Tag Archives: crossover

FGC #497.2 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Please note that this article contains distinct spoilers regarding Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. You have been warned!

Go Goku!There’s this moment in Dragon Ball Z at the end of the first significant story arc when Goku uses the Spirit Bomb. At this point, Goku has died, ventured through the afterlife, and returned from the grave when needed most to utilize a technique he could only learn from a nigh-god in another dimension. This attack, the Spirit Bomb, drains a tiny portion of power (“power” being vaguely nebulous in this case) from every living being on the planet, and combines all that strength into one focused “bomb” that he can hurl at his opponent, a giant monkey that is threatening everyone on Goku’s adopted planet (which is also Earth. You live there). In the grand scheme of narrative conceits, this is meant to be an important moment for Goku: he is the undisputed lead, the hero of this tale, but he cannot solve this problem with his own power. There is no solution here where Goku alone wins, so he must use this sacred technique, and, with the assistance of everyone on Earth, he can snatch victory from the hairy jaws of defeat. He can save the world thanks to the world. If this overarching metaphor isn’t obvious enough, Goku even whiffs his chance at pegging his opponent with this spirit ball, and requires another assist from another two fighters (one of which is best known for his propensity toward dying). Goku’s (currently) hated enemy is ultimately defeated by this spirit bomb, proving that it was not the super powerful Goku that was required to save the planet, but the strength of every person. Don’t put all of your faith in one “savior”, believe in the power of not one, but everyone.

And then Goku goes on to defeat every other opponent through hours and hours of one-on-one grunting ‘n punching. Goku is our Superman. Goku is our Jesus. All hail Goku, the guy that singlehandedly saved the world over and over again!

This happens often in fiction: the hero is the hero, and while there might be some moment or technique that uses “everyone’s power”, it all seems to come back to the one and only luminary. This is even more prevalent in videogames, as they are single-person experiences. Everyone in the party is working together to defeat the evil god du jour, but it all comes back to you, the exceptional player, making decisions, so the moral is muddied. And when you have RPGs that all but require the player to be the center of the universe, it gets even worse. That town lives or dies according to what sidequests you choose to complete, so it’s pretty obvious the world revolves around only you. Give me a moral about teamwork or whatever, fine, but in the end you intrinsically know that you are the only person that matters.

So you can imagine my surprise when Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE actually pulled off a “spirit bomb” finale without making its main character the center of the universe….

FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

Let's go to TokyoTokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE contains possibly the best idea in all of crossover games, and it is a complete waste.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a crossover game involving the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises. However, while both franchises are unmistakably involved, TMS♯FE has much more in common with Shin Megami Tensei’s own spinoff: Persona. And, to be clear, that would the almost spinoff of a spinoff, the post-Persona 3 editions of Persona. Like those games, this is a story predominantly featuring quirky teenagers banding together to fight unknowable, wicked forces while also occasionally hanging out and buying maid costumes at the mall. In this case, the twist is that there is less of a focus on school and “mundane” daily life, as the heroes of the tale are also performers of varying disciplines. Singing! Acting! Whatever it’s called when you’re secretly a Power Ranger! The whole gang is entertaining fans by day, but clearing out monsters by night. … Or… also during the day… I don’t remember if there actually is a “night” in this game…

Regardless! While it’s always interesting to know whether or not your favorite is getting enough hits on Youtube or whatever, the meat and potatoes of TMS♯FE is based on beating back the malevolent mirages in dangerous dungeons. Mirages are essentially demons from another world that prey on the raw fan-power of citizens of our planet, and if these creatures are not defeated, then the whole of the population might not be able to enjoy the finer points of the latest Hatsune Miku release. And, somehow, it is revealed that the whole enterprise of this soul-sucking was supposed to revive an enormous black dragon that could theoretically obliterate the planet, so there are some stakes that go beyond whether some models are inconvenienced by a possessed pervert (it’s… a weird game).

