Tag Archives: fighting games

FGC #507 Kill la Kill –IF

Kill itWorking hypothesis: in the 21st century, for anyone that is privileged enough to be in a position where their creative output is capable of being excessively monetized, the scariest moments in their life were in high school.

And to the rest of the population, that’s horrifying.

Let’s state something plainly: high school sucks. It seems there was some golden age of high school that inspired Bruce Springsteen and more than a few musicals, but, as long as I have been alive, I haven’t encountered a single human being that considered high school to be the best years of their life. Scratch that, I have met people that “miss” high school, but they are, by and large, currently working at a location commonly referred to as “the sheep grindery”, and they’re generally addressed as “Crazy ol’ Gus who smells like a sheep grindery”. Modern high school is, by and large, less an educational institution for teenagers, and more of a daycare for proto-adults. The average high school student is old enough to be trusted with vehicles, voting, and vices, but they’re not trusted enough to acknowledge that the concept of “home room” is a daily waste of a precious 20 minutes of life. Study after study shows that teenagers need more freedom and more stimulating methods of learning during adolescence… so, of course, high school is little more than a graduated elementary school, only marginally different from the instructive environment that greeted these students when they were five. College at least offers the benefits of some manner of quad!

Get 'emBut it’s not the failures of the educational system that make an impact on most people. High school is often remembered as a fiercely competitive gladiatorial arena where only the strong survive… so much as “the strong” is defined as “has the right haircut”. Pop quizzes and alike may inspire a lifetime of impromptu nightmares about not being prepared, but the real horrors of high school are all social. Does Becky like me? Should I ask her out? If I ask her out, and she says no, will I be ostracized for the rest of my days? Everything in high school is magnified by having to deal with a social circle of hundreds that isn’t going anywhere for four years, so you damn well know that if you accidentally splash water on your jeans the first day, you’re going to be “Pissy Tammy” until college. And your name isn’t even Tammy! Who started calling you that!? What’s more, Tammy, is that high school seems almost designed to make you hate yourself and the things you enjoy. Like playing a music instrument? Ha ha, band geek, good luck having a social life. Loving the gymnastics of cheerleading? Well you better start loving some football players, too, because everyone is going to assume you’re sleeping with them anyway. Sci-fi club? Noxious nerd. Basketball team? Dumb jock. You literally cannot win, and even the most beloved of the quarterbacks spends his nights wondering why so many people are mean to him. Oh, did you just reflexively think, “well, yeah, people are mean to him because he shoves smaller kids into lockers”? Well then, yes, we can see why the very nature of high school leads to stereotypes and a virtual melting pot where it seems like 75% of the student body is against literally 100% of that same student body at all times.

And, yes, that can leave a mental impression.

The botsToday’s game is Kill la Kill –IF. As one might expect, this is a videogame based on the anime Kill la Kill. By and large, the game follows a truncated version of the original Kill la Kill plot, as we’re dealing with a fighting game, and we don’t have all day to wait around and figure out special moves for a cadre of incidental characters. Kill la Kill the 26 episode animated series is reduced to about ten characters and an hour or two of “story mode” so its audience can just have some fun tossing fists back and forth. And what is Kill la Kill boiled down to its most essential story beats? It’s the story of the student body president fighting random, occasionally possessed students, and eventually leading to a final confrontation with her mother. Or, you can choose the other path, where you’re the “outsider” student, and you’ve got to battle all those students and the previously featured president of the class. And that’s it for the plot of Kill la Kill –IF. It’s a fighting game based on being a high school student, and it transforms the usual “high school is a struggle between students, other students, and adults” into a literal struggle that involves weapons and sentient uniforms that may or may not represent conformity. High school is Hell, at least you have a sword.

