Tag Archives: playstation 3

FGC #501 Alundra

Dream about a better lifeLet’s take a look at Alundra, the most compellingly anarchist game on the Playstation

Alundra is a 1997/98 adventure jaunt originally released on the Playstation (1). It is a generally fondly remembered title, as it’s basically the 32-bit sequel to A Link to the Past that many fans wanted, but were so cruelly denied by a certain 3-D boy with a woodwind. This is a game featuring enigmatic dungeons and dangerous foes, but it also not so subtly evokes some fairly iconic moments and items from a game released years earlier. The line between “familiar”, “homage”, and “outright plagiarism” has never been as thin as when you grab an ice wand from a mini, hidden dungeon to storm a northern volcano to take down a gigantic dragon boss. But that’s not a bad thing! Whether you’re calling it the spiritual sequel to Zelda or Landstalker (reminder: 50% of Zelda games released before ’97 involved significant amounts of jumping), Alundra is still an excellent game in its own right. These dungeons really are innovative, and Alundra deliberately sticks to its guns without delving into half-baked minigames like a lot of other games from the era. This is pure adventure gameplay from start to finish, and, considering this is a robust Playstation title, this really could be the “traditional Zelda game” that could satisfy fans for a console generation.

But that’s only half of why Alundra is so fondly remembered. Alundra is a title with a unique twist: Alundra can enter people’s dreams, and apparently everyone is dreaming about complicated dungeons filled with monsters. Thus, Alundra’s mystical hook allows for a number of exceptional areas that wouldn’t otherwise appear in this world’s vaguely tropical setting. Yes, of course we’re dealing with a videogame where an ice dungeon can be next to a fire dungeon with little to no explanation, but it’s fun when the prerequisite “four elementals” dungeon is the result of a nightmare attempting to accommodate a victim with multiple personality disorder. We’re still a few years away from full-blown Psychonauts territory, but Alundra does know how to separate its set pieces from the established obstacles of the era.

And, while innovative excuses for excellent gameplay are what established Alundra as one of the best games for the Playstation, there’s one important part of Alundra that seems to be all but forgotten: Alundra is emotionally brutal.

Yay jumpingNo one is claiming Alundra is the first videogame to include death. Alundra came hot on the heels of the likes of Final Fantasy 4, one of many games where half the playable cast is heroically killed across the adventure (they get better). And Alundra technically competed on its own system against a title featuring one of the most well-known deaths in all of gaming (I am, of course, referring to the death of the Lost Vikings franchise). Alundra was released when gaming (or its audience) was starting to find its way to some kind of emotional maturity, and that inevitably meant that fewer heroes were being “sent to another dimension” and were actually starting to feel the cold embrace of death. Alundra sees his hometown (well, “hometown”) burn. Supporting, helpful townsfolk die. Alundra’s beloved old man mentor is killed. People die, you have to deal with it, and that’s all pretty par for the course. People die, but you’ll save the world in the end. Same as it ever was.

But Alundra finds new ways to pervert traditional expectations so these deaths have an impact. Early in the adventure, Alundra is tasked with entering the dream of one critically injured miner so he can then save another trio of miners trapped in a monkey-based avalanche. Of course the critically injured miner dies, but he died imparting important information to dear Alunda. He’s going to venture right into that mine, and find… oh, one of the miners died. Another one, too? And when you find the final miner, it turns out he’s likely been dead since before this adventure started. His corpse is bloated and waterlogged. It… ain’t pretty. So congratulations, Alundra, you ventured into the mines and saved exactly no one. Death and despair are your only reward. And it won’t be the last time that happens! Alundra will venture through two entire dungeons searching for the mystical macguffins of his chosen quest, and on two separate occasions he’ll be informed that the villains beat him to the punch, and, geez, why did you even try, dude?

It is, to say the least, a little demoralizing.

DIEAnd that’s great! Well, it’s not great for Alundra or the player, but it is wonderful for setting the basic mood of desperation and sadness that permeates the events of Alundra. Alundra first encounters this dismal little hamlet when its citizenry is simply experiencing rotten dreams, but those issues seem to escalate rapidly to “deadly nightmares” and eventual “wholesale destruction”. Things are bad, and the player’s own inability to effectively curtail the horror reinforces the hopelessness of Alundra’s lot in life. By the end of the game, literally everyone you have ever saved from a bad dream is dead, save a pair of twin children who were used as a magical monkey massacre gate. And did we talk about those dreams? It’s not just a gameplay conceit: nearly everyone seems to be dreaming of “dungeons”, and when was the last time you encountered a pleasant dungeon? Want to know what I dreamed about last night? We were at my mother’s house, and for some reason one of her cats was able to talk, and the cat was really weirdly racist. It kept saying that Koreans could always be distracted by a game of chess. It was disconcerting, and I woke up troubled by whatever my subconscious is doing. But I didn’t dream about a gigantic eyeball monster surrounded by spikes and lava. That’s what everyone in Alundra is stuck with, and that is going to lead to a lot of restless nights.