Let's rockBut how do your mundane teenagers save their humdrum lives from this wholly fantastic threat? Simple! They team up with their own, benevolent mirages. These “good” mirages transform into weapons and armor (or at least costumes) for our heroes, and now our leading lady is hurling supernatural blasts from a flying, mechanical pegasus (is noting a pegasus as flying redundant? I suppose it could be a lazy pegasus…). And for anyone familiar with the Persona series, yes, these mirages essentially function like the titular persona “spirits” of that franchise. Everyone gets their own unique mirage, and it is technically this spirit that levels up and learns new skills. Itsuki Aoi can’t really handle himself in a fight against eldritch horrors, but his mirage, Chrom, has got the situation well in hand.

Yes, I said Chrom. Yes, that’s the star of Fire Emblem: Awakening and incidental opponent in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. He’s a luminary of the Fire Emblem franchise, and he’s the prime mirage of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE. He is the main character’s mirage, so he’s the headliner of the Fire Emblem characters.

And that’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a brilliant thing! The number one obstacle to anyone starting a JRPG is that it is inevitably going to be “new”. The Final Fantasy franchise is amazing, but right from its first sequel, it has changed dramatically from edition to edition. There are always new characters, new systems, and new menus to navigate with every version. And it seems like the JRPG genre as a whole has followed suit, as we can nary get through a new Dragon Quest or Breath of Fire without a significant shuffling of the deck. Mario might get a graphical upgrade, but he’s always going to be able to jump on goombas, and it doesn’t matter if there’s a water gun strapped to his back this time. Meanwhile, the latest Final Fantasy might introduce its hottest protagonist as Sticky Wicket the Gibbering Thicket, and he may or may not even have a basic “fight” command. Final Fantasy 16 features the ARQ battle system, and you may only attack when the global price of oil has reached a high point. You’ll get used to it!

We're all real!But the benefit of the crossover integral to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE allows the user to skip that horrid “getting to know you” phase. Most obviously, the battle system of TMS♯FE combines the basic flow of Persona encounters with the nomenclature of both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, so if you’re familiar with either franchise, you’re going to recognize the myriad of arrows you’re supposed to rain down on this mounted opponent. And the mirages serve much the same purpose, but to grease the plot in the same way as the battle system. Itsuki Aoi is a completely new character created exclusively for this adventure, and, out of the box, he could be anything. Is he aloof and distant like Squall? Is a he a debonair playboy like Zidane? What kind of protagonist is he? Well, his mirage, his “persona”, is Chrom. And that tells us a lot! This isn’t just a nebulous mythological creature like what we’re used to seeing in Persona: this is a particular, defined hero that has appeared in another game. Chrom is the star of Fire Emblem of Awakening, and there’s an entire game’s worth of story and plotting that will tell us exactly how Chrom would react to a situation. This isn’t to say that Itsuki Aoi is Chrom, but given these characters are inextricably tied together practically from their respective introductions, we do have a general idea how Itsuki and Chrom are similar. We don’t need to wonder what kind of protagonist Itsuki is supposed to be, because we’re quickly given a definitive answer: he’s like Chrom.

And this is an amazing way to handle a crossover. You can have your cake and eat it, too! You get to introduce all-new characters with unique motivations and designs, but their immediate association with established characters from another established franchise allows the player to instantaneously identify and, more importantly, identify with the new class. It’s the reason there is always a Link in every Legend of Zelda (he is always strong, but kind), and even the reason Chrom exists in the first place. Back in Fire Emblem Awakening, you were supposed to see “this guy looks like Marth” and immediately assume he is the next heroic lord of the franchise. New character, old archetypes. And using this immediate familiarity in conjunction with a crossover grants players an opportunity to see disparate franchises come together and immediately understand their apparent links.

It’s just kind of a shame that this idea was wasted by relying on the Fire Emblem franchise.

Away we goLook, I know I’m biased. As I pointed out back when I first reviewed Fire Emblem: Awakening, I am not someone that has ever been a big fan of the FE franchise. I’m not generally a fan of strategy/tactics based RPGs, and, frankly, the way the franchise introduces a new cast of fifty randos with every sequel is daunting. I don’t have the time or inclination to go down the gargantuan rabbit hole that is the complete 30 year history of Fire Emblem.

But, that said, it would be nice if I even could.

