft been criticised for its weak audio capacity, the DS has already shown that it can strut its stuff with the big boys, churning out gorgeous soundtracks for the likes of Children of Mana and Final Fantasy III (to state two more recent examples). Dawn of Sorrow's music was indeed wonderful, but Portrait of Ruin again seems to take things a step further (maybe more than one step, actually). The rich music that pours from the forth from the DS speakers is haunting, rousing and chilling in the right places, with little spurts of voice acting here and there (yes, even in a hidden English mode, thanks to the game basically being developed alongside its American edition). In fact, right now I have one of the main themes running through my head, so is the addictive quality of the tunes within. Sadly you have to unlock a sound test mode, because it would have been great to have something like that right from the start...but hey, you cannot have it all!

Metroid is a series that is normally mentioned alongside Castlevania nowadays. Sure, it is not exactly the same, but since it includes deep exploration of a large hub-like castle that leads off into different areas and is jam-packed full of secret passages to uncover and bosses stowed away around the grid-like map, to the passer-by it is not hard to see where the comparative comments come from. You find the main map is on the top screen, which is extremely handy since non-DS versions require you to go into menu screens to see where you are actually going. The map is an essential piece of kit or else you will either get extremely lost or miss out on vital aspects of the game and end up having to track back unnecessarily, which can be costly if you are low on health points at the time.

Screenshot for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on Nintendo DS

Anyway, this time round there can be one or two players on the screen at any one time, depending on your choice – either Jonathan or Charlotte on their own, or you controlling Jonathan and the computer taking control of Charlotte, or vice versa. Whatever the case, when your computer-controlled character in on-screen it will only use its equipped weapon, rather than magic due to the fact that your magic bar suddenly becomes the health of the other character. When depleted it means you are left alone until it is replenished. The inclusion of this second character not only adds variety to the game, but a welcome helping hand in certain battles and a source of clever puzzles that require the use of both together or either of the two to perform specific tasks (for example, both are required to access switches, whilst Charlotte alone can summon a magical spell needed to continue further in the game). There are also ‘Dual Crush’ moves that can prove devastating when used – examples being a terrifying cavalcade of lightning or an explosive volcanic eruption dual move.

As for the world you play through, PoR does not just give you one large map to wander around in. Instead there are numerous ones hidden away inside the main castle hub. As you work your way around the castle’s various areas, unlocking different passages as you go, levelling up your characters by beating the plentiful supply of enemies along the way and picking up all sorts of defensive and offensive items, you will come across Brauner’s magical paintings. Each of these portraits acts as a warp through to another location, such as a desert, forest and old-fashioned townscape. This works similar to how the system in Super Mario 64 did, and adds an even greater sense of exploration to the already fantastic series. It certainly does help to break up the play and prevent monotony setting in.

Screenshot for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on Nintendo DS

On top of this, though, is another new addition – quests. Yes, as well as the RPG-style levelling up the is essential to avoid certain death and the constant armour and weapon upgrades you can buy / find, or the new magical abilities dropped by enemies, you can head back to the start and access a vast array of quests. Simply use one of the many warp points around the map to take you back near the beginning of the game and talk to a ghostly apparition who sets you challenges that range from punching meat with your bare fists and spending every single penny of your money to carrying out specified button manoeuvres and finding designated items somewhere within the castle or sub-levels. They are entirely optional (with the exception of the first two, very easy ones), but are a superb extra element that will hopefully be retained in future Castlevania outings. Finally, you can also buy wares from a wrinkly old chap who will happily buy excess unwanted equipment back from you as well. He also becomes a ‘quest’ as well later on when he is struck down with an illness…Portrait of Ruin has everything that made previous games so special, and so much more. Is this the definitive game in the series? Until the potential third DS game or even Wii version, then I would have to go with ‘yes’.

Now, this particular franchise is not exactly renowned for its longevity or overall difficulty and Portrait of Ruin does not really do much to change the associated tag, yet manages to add enough to warrant the game being a total waste of money. You can still get a good ten hours or more if you are willing to stick through and aim for the completion of all the quests and obtaining 100% on each of the maps you are faced with in order to get a better ending and unlock more extras. Thankfully there is also the chance to play through certain levels via wireless local multiplayer and through the Boss Rush mode over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, as well as use a worldwide shop for the collection of special items. In all honesty, the nature of the game is suited to a shorter experience as there is a chance proceedings could grow tiresome if played for too long. Koji Igarashi appears to have struck just the right balance…

Screenshot for Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

When Dawn of Sorrow was released early on in the lifespan of the Nintendo DS many thought it would appear rushed. However, it turned out to be one of the best games on the system. Now, though, it has been well and truly surpassed by Portrait of Ruin.






2D Platformer



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (12 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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