MONKEY!But this all pales to the general perversion of prophecy in Alundra. Sybill is a character that imparts her visionary dreams to Alundra and the player. And we all know how this one goes, right? She predicts something is going to happen, and, because this is a videogame, that thing eventually happens, despite everything you do to prevent it. It is how videogame prophecies work. It is how prophecies work in all of fiction. So you’re shown a vision of a man sacrificing himself so your buddy will then create a powerful magical sword. It’s sad, someone is going to die, but at least you’ll get the Master Sword that can defeat Ganon. Guys, act surprised when it happens, that way we won’t have to scream “spoilers” at a little prophetess.

And then someone kills the prophetess, because of course that happens.

And then someone saves the guy that is supposed to die. Okay, that was unexpected, but…

Oh, and then someone kills the dude that was supposed to forge the evil-busting sword. And the pattern of him making useful items for you after every villager’s death is broken because he’s super dead. His funeral was really long, and he isn’t coming back.

Sorry, player, no awesome new sword for you, because everybody is dead. Nothing you could do. Nothing you can ever do. Loser.

So what do you do? As is often the answer, you beat the shit out of god.

Except, if you follow the details of this story, you realize god isn’t so much god in this story. He’s the ruling class.

It's a pipeAlundra has a fairly robust mythological backstory for a game featuring a gigantic gorilla that can only travel by twirling its fists. In short, Alundra’s world used to have a collection of colossi as its gods, but they wound up fighting over the honor of being the one god among gods, and, yada yada yada, they’re all dead. And, what’s more, by the time they had finished fighting, all of humanity had forgotten they were useful gods anyway, so their whole conflict was kind of a wash. Enter Melzas, the antagonist of this tale, a creature that came from beyond the stars and thought he could give this whole “become as gods” thing a shot. He granted wonderful dreams to the local royalty, and managed to get the population on board with building shrines and statues in his honor. This worked out really well until about five years ago, when Melzas slipped up and the king somehow found out he was worshipping a malevolent alien. All of the churches and alters dedicated to Melzas were smashed, and poor ol’ Melly had to manipulate his remaining followers from the shadows. He didn’t want to wind up like those poor giants that came before, so he hatched a plan to scare the locals into praying to him. This worked for a time, but then Alundra, a dude that could stomp out these scary dreams, showed up. This meant Melzas had to upgrade the horrors being visited upon the townsfolk, and that eventually led to a pretty healthy body count. By the time Alundra has to storm Melzas’s sunken castle, the whole of the world as Alundra knows it has turned against their god, and they have chosen Alundra as their new protector and “hero”.

Wet DreamAnd, while that seems to be a pretty typical JRPG finale (time to fight god again), something very important happens here: it’s not just the hero fighting, it’s the people rebelling. When this story begins, everyone is worshipping Melzas as a god, because that is what they have always done, and they believe Melzas has their best interest at heart. Over the course of the adventure, the people find that Melzas would gladly sacrifice as many people as it takes to maintain his power. Sorry, children, grandma has to die, because Melzas thinks it is in Melzas’s best interest. This happens over and over again: death and destruction, and their god does nothing. When it’s revealed that this “god” is responsible, it’s almost a relief for his pitiable “followers”. He wasn’t helping them because he was the cause of their woes. All the misery visited upon everyone (Alundra and the player included!) was thanks to one despot that keeps claiming he’s going to make Inoa great again, but never does. The only one that was actually helping was Alundra! Let’s help Alundra! Let’s give him all of our prayers! Because the guy we were following sucks.

And then Alundra wins! Good times forever! And maybe… anarchy?

The ending seems to imply that Alundra defeated Melzas, returned to the village for a little wine, women, and song, and then headed out to do the typical hero adventurer thing. Other dungeons to conquer, other villages to save, talk to you guys later. Is there a replacement god for Melzas? Nope. Every remotely divine being in the area has already been slain. The demons are dead, but the gods are, too. And good riddance! Melzas and every other wannabe god in this story caused nothing but unhappiness or relied entirely on Alundra. God is dead, Alundra killed him, and we’re all going to be better off without him.