Let’s see here… The first Fire Emblem game released in America was in 2004, far from the Japanese 1990 debut. From there, we saw the games featuring Ike on the Gamecube and Wii, but that was likely just because Nintendo was still smarting from the N64 years, and looking for a “Final Fantasy” killer… or at least one or two RPGs it could promote on its latest systems. Despite the Wii’s popularity exceeding certain kinds of bread (screw you, rye), Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn wasn’t a shining new dawn for the franchise. However, Fire Emblem Awakening, Fates, and Three Houses have been revelations across the board. If my twitter feed is any indication, Lady Edlegard is now the official Queen of Earth. However, that kind of popularity did not apply to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a Nintendo DS release from 2009. It was a remake of a game that was not released in America, and this remake was released in America with about the same level of hype as Blue Dragon Plus. Remember Blue Dragon Plus? Me neither. But it’s not like half the cast of Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is based on characters from Blue Dragon Plus…

It’s my own fault for not playing a random DS title from a decade prior, right? If I wanted to see Marth in action, I should have taken the chance back when I could. And I did play Fire Emblem: Awakening, and that game is featured as much as (if not more than!) Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. I should recognize everybody from that game!

Except…

Here she isThe second good mirage from Fire Emblem: Awakening that is introduced is Tharja. Tharja is a sorceress that is one of the most popular characters to come out of Awakening (apparently #3 in a Japanese poll that I have to assume is part of the national Japanese democratic process). She is a mage that is very shy, but very willing to use her magic and curses to damn anyone that gets in the way of her goals. She is also canonically bisexual, as she will fall in love with the main character regardless of gender. And her outfit is about 90% transparent nylon, so there’s probably a not insignificant portion of her fandom that simply wants to see her use her dark magic in more gratifying ways. In short, Tharja is a popular and unique character in FE: Awakening, so it makes sense she would be revisited for a crossover title.

And I’d love to tell you more about her, but when I played FE: Awakening, I kinda killed her on our first encounter. Look! I was trying to rescue a queen, and…. It was a bit of a whoopsie, okay? My bad!

Which brings us to the other issue with this Fire Emblem crossover: Fire Emblem is a very variable franchise. You saw it back in the day with permanent death options meaning some support buddies might not live to see the plot past the first chapter, and you see it today with Three Houses and three entirely separate stories dividing everyone’s experiences. Did you choose the Golden Deer route? Well, sorry about that reference to Edlegard being beloved earlier. You probably think she’s a bitch! And even within Fire Emblem: Awakening, you not only have the option of popular party members being killed, but about a third of the cast might not even exist if you don’t get the other 66% to breed like bunnies. Is Morgan your favorite character? Well I missed that dude or dudette, because my Robin knew how to keep it in her pants. There is a war happening, people!

Bye, friends!So this is Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE’s greatest strength and most glaring weakness: it relies on a complete familiarity with Fire Emblem. Rather than going the “easy” crossover route of only featuring the most obvious titans of its parent franchise, it features random dudes and ladies from across a few specific titles, and thus requires the player to be unerringly knowledgeable about everything in those games. It takes days to complete a Fire Emblem: Awakening playthrough, and you better have found everything if you want to truly understand the nuances involved in another hours-long JRPG experience. What could have been an excellent introduction to the Fire Emblem world is instead hampered by its own requirement that you already be an expert. It’s a crossover by fans, for fans, and it squanders its supreme strength as a result.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is a great crossover title, but it would be even better if I knew what the hell a “Draug” is supposed to be…

FGC #497.1 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

  • System: Nintendo WiiU, and now (finally) on the Nintendo Switch. No excuses! Go play it!
  • Number of players: Three man party, one man player.
  • Just play the gig man: The music is great. I mean, this is a game that is based on half the cast being in the music industry, so the music better be good, but… yeah. It’s good. It’s very easy to see how this game is the secret Persona game before Persona 5’s crazy soundtrack.
  • I assure you!Favorite Character: Ironically enough, it’s Kiria Kurono, the songstress associated with Tharja. While I’m always going to be annoyed when a character is built up as some incredible badass, and then the gameplay reveals she’s just kind of a middling mage (see also Persona 3’s Mitsuru), she also appears to be the only member of the team that actually knows what she’s doing at any given moment. And, yes, her whole “senpai” role seems to be literally designed to be appealing to the average Persona/SMT/FE player (again, see Mitsuru), and her “cool, but secretly cute” personality is obviously engineered to be endearing. But I still fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and I’m not going to over think it. Maybe I’m just happy she could hit that black dragon’s weak points.
  • Is there any other reason you like this game: Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    ITS NUTS

    None at all.

