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FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

BLOOD!If gaming is a language, then franchises must be dialects. And among dialects, of course there must be regional variances. And Castlevania: Bloodlines is, unfortunately, the regional dialect of Atlantis.

Gogglebob.com: come for the videogames, stay for the extremely strained metaphors.

Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game very near and dear to my heart. Back in my younger days, I was very much a Nintendo kid, but a Sega Genesis was available to me by about the midpoint of the 16-bit console wars. And, while I owned a mere three Genesis games, my dad granted me one Sega Genesis rental every two weeks. So, about twice a month, my ADD-addled brain got to experience a brand new videogame for a few days, and that whole new experience that was sure to make me scream, “Sega!”

…. Or I just rented Castlevania: Bloodlines again.

I’ve always been a Castlevania fan, and, frankly, I’ve always been a sucker for a game that I have to “defeat”. It took me a long time to come to grips with the idea that I don’t have to “beat” or “100%” a videogame, and showing my love for a piece of art doesn’t mean I have to experience every last secret room or collectible. But back in my younger years? If there was a game that I thought was even marginally fun, and I didn’t beat it? Then what the hell was I even playing the game for!? Fish gotta swim, dogs gotta bark, Pokémon gotta track my sleep for some reason, and videogames gotta get beat, ya know? And, since Castlevania: Bloodlines was an enjoyable Castlevania game that I absolutely could not beat (on Normal difficulty), it meant that I had to retry that title over and over again until I finally conquered death itself (and Death). My young thumbs were still not developed enough to suffer through its insane final boss gauntlet, but I was going to try, dammit!

Swing is the thingAnd, if I’m looking at this title with some kind of wizened hindsight, I can probably admit that the other reason I kept coming back to Castlevania: Bloodlines was that it was simply a damn good game. It features the signature measured level design of previous Castlevania titles, and, while your protagonist often feels like he is being propelled by the same force that could eventually push a snail to cross a parkway, the majority of the title feels fair and appropriately scaled to Belmont (Morris) speeds. The dual heroes of the tale are different enough to feature their own unique (and fun) moves (spear vaulting is great for vertical areas, and whip swinging is… amusing to look at), but also similar enough that we don’t wind up with an X/Zero situation where one character is that much more of an advantage. And, as always in the Castlevania series (give or take a Gameboy adventure), the music is top notch, and the creepy crawlies that haunt the European countryside are numerous and inventive. And murderous. They’re always murderous.

So it’s kind of a shame that the majority of the Castlevania loving public forgot Castlevania: Bloodlines ever existed.

Possibly more than any other franchise, Castlevania has always been a very… what’s the complete opposite of progressive?… nostalgic franchise. When Bowser got seven Koopa Kids and a brand new butt stomp for Super Mario Bros. 3, Dracula was still using his same ol’ teleport/fireball pattern for Castlevania 3. When Mega Man X completely redefined everything that Mega Man ever was, Super Castlevania IV still had Simon trudging through Drac’s dilapidated hallway o’ zombies. This isn’t to say that Castlevania has never had an original bone in its obviously an angry skeleton-based body, but Castlevania has always reveled in its past since before it escaped the gravity of the NES.

DEATH!And (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear me say this) there is nothing wrong with a little videogame nostalgia. Particularly in the 16 and 32-bit days, it seemed like games were rapidly attempting to burn their pasts on the altar of “cool” and “new”. But it was still cool to see old mainstays like Frankenstein(‘s Monster) or Medusa show up when many contemporary titles were trying to reinvent the wheel by detonating every nearby car (literally, in the case of Grand Theft Auto III).

And, while Castlevania: Bloodlines certainly pays tribute to the Castlevanias we all loved before (“Hi, Frankenstein! Hi, Medusa!”), for a long time, it seemed like appropriate acknowledgment was not paid to Bloodlines in kind. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is the uncontested turning point of the franchise, and, as a direct sequel, it owed much of its plot and iconography to Rondo of Blood and its PC Engine/SNES origins. It also was clearly influenced by much of the imagery of Super Castlevania (that’s where Death met his buddies!), and the Reverse Castle featured the pieces of Dracula of Castlevania 2 mixed with the iconic bosses of Castlevania 1. And, while it almost seems like a footnote at this point, let’s not forget that Alucard premiered in Castlevania 3, and wound up fighting his zombified allies. Truly, Castlevania Symphony of the Night was the culmination of all console Castlevanias that came before, and paid homage to all of those titles in fun and inventive ways.

