Tag Archives: castlevania

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Blood!Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the rare game that is so good, it makes old games better.

Full disclosure: I have a complicated relationship with the early Castlevania titles. To elaborate, I am referring specifically to any Castlevania game that was released prior to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which I now realize that, thanks to the unstoppable march of time, is approximately twelve billion years old). But back before Alucard ever earned his first crissaegrim, there was the Belmont clan, and its unyielding pursuit of the death of the undead. And… I kinda didn’t like those Castlevania games? Maybe?

It’s complicated. Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was one of my first NES games (and, thus, one of my first videogames, period), and, as anyone that has ever banged their head against Deborah Cliff will tell you, it is a deeply confusing and difficult game. Luckily, I had an older neighbor (he was, like, twelve!) who shared tips and tricks on how to traverse the Wallachian countryside, and Castlevania 2 was less “impossible” and more “inordinately difficult”. I could send Dracula back to his grave! It… just took a password that unlocked all the items (and maybe I still died a thousand times). Oh, and I would totally glitch out that one jump in the graveyard area. What does it matter if Simon drowns? He’ll be better in no time.

Whip it good!But Castlevania 3? Now there was a game. It was another of my precious few “original” Nintendo games, and an air-mailed Christmas gift from my grandparents (who had fled to warmer climes for the holiday season). As a game I could immediately identify as both “advanced” (look at those amazing graphics!) and “clever” (four playable characters! That’s as many as a full gang of Ninja Turtles!), I was fairly convinced I enjoyed Castlevania 3. After all, I played Castlevania 3 so many times, I had all but mastered such advanced techniques as Grant’s wall hugging and Alucard’s surprisingly weak fireblasts. I was a Castlevania master!

And I think I only ever made it to level… four.

Yes, I could plug in “Help Me” and use that password everyone ripped out of Nintendo Power to skip straight to the good Count, but did I ever legitimately beat back Death with my NES Advantage? Never. Did I ever even approach the Doppelganger? Nope. And, as I can very vividly recall, that room with the falling blocks was the absolute end of many a playthrough. If Alucard ran out of hearts to bat his way up that chamber, I was just done. Don’t have time for this nonsense!

Which… was kind of the point. I continued to purchase and/or rent classic Castlevania titles (Bloodlines comes immediately to mind as my most rented Genesis title), and I unequivocally enjoyed that franchise… but it wasn’t Mega Man. It wasn’t Mario. In fact, Mario might have been the biggest reason I could never truly enjoy a Castlevania game. Even if I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I still had some thought in my head regarding that whole “joy of movement” theory. Mario was unmistakably fun to control. Simon Belmont? Not so much. His movements were restricted. He had a terrible jump, limited offensive options, and didn’t gain magical invincibility that killed every zombie in his path even once. And the average lifespan of a Belmont? Not very long when you consider how easily a single decapitated medusa could shove that entire clan into one of a thousand bottomless pits.

In short? It sucked to be a Belmont. And who wants to play a game where you have to suck?

Magic!Unfortunately, in the time since the Castlevania “classic” series reigned supreme, I have become a cranky old man. As such, I rarely have time nowadays for games that I do not immediately enjoy. Many JRPGs have fallen by the wayside simply because I cannot deal with another tutorial dungeon explaining how fire beats ice. Perfectly competent platformers have gone ignored because I bounced off the main character’s art style. And I’m not afraid to admit that I dropped at least one “game of the year” just because the hero’s initial movement speed was “too exhausting”. Suffice to say, I was not exactly expecting to dive into an “old school” Castlevania with the same gusto that a more grilled cheese-based Wee Goggle Bob was once capable of mustering.

But Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was more than a little surprising.

First of all (he said, 700 or so words in), Bloodstained: CotM is just plain fun. It is aping Castlevania 3 like a monkey mimicking an orangutan, and it hews so closely to the “original”, it’s almost a surprise that Miriam can’t stick to walls. You start with the base, limited protagonist with slow, but functional, movements, move on to someone a little weaker, but with greater agility and range, pick up a squishy wizard with extremely convenient spells, and finally gain some brooding dork that craps fireballs and occasionally morphs into a bat. Unlike Castlevania 3, though, you do have the option of switching between all four combatants at once, which wildly increases the odds you’ll ever bother with that weakling mage. And that also means stages are designed around every possible party combination, and… that’s where things get complicated.