  • Did you know? Draug is apparently a knight from Shadow Dragon, so that explains why I’ve never heard of the dork. According to the FE wiki, he is shown to have a comradery with two other characters, but this “link” only appeared in official art, and not actual gameplay, in his original games. So, yeah, that sounds like par for the course for the Fire Emblem franchise.
  • Would I play again: I’ll answer that shortly, as…

What’s next? We’re sticking to Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE for the moment, as I still want to talk about this game in a non-crossover context. So please tune in next Monday as crossover week is finished, but talking about the same stupid game in a slightly different way is back. Please look forward to it!

Achoo

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

BLOCKS!My fiancée will tell you quite loudly and clearly that she does not play videogames. My fiancée is also a liar. She plays videogames. She just doesn’t play “videogames” as she thinks the world defines them. She plays Candy Crush. She plays some other game that looks exactly the same, but involves farm animals. I think there’s another one with soda. She plays these games constantly, whether we’re sitting watching a movie or traveling to the wilds of Canada. And Pokémon Go! When it’s raining, she will get in the car, and drive around the neighborhood for hours looking to find a shiny or conquer a local gym. If this were a MMORPG, she’d be sitting at a computer for hours, but since her chosen raids are partially based in the real world, she’s not really playing a videogame, you understand. I proposed to her with a friggen’ Pokéball, for crying out loud!

Sparkles

But, no, she doesn’t play videogames. Yes, I completely understand that compared to my gaming habits, she doesn’t “play videogames” (she doesn’t even have a videogame blog! Can you imagine?), but to claim that she doesn’t play videogames at all seems… disingenuous. She doesn’t play the same kind of videogames that are traditionally covered on this blog, but she absolutely plays videogames. And, what’s more, these are not simple, even-your-grandma-can-play games. She routinely plays games that involve experience points, rationed continues, and complex resource management. There’s no judgment against supposed “casuals” here, videogames are videogames, and whether or not a Pikachu or some manner of sentient fruit is involved is inconsequential.

Blocks!One videogame my fiancée plays is Tetris. According to her own words, it is her favorite videogame (which, reminder, is something she doesn’t play). She’s been playing it for years, and notes that during some of the less hectic times in her life, she played quite a lot of it. She’s good at it. I can say with firsthand knowledge that she kicks ass at Tetris, and I have the recorded play sessions from Tetris Effect to prove it.

And, given I believe this is the first I’ve ever mentioned my fiancée on this blog, I feel I should note something else: she’s a bit of a… let’s say… completionist. She pathologically cannot deal with leaving tasks unfinished, and her Type A personality compels her to complete goals to the best of her ability, earn an A on that math test, and then win the big football game because she spiked the final 3-pointer (she tells me she also understands sports better than I do). She deals poorly with losing for any reason in any way, and, officer, I assure you this black eye of mine is from walking into a doorknob, and certainly not because the dear love of my life threw a chair at me when I caught a rare Pokémon before her. As a result of this personality quirk that she honestly and wholly admits is an issue, we don’t often play competitive games together. Even if I win, I lose, so let’s play some games where we either cooperate or work in parallel. It’s better for our collective mental health.

So I really should have known better than to suggest we play Puyo Puyo Tetris for crossover week (“week”). I should have used my good eye to foresee the inevitable.

WeeeeeFor those of you unfamiliar with the title, Puyo Puyo Tetris is exactly what it says on the tin: it’s a puzzle game that combines Puyo Puyo and Tetris. For those of you unfamiliar with Puyo Puyo, it’s a color-block matching game that has visited America in various disguises over the years. For those of you unfamiliar with Tetris, welcome to Earth, and I hope you enjoy your stay on our humble planet. In both cases, we’re dealing with games where objects fall infinitely from the sky, and you must carefully manage these bits and pieces so they “clear” and your play area is not filled with so much useless junk. And this version of these respective games is predominantly based on the concept of multiplayer, so you also have to deal with offensive “junk blocks” that are generated by your opponent doing well. It’s not enough to play the game with skill, you also have to be wary of your rival playing the game with that same skill, but faster.

