Tag Archives: broken promises

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

Straight to hell!Let us consider the economy of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (and how it has screwed me up to this day).

Castlevania 2 is an ambitious NES title that is also extremely broken. Much like Link’s second adventure, the curators of the Castlevania franchise decided to branch out in a more explore-y direction with Simon Belmont’s second quest. Unfortunately, it seems that the Goddess Zelda watches over all of her titles and guarantees proper Q&A testing… while Dracula just gets a graveyard duck. Or the graveyard duck was intentional! Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest has a legendarily inscrutable localization… but it ain’t that great in the original Klingon, either. The NPCs of C2 go out of their collective way to be cryptic at best, and downright dishonest at worst. There is a bad merchant in this town? Are you referring to how the ability to buy a white crystal over and over again is broken, or am I searching for a hidden dealer somewhere around here? And do not insult that kind lady peddling Holy Water. I wouldn’t be able to beat Dracula without her!

So is Simon’s Quest broken? Well, yes, because those ending screens are pretty damn fractured by any rubric. But is everything before Dracula’s defeat broken? Well, no, just all the information that the player needs to successfully complete this quest is some combination of esoteric and obfuscated. Finding your first mansion housing a rib might be child’s play, but knowing from there that you have to kneel at a nondescript lake or show a bleeding heart to a ferryman (or that said ferryman is apparently canonically cursed!) is the kind of thing you would never in a million quests personally discover “accidentally”. Some hints in the Japanese version were mangled for the American release, and we can blame a number of Debora Cliff head injuries on this simple fact; but, even then, you kind of have to “know” that the crystals work when you are just standing around… And “stand still and wait” is not exactly the prime way a videogame works. Simon’s Quest is not broken in every way, but a clear explanation of what is happening and what should be done would certainly help a fledgling player. Just give me a ferryman that outright states that they are looking for something, and we can go from there!

And then there is the economy of Simon’s Quest.

Just don't look!Previously on Castlevania, hearts fueled “sub items”, and that was it. There were moneybags that provided points, but there was nothing to buy. A heart “bought” you the ability to fling a dagger, though, so you had something you wanted to ration and “save” for the rough spots. A proper cross boomerang and the hearts to fuel it could be the difference between life and death. This would be the standard for Castlevania games after Castlevania 2, too, and we would not see exchanging currency for goods and services in the Castlevania franchise again until Symphony of the Night ten years later.

But in the meanwhile, here was Castlevania 2. Before you even leave the first town, you are introduced to the concept of trading hearts. In fact, items available in the first town are very clearly outlined as…

Buy Once, Use Forever Items

My aching crystal50 Hearts will get you two different items in Castlevania 2’s first bout of commerce. Local townsfolk will note that thou must purchase a White Crystal, but the Holy Water is available, too. And both items are literally essential to your adventure. The White Crystal will allow access to (or at least illuminate a hidden platform in) the first dungeon, which is a vital stop on the way to earning Dracula’s Rib. But do not discount the Holy Water, as you absolutely need its ability to break “soft” blocks. Oh no! You’ve only got fiddy hearts in your pocket when the game starts, and you need a hundo! Time to get to farming skeletons!

And you will want those extra hearts, as Holy Water, the White Crystal, and the eventually available basic Dagger are all the best items to purchase. The Holy Water not only unlocks previously inaccessible areas, but also is the most straightforward item in the game for consistently hitting enemies below Simon. The Dagger might fly much straighter, but it is also much more powerful, and can completely supplant the whip if you are saving up for something better. And the White Crystal? Not only do you need it for basic platform-seeing purposes, but it also has a resale value! You can trade the White Crystal for the Blue Crystal, and then trade up further to the Red Crystal. All of those crystals are critical, and, given a lack of fast travel or mobile merchants, you really shouldn’t leave home (town) without it!

