Release Date: Fall 2006
The year is 1944. Thirty-three years ago, John Morris and Eric LeCarde defeated Dracula's niece, Elizabeth Bartley, and in so doing, saved the world. As usual.
Now, in the middle of World War II, another vampire has raised Dracula's castle. Two mysterious girls are using the chaos of the war as cover to raise Dracula yet again. John's son Jonathan – the current wielder of the Vampire Killer whip – and his childhood friend Charlotte Orlean are the only people who can prevent Dracula's newest resurrection.
If history is any indication, they will not precisely be successful, but it's nice to have goals.
Contrary to popular rumors back when the game was first announced, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin is another "Metroidvania" game; it is not a 2-D sidescrolling action game, but another romp through a chaotic and unpredictable castle, packed with monsters and secrets, with an RPG-style experience system.
The difference, as usual, involves the lead characters. Portrait of Ruin is coming out in 2006, the 20th anniversary of the Castlevania series, so IGA's made sure you'll be using a main character with a whip. At the same time, though, you'll be using Charlotte, a spellcaster in the vein of Castlevania III's Sypha Belnades.
During gameplay in Portrait of Ruin, you can press the Y button to switch between Jonathan, a fighter-type who's wielding the Vampire Killer, and Charlotte, a magey sort of character who has a visually interesting but largely ineffective melee attack; she opens her magical book to reveal a bundle of axes and swords. She makes up the lack with her "subweapons," though, such as a fiery burst that's more powerful than anything Jonathan has to offer. It's not wildly dissimilar to Aria of Sorrow's Julius Mode, honestly; a high-defense brawler inhabits the same "space" as a low-defense spellcaster, and you can switch between them on the fly.
By collecting a certain relic in the E3 demo, you can also use the A button to switch your character's loadout, so to speak. Here, you replaced Jonathan's whip and boomerang subweapon with a quick but weak sword strike and the infamous Belmont holy water attack. It's difficult to say how this'll work in the final game, because you couldn't access the inventory screen in the demo I was using.
You can also use them both simultaneously by pressing the R button, allowing whichever character you're not using to follow along behind you sort of like an Option from Gradius; they attack and use subweapons when you do, but they can also be hurt if you're not careful. You have to balance the additional firepower with the additional vulnerability. You can also use your backup character to help you through certain obstacles, such as standing on a pressure plate or giving you a boost to a ledge overhead.
The "castle" in Portrait of Ruin is larger than it initially appears, thanks to the presence of magical paintings which double as portals to distant locations. In the E3 build, Jonathan and Charlotte began in a typical sort of castle environment before moving to a stage set in what looked like a sort of European village, complete with a Dullahan – a suit of haunted armor that's served as a boss in several other games – standing guard at its end. Other screenshots have shown forests, libraries, and what appears to be the Egyptian desert, complete with pyramids and giant sandworms trying to eat your characters' faces.
After playing it, the most accurate thing I can say about Portrait of Ruin is that it's a modern 2-D Castlevania, with all that implies: lots of exploration, lots of bosses, lots of secrets, and the same basic gameplay that powered the DS's Aria of Sorrow. I have no idea how the DS's touchscreen will come into play, or how long the game is, but I also have no choice. I am a Castlevania addict, and I'll be waiting for a copy when the game drops this fall.