Big dudeWhat did this ruler ever do for his people? Nothing. And no one is anxious to hire another god to see the same thing happen again. Alundra is the last man standing that received any prayers, and he’s blown this popsicle stand. What does this village have left? Who is in control of their lives now?

No gods, no masters, only Alundra.

FGC #501 Alundra

  • System: Playstation and Playstation 3 (through PSN). I’m not sure what it would require, but somebody please go ahead and get this on the Switch.
  • Number of players: Alundra is number one!
  • Say something mean: Alundra’s overworld is expansive and just plain fun to explore, but it reminds me a bit too much of Link’s Awakening… and not in a good way. It is a royal pain to have to switch your weapons and items every three seconds because you encounter four different, continually respawning obstacles on your way to the west, and I would be much happier with something approaching a “ring menu” or L/R weapon switching or… something. Exploring the world is fun! But could we maybe not have to juggle between fire rod and mace every seven seconds?
  • You don't know how hard it was to pull this offMagic Hour: Alunda can use magic! … But you only ever attain a maximum of four charges, so it’s kind of useless. And your magic points are displayed as a collection of miniature, rotating crystals, which I can assure you distract my wandering eyes at all times. I keep expecting a quartet of tiny Light Warriors to invade my HUD!
  • Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: First of all, you can’t tell me Meia, the only other dreamwalker in this world, wasn’t designed as Alundra’s player two. Those two have sprites that are way too similar for a pair of wannabe lovers. Beyond that, Meia is done dirty by the plot, as exactly when you discover that she has a tragic backstory involving religious persecution and more than a little stake-burning, she becomes super-duper useless, and never does anything ever again save offer advice like “fight bad dreams” or whatever. She was just getting interesting! And now she’s forced to stand around in town with all the other doomed villagers and pray to Alundra? Lame! Give her the leading role in Alundra 2! She’s so much more interesting than the main elf.
  • For the sequel: Which reminds me, there is no Alundra 2. Never been such an animal on this earth. More of a cryptid, really.
  • Back to Work: This is another Working Designs localization, so expect enemies to take way too much damage, and more than a few “translations” that maybe weren’t there in the original text. A few highlights include…

    Hey stupid

    The occasional hurtful insult…

    He's dead now

    Hurtful insults toward extremely specific individuals…

    Blaze it

    And opinions on whether or not Alundra should, as the kids say, blaze it. Thanks, Vic!

  • Goggle Bob Fact: My raw, unbridled hatred for ice-block pushing in puzzle-esque games stems from this very title. I want to say the Ice Manor is the first area that all but required a teenage Goggle Bob to hang out on Gamefaqs begging for tips straight from the non-pros. The age of strategy guides was over… Or at least online resources were a lot cheaper.
  • Did you know? The best weapon in Alundra is the Legend Sword, which technically has a little over triple the attack power of the next best weapon. The catch? You can only obtain it through dying and “quick restarting” sixteen times. It’s the “you suck, here’s the assist block” of 1997. But when you consider how much HP some of these bosses have, well…
  • Would I play again: This is a great game that is long and strong and down to get the gameplay on. I will play it again within my lifetime… it just might not be immediately. The last dungeon is a bit too time consuming for me to jump right back in again.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Day Dreamin’ Davey for the NES! Wow, ROB, that’s some surprisingly effective dream synergy between titles. You get an extra pork roll as a treat, and we get a NES game that has been all but forgotten. Please look forward to it!

Toasty

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

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

Dante!What’s so wrong with taking a hit?

Today’s title is Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, featuring the titular Dante. The creation of the original Devil May Cry is a long and complicated story that involves what was originally intended to be Resident Evil 4 gradually evolving and leaving the world of “realistic survival horror” and drifting straight into “a dude with a sword menaces skeletons”. Play Devil May Cry next to Resident Evil 2 or RE: Code Veronica and you might see some similarities between the gameplay of the titles, but there is a bit of a difference between the two plots and situations. Resident Evil is the story of fragile humans desperately trying to survive in a situation where science has gone mad and turned an entire mansion and/or city into a death trap, while Devil May Cry features a one-man army beating back the legions of (literally) Hell. Basically, this means that Chris Redfield has to fight for his life when encountering a herd of zombies, while Dante would have that Raccoon City incident wrapped up inside of a level or two.