But just because both games are involved, don’t think they don’t completely interact. Back in the Super Nintendo days, we had Tetris & Dr. Mario, but that title was little more than an excuse to tape two Gameboy games together and sell the package for $70. Tetris and Dr. Mario intermingled about as much as Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 in Super Mario All-Stars. Puyo Puyo Tetris is another story. You can play head-to-head Puyo Puyo or head-to-head Tetris, but you can also play Puyo Puyo while your opponent picks up a game of Tetris. And it’s not simply “parallel play”, a properly completed Tetris can send junk sailing over to your Puyopponent. And it doesn’t stop there! There are other “versus” modes available that involve both games, like a puzzle speed run mode (called Big Bang Mode because “puzzle mode” sounds like a punishment), or another option where the game rapidly alternates between Puyo Puyo and Tetris boards. There’s even a mode that combines Tetris and Puyo Puyo into one focused game that adopts blocks and puyos from both franchises.

I think it was that mode in particular that caused my fiancée to start shouting expletives I cannot repeat on this blog.

I have no ideaLook, Tetris and Puyo Puyo being played in a sort of parallel is one thing, but outright combining the gameplay of both into one complete board is borderline crazy. The benefit of both of these games is that, individually, there isn’t much that has to be learned or understood to get going. Yes, there are complicated techniques involving starting combos or focused spinning or whatever in both games, but they’re both superficially very straightforward. Match the colors, line up the blocks. Empty spaces bad, alternating colors bad. The end. The best puzzle games are instantly understandable, and both Tetris and Puyo Puyo fit that bill. This is literally the reason your grandpa wanted a Gameboy. But Tetris + Puyo Puyo is confusing. Clearing a line requires using Tetris blocks, while popping puyos require puyo bubbles, and you don’t always have access to either kind of block. What’s worse, there are some moves that don’t seem to have obvious consequences, like how squishing some puyo bubbles with tetris blocks looks like you’re clearing out the clutter, but the bubbles will respawn and fall shortly thereafter. It’s something that happens every time, but it’s not immediate or often enough for a player to quickly distinguish whether these “junk blocks” are the result of something done by the player or their opponent. It creates a sort of “stress” that is not the traditional “things are getting heated because the board is filling up” stress, but more of an “I have no idea why things are happening or how I can make it better” stress. And it occurred to me that this stress could be very traumatic for some people right around when I won a match and my dear fiancée hit me with a folding chair. She is normally so respectful of the furniture!

And this might just be the pain meds talking, but there’s a certain… beauty in this crossover chaos.

What?Tetris x Puyo Puyo loses something. It loses its simplicity, and, with that, it loses its immediate and obvious accessibility. It loses an “easiness” that has been comfortable for decades. But it gains something in exchange. It is more complicated, but that complication adds nuance and techniques that would otherwise be completely absent from the experience. It adds a whole new dimension that was never there before, and would be completely impossible to so much as touch in the normal, base games. I have played a lot of Tetris games over the years, but they’ve always been constrained by being… Tetris. Adding Puyo Puyo to Tetris creates a whole new world of possibilities, and, while it does take some time to learn, it is an actual new experience. Tetris Effect, you’re great, but this is a genuinely, wholly fresh experience, and it’s satisfying to shift over to such a change once in a lifetime.

Tetris loses a little bit of itself. Puyo Puyo loses a little bit of itself. But what is gained, the final gestalt of the merging of these two things, that is greater than the two original items. Sometimes it’s hard to learn the ins and outs of this new…. thing, but it’s worth it. Both games are better for having crossed over.

Oh, anyway, did I mention I’m engaged?

She sparkles

I did? Yeah, there might be a metaphor here.

I love you, honey, and I’m looking forward to our crossover continuing.