And the whole “high school is Hell” concept isn’t unique to Kill la Kill by any means. In fact, that very phrase was the pitch for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a television series from two decades ago that combined high school tropes with actual monsters every week. This week: Buffy has to care for an egg as part of that one child-rearing class that only seems to exist in fiction, and maybe the egg is set to hatch an Ancient One in the basement! It’s spooky and relatable! And, whether it was simply because Buffy was popular or writers latched onto the trope almost instinctively, the “high school is Hell” concept has been repeated across practically all media, from books to movies to videogames to whatever the hell Todd and the Book of Pure Evil was supposed to be (Jason Mewes, know that you are appreciated). And, to be clear, the “seriousness” of high school doesn’t just exist in these “hell” versions, either. Whether you’re watching an outright drama or a fluffy situation comedy, the crushing weight of the possibility of being socially embarrassed is often plumbed for pathos. Even something as silly as Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the OG, TGIF version, not the current Netflix iteration that literally involves Hell) frequently derives its 20-minutes of drama from the possibility that the titular Sabrina will be outed as an “other”. The message is clear: high school is deathly serious and vaguely traumatizing. It can and should be compared to eternal torture.

And, honestly, if high school is your idea of Hell, you’re living a pretty good life.

It's roughDoes high school suck? Yes. But you know what sucks more? Not seeing your family on a holiday because your boss explains he “needs coverage”. Getting exposed to a fatal disease because “the economy has to keep rolling”. Being strangled because you bought your groceries with the wrong bill. People are suffering in horrible ways on a daily basis. When you consider that some people live their lives under constant threat of literal death, it seems disingenuous to worry about a situation where “the prom” is the biggest problem one can encounter. The idea of issues in high school being life threatening is a fun metaphor, but for so many people, high school and beyond being death-defying is not a metaphor in the least.

But if real life is so dangerous for so many people, why has the high school cow been milked so often it is pumping out powdered dairy substitute? The answer seems obvious: if you’re privileged enough to be in a position where your story is being told to the masses, then it is likely high school really was the worst time in your life. Why? Because high school really does suck for everybody.

And that’s a good thing.

You can’t win high school. We frequently revisit the trope of “the queen bee” or “the rich kid” because it presents the comforting lie that someone was the top of the high school food chain, but, in reality, those “winners” often spent most of their time wondering why they were losers. And, while this might be an untenable situation for those of us with some combination of OCD and an unfathomable drive to be liked by all, it does mean that no one student can be the “boss” of high school. You might be first in the class, but you’re not the quarterback. You might be the star of the track team, but you’re still going to sweat more asking out your prom date. No matter how much power you have in high school, you literally will never have enough, because there is always another aspect of the experience that will be outside of your grasp. And, since humanity has something of an issue with letting things go, you’re always going to remember that feeling of powerlessness. You’re always going to remember that hell.

It sucks hereAnd when you grow into power, when you grow up, get that degree, become the boss, and become the person that has the power to have their own stories told, that’s when you’ll look back at when you were powerless. High school was the one time when power was impossible, so that was the worst time in your life. You’re in power now. You’re the man, man, but remember when you were little more than a scrappy underdog? Remember when it was you against the world? Remember when you didn’t have the power to fail repeatedly yet still succeed? That was terrible! Never mind that there are people today that will never feel that same level of excessive privilege, you have to tell your story about how Debbie always went for that cool jock, and you could do nothing. No one can deny you your prizes now, but at least you can romanticize the times you had to struggle.

And everybody else has to struggle with real life being Hell.

The wonderful thing about high school is that eventually it inevitably ends. Maybe the same thing should happen with privileged men telling stories about high school.