Stairs!It is very likely that, upon playing B:CoTM for the first time, the player will choose to recruit every last ally, and utilize their skills in every possible combination across all levels. Once that task is completed, a new mode will unlock wherein all the extra allies are available from the start, but Zangetsu (the ersatz Belmont and initial playable character) is missing in action. And he’s not missed! It’s pretty clear that Zangetsu is the Zeppo of these Marx brothers, and you’re much better off using literally anyone else. Miriam has mad ups, Alfred can blast any boss, and Gebel can scratch those hard to reach places. Who even invited that Zangetsu nerd in the first place?

This, naturally, will lead a curious player toward trying that initial mode again, but this time, using only Zangetsu. He’s the worst, but that just makes him a “secret” kind of hard mode, right? Not quite…

Zangetsu has two options for a solo outing. On one route, he may choose the bloody path of literally murdering each of his potential allies. And the prize for his sins will be access to new offensive and gymnastic skills. A homicidal Zangetsu can acquire a sweeping slash, high-speed dash, double jump, and a “charge attack” that would put a certain Mega Buster to shame. And then he’s the best character in the game! Without a question! Who even needs friends when you can slash an enormous turtle monster in half! I am become Death!

But then there’s “true” solo mode. Friendly Zangetsu acknowledges that all these wizards crawling around are creeping him out, but doesn’t kill a single one of them. Zangetsu must soldier on with his meager skills, and thus the player must learn to deal with a lame jump and Link’s Adventure-level weapon range. Zangetsu is pathetic, and every challenge becomes actually challenging, even for someone that has already saved this world three times or so.

But you know what? It’s doable.

Not a vampire!Bloodstained: CoTM is built for a full party of moon murderers (I miss just saying “vampire slayers”), including at least one dude that can magically become invincible, and another than can fly literally anywhere. Its stages are also designed for just the guy who can barely jump. In fact, the game is designed equally for both eventualities, and offers a wildly different experience for either choice. And, crucially, this means that the choices the player makes over the course of the adventure are significant. You don’t need a “Miriam will remember that” prompt to tell you something significant has happened when you’re too busy fighting your way over a bottomless pit to notice, and the “penalty” for literally killing a possible helper is immediately revealed in a sudden change of moveset. But, by the same token, these important choices may create a game that is more or less difficult, but never a game that becomes a complete cakewalk or impossibility. Everything here was carefully designed around players playing the game their way, and that allows for an inordinate amount of fun.

And, yeah, that’s something Bloodstained: CoTM learned from Castlevania 3, too. Heck, you could even claim it learned it from the original Castlevania. After all, tell me you’re not playing two different games depending on whether you decide to bring a bottle of holy water to a Frankenstein fight. The “old school” Castlevania titles might not have been as much fun to play as Mega Man, but in their limitations, they created an environment where the player had more choices than any title that involved a tanooki leaf.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon taught me that the original Castlevania titles were always more than they seemed, and didn’t need to pull in a single vampire to do it. Mimic a franchise, and somehow make the base franchise better? Pretty good trick, Bloodstained.