And, according to production documents regarding what would eventually become Devil May Cry, “Dante” was always going to be a big damn superhero. The original idea for Resident Evil 4 was to make an action game that was “very cool”. The hero was going to be “Tony”, a man enhanced with biotechnology to the point that he was super smart and super cool and all the ladies thought he was the bomb diggity and the coffee barista always got his name right because he was so dreamy. Also, notably, Tony was supposed to be “invincible”. Obviously, invincible doesn’t play well with a game having any sort of difficulty, so this description of Tony’s abilities was likely just an exaggeration of his general durability compared to the average Jill Sandwich. Or maybe it was always the intention that Tony-to-be-Dante could take a significant amount of damage, as, by the time Devil May Cry 3 was starting, we had a hero that could do this…

Ouch

That’s Dante attempting to eat a pizza, but unfortunately being interrupted by the forces of Hell driving a few scythes into his abdomen. Dante is unfazed. He’s still walking. And he’s still going to kick every last living sin’s ass. And who cares if there’s a blade or two stuck in his leg? He’s half demon, dammit, he knows how to take a hit and still be cool. As long as nobody steps on his pizza, this is barely an inconvenience for our “invincible” protagonist.

And then the game actually starts, and Dante dies in about six hits.

Let's playIn the grand scheme of things, Dante is a pretty resilient guy. Over the course of Devil May Cry 3, Dante has the misfortunate of being hit by demonic blades, a charging, flaming stallion, and even the occasional rocket launcher (wait, are you hit by a rocket launcher, or just the rocket? I never thought I would have to know the answer to this question…). He can survive damage from all these traditionally lethal items presumably thanks to his resilient birthright… but he can’t survive much. I know I would be dead after one cutting combo from a succubus, so I really shouldn’t be judging, but Dante can really only endure three or so intense attacks with his default life gauge (and, even with upgrades, he ain’t exactly Superman). It’s reverse Final Fantasy-syndrome! He’s invincible through cutscenes, but during the actual action, Dante must die.

And how fragile is Dante? Well, he’s so delicate that Capcom saw fit to release an entire “Special Edition” of DMC3 that “corrected” how quickly Dante dies.

Well, actually, Devil May Cry 3 Special Edition doesn’t do anything for Dante’s vulnerability. He’s still not actually going to survive that many scythes to the gut. But, when he does die, Dante gets better thanks to much more frequent checkpoints. And that’s important! Even if you’ve mastered the general mook patterns by chapter 3, you’ve still got another fifteen or so bosses that cap nearly every level with unique patterns and attacks. And how are you supposed to know how Vergil Version Two is going to kick your ass when you’re encountering that opponent for the first time? Either you’re memorizing a strategy guide/FAQ, or Dante’s gentle ass is going to get beat, and you’ll have to repeat the entire level. And what’s the fun in that? Echoing challenges you already beat because the final confrontation is complicated and unexpected? Boss fights are supposed to be interesting! And challenging! But not immediately identifying a boss’s weakness should not be an excuse to send you back to the start, particularly when Dante can go down after a mere handful of misses. DMC3: SE corrected this abhorrent mistake found in the original edition, and you only had to buy an entirely new edition of the game to enjoy such a thing. Ah, the heady days before DLC.

That could have hurtBut whether you’re playing the special edition or not, DMC3 is constantly judging you for taking any damage. Literally! Like many games of the era, DMC3 evaluates your performance at all times. You’re expected to juggle multiple enemies and gain bonus points for SSStylish!!! combos, and obviously you’re supposed to grab every last pickup you can find, but a significant part of your rank is based on damage taken and number of items used (and the main reason you’d use an item would be to recover health, so they may as well be the same thing). So even if you survive every last onslaught and never see a dead Dante, the game will go out of its way to criticize your performance for not being completely immaculate. And your combo counter resets after an opponent’s tap, too. Want that S-Rank? Well, then Dante must dodge every assault from the bottom of the tower to the top. Good luck!

And it’s easy to see how this kind of thinking led to its logical endpoint: Bayonetta. Bayonetta was not conceived as an invincible bioweapon of a human, she actually is immaculate. Her entire personality is based on the concept that no man, woman, or angel touches her unless she wants to be touched, and her gameplay follows suit. She can’t so much as open a door without dodging lightning, so it makes perfect sense that you would be judged for not properly “being” Bayonetta and taking a hit or two while controlling the bullet witch. She personifies the S rank that players are trying to achieve, and it’s practically written into her DNA (or at least her playstyle in Smash Bros).