Now… uh… could you put down that tire iron? I promise I was only kidding about playing Mario Kart…

FGC #496 Puyo Puyo Tetris

  • System: My understanding is that this is available on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Steam. However, there are also versions available in Japan (from 2014!) for Xbox One, 3DS, Wii U, Playstation Vita, and Playstation 3. This game is more traveled than I thought!
  • Number of players: Four player split screen action! Online modes available, too! It’s all very crazy and/or fun!
  • Favorite Mode: It’s the Puyo Puyo x Tetris mode. Did you get that from the article? I like new things right now. That may change in the near future.
  • But seriously folks: My dear fiancée is not physically violent. If you are in a relationship with someone that abuses you, physically or mentally, and you don’t have any options, please seek help. There are many highly trained counselors and nonprofit organizations out there that can help you, even in our current, nebulous existence. And I am not saying this because someone is holding a frying pan to my head.
  • Let's go!How about that Story Mode: Is this what it’s like for other people playing Kingdom Hearts? There are just all these weird anime characters with silly hair running around and shouting at each other for level after level, and, eventually, it is revealed this is all because “god” is angry and lonely and might need a hug. Or to play Tetris. And then the universe is saved thanks to a robot that sounds like a Pokémon.
  • Did you know? This is the first American release of a straight Puyo Puyo title since Puyo Pop Fever in 2004. Everybody counts the years between Metroid releases as some sign as to whether or not the franchise is dead, but nobody gives a damn about when Puyos haven’t been seen for a decade….
  • Would I play again: Just as soon as the swelling goes down, I think we could try playing this one again. I am going to have to find some manner of anchor to confirm the Switch isn’t tossed across the room, though.

What’s next? Enough with the mushy stuff! Our final crossover title is going to be the best crossover game released in the last decade. Please look forward to it!

WINNER

FGC #495 Castlevania Judgment & Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

This is gonna be weirdYou want a videogame crossover, you’ve got options. But apparently you can’t have all the options.

The Castlevania franchise is fairly unique, as, right from its third entry, its creators decided to introduce different time periods. Like Zelda, it was determined you could only tell the same story with the same hero so often (apparently twice), and it was time to move on to a different epoch with the same basic trappings for the next adventure. However, unlike in The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania seemed to revel in introducing completely new characters with every age, and (depending on the quest du jour) also introducing an additional supporting cast or secondary antagonists. Unfortunately, all of these “extra” characters were always disposable, as all Castlevania ever really needed was a Dracula and a hero that could menace bats. This meant that, by about the mid 2000s, there were a handful of really great characters across the Castlevania franchise that only ever had one or two chances to shine. Such a waste. Why can’t all of our Castlevania stars find a way to play together and get along?

So why don’t we have a Castlevania Crossover featuring all our favorites? And, if the first one doesn’t shake out, let’s do it again!

It started with Castlevania Judgment. At a time when nearly every Castlevania title was sentenced to the miniscule portable systems of the time, there was much excitement about the first “real” Castlevania title on the Nintendo Wii (the dominant console of the era). But then Castlevania Judgment was… not what anyone expected. Anyone.

Get 'emFirst of all, it was a fighting game. But that could work! Castlevania is a platforming franchise, but it’s also always been about little more than burly dudes with long hair fighting demons from Hell. And that’s, like, 90% of fighting games (the other 10% are just karate tournaments), so that is a good fit. And this was during a period when fighting games were generally pretty experimental, so, before fighting games settled back into just being online matches to mirror the arcade fights of days long gone, the time was right for an innovative fighting game based on action/platforming gameplay. And a fighting game would be ideal for the Castlevania heroes that, since Symphony of the Night, had gradually been accruing more and more “moves”. Alucard could utilize an entire army’s worth of weaponry, magical spells, and an inexplicable jump kick. He could put Guile’s lousy sonic boom to shame without even trying.

Unfortunately, Castlevania Judgment was (to put it charitably) a little too experimental. It was neither fish nor fowl: in trying to be a fighting game that aped the motions of an action/platformer, it created an environment where the two fighters didn’t really know if they should be dodging encroaching zombies or attempting to punch (whip?) their opponent. Combos are futile when you might be interrupted by an errant jumping fish, but dodge-rolling around the arena while Dracula just stands there drinking wine is equally ineffective. And the way the movesets were limited for “simple controls” (the calling card of a game designed for the assumed-to-be-casual audience of the Wii) wound up contributing to many fighters that were savagely unbalanced. Yes, I know Maria was always better than Richter in their debut title, but getting wrecked simply because one player chose a little girl and her owl in a fighting game is an entirely separate experience. There’s a skeleton of a good game here (ha! Topical Castlevania metaphor!), but it needed another game’s worth of tweaking to hatch an actual enjoyable, enduring experience out of this egg (are there any monsters that “hatch” in Castlevania? Bah. More of a Metroid thing).