Except Bloodlines. Nobody cared about Castlevania: Bloodlines.

This is not a glitchAnd, unfortunately, this created a sort of ripple effect in the fandom. While Symphony of the Night encouraged visiting old titles to see first appearances of Slogra & Gaibon, Phantom Bat, or Grant DangheNasty, there was no such drive for Bloodlines. And when future titles decided to bring back more past friends and foes, we saw Skull Knight of Castlevania 3, not Mecha Knight of Bloodlines. And when we finally saw some significant references to Bloodlines in Portrait of Ruin, it was to let us know that both of Bloodlines’ protagonists died inglorious deaths, and Eric’s lance would only return as an accessory for a ghost. A whole Castlevania game was lost, and when the entire experience was lost and forgotten from the virtual consoles and collections that accompanied the new digital era, nobody batted an eye. You could download Super Castlevania, Castlevania: Dracula X, and even Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines was wholly absent. And there were no conversations about the title, because, frankly, who cared? We got all the good Castlevanias, right? If Bloodlines was any good, it would be referenced heavily like those other titles. Symphony of the Night was the pinnacle. IGA wouldn’t steer us wrong.

But a miracle happened just recently. Castlevania: Bloodlines was released as part of the excellent Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Now, Bloodlines is able to stand tall next to its early Castlevania console brethren. Now, people are talking about Bloodlines, and many of them are talking about it for the first time. And they like it! They really, really like it! Because it’s a good game, and always has been! After a 25 year banishment from the gaming consciousness, Bloodlines has returned, and people are again speaking the language of magical lances and Gear Steamers. Bloodlines can once again take its proper place in the Castlevania pantheon, and rest easy knowing that now more people have seen its horrible Dracula and his disturbing crotch face.

DONT LOOK AT MEUltimately, I find this success story to be the best way to conclude this Game Preservation Week (“Week”). None of these games that have been discussed have to be gone forever. Like Castlevania: Bloodlines, we’re always just one collection or digital release (or mini console, apparently) from a title returning to the gaming consciousness. And let’s see some solid videogame archiving in the future, so another game isn’t lost to decades again. The future of gaming may be streaming, but let’s remember our past, our dead languages, and see how they can make our future better.

And then let’s whip some skeletons but good.

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

  • System: Sega Genesis. And now available for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Sweet!
  • Number of Players: Two choices, but only one player. We’d have to wait for another forgotten Castlevania title to see some multiplayer Castlevania.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I rented Bloodlines from the local rental place so much, I eventually bought the cartridge when they were liquidating some of their “old” stock. That makes Bloodlines my fourth or fifth owned Sega Genesis game (the real money went to my beloved SNES).
  • Out of the Castle: Bloodlines follows John ‘n Eric as they battle around some of the more interesting mystical spots in Europe, like Atlantis or Pisa (?). This leads to some more interesting venues for our hunters to traverse, and maybe an excuse to battle a minotaur or two. And you get to fight World War I German war skeletons. That is so close to whipping undead Nazis!
  • RatzisFavorite Character: I lied earlier. Eric LeCarde makes this trip through Europe so much more manageable. His additional reach is a godsend, and the ability to vault straight into the skies… isn’t all the useful, actually, but it’s fun in exactly one room at Varsailles. Oh! And he has beautiful girl hair! I don’t see how that helps vampire slaying, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • A Little History: The big deal of Bloodlines is that it tries to tie the Castlevania mythos to Bram Stoker’s Dracula by claiming the vampire slayer Qunicey Morris (and thus his son and grandson) was actually a Belmont descendant. Who cares? What’s important is that Bloodlines seems to imply that Elizabeth Bartley started World War I as a cover for resurrecting Dracula. Now that’s something they don’t cover in history books!
  • Did you know? The Princess of Moss, the boss of The Versailles Palace stage, is a monster moth initially disguised as a woman. And that woman is apparently supposed to be Marie Antoinette, famous queen and cake-eater. Now, this is not to say that it is official Castlevania canon that Marie Antoinette was some manner of undead, immortal insect creature… but the opportunity is open for future Castlevania titles.
  • Would I play again: Now that I have it permanently loaded onto my portable Nintendo Switch? You’re damn skippy I’m going to play it again!

What’s next? Random ROB is back in action and has chosen… The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link! Are you sure that isn’t an Error, ROB? Oh well. Please look forward to it!

I hate this jerk.  He just... rains.