FGC #507 Kill la Kill –IF

  • System: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. Essentially, all the big platforms that host anime nonsense.
  • Number of players: This is a high school of two.
  • Mega Get 'emMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s a fighting game that, like Dragon Ball FighterZ, is here to let an excited audience “play the cartoon”. That said, the roster is extremely limited (two angry leads, the four generals, two boss ladies, and two DLC whackjobs), and the gameplay is extremely basic. Or maybe it’s complicated? I have a hard time distinguishing how complicated fighting games are, as, if there’s a dedicated “special” button, I kind of assume it’s more simple than King of Fighters. Regardless, despite some gorgeous visuals, this game feels more like a budget release than something that will enjoy three seasons worth of DLC.
  • That old chestnut: Oh, excuse me, there are an additional two fighters on the roster: the two mains, but now they’re both dual-wielding. That’s, like, totally a different character. They play slightly differently!
  • Small Favors: Also, considering the source material, it is a minor miracle this game doesn’t employ Senran Kagura-esque clothes-plosions. Everybody stays just as half naked as normal throughout every bout. Hooray?
  • Say something nice: This is a pretty basic fighting game, but the story mode does include a few interesting fights against multiple opponents that seem… seamless? No, that isn’t quite right, but the “targeting” for quashing multiple objectives does at least feel vaguely natural. It would be cool to see this system adapted to a game that has more interesting mooks… Or at least some saibamen.
  • What’s in a name: Kill la Kill is basically a pun in Japanese, and it boils down to “dressed to kill”. In English, however, it just sounds like someone learned, like, one Spanish word, and then gave up. Localization now!
  • Let's go!Story Time: This game’s plot isn’t merely an excuse to truncate KLK to something a little more fighting game-centric, it’s a dedicated “imaginary story” about student council president Satsuki Kiryuin’s chilling daydreams about destroying the high school hierarchy and her mother. This allows the game a chance to be “canon” (within Satsuki’s mind), but still change the plot and perspective as much as can be allowed by a judgmental fandom. That said, for highlighting a completely invented playground with theoretically no limits on storytelling potential, this tale still boils down to little more than an abbreviated version of the original, so what was the point?
  • Favorite Fighter: Nonon Jakuzu is the uber-band geek drum major that attacks with classical music, so it’s kind of hard for me to say no to that. Her official biography says she’s also responsible for the gardening club, so, ya know, good for her.
  • Did you know? Erica Mendez is the voice actress for main heroine Ryuko Matoi. Laura Bailey famously played Kaine in NieR. However, hearing Mendez shout at the Kill la Kill cast for being “a bunch of dumbasses” really evokes Bailey’s opening dialogue from the boot of NieR, and, to my gentle ears, it’s difficult to tell the two women apart. I guess there are only so many ways you can shout at anime dumbasses…
  • Would I play again: No thank you. This is a fun game for two hours, but feels very slight. I won’t be revisiting this anime high school anytime soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Chocobo Racing for the Playstation! Let us race monsters with birds that are known for outracing monsters! Please look forward to it!

Seriously

FGC #500 Mortal Kombat 11

Let’s learn about Mortal Kombat!

Or was that just some super violence? Who knows!

FGC #500 Mortal Kombat 11

  • System: Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC initially. It also migrated over to the Nintendo Switch and… what’s this? A Google Stadia? That thing plays video games?
  • Number of players: Two very unfriendly combatants.
  • Hey, haven’t you written enough about Mortal Kombat? Consider this a vaguely final chapter. The original Komplete Guide to Mortal Kombat Kharacters started as a simple “review” of Mortal Kombat 11, and then spiraled out of control almost immediately. It seems only appropriate to call this bookend the FGC’s MK11 feature. And, hey, it’s an excuse to play MK11 DLC.
  • How is MK11 Aftermath? It’s entirely pointless! Spoilers, the entire plot ends up exactly where it began, and the greatest tension in the story is “when is Shang Tsung going to betray us all?” And the simple answer to that is “immediately and constantly”. It’s a fun little tale, but it doesn’t add anything to our understanding of the characters or the larger mythos. Nightwolf is noble, Shang Tsung ain’t. The end.
  • But what about that Sindel retcon? Meh, I’ll probably write about that more later, as I feel like I have more to say there. Dammit! Mortal Kombat never ends.
  • Get 'emMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: It’s good! I still prefer Mortal Kombat X(L) for general gameplay, but this is certainly a step up from the overall stiffness of Mortal Kombat 9. And the endless challenge towers offer an interesting…. uh… challenge, too. Somebody remind me to pick up a thesaurus before I finish another 500 articles.
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Interviews regarding Mortal Kombat 11 include creators claiming that the emphasis on “sexy” had gone too far in previous games, and it had to be dialed back for Mortal Kombat 11. That’s why the women of MK now wear more modest clothing, and have more than one body type. Like, there’s a skinny ninja lady, a skinny bug lady, a skinny blonde lady, skinny titan lady, skinny black lady, and another skinny blonde lady that is actually two skinny blonde ladies from different time periods. All the skinny ladies are represented!
  • Favorite Fighter (MK11): My old favorites, Noob Saibot and Kabal, seem more than a little… annoying in this iteration of MK. As a result, I’ve gradually drifted over to Robot Ninja Frost, who is like Sub-Zero, but more likely to hurl her own spine at an opponent. I can respect that.
  • Would I play again: This might be another Street Fighter 5 that has DLC until the end of time. And I’m here for it! Bring on the kombat!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Alundra for the Playstation! I’ll see you in my dreams, Alundra. Please look forward to it!