But Dante isn’t Bayonetta. Dante is a meathead that can’t figure out what to name his business until some lady says the corniest line in history. Dante is a dumbass that saves the whole of humanity almost entirely because his brother dared to steal some jewelry. Dante goes to the Gates of Hell, and he didn’t even think to pack a shirt! This is not a guy that thinks too hard about dodging attacks that are beneath him. This is a Big McLargehuge that can soak a few bullets, knows it, and changes nothing about his lifestyle save confirming his aftershave doesn’t distinctly remind him of gunfire. Or maybe he markedly goes for that smoky scent? Regardless! Dante is a man who knows that he can take a hit or two, but his gameplay punishes you for daring to live Dante’s life like Dante. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff! Like a knife in his back! If it’s a small knife!

OuchAnd, ultimately, what would be the harm in playing a game where you are Superman? This isn’t to say you should be invulnerable at all times in all games, but what would be the issue with offering a “Dante must have a fun time” mode to compliment the seven different variations on hard mode offered in your average action game? And this isn’t a proposal for your basic “easy mode”, this is a distinct mode where you’re ranked on how many stitches Dante is going to need at the end of a stage, and rewarded for it. Do you know how many tears you put in that snazzy red coat? Cool! Now you’re living life like an unkillable half-a-demon! Sssmokin’ (bullet holes)!

So what’s so bad about taking a hit? Nothing. Nothing at all, particularly when you’re playing as a hero that spends half the game getting slashed in the face (okay, maybe not the face, that’s his moneymaker). Not every protagonist needs to be Bayonetta. Let a few heroes take their lumps, and let the player be empowered by steering an “invincible” lead.

Or, barring that, at least let Dante walk around with a scythe in his knee. It adds character.

FGC #491 Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

  • System: I may have purchased this game entirely too many times. Just within my own collection, I can count two versions for the Playstation 2, one collection on the Playstation 3 (but also on Xbox 360), and now the Switch version. At least I didn’t pick it up on the PC!
  • GrossNumber of players: Two in very specific areas! Like, there’s that one boss fight, or that fighting style that is earned about 75% of the way through the game. And now the Switch version allows for two players in its endless challenge mode.
  • Favorite Weapon: I’m normally a swords guy (or at least a guy that enjoys some Beowulf punching and kicking), but I’m partial to the Spiral rifle for this adventure. It packs a punch, and I have literally no idea where Dante is storing that gigantic gun when it’s not in use. His coat might be long, but it’s not a anti-tank rifle long.
  • Favorite Level: The Belly of Leviathan is about the only time that Dante gets to get out of that musty old tower until the absolute finale, so that’s going to be my pick. I love that Temen-ni-gru has this wonderful sense of place that resonates with later areas when it gets wrecked or starts rotating around like some kind of Castle Dracula, but… it gets old. Give me Dante and the whale any day.
  • How about that retconning: Vergil being made into a legitimate character and not just a sentient pile of spooky armor was the best thing that ever happened to this franchise. And the fact that Verg is a complete dick, but a different kind of dick from Dante, is just a nice bonus.
  • Boss Rush: I normally enjoy a good boss rush, and I certainly enjoy a boss rush that allows you to choose which bosses to challenge all over again (and avoiding that damn Nevan battle is icing on the cake), but, that said, I have no idea why the doppelganger battle reappears immediately after headlining a stage. It wasn’t that difficult of a battle in the first place! Why is there an abrupt repeat? It’s reeks of filler.
  • I wanna rockA Sign of the Times: It’s kind of interesting to look at this game as an obvious middle point between Resident Evil and Bayonetta. There are a number of clear “Resident Evil camera angles” here and there across the tower, and some of the weirder gate/key puzzles seem like they would be much more at home in Raccoon City. But there is also an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on combat style, and some cinema scenes that were just itching to become QTEs appropriate to the Bayonetta universe. It might not be the same creators distinctly involved across the franchises, but it seems like playing Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry 3, and Bayonetta in order would give a good idea of game evolution across systems.
  • Did you know? Hideki Kamiya, the original director of Devil May Cry and the man who also directed Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta, did not direct Devil May Cry 3. But he did advise on Dante’s general personality and origins before scooting over to PlatinumGames. So, just so we’re clear, Dante was always intended to be a meathead. His daddy said so.
  • Would I play again: I always run out of steam by the time I unlock Vergil, and always intend to come back to his complete mode… but it hasn’t happened yet. I just keep buying new versions of Devil May Cry 3! So I guess I’ll play it again from scratch when we get the Playstation 5…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crossover time! For the next three weeks (or six entries, whatever comes first), we’re going to look at games in the “crossover” genre. Our first game? It’ll be the granddaddy of all crossovers. Please look forward to it!

Woof