Friday, November 5, 2010

A Look at Castlevania

Castlevania is one of the oldest and longest running videogame series in the industry. Over a dozen entries exist in the series on almost as many consoles. Naturally, changes have to be made, considering the first one was released in 1986 and the newest this year in 2010. This article is about Castlevania as a whole and on its changes. I haven't played all of the Castlevania games, not even half, and have only ever completed five. However, with the knowledge I've gotten out of the many I've played and researching into the series, I just want to say something to the haters...

Hey, at least its difficulty was great.
My very first expedition to kill Dracula was Castlevania 64, which I know has some serious hate overall for being a bad non-2D iteration. But being a little kid at the time, I loved it and it started my interest in the infamous character of Dracula. I then played the 2nd Castlevania 64 which was more or less a directors’ cut with more crap and more characters; I loved it just as much. Over the years I've bumped into the old NES and SNES ones, a DS Castlevania and Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP; I found all of them very difficult and had nowhere near the fun I needed to interest me in finishing them. I heard over the years that Curse of Darkness, the 2nd Castlevania for the PlayStation 2, was good, or at least the critiques gave it enough spread that I was interested and rented it. I loved it, being a hack 'n slash RPG, despite the heavy cheese in the cut-scenes, and I finished it. Once E3 rolled around a few back and I saw the trailers for Lords of Shadow. At first, I rubbed it off as a game to become more interested in as the release came closer. Then I saw the 2010 E3 trailer and the music and scenes gripped me, so I pre-ordered, and now that I've played it many times, I've got to say that Lords of Shadow is one of my favorite games of all time and I even enjoyed it more than some triple A titles such as God of War III; a game in a series that many say Lords of Shadow owes its quality too.

Beautiful artwork.
I realized then that I've completed 4 non-2D Castlevania games, and not a single 2D one, but the 2D ones are often regarded as the best. My friend and I agreed to split the cost and both buy Symphony of the Night on PSN and game-share the title. 17 hours later, I finished the game, completing 99% of it, including the inverted castle and all bosses within. I enjoyed it a lot, but then how could I have brushed off every other 2D game? I just don't like them. Not the first few, none of the DS games, games like Circle of the Moon, Rondo of Blood, Order of Eclesia (Pardon me if that's miss-spelled), and so on. They all just have a different feel than Symphony does. I attribute a lot of my dis-interest in those games to the difficulty. Once I hit the inverted castle in Symphony, I was PISSED. I felt like throwing my controller more than once. What was with the jump in difficulty? I had to spam the slow-down clock and super power items, buy mountains of health potions, but I kept on pushing; perhaps because I was already finished with the normal castle.
The castle IN the game looks different...
I find it strange the difficulty pushes me away because I love hard games; Devil May Cry on Dante Must Die and Hell and Hell, Ninja Gaiden on Master Ninja, and God of War on Chaos. I've finished all of those games on their hardest settings, so I can only attribute it all to a difference in style; 2D and non-2D. I've yet to finish Lords of Shadow on Paladin, the hardest setting, as I'm still hunting for 100% of upgrades before I attempt it. So, as you can tell, there is a large difference in 2D and non-2D Castlevania games, and it seems like Lords of Shadow is getting split down the middle with hate for it, not only from Castlevania games, but ignorant God of War fans that assume.
The gameplay is fast and slick.
Oh look, a CHAIN weapon, cranks you turn circular, grapple points, and, oh hey, look, you scale walls! Oh, and QTE's, and look at that, they side themselves to the sides and top and bottom of the screen to correspond with the buttons more appropriately, what a rip-off. This is all bullshit. I didn't feel like I was playing God of War while I was playing Lords of Shadow, not at all. The games were in development at the same time, and I doubt Konami had spies running into Santa Monica to steal ideas. Castlevania has been using chain whips since the 80's. Videogames have been scaling walls (aside from almost every 2D game, Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Tomb Raider) for a long time, and using grapple points, and chains, and ropes, so why is Lords of Shadow copying THIS aspect from God of War? Well they... aren't? As for the QTE's, that's a design choice that games SHOULD take. Putting the 4 controller buttons to appear on screen in the appropriate places makes games LESS frustrating to play, and so I'm happy Lords of Shadow did this for ease of use; call it copying God of War if you want, but it's no negative on this Castlevania. I tried to explain this to a youtuber, and you know what he said to me for arguing with him logically in a polite manner? I quote him “fuck you god of war is awesome”. I thought God of War was an intelligent series? I mean, I love ‘em, own ‘em all, beat ‘em all, and I think GOW III is the best revenge story ever.
That is not a cutscene folks; it's in-game.
As for the hardcore Castlevania fans, please don’t pin this game as another bad Castlevania entry. This game is the most different Castlevania, but it isn’t a bad thing. It sports the armor, the weapons, the characters, the locations, and at times feels far different, but at other times the same good stuff. Sure, you spend 4 of 12 chapters in a vampire castle that isn’t called Castlevania, but that’s not bad; they are well orchestrated chapters and the castle itself is beautiful in its snowy and icy glory. You fight all of the enemies; zombies, skeletons, reapers, trolls, goblins, werewolves, wargs, many others and variations of each. The bosses in particular are fun to fight and the Titan battles, which yes, are similar to the Colossus’ from Shadow of the Colossus, are great fun; despite the only way fighting them being on set paths, I find the size and music and the fights overall fun pieces of the game. Just remember; gigantic colossus/titan enemies have been done for years, and a lot of the games that use them haven’t been criticized for “copying” either.
The QTE's are simple and fluid, providing a cinematic feel to the gameplay.