Hi, DadBut there was one place where Castlevania Judgment excelled: plot. Wait, no, that’s a lie. The plot is a stupid excuse to pull various Castlevania characters from 1456 to 1942 to fight a Grim Reaper from 10,000 years in the future. It’s barely worth mentioning (which is really sad when there’s a skeleton at the end of time involved). But what’s great about this title is that all the various stars of Castlevania are all allowed to interact. Finally! In fact, it involves a number of heroes and heroines that were nearly totally mute in their initial appearances, so we can finally see what’s going on in Simon’s head. It’s not all just terrible nights to have a curse! And the crossover of Judgment allows for the insanity of great grandpa versus distant descendant, which allows for even more story fun. It may be little more than fanservice, but, for a fan of the franchise, Castlevania Judgment justifies itself through its cast’s interactions. It didn’t matter that the art style was a few too many bodies short of a Legion, what mattered was that this was Eric interacting with Grant, and that was pretty damn cool.

But, for a videogame, gameplay is key, so Judgment is simply remembered for being a complete flop of a Castlevania experiment. It was by no means the “Castlevania returns to consoles” that everyone wanted. It was some weirdo title featuring the cast of Death Note, not Castlevania HD. No, if we wanted that, we had to wait for the “real” Castlevania HD: Castlevania: Harmony of Despair.

And that one was an odd duck, too.

Don't step on meSuperficially, Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is nothing we haven’t seen before. Literally! C:HD is entirely assembled from Castlevania assets scrambled together from previous titles. It’s mostly just the IGA-vania titles (starting with Symphony), but there are also some significant Rondo and even 8-bit influences to be found here. And the gameplay, on a superficial level, is exactly the same the likes of Alucard or Shanoa have seen before: venture through a giant maze, stab some demons, collect a glut of treasure, and beat the damage-sponge of a boss. All very familiar, and, given this was at a time when we could rely on seeing a 2-D Castlevania title every other year or so, it was something that felt almost… extraneous.

But interpreting Castlevania: Harmony of Despair not as “this year’s recycled assets” but as a crossover culmination of the previous decade’s worth of Castlevania content paints a different picture. This is Metroidvania action in its purest form, which is something that is usually only available upon completing the latest Castlevania adventure. You don’t have to spend half of this title waiting to earn a double jump, or blow hours finding the right room that contains the right story flag to find the next area. This is just running, jumping, and exploring huge maps and battling worthy bosses. Exploration through unlocking has fallen by the wayside, yes, but what is left in its place is an uncontaminated Castlevania experience where you can just enjoy the innumerable of abilities of your chosen protagonist. If Castlevania is about man versus castle, then this is Castlevania to the Castlevaniaest power.

And the multiplayer options available to this title add a whole new dimension to the experience. You can cooperate! You can compete for treasure! You can select a character with a wildly different movement skill, and giggle as your ground-based buddy has to watch you fly through the sky on magnetic wings. There are a million ways to play with friends, and the “HD” of Harmony of Despair lends itself to a wonderful online experience where these enormous levels can easily house six active vampire killers. What we have here is not only a pure Castlevania experience, but a purely fun experience as well.

I am despairingBut there ain’t no plot. There’s no reason to do anything in Castlevania: Harmony of Despair past scoring points and clearing stages. You play C:HD for the same reason you play Madden or Tennis: just have fun with the game. And, while that is certainly a valid reason to play any videogame, it feels like a loss for the Castlevania franchise. Alucard likely would have a lot to say about pairing up with the reincarnated, pretty-boy version of his father, but C:HD doesn’t want to delve into that conversation. C:HD is about a magical book that contains magical heroes fighting a magical castle, and it’s nothing more than that. Everyone involved is just a 2-D simulation of their “real world” counterpart, and, while this is a crossover for every manner of sentient armor in the franchise, it is not a crossover for the iconic characters of Castlevania.

