FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Here comes a special boyCastlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is likely the most ill-advised videogame in gaming.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was not made for sequels

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (no additional verbage) was a Playstation 3/Xbox 360 game meant to revitalize the Castlevania franchise. Koji Igarashi held the reins of the Castlevania universe for years, and, in that time, he produced exactly one (1) decent console Castlevania. Granted, it was one of the best games of all time, but every time Iga hit the consoles again, we wound up with something… less than stellar. The PS2 outings were rote and boring, and the Wii saw a Castlevania fighting game that was maybe the most bonkers bit of plotting in an already supremely bonkers franchise (Super Mega Death traveled through time so Maria could be jealous of Sypha’s rack). None of these games presented any sort of justification for Castlevania to exist on the “next gen” consoles, and, since portables have long been considered the ghetto of gaming, Konami was understandably concerned about its Castlevania franchise. If one of your top franchises was simply languishing in the portable market, how could you ever marry said franchise to successful slot machines?

Lords of Shadow was basically a gritty reboot for an almost accidentally gritty series. You’ve got a Belmont hero, but now he’s working for a very real and very present Christian church. You’ve got your old standbys like the werewolf, succubus, and Grim Reaper, but now they all have tragic backstories with (fantasy) logical origins (if you ascend to Heaven as an immaculate being, obviously your body stays behind and becomes a vampire slut). The environs are more Lord of the Rings (popular at the time), combat is more God of War (also popular at the time), and everything is a lot more bloody (always popular). Lords of Shadow does a lot to simultaneously distinguish itself as a fresh, new look at Castlevania and be, incidentally, an experience that is fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the HD action game flock (of 2010 or so).

ScaryBut LoS did one remarkable thing: spoilers, but you were Dracula the whole time! Gasp! You were playing through the secret origins of this brand new Dracula, and now you’re the Lord of Darkness himself! And the final boss is Satan. Yes, that Satan! Dracula is kind of a good guy! Or something!

And the only problem is that that’s a neat trick, but you can only do it once.

The whole “you were the bad guy all along” thing is a great twist, but it doesn’t really lend itself to a franchise. It can work in many pieces of media, but for a videogame, you inhabit the protagonist, so the fresh new nasty boy either has to be the final boss of the next adventure (because killing off the previous protagonist in any lesser manner would be an insult to the first game), or said “villain” has to be supremely misunderstood. In fact, it seems like the Lords of Shadow staff realized this immediately, and tacked on a postlude that featured New Dracula awakening in modern times. Cool! He’ll be “misunderstood”, but Dracula in modern times is a fresh new direction for the Castlevania franchise! Maybe a sequel could work!

The sequel absolutely doesn’t work

Let's reflect on thisOkay, maybe the real sequel does actually work, but Castlevania: Chain of Memories absolutely does not.

So, first, in order for this whole game to work, we have to retcon in Gabrielle Belmont, star of Lords of Shadow, and his brand spanking new son who never got mentioned before this very moment. Okay, Gabrielle was a prophesized warrior that was incidentally being controlled by Patrick Stewart, so, sure, maybe the family bought into not telling Gabrielle “for his own good”, and, since the player exists behind Gabe’s eyes, we just weren’t privy to that information. Fine. But this also means the story has to start a maximum of twenty years (good hero’ing age) after Gabrielle became Dracula, and… is that going to work? Gabby kind of accidentally became Dracula, so is he going to settle into the whole “malevolent dictator” thing that quickly? And Lords of Shadow started in 1000 AD or so, so how does humanity even get to the modern era teased during the LoS finale if Dracula has been awake and active for the last millennium? So many questions!