Unfortunately, not everything in Castlevania 2 has the same kind of utility. Let’s just go ahead and whip that notion in the bud…

Straight Upgrade Items

STAY AWAYSimon already killed the only vampire that ever mattered, so the legendary Vampire Killer whip is apparently sitting on a shelf back at the Belmont estate. In the meanwhile, Simon has pulled out the trusty leather whip that he picked up down at the Transylvania S&M store (Grant DaNasty’s Nastiest Emporium). Unfortunately, this budget whip is far from the best, and a variety of other whips are available from more savvy storefronts. Would you care for a Thorn Whip? Chain Whip? Chain Whip with little star dealy bopper? You’ve got options!

Or… you have no real options at all. Unlike many modern games, you absolutely do not need to upgrade your whips sequentially. You will likely find a vendor for the Thorn Whip before anyone else, but, if you save your hearts, you will eventually find that Morning Star shop, and own the best whip hearts can buy before anything else. In fact, if you really know what you are doing, you can farm nighttime zombies, make a beeline for that miraculous whip, and wield all the power of Lucifer before entering your first mansion!

And there is a valuable lesson here: why waste your hard-earned hearts on anything but the best? Only one whip can be upgraded (for free!) to the critical Flame Whip, and only one whip has the power to fell Death before he can make his lethal approach. Why bother with anything less? The Chain Whip is one of the most expensive items in the game, and it is literally completely worthless if you can afford a Morning Star. Save those hearts! Go for the greatest! Do not waste time on incremental upgrades! Shoot for the gold!

But you may have to blow a few hearts along the way on…

One and Done, Limited Items

Eat it, orbYou may make an immediate run for the Morning Star, but there is one thing standing in your way: a deadly, life-draining swamp. The only solution to surviving this problem is to purchase some Laurels, initially only available about as far east as you can get without the aid of a tornado. Laurels make Simon temporarily invulnerable, and that is just the right level of vulnerable you need for a purple swamp filled with fire-spewing beasts.

But Laurels come at a cost. In an effort to guarantee Simon is not invincible forever, Laurels are limited items that can only be used a set number of times. You buy two Laurels, you get to be invincible twice. Pretty straightforward! In a similar manner, there are Oak Stakes, purchasable only within haunted mansions, which are essential for unlocking Dracula Part Orbs ™, and are immediately consumable. And, while it may seem like they are wholly optional, bulbs of garlic fall into the same category. Garlic initially presents as simply an offensive item that works similarly to the Holy Water of Castlevania (1), but it also summons random Romani in graveyards to distribute daggers and bags and whatnot. You could get through the whole of CS2 without a single clove of garlic, but it is going to make your life better in more ways than one if you shell out for that veggie.

And, give or take experimenting with garlic in any old graveyard, these one-and-done items are all very situational. You could use a Laurel anywhere, but you probably are going to conserve it for the moment you approach those shining, purple shores. Garlic is rarely necessary for average encounters, so save it for shop summoning or the occasional pizza. And you only ever need one oak stake per mystical orb, so you can stow that away until you need to earn a fingernail. In short, once you have a relative idea of what you are doing, you will never be in a situation where you can potentially “waste” one of these valuable, limited items. Short of whiffing it big on tacking an inanimate circle, you are not going to “accidentally” need another 50 hearts for a replacement anytime soon.

Wish I could say the same about our final category…

Freemium Items

MortThe Silver Knife can be found by properly placing garlic in the graveyard. The Gold Knife can be recovered from a downtrodden Death. And the Sacred Flame is hiding in a dark dungeon, but free for the taking if you gaze with Dracula’s eye. They are freebies! Items of absolute importance (well, maybe the Silver Knife is kind of a waste), and unerringly useful. The Sacred Flame is like an advanced Holy Water that can immolate Freddie the Claw Skeleman without a thought. And the Gold Knife can re-kill Dracula before he even has time to teleport out of his coffin. No wonder Death was hanging onto that blade!