FGC #418 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

  • System: PC, Nintendo Switch, 3DS, Sony Playstation 4, and Vita. Sorry, this will be the only Bloodstained merchandise appearing on the Vita.
  • Number of players: One is good enough.
  • Pimpin!Favorite Boss: Hey, it turns out all these jerks have names on the official website! Valefor, the giant monster wearing a pimp hat, is my clear winner. He’s made of gold! And tries to kill you with gold! And can occasionally summon monsters made of gold! That’s solid gold, baby!
  • Out of Order: Did anyone else find Bathin, the light speed lizard that haunts the mechanical library, to be easier than literally every previous boss in the game? Its super fast attacks would be impossible without those target reticules, but with giant flashing “don’t stand here” signs all over the place? Not so much.
  • Favorite Character: Good call on making Miriam, the star of the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, arguably the most useful character. Sure, she is lacking in health or very strong attacks, but agility goes a long way in the 2-D world.
  • Favorite Reason 16-Bit Graphics were invented: Nothing interesting about the main characters really comes across with these faux 8-bit sprites, but Gebel really loses something when lo-fi. He’s supposed to be adorned with blood-purple stained glass across his flesh, but here? Here he’s just Alucard.
  • Would I play again? Odds are really good! Maybe I’ll even give that boss-rush a chance! Or maybe I’ll actually keep playing the parts of the game I enjoy! Who knows what the future holds?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Alfred Chicken for the Super Nintendo! There we go! There’s that randomness we all love and crave! Please look forward to it!

Choo Choo!

FGC #352 Bloody Roar 3

RAWRBloody Roar 3 is a fighting game about human fighters that may transform into anthropomorphic animals at any given moment. But are all animals created equal? Hell no. Here are the power rankings for the animalistic fighters of Bloody Roar 3.

Alice the Rabbit

Let’s start with the biggest loser in this cast. Alice is, like so many other women in fighting games, here exclusively for the fanservice. She’s been a fighter since the first game, appears in every sequel, and never, ever does anything useful in the plot. She’s a nurse, so that’s a fine excuse to squeeze her into a sexy nurse costume (never scrubs, which, take note, game developers, can actually be sexy) or a sailor fuku, because, hey, gotta compete with Dead or Alive somehow. Alice is here for every horny male in the audience, and, given the general demographics of Playstation fighting games, that might be the entire audience.

And, to further the fanservice, Alice transforms into a giant bunny rabbit. On one hand, it’s supposed to be sexy, as it’s a clear reference to the Hefner/Toriyama bunny girl of yore. On the other hand, she turns into the Easter Bunny, and, barring that one time in Reno, nobody has ever wanted to have sex with the Easter Bunny. I don’t care if she’s wearing a short skirt; the cold, dead, red eyes are a deal breaker. Bunny ears and a poofy tail can potentially be sexy, but hopping feet are a bridge too far. Ugh! I’m not going to be able to eat a Cadbury Egg in peace for the rest of the week!

Oh, also, bunnies? Not known for the fighting prowess.

Busuzima the Chameleon

Addressing Busuzima on the power rankings almost feels like cheating, as he is clearly intended to be the “joke” character of the game. He’s a lot more likely to win a tournament than Dan Hibiki, but his introduction still involves him mooning the camera, and his general fashion sense is laughable (hey, wait, we own the same shirt). Addressing the fact that the goofy scientist that can transform into a lizard might not be as strong as the lion commando is obvious from the moment he appears on screen, and I may as well be making bold claims like “Luigi will never marry Peach” or “Stryker might not be the champion of Mortal Kombat this year”.

LICKHowever, I have to address the cold-blooded elephant in the room: a chameleon is the worst choice for a fighting game. What is the chameleon’s one amazing skill? It’s a stealth monster! And what’s the one thing that that is never useful in a fighting game? Stealth! It’s a one on one match! You can’t “hide” from your opponent! Just ask Reptile! Turning invisible always sounds great in theory, but it’s not the easiest thing to control your imperceptible fighter. You’re a lot more likely to start punching air than actually achieve a hollow (ha!) victory.

And, yes, having a tongue whip is pretty cool, but there are other lizards out there. Are there any alligators in the cast? Dinosaurs? Come on, guys, we can do better.

Stun the Insect

Another one that is hard to judge. Let’s face it: Spider-Man has crapped in the hot tub, and now every other anthropomorphic insect has to take a poo bath. Spider-Man does everything a spider can, and he has “the proportionate strength of a spider”, so every insect or arachnid hero is expected to be on the same level. And can we really maintain that echelon of insectoid power? Of course not! If Spider-Man actually punched Doc Ock with the same power that could lift a Volkswagen, they’d be scraping up Ock brains over in Queens. Similarly, if Stun the Rhinoceros Beetle punched a random human with rhino beetle strength, we’re going to need the official Killer Instinct mop.