Which raises the question: which Castlevania Crossover wins? Castlevania Judgment eschewed typical Castlevania gameplay, but reveled in the personalities of its popular protagonists. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair was Castlevania gameplay taken to its most logical (and fun!) extreme, but reduced its iconic heroes to little more than different jumping stats. And the winner? Well, they both lost. Castlevania Judgment is regarded as an embarrassing diversion for the franchise that was never to be revisited again, and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair puttered out so completely it didn’t survive long enough to release its final planned DLC (Hammer! We could have had Hammer!). In both cases, both Castlevania Crossovers were disappointments to the curators of the franchise, and likely contributed in no small part to Castlevania rebooting and/or becoming a series of slot machines. Considering both Judgment and Harmony of Despair were epitomes of different aspects of the franchise, it’s rather depressing to see them both become epitaphs for an era.

But, hey, maybe watching the franchise die is appropriate for a pair of titles where you’re encouraged to kill Dracula about 17,000 different times. That dude can’t reincarnate forever!

FGC #495 Castlevania Judgment

  • Get 'emSystem: Nintendo Wii. This means it is technically also playable on the WiiU, but it was never officially ported to any other system due to, ya know, the embarrassment.
  • Number of players: If they’re fighting, they’re coming in twos.
  • Favorite Fighter: There’s no doubt about it, Maria Renard is a beast. I don’t care if she’s a 15 year old acting like a six year old and is mostly doing her damage through a particularly superb owl, she’s simply the best. And in this game where everyone looks like they spent a little too much time at Hot Topic, I’m also very happy to see that much pink.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: One big problem a number of people had with Judgment is that it includes characters from time periods divorced from their initial, iconic introductions. Sypha is a fledgling sorceress that has never encountered Alucard, Maria is a petulant teenager obsessed with “maturity”, and Bloodlines’ Eric is a petulant brat. This is a far cry from how these heroes act in their source material. However, I’m all for it, as I am a firm believer that people change over the years, and, sure, the stoic and dedicated “Wind” may have been a bit of a pissant when he was a kid. Who wasn’t? For anyone curious, this is basically a reverse “Cranky Old Man Luke Skywalker” syndrome, and I’m okay with it.
  • Why is this happening: It turns out that the whole plot of Judgment is the result of the evil plans of Galamoth, the future tyrant dinosaur wizard that cannot deal with Dracula being more powerful than a tyrannosaurus. This means that, ultimately, this title is another spinoff of Kid Dracula.
  • What’s in a name: Judgment only has one “e” in it.
  • Superb OwlDid you know? Of the default, non-DLC, non-needs-another-game-to-unlock characters, only Alucard appears as playable in both Judgment and Harmony of Despair. Shanoa joins Judgment if you connect Order of Ecclesia, and Maria and Simon both were added to C:HD as DLC, but only Alucard is there in both from the beginning. And he’s not even a Belmont!
  • Would I play again: I have a certain macabre fascination with this title. I don’t hate it… but I’m not really anxious to play it again. I like thinking about it, though!

FGC #495 Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

  • System: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The Playstation 3 version has local multiplayer, but the Xbox 360 version can be played on the Xbox One, so one might be more available than the other.
  • ZOOM!Number of players: Six. That… rarely happens.
  • Favorite Character: Shanoa if we’re talking about the default cast, but Yoko Belnades if we’re including DLC. What? I guess I enjoy dark magician girls.
  • Your Mileage May Vary: The “grinding” nature of Harmony of Despair and its rare boss drops is rather unpleasant. If you want the best gear, you’re going to repeat the same levels over and over, and there’s never anything fun about that. But then again, the whole point is to play these levels repeatedly to get better “scores”… so maybe this is a good thing?
  • But the DLC level that is just the entirely of Castlevania 1 as one complete map is the best, right? Oh, absolutely.
  • Love that castleDid you know? Even if he’s only 8-bit, with his double jump, slide, and collection of subweapons, Simon Belmont in Harmony of Despair is actually the closest he’ll ever be to his eventual incarnation in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Granted, he’s still mostly just copying Richter… but it works!
  • Would I play again: Man, it sure would be nice to get an online gang together to raid Dracula’s castle again. You definitely lose something when you’re playing this game alone, but just revisiting it for this article reminded me how fun the whole experience could be. I’m sure I’ll be stalking those halls again soon enough…

What’s next? Let’s see what happens when two entire games ram straight into each other. Please look forward to it!

This is what Konami wants