But, okay, let’s move past that. Let’s just say that Dracula is simultaneously very quick to come into his powers, but very slow to actually do anything with his powers. And, hey, that’s basically the original canon, right? Oh, wait, no, there’s always a Belmont slapping down that Dracula before he can do anything. But we’ve got Belmonts here, though, right? Like, that’s the whole point of the “Gabrielle’s son” conceit, right? Sure, we’ve got (new, LoS) Trevor Belmont here, husband of Sypha, and he’s going to… Wait. Wasn’t the whole point of LoS that a Belmont became corrupted to become Dracula, so we’re not so different, you and I, and all that riot? So if we now have a whole crop of Belmonts… what was the point of this new franchise again? Castlevania, but with slightly larger trolls? I thought this was supposed to be new? This franchise really isn’t built for soldering on pieces of an already convoluted franchise. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a real live person wearing a cartoon princess dress, and that’s not a good look.

Same Trick, Two Games

ALUCARDIn Lords of Shadow, Gabrielle Belmont is eventually revealed to be Dracula.

In Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, Trevor Belmont is eventually revealed to be Alucard.

There. Just saved you all twenty hours of “mystery”.

“Linear” is not a dirty word

Presumably in order to build tension for that all-important Alucard reveal, Mirror of Fate is played in a sort of reverse chronology. First you play as Simon Belmont, who is being helped by a mysterious white-haired ally. Then you play as said ally, Alucard, who is fighting Dracula, but he doesn’t quite remember why. And then, finally, you play as Trevor from twenty years earlier, who is eventually defeated by Dracula in order to be revived as Alucard. It’s all very clever and cute and mysterious assuming you didn’t guess that exact twist from the first trailer. And even if you managed to go into the game fresh, you’d have to have the intelligence of a fleaman to miss all the anvilicious clues being dropped every ten seconds. And, oh yeah, if you played the first game, you’d be expecting that exact twist, and why the hell would you be interested in such a tiresome sequel if you didn’t play the first game?

It's not really a spriteAnd, frankly, it is heartbreaking that the plot seems to be stuck with this en media res nonsense, as there are a good number of characters and events along the way that really benefit from linear understanding. There is very little benefit to a new player being confused by Simon’s “mysterious ally”, but there is emotional heft to be gleamed from Simon being assisted by his cursed ancestor. The Daemon (ugh) Lord was mutilated by Trevor, and then revived by arcane science to return and menace Alucard… but when you first encounter the mechanized monster during Alucard’s story, he’s just another unrecognizable, barely threatening boss. And it sure would be nice if we weren’t saddled with yet another immortal protagonist that is suffering from amnesia just as long as the plot demands!

A linear Mirror of Fate wouldn’t have solved all of the story’s problems, but it would have made a number of the generational plot beats wildly more effective. But, no, I guess it wouldn’t be a Lords of Shadow game if the gameplay didn’t end in a shocking (not shocking) revelation.

It’s a metroidvania without the exploration

Enough about this silly plot! How’s the gameplay?

Not great, Goggle Bob.

ZZZZAAAPLords of Shadow was an attempt to turn Castlevania into a new God of War-like franchise. And it was mostly successful! But for the portable version, the decision was made to return to the metroidvania-like format of the last decade’s worth of portable Castlevania titles. This was a clever move, and an obvious way to bring lapsed Castlevania fans back into the fold. Don’t worry, old fans, this franchise is still for you! Look, here’s a platinum-haired dhampir exploring a big ol’ castle just for you.

Except… everyone involved kind of forgot how a metroidvania game works.

First of all, this adventure was doomed from the start, as the three different characters in three different stories (and 2.5 different time periods) kind of preclude the traditional “one big castle/planet” of most metroidvanias. But it could still work! Order of Ecclesia and Portrait of Ruin both had “level” like areas, so it’s not completely alien to the genre. Oh! And the “generations” thing could lead to a lot of different, fun puzzles! Break a gateway in the past to allow for entry in the future! Drain the moat as Trevor so Simon doesn’t have to take a dip! It could be a thing of beauty!

But, no, it was not to be. Mirror of Fate put an emphasis on two things: plot and battles. We’ve already covered the plot ad nauseam, but be aware that no “time travel” shenanigans are allowed when we’re telling a very serious story about seriously inept Belmonts (you just have to kill one vampire! One!). And that leaves us with the combat, which is…. kind of sad.