But there is a bit of a drawback to these weapons of Drac destruction: they each cost hearts. Each of these items is free to add to your inventory, but cost a heart per use. And one or two hearts may not be the difference between life and death, but you need as many of those hearts as possible for all the finest upgrades. You need a new Oak Stake in every mansion, and who knows when you are going to have to reup on Laurels? And, if this is your first time venturing through Castlevania (or you just have a terrible memory), you would not know if you needed additional hearts for anything else. That Morning Star cost nearly every heart you could ever have, but is there something better out there? Some armor, maybe? Blue Ring? It worked for Link…

And, if you have not already guessed, this is why I never use the Silver Knife, Gold Knife, or Sacred Flame.

Sure, I may have hearts to spare by the time the final mansions are being raided, but would I ever use a weapon that consumes two whole hearts per use to clear those areas? Certainly not. I might need those hearts for later! Using these freemium items may make my life easier, but what if they are going to make my life worse when I need to grind for more hearts? And Dracula isn’t dead yet! What if I get up to his final chamber, and I run out of hearts!? I would have to engage with actually fighting Dracula the real way, and I simply do not have that kind of time. I would rather make every other part of this game harder than ever even think about wasting my valuable cash on something as trivial as my 10,000th violent skeleton. I’m saving up for that vacation home Simon is never going to use!

Er-hem.

Anyway, Castlevania 2 is apparently why I don’t play mobile games. Thanks for reading.

FGC #593 Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

  • What a horrible night to have a swampSystem: Nintendo Entertainment System to start, and then it at least showed up on the recent Castlevania collection for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It was also on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. Sorry, Castlevania 2 does not see as many releases as Mega Man 2.
  • Number of players: Simon is facing this horrible night to have a curse alone.
  • Forever Apart: The various chunks of Dracula could also be considered usable “items”, but every other item save the initial rib is so… not useful. Also, can we take a moment to acknowledge that an official body part of Dracula is his ring? Not a single limb in there, but we somehow need his signet to cross his dumb bridge? And, while we are looking at lugging around bits of the count, is his complete lack of a brain there to account for his generally braindead plans? When you have to rely on the wizard Shaft to get things done, you know you are missing some pieces.
  • Boss Time: Castlevania is a franchise known for its bosses. And, in C2:SQ, there are a whole two of them, and you can walk right past one. Nobody likes you, Death! Camilla and her bloody tears is required, but only on the technicality that she drops the cross item that allows access to Dracula’s ruined castle. At least these jerks respawn for any potential rematches. I would not say no to seeing that in Symphony of the Night…
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played this game so much as a child, I memorized the code that grants all the items. It is complete gibberish, but I can recall this random assortment of letters and numbers immediately. If you ever see me in person, quiz me! I would transcribe it here, but I don’t feel like having Google steal my code for maximum Laurels.
  • I do not talk about musicAn end: Damn is it hard to get the best ending without optimizing dang near everything. Also, is it really worth it? Because it sure does seem like the accompanying text for any given ending does not match what actually happens. And, ya know, there is that whole “Simon dies almost every time” thing. Dude just cannot catch a break.
  • Did you know? According to the Castlevania timeline, Simon killing Dracula, blasting him into literal pieces, reassembling said pieces, and then immolating the count all over again only bought the world fifty years of Dracula-free time. Juste, Simon’s grandson, was the next Belmont to take up the whip chronologically in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. And Juste only had to beat Dracula once to keep Drac chilling until Richter time.
  • Would I play again: Yes. Dammit. It’s a Castlevania game, so I will blow my hard-earned hearts on any version of it that is ever released. Put this sucker on a cell phone with in-app heart purchases, and I’ll buy it, too.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Aero Fighters 2! Take to the skies! To fight! In flight! Please look forward to it!

I can!

FGC #107 Fable 3

Shiny!Fable 3 may be the most realistic game I’ve ever played.