So once you drop the cool powers, what’s left for a giant insect? Not much. I guess being part of a hive or rolling around dung is cool an’ all, but it doesn’t really make for an interesting fighting character. And after that, you’ve just a got a head, thorax, abdomen, and not much else.

You know what would be cooler than a rhinoceros beetle? A freaking rhinoceros!

Xion the Unborn

“Unborn” my ass. That is a mantis, and I will waste no more time on yet another dumb bug.

Stupid bug

Jenny the Bat

Bats used to be cool. They’re nocturnal flying masters of the night, and man has feared their skittery advance for eons. They are the basis for any number of myths, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single vampire tale from the modern age that doesn’t include our favorite flapping fiend. And the blood sucking! Nobody is afraid of mosquitoes, but we’ve got a thousand Jungian archetypes surrounding our greatest naturally enemy, the bat.

And then we hit the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. And now we know that bats are adorable.

I am the nightHave you seen the videos? You’ve seen the videos. Everyone has. Bats are basically highly mobile puppies. Did you see that one with the milk bottle? Or those three that were hanging upside down on a dude’s finger? Bats don’t strike fear into the hearts of the weak and cowardly lot, they’re about one step removed from being helper animals. They should give bats to disabled vets. Oh man, can we train seeing-eye bats? That would be delightful!

In conclusion, bats are not scary, and I don’t care if Jenny wants to cosplay as a vampire.

Bakuryu the Mole

Here is the opposite problem. Despite appearing to merely be the bane of golf courses, moles are kind of vicious. Have you ever tried to dig… anything? It’s hard work! Just moving the tiniest bit of dirt is a tremendous effort. But for a mole, that ain’t no thang. Digging the deepest, darkest hole is second nature to those little dudes. And why? Because they have shovels for hands. Sharp shovels. They’re basically born with sword fingers, but everybody treats ‘em like some manner of subterranean squirrel. Squirrels can barely deal with acorns, moles could ruin entire continents if they deigned to dirty their knife hands.

KARATE MOLEBakuryu the Mole thus becomes our first combatant that really chose an excellent animal form… and he gets no respect. Sure, he’s got a cyborg clone, but he’s not exactly the marquee character of the franchise. Typical. You choose one of the technically more impressive animals available, and you’re outshone by the freaking bunny girl. It’s all politics.

Yugo the Wolf

Wolves are scarier in packs. One wolf alone in a fighting tournament? Probably going to mess you up, but only a little worse than the giant bugs. Yugo only gets this position because I really can’t see a mole consistently defeating a puppy, left alone its more feral ancestor. It’s probably the vision advantage.

Uriko the Half-Beast

Uriko is another misnamed creature, but there’s a plot reason this time. In the original Bloody Roar, Uriko was a science experiment gone wrong, and was transformed into a Chimera. The Chimera is obviously queen of the roost, because, in a game about random animals fighting, the winner is the animal that is the most animals. Three in one? That’s going to do it. Unfortunately (or fortunately for her hopes of getting into a decent college), Uriko was “cured” of this chimera-ness at the end of Bloody Roar 1, and now the unfortunately named Uranus picked up her discarded goat/snake/lion powers.

Of course, nobody stays retired in fighting games, so Uriko was conscripted back into action, now with a “lesser” version of her Bloody Roar ultra beast form. Now Uriko is known as the “half-beast”. But in truth? She’s a kitty cat. She’s been demoted from final boss to our second fanservice character, and given the mysterious title “half beast” because it sounds better than Uriko the LOL Cat. Can she has cheeseburger?

CHOMP CHOMP

She can!