Moving right alongThere’s a reason that the greatest heroes of 2-D just jump. There’s a reason previous Belmonts were limited to a whip and a few subweapons. There’s a reason that even the mightiest of blue bombers are limited to a life of pew pewing. 2-D combat can only be so interesting. When you have a limited field of movement, you have a limited set of abilities, and whip/dodge/jump only gets you so far. In many Castlevania games, this is masked by a great wealth of monsters from across time and space. In this Castlevania game… not so much. Lords of Shadow seems to put a premium on combat with recurring enemies in tight corridors, but, give or take a few interesting boss battles, it feels fairly flat. And when you hang a game on something that feels perfunctory, the entire game feels kind of boring.

And, when you get down to it, that’s the problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Everything about it winds up being tedious and predictable. And hanging a flagship franchise on a game that is that boring is… ill-advised.

FGC #339 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

  • System: Nintendo 3DS initially, and then an HD version was released to follow Lords of Shadow 2. This is basically the same trajectory as a certain Kingdom Hearts game, which is never a good sign.
  • Number of Players: Technically four playable characters if you include the opening tutorial, but only one player at a time.
  • Favorite Monster: The Executioner is a wonderful bit of Mirror of Fate storytelling.

    Grrrr

    He’s not just a scary giant, he’s a scary giant with brain problems. Be sad for the hulking creature chopping your protagonist in twain.

  • Absolutely Favorite Part: So this game has fall damage. That’s terrible for a metroidvania. But! The fall damage scales to the height you’ve fallen, so a falling just a little over a body’s height will cause little tiny damage. This pairs wonderfully with any given character’s blood-curdling scream o’ death, which triggers no matter how the protagonist dies. This all adds up to an unstoppable shriek of agony every time your health is low and you miss the last step on a staircase… and I can get behind that.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Trevor is now the first son of Dracula and the new Alucard. Simon is a deadly barbarian that is the first Belmont to defeat Dracula (with a little help). Sypha… is an obedient and immediately dead housewife. Woo.
  • Did you know? It seriously bothers me that Trevor starts with a double jump, but Alucard, who is Trevor, has to earn the skill. It kinda bothers me how much this simple bit of gameplay bothers me.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely not. Not ever. Bah! You make-a me so mad!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tekken 3 for the Playstation! Let’s see who can become the King of the Iron Fist after most of the cast retires! Please look forward to it!

Youch

Wild Arms 2 Part 04: Chasing Cats and Legends

Previously on Wild Arms 2: Ashley saved the day, but he saved everyone in spite of orders, so he was sent to his room without any porridge.

It’s appropriate that we ended with Ashley, as he’ll be the first guy we’ll be seeing shortly, but you may recall that you had your choice of opening chapters and their order. After you clear ‘em all, this little interlude kicks in regardless of initially chosen character.

Though that doesn’t mean this intermission should mean a damn thing to a new player.

A girl (?) is concerned about lights and comets and whatever. Also, she has a neat hat. Moving on!

Moving on specifically to the Town of Meria. Looks like a nice place…

Vote 2017: Still Broken

I’ve been… creatively constipated recently, and if I don’t get this out of my system, I won’t be able to move on. So, sorry, we’re talking politics today. FGC and Pilotwings Resort will return on Friday.

Also, trigger warning, every damn thing that has happened in the last year.

UghI feel like the 2016 election fundamentally broke… everything.

First, to be clear, I’m not talking about the obvious here. President Trump has been in office for a solid ten months as of this writing, and, yes, the world has become… unmoored as a result. It is crazy what has been normalized: we are literally currently in a situation wherein people are begging Twitter to deactivate the president’s account so as to prevent nuclear armageddon. That, somehow, is not an exaggeration. We also have Nazis that have been empowered by recent political dealings, a nigh-weekly fight to keep healthcare for our most in need, and, gosh, can we find a “cute” third thing? Oh yeah, the Vice President’s two main traits seem to be significant homophobia/misogyny and a tendency to be immediately offended by public performances. And, through it all, President Donald Trump has never stopped campaigning.