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 #249 Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen

This review is ogreOgre Battle aka Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen is a TRPG from way back in the early nineties. I never played the title on its original SNES cartridge, but I did quickly pick up the Playstation edition (ironically due to extensive Nintendo Power coverage). According to this memory card I have here, I apparently beat the game. That… kind of makes sense? This would have still been the “early Playstation” era, the tail end of my “childhood” years when I didn’t have enough (or, really, any) disposable income to buy new games. If I’m being honest, nowadays I would never have completed this TRPG, as, come on, TRPGs are boring. But back in ’97 or so, yeah, I’d be all over finding every secret and recruiting every available character.

Except… I kinda forgot how I did that. I know I beat this game. I know I played it for hours… but I don’t really remember that much of it. I know my heroine used her ice blast so much, Disney based a musical on her, and I know vampires are rad, but that’s about it. I think there may have been a demon in there somewhere? I think?

So, in the interest of this not happening again, I’ve referenced a few wiki pages, replayed some of the game, and slapped together a brief synopsis of the plot of Ogre Battle. This is for the benefit of future generations (or just my failing memory).

ChillyOgre Battle starts with an unnamed hero… but it’s our duty to name him… so let’s call him Mike. Mike is just chilling in Zeltenia, minding his own business, not doing a damn thing, when he is accosted by some of the Black Queen’s soldiers. This seriously harshes Mike’s buzz, and he’s a cranky sort, so he decides to put together a little rebellion and toss the Black Queen out on her duff. However, he’s up against an entire army, and you can only repel huge masses of people alone in JRPGs, not TRPGs. So Mike begins to amass an army, and immediately picks up a goofy sidekick, Warren. Warren is a fast –talking wizard that “can see the future”, but, in reality, he’s pretty much just a judgmental ass. First thing this guy does is claim he knows Mike better than anybody because of some stupid tarot card reading. Shut-up, Warren, nobody is buying that Princess Cleo crap.

So the obvious answer to the problem here is to march right up to Queen Endora’s castle and demand that these damn soldiers stop mucking all over the place, but she’s still got a bigger army than everybody and the throne. So what’s Mike going to do? He decides it’s best to fight through a few stupid fetch quests. So he picks up… let’s see here… The Star of Heroes, the Key of Destiny, and, oh yeah, Tristan, the adorable scamp that is the real heir to the throne. That’s handy to have!

SPELLS!  FUTURE!  WIZARD STUFFMike also met Norn along the way. Norn had previously lived the sheltered life of a priestess, and she was forever cursed to be separated from those she cared about. Initially, she is irritable towards Mike, but she eventually softens and seems to develop a sense of comradery with the rebel leader. Also, despite being “just a priestess”, she kind of kicks ass, so that’s a plus.

But not everything is friendship and magic! Queen Endora had the short and short-tempered Sage Rashidi on the payroll, and he wanted to own the whole of the land just as badly as the next guy. And it turns out he got his chance when Mike wiped the floor with Endora and her generals, and Rashidi was free to summon an unspeakable, ancient evil. You know, as you do. So the Black Queen was a feint all along, and Rashidi was the real enemy. And he’s got a dragon! Three of ‘em! Okay, technically he just controls the guys that control the dragons, but still, that’s basically like having your own dragon(s).

So, once again, Mike fetch quests all over the place, and I think Warren fell in love with one of the dragons somewhere along the way. Mike never played Saga Frontier, so he didn’t know you’re not supposed to mix tarot and rune magic, so he gathered up the twelve zodiac stones to banish Rashidi once and for all. And… then he did. OuchWhat, did you think this game would have an unhappy ending? Well, okay, it often does have a calamitous ending, because it is next to impossible to understand exactly how the whole alignment/fame system works, but let’s just claim that defeating Rashidi was all Mike ever had to do.

Rashidi is devoured by a dragon, Mike gets the girl (let’s say… Norn) and everybody dances around like an idiot to a Smash Mouth cover. There. Ogre battle is ogre.