Though I suppose you’re asking why the character that barely even qualifies for beast citizenship is so high on the list. This is because Uriko is a cat, and cats are terrifying. Yes, they can be adorable little balls of floof that bounce around after laser pointers and lick all sorts of crazy things; but they’re also monsters that play with their prey, destroy the furniture, and occasionally sleep on your head in an effort to obtain an earlier breakfast. Basically, if cats could ever get out of that one place where the sun shines and get their tails together, they’d have the planet conquered inside of a week. And then it would be us humans being dragged to Petsmart for a manicure.

And a cat with human intelligence? Frightening.

Long the Tiger / Shenlong the Tiger

Double tiger backfire. Disqualified.

Gado the Lion

Imagine all the cunning and intelligence of the common house cat, but in a body that could topple a car. Now imagine that same beast attaining human intelligence, and, I don’t know, maybe it has hair like Cloud Strife. And it can smell fear.

MrowGado is a mercenary or soldier or something (does the United Nations have foot soldiers? They do in this universe!), and he can turn into a freaking lion. There’s no stopping that! Part lion, part warrior is the exact thing we have been fearing since that one Mega Man episode, and here it is after it got a gym membership. Gado was the final boss of much of Bloody Roar 2, and that’s no surprise when you’ve got the king of the jungle running around. The Lion is the winner. There’s only one apex feline so powerful, so fear-inducing that it could possibly top…

Shina the Leopard

Nope. Article over. Not thinking about this game ever again.

FGC #352 Bloody Roar 3

  • System: Playstation 2 almost exclusively, though there is an arcade version in Japan.
  • Number of players: Two bloody animals.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s a Playstation 2 fighting game that is more or less a lot closer to the Playstation 1 fighting game mold (ala Tekken 3). This isn’t a bad thing! It might not be advancing the genre or anything so lofty, but it’s a fun time, and the whole beast mode system incorporates a very natural handicap into the gameplay. Really kicking butt? Try not morphing, and let your opponent recover some of that lost health while you’re more defensive. More fighting games should allow for such an obvious “gimme” (and also the ability to turn into a lion).
  • Favorite Character: Uriko the Half-Beast, because I like the fast, easy to use characters. And I’m a horrible person.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: The first Bloody Roar seemed to have the most robust, varied roster in the series, and among its members was Mitsuko the Boar. Mitsuko was Uriko’s mother, and she was the extremely rare “heavy” female fighting game character. And she was rad! She was a basically a lady Zangief, and a boar is a pretty imposing animal form. Aaaaand she was never seen again. Bunny girl has appeared in every game in the series, though.
  • Did you know? There was an official Bloody Roar Chia Pet. Don’t laugh! There are Guardians of the Galaxy Groot Chia Pets, so it’s clear these guys know how to capture the zeitgeist.
  • Would I play again: There are so many fighting games on the Playstation 2, and, while this is the only one where I can control a mole-man, I don’t think we’ll see this one again. There’s a fighting lizard man in Mortal Kombat if I get in the mood.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metal Slug 3! Get ready to shoot every damn thing between here and Mars! Please look forward to it!

Hey, I used all the images for once
Ahhhhhhhhhh!

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

FGC #259 Strider 2

Time flows like a river, and history repeats. And, in a lot of videogame sequels, it gets kind of ridiculous.

Today’s game is Strider 2, the 1999 sequel to Strider that absolutely should not be confused with the 1990 NES sequel, 2014 latest sequel, or Tiger Handheld game I still have for some reason. Strider 2 is the direct sequel to the original arcade hit that sees Strider Hiryu once again fighting against the nefarious forces of the Grandmaster, an evil dude in a cloak with the magical ability to summon dinosaurs out of nothing. Fun fact: I don’t know why this guy has to “conquer” the world with a malicious army and enormous, flying battleship; I’d vote for anybody that ran on an all dinosaur-reviving platform (I’m a single-issue voter). Regardless, Strider fights through five stages in an adventure that seems like a “PSX remix” version of his previous arcade game. There are new challenges, new areas, and at least one headless horseman (sans horse), but there’s also the gravity lab, the Balrog, and other familiar spots from Strider 1. Like a lot of good videogames, Strider 2 deftly walks the line between nostalgia and innovation, and it winds up being a fine way to spend an afternoon.