And it’s that last part that scares me.

At this point, I’ve only really been “awake” for three presidents: Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama. Before that, I was technically around for Bush Sr. and Reagan, but the concept of “president” was about as serious as “daddy’s boss” or “guy in the Big Bird costume” (note: I assume that any given president was not, at any point, my father’s boss or Big Bird). But I came to be politically aware in the midst of White Water and white stains on dresses, and I was most “involved” in politics during the Bush Jr. days, when I was pretty convinced the entire world had gone crazy. We were at war! With… some random country that was at least tangentially related to a terrorist sect that attacked us? That… still comes off as peculiar, and the fact that it was unanimously supported at the time made me feel like the country was beyond my understanding. Actually, no, I take that back. We were a country fueled by vengeance against anybody, and I can completely understand how a group of people reeling from a significant slight would rail against anyone they even perceived as a threat. I don’t condone it, but I fundamentally understand it. But then we had Obama, seemingly the answer to those war-torn times, who… okay, the war never ended, but at least it seemed like that wasn’t the focus of the administration. Sure, Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for the accomplishment of not being W., but the important thing was that Obama was more intellectual than warmonger, and there was a very real feeling that he’d at least try to heal the world with words instead of bombs.

Still UghAnd you know who I don’t remember being mentioned at all during those administrations? Bob Dole. Al Gore. Mitt Romney. John McCain. … I just had to look up John Kerry because I forgot who even ran against Bush in 2004. Occasionally, you’ll still hear a name or two from the loser patrol because they’re promoting some crazy thing like abolishing healthcare or actual science, but, by and large, post election, the presidential loser was done, banished forever to the annals of Washington DC apocrypha, and that was that. End of story. Let’s move on with our lives.

So it’s vaguely disconcerting that Donald Trump is still talking about his “opponent” Hilary Clinton, a woman who lost the election nearly a full year ago. And, since Trump is talking about it, the media has to talk about it. And since the media is talking about it, we have to talk about it, and that means that somehow I still have to hear from neanderthals that her handling of Puerto Rico would be, “Just as bad.”

This frightens me.

We’re all 100% aware that the 2016 election was terrible. Full disclosure? I was planning on having an “election” themed video FGC article, with two well known games campaigning against each other for “best”. You know the drill: both games starting out with “here’s why you should vote for me” followed by a descent into mudslinging and maybe one game would be revealed to have been involved in some scandal. Hoary old clichés all around. I scripted out the early bits, but by the time it would have been relevant, I was… tired. I was tired of the mudslinging. I was tired of the press reporting on every time Donald insulted the handicapped or bragged about how rape was fun. I was tired of the Republican Party repeatedly denouncing Trump before lining up to kiss his ring. And, most of all, I was just plain tired of the ubiquitousness of it all; that it felt all-encompassing, from my radio to my television to my Facebook feed.

Though one of these things is not like the others: turns out my Facebook feed may have been compromised.

UGHIt’s becoming more and more obvious that Russia had a significant hand in the 2016 election. As has been confirmed by the big F itself, Facebook generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from ads about the American election that just happened to have been submitted from Mother Яussia. What’s more, it now appears that these ads infiltrated other sites, such as Twitter, Google (Ads), and, for anybody that really cares about pictures of dogs, Instagram. And the ads weren’t simply “Vote Trump” or “Make America Great Again”, these were ads that were deliberately targeted to sway swing voters that may have voted for Clinton. The basic gist of it is pretty familiar: “they’re both just as bad” so may as well stay home and hope rural Pennsylvania makes the right choice. And the kicker is that it worked: statistically, more democrats stayed home than republicans, and, even though Trump got 3K less votes than Obama in 2012 (and, uh, 3k less votes than Clinton), he became president because he got more republican votes in more specific states. Gosh, sure would be significant if those states were intentionally targeted by foreign countries.