FGC #249 Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen: Love is Ogre Edition

  • System: Super Nintendo initially, but only in extremely limited quantities. Playstation (1) saw a rerelease, and it was named the “limited edition” despite being more bountiful than the SNES version. And there was a Japanese Saturn version, too. Incidentally, if you want the SNES version, just check the Virtual Console.
  • Number of players: I want to claim that there should be a market for multi-player TRPGs, as, ya know, chess has been a thing for eons. And I’m going to keep saying this until it changes!
  • Feelies: For whatever reason, the Playstation “limited edition” came with memory card stickers. So, for the rest of time, I have a green memory card with an Ogre Battle sticker as its label. Oddly, my actual Ogre Battle game save is on a different memory card…
  • Boo-urnsHow does this game work? I have no earthly idea. I’ve read the FAQs. I’ve poured over Nintendo Power’s tips straight from the pros. I even checked the wiki once or twice. I’m pretty sure I know how to play this game while maintaining good, friendly stats… but it never works out. And I can’t even recruit the bad guys for some quixotic reason! I wanted a demon on my team, dammit!
  • Favorite Character: Deneb is the Pumpkin Queen!
  • Favorite Unit: And, similarly, I gravitate toward the bad boys with all werewolf/vampire teams. I like day/night cycles in games typically, but I like them even more when my soldiers transform into wolf monsters and tow around coffins.
  • Did you know? On Queen’s second album, the indolently named Queen II, the sixth track is titled “Ogre Battle”, and the ninth, “The March of the Black Queen”. I’m going to assume “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” had an impact on the proceedings as well.
  • Would I play again: I barely remember playing it in the first place… but I don’t think I’ll play it again. This is almost a wholly unique game in my collection, but it’s also kind of a drag. I respect Ogre Battle, and that’s why I’m not going to play it again.

What’s next? It’s number 250! And for our big round number du jour, Random ROB has chosen… Kid Icarus for the NES! Oh, that’s a good one! We come in threes here on the FGC, so let’s make a week of it. Get ready for more Kid Icarus than you can handle! Please look forward to it!

Make it explicit

FGC #225 Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

Move alongCastlevania Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow revealed something important about the Castlevania Mythos: Dracula rules a castle of eclectic monsters because he stole the souls of every one of those beasts. In retrospect, this makes perfect sense, because, what, you think Dracula was paying Frankenstein to be eternally whipped to death by some barbarian dude? No, of course not, Dracula sees what he wants and takes it, whether that be souls or delicious cherry pop. End of the day, Dracula populated his abode with monsters from all over the place pretty much because he could, and I can’t blame a dude with a fabulous cape for wanting a few ectoplasmic entities floating about to add to the décor.

But then you have to contemplate: how did Dracula get all these wonderful toys?

Consider the zombies and skeletons that infest any given castle of chaos. These guys are obvious, right? Right from the start, nitwits with weapons slightly less effective than whips attempted to raid Dracula’s castle, and, whether they got past the first hallway or not, their collective tales ended in failure. Maybe it was the random bats (they’re indigenous), the basement full of mermen, or poor architectural upkeep leading to a number of staircase incidents, but, one way or another, Dracula probably had a plethora of human souls to toy with by the first time Trevor showed up. And why let a soul go to waste. Still got your skin? Go skulk around the entryway, you zombie. Feeling a little more boney? Then toss your infinity ribs at any invading vampire hunters. And if you don’t feel like being on the front lines, why not make Drac some curry? Special positions are still available for any lady zombies that have flesh and karate skills (and maybe a bone-based vacuum). And if your raid on Dracula’s castle was somehow a couple’s event, then feel free the haunt one of our many luxurious ballrooms. You’ll never want to leave!

OuchThen we start to get into the fun bits. Want to know why Dracula didn’t set up shop immediately after Legacy of Darkness (the game wherein Dracula rose to power through defeating the nefarious but generally nonthreatening Walter)? It’s because he went on a magnificent world tour! Whether you want a Medusa or just her head, you’ve gotta go to Greece. And while you’re there, why not grab a harpy or minotaur? Then it’s off to Mexico, because Quetzalcoatl ain’t gonna fly over to your castle just to hang out with fleamen. Balore and wargs love northern Europe, and Amalaric Snipers are really into the local goth scene. The Salem Witches probably come from somewhere, though I can’t immediately figure out where. Oh, and Mothman? There was an… incident involving a helpful peasant mishearing Dracula and providing directions to Pennsylvania. Got a random cryptid and an extra zombie soul out of that mistake.

A portion of Castlevania’s bestiary is clearly the result of Drac’s do-it-yourself, can-do attitude. Alura Une is the consequence of watering normal plants with blood? Great! Some of the walls of the castle have been bleeding lately, and it’s a shame to throw out good wall-blood. And while we’ve got the gardening equipment out, may as well get those skeletons to harvest screaming vegetables. And if some of the local slugs grow large enough to eat people, hey, bonus. Drac randomly stopping by a synagogue for a few weeks led to a few DIY golems, and any extra materials may be recycled into haunted tombstones. The haunted tables were just a happy accident. And that dang Quetzalcoatl seems to keep leaving his spare heads around the place, so let’s build those into chic pillars. An afternoon and a little superglue later, and you’ve got a lovely corner piece that incidentally is capable of incinerating your enemies. Hooray!