FGC #499 Ballz

BALLZ!In the early 90s (practically the infancy of gaming as we know it) there was a tremendous controversy over videogames, sex, and violence. There were concerns that, since videogames had progressed past being red dot versus blue dot and now featured tremendously less abstract decapitations, videogames were profane and poisoning the poor kiddies playing them, and, please, won’t someone do something to protect us all? In a move that certainly wasn’t just a shortcut to placating the masses, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was founded in 1994. It was thus to be the job of the ESRB to rate games according to their content, and clearly label every release with information denoting it as “E for Everybody” to “M for Mature”. However, a year earlier, Sega of America introduced the Videogame Rating Council, a slightly more primitive version of the ESRB that had much the same goal (pacifying Karen). In this case, we had three ratings: GA for general audiences, and two version of MA (mature audiences) with two different ages: 13 and 17. Games that earned a MA-17 rating included Lethal Enforcers and Mortal Kombat 2, while MA-13 went to the likes of Super Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat (1), and Lunar: The Silver Star Story.

And Ballz. Ballz is for mature 13-year olds only.

In a lot of ways, Ballz was improbably ahead of its time. For one thing, it’s a 3-D fighting game released about seven seconds before the era where that was the only fighting game style available. Shortly before the release of Tekken or Battle Arena Toshinden, here was a fighter taking place on a “real” 3-D plane where you could just as easily side-step around a fireball as jump. There are even techniques involved here that would become standard within the genre, like dodge rolling away from a fallen position, or grappling with an opponent in a manner that is impossible (or at least boring) in 2-D titles. And there are some systems that never caught on that could be very interesting in the right hands. Every character can morph into every other character. Could you imagine that in a more robust fighting game engine? You’re fighting the entire roster at once every time! High level play in such an environment could be amazing! Counter pick after counter pick until the timer runs out!

Bad dino!But one feature that was certainly adopted by Ballz’s fighting game descendants is the overt bombast of a seemingly average fight. The fighting game genre has always been “loud”, and anyone that spent ten seconds in an arcade in the early 90s could tell you exactly how many sonic booms were tossed by Guile in an afternoon (the answer is infinity plus one). But, as fighting games evolved in graphics, they too evolved in piercing presentation. Possibly as a result of copying real-world, “real” sports, fighting games went on to adopt cinematic staging by standardizing features like replays, wrestling-esque taunts, and announcers. As a result, the average fighting game nowadays is chattier than your average JRPG, and we’re never allowed to forget that the soul still burns. Whether or not this makes things better is up to the player, but it’s pretty clear that if you play a Japanese fighting game, and it doesn’t have seven different settings for “announcer”, toss on your hazmat suit, because you’re handling toxic garbage.

Ballz has its own announcer. Its announcer is just a little more… silent than the modern incarnations.