The next paragraph includes MAJOR spoilers for Lords of Shadow, and I feel discussing them is essential to discussing this game, and so if you haven’t finished it, and I mean REACHED THE END, don’t read ahead and just skip the large spoilers tags.
At the end of Lords of Shadow, you find that Dracula is not the final boss, but instead, another iconic character; Satan. Now this, I wasn’t expecting. Jason Isaacs was even listed online as the voice of Dracula, so when the final level was opening and I hadn’t heard from the King himself, I was wondering when he’d show, but he doesn’t at all in this level. And yes, Isaacs plays Satan. However his character was handled in a good manner I thought and I enjoyed the boss fight; quick, fast, fun, flashy and the QTE fights were hella great. Dracula himself actually appears in the cut-scene after the credits and is pegged as the main character the player will control in the sequel to Lords of Shadow. Now I’m sure plenty of folks went “Wow, I want to play the sequel now!” like myself, and others went “This is fucking stupid. Replace Drac with Satan and make a Belmont Dracula!? Dumb!” I ask those people to re-consider their statements if they acted like the latter of those two phrases. Look at Lords of Shadow as its own game, remove the Castlevania name if you have to. Is it really that bad with these series alterations? I certainly don’t think so. Also, remember, that Lords of Shadow is a separate Castlevania game, and hopefully series, from the original. It’s a “clean slate for the non-2D Castlevania games”. The 2D ones will still continue on. Didn’t one just recently release with 6 player co-op? Sounds great to me considering it’s a 2D game.
This fight was great.
Overall, I’m writing this mostly to open people up to Lords of Shadow and not turn away from it because it looks like it stole from another famous series or is “mutated offspring” of something great. Look at the Silent Hill series. Silent Hill Shattered Memories is JUST like this. Shattered Memories is a separate game in a separate universe from the main series of Silent Hill 1 through Homecoming. It was met with over all praise and may continue into a series all of its own. (Although I personally don’t wish that, as it and Lords of Shadow are very different games. I was only using Silent Hill as an example.)
To end this article, I want to use Castlevania, as a series, as a message. When a series has over a dozen entries some will be great, triple A, some will suck, be mediocre, and some will stand off, like how the non-2D games compare to the 2D ones. Don’t be angry with a game that squeezes its way out of the main group and keeps the identity with a few changes to try something similarly different, if that makes sense. Devil May Cry is getting a “re-boot” or “off-branch” title in the future, and I’m upset at it, but I’m going to play it through to the end (unless it’s completely abysmal) because it could be great. Resident Evil has done it with practically a dozen spin off titles and even morphed its main series into something far different from the originals, all with varying negatives and positives. Fatal Frame 2 is being re-made; why? I have no clue. FF2 is the best in the series and it’s a no-brainer the first one needs a remake much more, but I’m going to try it anyway.


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