But when you beat Strider 2, you’ll find this little gem of dialogue.

... What?

And, if you check the auxiliary materials for further information, you’ll find that the overarching plot of Strider 2 isn’t just “Grandmaster’s revenge”, it’s “Grandmaster’s revenge… 2,119 years later”. But don’t worry, Strider has been resurrected, reincarnated, or… something… so it’s all going to work out. And, conveniently, the exact same characters and venues have been revived along with Grandmaster, so you can fight the Tong Pooh triplets or Solo all over again. Just… try not to think about the fact that these characters are literally two millennia old, and all they want to do with their apparent immortality is fight some dork with a sword. I mean, I guess you have to do something to keep busy.

And it’s all happened before.

Like most of the nation, I’ve been playing a lot of Zelda: Breath of the Wild recently. Light spoilers and whatnot, but the main plot of that game concerns a Link and Zelda that were supposed to be the heroes that defeat Ganon like every Link and Zelda before them, but, ya know, mistakes were made, and now the kingdom is in more distress than usual. Now, anyone that has seen a preview image knows the exact reason Link failed to stop Ganon the first time, and that’s that he forsook his green tunic for some blue getup. Saving Hyrule is a very precarious balancing act, Link, you change one little detail, and the whole thing collapses! Or maybe it was just that this Zelda wasn’t that into it?

Just walkin' aroundIn a way, Breath of the Wild simultaneously resists the cyclonic nature of the “prophecy” and “reincarnating hero” myths with a Link that kinda fails, but also more deeply outlines exactly why this kind of trope is, frankly, ridiculous. There’s a giant pig monster menacing the castle? Well, who is the princess? Does she like dressing up like a magical ninja? Do we have some teenager hanging around in a doofy hat? The royal family of Breath of the Wild realized there was a singular answer to the Ganon problem throughout history (kid with sword), and failed because they tried to add a few bells and whistles (robots never go bad!) to “guarantee” a victory. And guess what finally winds up winning the day? Spoilers, it’s a kid with a sword!

So you’re damned if you try to game the reincarnation cycle, but, don’t worry, the reincarnation cycle will win the day in the end.

… Huh?

Castlevania follows a similar Grandmaster/Ganon revives, hero shows up to trash the place cycle, but at least Dracula gets genre savvy pretty early in that environment. If we look at one of the earliest Castlevania games, Castlevania Adventure 2, we’ll find a Dracula that has already identified “the Belmont problem”, and started kidnapping wee Belmont tots to further his own agenda. And then we’ve got Shaft controlling Richtor, who explained something about creating an endless cycle of vampire hunter death or whatever before some dhampir dork smacked a sword into his face a couple hundred times. And by the time Julius Belmont is ready to seal Dracula in an eclipse, the Belmont name has been hidden from the public for ages, because Drac figured out this whole “phone book” technology thing, and “Morris” is totally not in the B section.

Because... oh nevermindSo why does this keep happening across videogames? On one hand, it’s an easy story convention that clearly predates videogames. I’m pretty sure Hercules had only existed for two weeks before some random dude decided to make a “Hercules reborn in modern times” story… even if “modern times” was “The Roman Empire”. And it’s the easiest thing in the world to co-opt some ancient bad guy and reincarnate/revive the dude for instant gravitas. Hero barely beat Villain the first time! Now he’s back from the dead, and he’s got…. let’s see here, what would be threatening… a laser rifle! How ever will ancient hero with his ancient ways win this one!? Heck, you don’t even have to get heroic to pull off this trope, just look at how many “modern reincarnations” of Romeo and Juliet or Beauty and the Beast have made it into the theatres. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Tingle and the Link.

But there is something different about videogames. Videogames are about recurring stories, yes, but there is always more to a videogame than just the story. The gameplay has to be familiar, too, and to reuse Zelda again in an article ostensibly about Strider (I have been playing a lot of Breath of the Wild, dammit!), it’s one thing to have a Zelda game that doesn’t feature Zelda, but God help you if you want to make a Zelda game without a boomerang of some kind. Link will fight Ganon, and he’ll do it with arrows, the Master Sword, and a blue shield with a triangle on it. Remember how Symphony of the Night was the greatest thing to happen to Castlevania in a decade? Remember how people at the time spent hours of their lives whining about the “unforgivable blunder” that Alucard couldn’t use a whip? I remember. Oh, God, I remember.