In fact, that’s the scary thing. I can’t fault Facebook, Google, or Twitter for taking money from foreign powers in order to distinctly influence our government, because we’ve created these monsters, it seems gauche to ask them to stop murdering the villagers now. It’s capitalism, baby, and if Russia wants to pay for Trump to gain power, let ‘em, their rubles are always good here. And, let’s be honest, there is nothing we can do to stop such a thing. Pumping cash into foreign governments and businesses is nothing new, just go ahead and ask Central America about North America’s policy on international interference.

No, what truly seems bothersome about this event is that we so completely fell for it.

Look, I know Russia didn’t invent bipartisan politics. And I know we’re all team players, so it is easy to fall into an “us against them” mentality that completely deadlocks discussion and useful debate. I know all of that is human behavior to a T, and stoking the flames of that already raging fire is about as difficult as getting racist Uncle Jerry to use the n-word (“… What did he just call his hash browns? Is that prejudiced?”). But the specific methods used, the specificity of “hate this woman that is running for president” has somehow lingered like the no doubt pungent odor of our current president in his soiled khakis. It might not have worked on everybody, but enough people took the bait, and now we still have to hear from a commander in chief that is begging for “equal time” a year after the election ended.

UGHAnd the kicker is that is that it’s going to keep happening. Facebook, Google, and all the rest have added one new thing to the formula: they’re global. No more can we count on radio or television ads to have at least been produced by America-based companies that have a vested interest in seeing our country not literally explode. No, now we have other countries that can group together a couple of part timers, crank out some memes, and, Goggle Bob’s your uncle, ~emails~ becomes the scariest word in the English language. This doesn’t take much, and the same budget and techniques that will get you to drink sugar water daily can now get you to elect a president that comes off as more senile than the last fetishized republican president that was also an actor. And we have no defense against this kind of advertising! If we think information is coming from a “trusted source”, we trust it implicitly. Think I’m crazy? Just go ahead and tell that to any McDonald’s employee that had to live through Szechwan Sauce Wars. Thousands of perfectly well adjusted nerds transformed into screaming lunatics because a funny cartoon man told them that a corn syrup package from twenty years back was somehow worthwhile. The nerds trusted the funny cartoon man! They drove hours to honor his luscious sugary juices! You better believe the same kind of thinking applies to real issues like gun control (“They’ll take away our guns!”), healthcare (“Obamacare is bad for some reason!”), and general race relations (“Uppitiness is happening on the football field!”). We are a nation of suckers, and Trump is living proof of such a fact.

And that’s why I feel like we’re just… broken. Nothing is going to change that. We can call our senators, we can protest in the streets, we can take a knee whenever possible, but it’s still going to pale to the sheer inertial force of an advertising campaign that stopped being relevant a year ago. They’re still chanting “lock her up”, they’re still talking about Clinton like she’s some kind of rival to the president, and they’re still posting every damn “wow shocking if true” story that comes down the pipe. A nation that basically lives by the philosophy “if I can’t be skinny, then please make my friends fat” did its best to sneak cookies into our nutritious boxed lunches, and now nobody wants to go to the gym anymore. We can still fight! We can absolutely fight! But… I don’t think this is going to get better. Our politics are national, our commerce is international, and now the overlap is biting us all in the ass. And “change” is such a three letter word, we can’t even get away from friggin’ coal, so our prospects look dim. And, oh yeah, an idiot is in charge, so that can’t really help anybody.

And… that’s it? I don’t know, I mean, I really want there to a moral here. I want to be able to say “go call your senators” and affect some meaningful change or… something. But, no, that honestly feels like a lie. What’s broken here is broken, and nothing that has happened in the last two years gives me any sort of hope that we could even identify the problem fast enough to solve it. A foreign power set us against each other, and we’re still continuing that same useless bickering to this very day. I guess… be better?

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Be better. Do better. Ask yourself why you’re doing something, and if the answer is a response to something you saw on Facebook, maybe don’t do it. Consider what you’re doing, consider why you’re doing it, and… just be considerate. Be better, and maybe things will get better.

And maybe, one day, what is broken can be fixed.