Ballz’s designers knew the game had to drip attitude, and that that wasn’t going to be properly conveyed by a simple fight between a ballerina and a rhino. No, they needed something more. Silent protagonists were not going to cut it, and primitive 16-bit cartridges weren’t going to support the literary magnum opus required of Ballz. What Ballz needed was special. Ballz needed a damn Jumbotron ™. Ballz decided to screw subtlety to the sticking-place, and just ram a gigantic television screen into the background. Maybe even a couple! And this screen could display taunts, announcements, and a comprehensive running fight commentary in the background. So, during each and every fight, you’ve got a background that is expounding such complicated thoughts as “administer smackies” while a few lesser screens display what appears to be an animated GIF of fireworks before displaying the game’s logo. Is it distracting? Of course! But does it convey exactly what Ballz is all about? Also yes! While it is always confusing who the hell is “talking” through the Get 'emvarious screens (some are clearly statements by the combatants, but there seems to be an omniscient “narrator” somewhere in there, too. And then there’s some random malcontent that really wants you to “taunt the ostrich”…), all of the statements stick to the basic theme and attitude of Ballz. It’s irreverent! It’s anti-establishment! In a world of sober Fatalities and Cinekills, Ballz is juvenile and insolent. Ryu is seriously trying to test his serious skills in a very serious tournament, but Yoko the Ballz Monkey is seriously going to fart in his face. This whole game is a synonym for testicles! Get it!?

And it is for this reason that I must compliment the Videogame Rating Council on a job well done.

Initially, it seemed ridiculous that this title would be rated MA-13. It’s silly! It’s a “violent” videogame, but all the characters are made of multi-colored balls. They are barely human shaped, and the idea that this title could be taken seriously in any legitimate way seems as ridiculous as a sumo wrestler tackling a kangaroo (which, to be clear, can happen in Ballz). Ballz being rated MA-13 literally puts it on the same level as the infamous Mortal Kombat, and, unless there’s some missable stage hidden around here, there is absolutely no one that has their still-beating heart ripped out of their ribs. Mortal Kombat defined videogame violence for an entire generation, while Ballz is roughly as vicious as the Pixar logo. Did you see what that desk lamp did to that letter? I am amazed children are allowed to view such a thing.

But Ballz does warrant its rating. Not because it is a violent videogame, but because only a thirteen year old would enjoy this. Ballz has a tone that matches the way a young teenager farts in the general direction of authority. This isn’t high satire, this is a game precisely designed for someone that is just mature enough to be thirteen.

BUTT STUFF

And everybody behind Ballz knew it.

So thank you, gentle members of the Videogame Rating Council in 1994, for knowing that, too. You truly thought of the children.

FGC #499 Ballz

  • System: Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo initially, and then a “director’s cut” for the 3DO. There’s a system seller!
  • Number of players: Two fighters comprised of ever so many balls.
  • This sucksPort differences: This game was very obviously designed for the Sega Genesis (the three button control scheme gives it away), but it looks so much better on the SNES. However, Nintendo did not have its own ratings board, and demanded that Ballz remove its more risqué elements. There’s no almost naked butt to be found on the SNES version, and instead of starting with “you gotta have… Ballz!” the intro reads “you’ve got to play… Ballz!” One little change makes all the difference, apparently.
  • Favorite Fighter: Crusher the Rhino-Man is exactly the kind of Spider-Man villain that I want to see appear in more games.
  • Favorite Boss: There are five separate bosses randomly sprinkled across the single player campaign. The first three are all animals, and obviously follow the traditional threat graduation schema of ostrich -> kangaroo -> tyrannosaurus. From there, you’ve got an opponent that is a blue genie that transforms into other animals, but is not actually an animal. And then the final boss is a murder clown.
  • So there’s a clown factor? Boomer the circus clown is a regular fighter, and The Jester is the final boss, organizer of this tournament, and theoretical announcer. That’s two scary clowns in one game! There should be a videogame council that exists to protect children from that.
  • Did you know? Lamprey the Genie is so named because of the general pun on the phrase “Genie’s Lamp”. He has nothing to do with eels. Thank God.
  • Would I play again: Nope. There are so many other fighting game options that are actually, ya know, good. Maybe find me a version of Ballz where everyone doesn’t feel like they’re scooting around on rollerblades, and we’ll talk.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bah. It’s #500. Let’s keep it a surprise. Tune in Friday for something or other. I’m sure it will be nice. Please look forward to it!

Nevermind...

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