But it’s that strict adherence to familiar gameplay moments that make these games so seemingly impossible. It is one thing to have a dude rescue a princess from a pig man every century or so, but it’s another that there just happens to be an Impa, hookshot, and Beedle available from the beginning of time until the end. But the fans would be upset if those beats weren’t recycled, so here’s your Temple of Time all over again, even though it seriously calls into question the capricious work habits of the masons of Hyrule.

WeeeeeWhich brings us to the most insane abuse of this trope: Gunstar Super Heroes, which, save a few minor changes, features the exact same plot as Gunstar Heroes, complete with characters with the same names and roles. Green betrays the team, Orange is muscle man, and Black has built another damn board game castle. It all happens exactly as it did in the previous game, which supposedly takes place centuries before. Did… nobody write anything down? Bah, it doesn’t matter, what’s important is that you’ve got a minecart battle with Green in a shape-shifting mech, because, if that somehow didn’t happen, then what’s even in the point in making a Gunstar game?

And maybe that’s what we need to learn from Strider 2. If we want to have a game that reuses beats from the previous, beloved game, then maybe it’s okay that the plot is exactly the same. We’ve gotta have that gravity room, we’ve gotta have that fight on the back of a dragon-Russian parliament thingy, and we’ve gotta fight the Grandmaster again. It wouldn’t be Strider without it! So the people of the Strider Universe have to be stuck in an endless time loop to get there? Well, more’s the pity, but we have to squeeze the Balrog in there somewhere. Plot is secondary to gameplay in any given videogame, right? You’re not supposed to be thinking about how Strider Land “works”, silly player.

But time flows like a river, and, inevitably, a little voice in my head is going to repeat, “Yeah, but why is this whole thing happening again?” And you can’t just slaughter another grandmaster to get the answer to that one.

FGC #259 Strider 2

  • System: Playstation, Arcade, and wherever it pops up as a downloadable title. Playstation 3? That sounds right.
  • Number of players: There is only one Strider Hiryu. Though I guess you can play as the other ninja after you beat the game once.
  • Favorite level: The third stage features a cybernetic wooly mammoth flanked by malevolent hockey players. Then there’s a scientist that drinks a werewolf potion. I want to ground up that level and snort it.
  • Thar be Dragons: Hiryu is Japanese for dragon. Ryu, either the star of Street Fighter or Breath of Fire, is also named for dragons. So, how many dragon heroes are in the Capcom pantheon? And do they all get together and hang out on occasion? BoF Ryu is unimpressed by SF Ryu’s so-called “dragon punch”, and Strider just hangs out in the corner, drinking punch? Is this what Capcom Fighting All-Stars was going to be about?
  • Don’t judge a book: Just so we’re all clear…

    Get it right

    The disc on the left that is labeled “Strider” is the disc for Strider 2, and the disc on the right that says “Strider 2” contains the original Strider arcade game. This is not confusing at all.

  • Credit where credit is due: I will admit that this article partially found its origin in a comment by one Metal Man Master on a previous (already linked) FGC entry. Thank you, MMM. Playing Strider 2 after Breath of the Wild may have made a teeny impact, too.
  • Did you know? The illustrations for this game come compliments of Tatsuya Yoshikawa, right? The same guy behind the art of the PSX Breath of Fire games? It really looks that way, but, one way or another, art good, ya’all.
  • Would I play again: This whole game feels like it takes about ten minutes to complete. That’s a good thing for the last of the “arcade” style action games. So, yeah, I’ll probably make another high score run again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Giga Wing for the Sega Dreamcast! This is not to be confused with the lesser Mega Wing or Kilo Wing games. This is Giga Wing, all the way. Please look forward to it!

Brrr