EwAnd then there are the more… interesting denizens of the castle. You know how Dracula always says he’ll return from the dead stronger than before? Well, he’s not talking about himself. Every trip to Hell is basically a scouting mission for our favorite vampire, and, despite the fact that he’s only there because he got his head whipped off (again!), the demons are dimly aware that Drac can get you a night or two off from eternal torment every century or so, so why not join up with the blood sucker? Giant pig monster with a cleaver? Come on down! Winged demons of all shapes and sizes? Get over here! We’re giving away free tridents, so if oversized metal forks are your thing, this is the castle for you! Cthulhu? Gas sha haftft u’a’ ha’a! And a locust summoning cricket destined to usher in the apocalypse? Man, what took you so long!?

And then Death just kinda brought Slogra and Gaibon to the party, and Dracula was like, “Yeah, sure, whatever. I didn’t know you had other friends, but it’s cool. It’s cool.”

GrossAnd, before you know it, Drac’s got a fully stocked castle. Mermen are happily swimming downstairs, skeletons are practicing their boomerang tossing, and some manner of long-legged owl is dominating a hallway or too. Vlad doesn’t even remember when the werewolves started showing up, but they seem to get along with the minotaurs well enough. The only hiccup seems to be that one zombie that is worryingly fond of his dog, but as long as he stays way the hell downstairs, Dracula is a happy vampire. It’s great when a plan comes together.

So good luck, Celia Fortner. I know you’re trying to get a whole new “Dark Lord” going with your candidates, but it’s pretty clear that centuries of development went into the original Dark Lord’s plan, and you can barely manage two jerks with bad haircuts. Did you think you could just dig up a devil foregemaster and be done with it? It’s not Soma that is going to wreck this evil plan, it’s a lack of dedication to the details that need to go into such an endeavor. Celia, do you have any idea how difficult it is to train a skeleton to serve food? Go back to your bush league, wannabe, and wait until Soma wants to go on his own globe spanning cruise. Then we might see some results.

Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow: proving once again that it ain’t easy being Dracula.

FGC #225 Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

  • System: Nintendo DS and… is that it? I… think so?
  • Number of players: Oh, this one is two player! Kinda! Like, you can design your own “dungeon”, and then a second player can challenge that dungeon. And there’s a soul trading option! This game is basically as two-player as Pokémon.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: The entire reason I don’t “review” videogames is because of titles like this. I like Dawn of Sorrow, but not as much as Aria of Sorrow. Why? I can’t really tell you. ZAPMaybe it’s because a few of the areas (like the imprisoned tower, clocktower, and entire ending section) feel like “levels” and less like Metroid-y zones. That said, I still love this game, and some of its more… interesting residents have a certain edge over Tsuchinoko.
  • The Holy Trinity: Julius mode is amazing in this game, and the ability to switch between three characters in a manner similar to Castlevania 3 is the bee’s knees. Though it’s a shame that restoring health is a bear, and most of the bosses require some very dedicated memorization. That said, I guess that does make it an old-school Castlevania experience.
  • Favorite Soul: This time, I have to go with Gergoth and his palm-based laser. There’s just something pleasant about vaporizing Groot like it ain’t no thang.
  • Favorite Boss: Puppet Master wins for being one of the most singularly creepy bosses in Castlevania, and possessing an interesting gimmick that seems insurmountable at first, but becomes manageable with a little observation. Or maybe that was just me? I just know that I wound up dying a lot to that creature the first… seventeen times I fought it.
  • Yum!A moment for Dmitrii: The best part of this game is battling Dmitrii, the man with the mimic powers, and seeing just how badly he can screw up those abilities. Have you ever tried licking him? It works out well.
  • Speaking of Bosses: Is there a way to beat Abadon, the lord of locusts, without abusing various souls? Is there a “naked” solution? I usually just use a combination of bats and lasers until the bugs are all gone, but that feels vaguely like cheating.
  • Did you know? I believe the best way to beat the Iron Golems is utilizing the nunchakus. Nothing works better on a metal monster than a couple of chained pieces of wood.
  • Would I play again: Inevitably. I even kind of like the glyph sketching! I’m weird!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Monkey Ball for the Nintendo Gamecube! Break out the quarters, kiddies, it’s time to earn some vending machine monkeys! Please look forward to it!

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