So, I have finished my first run through. It did involve a lot of walkthrough-checking. I don't really feel bad about that; I like finding all the Stuff. Sometimes I will play sections or fights without having read ahead and then go back later with the guide to see what I missed.
I have a minor twinge of stubborn annoyance that I had to rely on an insanely cheap trick to beat Dracula in the end... I don't know if I would have felt better if I'd thought of that myself, or if only beating him the way I was originally trying to fight would have felt like 'enough'. I could do the first half of the fight with no damage easily enough but I could neither get the hang of the patterns of phase 2 nor, on my own, deal enough damage fast enough to be able to overlook them.
(Cheap trick: Light+Dark Union, Union-boost ring, Death ring, Dominus. Deals obscene damage at a safe distance... and that 'distance' part is pretty important when you have the Death ring on.)
Final stats: lvl 40, about 15 hours, 99.something% map completion (see, I wasn't scrupulously checking the guide!)