Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles is a fan-made game heavily inspired by the venerable action series. It mostly takes notes from the SNES and Genesis games such as Super Castlevania IV and Rondo of Blood, but the way the world map works (many small, self-contained levels) reminds me of Order of Ecclesia. Unlike less well-crafted games, the levels are constructed in a fashion that provides the tools you need and then it steadily increases the hardships you must face.
The difficulty level is refreshingly high but reasonably curved. You have a generous life bar but you’re going to take lots of his from the fiendishly placed enemies and obstacles in the expertly-designed levels. You have three lives (and infinite continues) so there’s an actual penalty for failure. There is no arbitrary time limit, so you should take the stages carefully and learn the location and nature of every monster and trap. All of the stages are quite vicious in their attempts to kill your not-Belmont character, yet they are never unfair or anti-player. Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles expects much from you but it doesn’t throw frustrating instant death traps at you. There is always a way through that requires skill but not Rain Man levels of intense devotion.
In the second-to-last stage you fight an obnoxious doppelganger, a common foe in the Castlevania series. When you finally get through the hellishly hard area, the boss of the level summons three doppelgangers at once, then continues to bring more through sturdy mirrors that are only vulnerable for a short time before he disappears back into them. Manage to break all three mirrors and he enters his second form in which he shoots glass shards at you. And you only have the crappy dagger subweapon to help you. This is the kind of challenge you’ll have to face in this game, and I love it. This game’s difficulty level is just right if you’re old enough to remember when Castlevania games weren’t all Metroidvanias, though this one probably qualifies.
Sounds like too much? If The Lecarde Chronicles had those stiff NES Castlevania controls—including not being able to change one’s movements in midair—it would be a lot more frustrating and I probably wouldn’t have played it to completion. If you get swamped by mermen and Medusae from all sides, you actually have the ability to handle it, even with just your basic whip. The double-jump gives you much more control so every jump doesn’t have to be a life-or-death gamble, yet it never makes the platform sections too easy. In particular there’s a late-game level where you have to jump across tiny crumbling ivy platforms that are hard to see against the background, and you have to make good use of your extra mobility. There are some games where the player’s abilities are enough to overwhelm all opponents (Symphony of the Night, you are a brilliant game but I’m looking at you) and this is not one of them.
A few cool little features: You revert to a minimum of three lives (more if you had more) upon entering the world map, eliminating the need to suicide in order to start afresh. You can also hit backspace to quit a level you’re currently undergoing as if you had immediately run out of lives, taking you back to the map with three lives so you aren’t wasting time retrying the first part of a level with pointlessly fewer resources. And you don’t get knocked back when you get hit on the ground. A lot fewer falls into the abyss because of that.
As great an effort as The Lecarde Chronicles is, there is a quite an unfortunate set bugs and control issues. Once I slid underneath a small overhang and found my character walking on air afterwards, forcing me to stumble around until gravity corrected itself. The detection when walking on stairs is unreliable and caused more than a couple stupid deaths on my part. The accept and cancel buttons on the various menus are inconsistent and the Xbox 360 controls are unmappable (using my beloved JoyToKey just screws them up further). The game uses a confusing save scheme involving four .exe files instead of an in-game save menu.
And the unskippable cutscenes have a lot of typos. The author is probably not a native English speaker and the script could use some editing, but since when do you care about the plot to Castlevania games? There’s a castle with an evil undead in it; go in and kill him/her.
None of these minor problems mitigated my enjoyment of this excellent fan game. One person (MIG) did almost all the work, and while it lacks polish, The Lecarde Chronicles ranks up there with the Mega Man fan games I’ve reviewed in terms of quality. If you’re expecting a meaningless retread down nostalgia lane, go elsewhere. This is a new adventure in an old style and it’s one worth taking.
Download it for free right here.