The Fable series, practically from day one, has been mired in the kind of controversy that can occur through overzealous hyperbole enhanced by only more fervid exaggeration. When Fable was announced back in the days of the Xbox (1… no… the first one, not Xbox One. God damn you, Microsoft), Peter Molyneux promised us a beauteous world where your every choice had global consequences. What we got was a land no larger than Hyrule where you had a choice between petting a kitten, or lighting the poor creature on fire and hurling it through the window of an orphanage. I want to say the “petting” choice was the “good route”, but some of those orphans were dicks, so it could go either way. This created a significant backlash from everyone that hadn’t already been tricked by Black and White (I built a whole new computer for that game! And it was just The Sims with a random Godzilla hanging out! And somehow that was boring!), so what was generally an above-average adventure/RPG became a sacrificial log on the bonfire that was every developer’s inevitably inflated promises for upcoming game x. I understand that gamers feel betrayed when their fifty dollar entertainment purchases don’t turn out to redefine storytelling for the millennium, but, come on guys, can we start to see the pattern, or do we need another Watch_Dogs to remind us?

Whatever the case, Fable wound up being pretty successful despite its increasingly horrid reputation, and Fable 2 was the inevitable sequel for the Xbox 360. This was where I met the franchise, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I enjoyed the game quite a bit. Heck, it might be my favorite “only on 360” game for the generation. I understand that some people still want Molyneux’s promised gigantic world of hopes and dreams and love, but for my money, I really enjoy the more scaled-back adventure we received. There are places to explore and find, but it’s not nearly as daunting as your average Bethesda adventure. I enjoy the likes of Fallout and Skyrim, but I have to be in the exact right mood to play such games, Damn not werewolveselse I am immediately hit with an intense feeling of agoraphobia, and lock up at the myriad of choices available. If I hit location x, I might miss out on location y, and location z will be locked away forever! Argh! Fable 2 is more gentle, and, look, there’s a happy glowing path telling you exactly where to go. Yes, I know some people can’t stand such handholding, but for someone who has been crippled by too many choices far too many times (What do you mean I only get to pick four? I want to try Thief and Red Mage, too!), it was juuuust right. Sure, the morality was still molotov kitten thin, but it was a fun game with precise goals and challenges, and I happily devoured the entire quest and DLC just to dink around with my digital avatar a little more. Heck, I even played through the game more than once, which is an extreme rarity with me and any modern game (that can’t be completed inside of two hours). Come on, I know I’m just going to buy the inevitable next-gen remake and play it again later anyway!

All that said, I was hungry for more Fable 2 when Fable 3 was ready to launch, and… well, that’s exactly what we got. Fable 3 promised a bold new premise (you are king of the world!), but, from a practical standpoint, Fable 3 was little more than an ambitious expansion of Fable 2. Exact same kingdom, maybe a new town or two, and primarily the same weapons, spells, and items that populated its predecessor. And the “you are a monarch” feature? It’s cool in theory, but in practice, it’s one extra kitten choice a day, and then you’re off to whack around goblins (hobbes) like every other Fable/adventure game. Fable 3, ultimately, was a disappointing game, mainly because it was barely Fable 2.5.

But that disappointment is not what I remember most about Fable 3.

I suppose the most “realistic” thing most people remember about Fable 3 is the time spent fundraising as royalty. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the game, at about the halfway point, your character reclaims the throne from a seemingly malevolent usurper, but learns that Also, I might be a wizard“the tyrant” was simply attempting to amass an army and wealth to ward off an even greater threat to the kingdom. Your job becomes, basically, to raise the necessary scratch to save the kingdom, and do so while not pissing off every single one of your subjects. Like in real life politics, it is a careful balancing act as you attempt to rule the kingdom and keep the soldiers’ paychecks coming, but still elevate a populace’s happiness so they don’t start asking to see your birth certificate. In an effort to heap further stress upon the player, there’s a clear timer ticking down until the invaders show up… except the provided timeline is a lie. You’re told you have a “year”, but, in truth, time flies, and you’ll go from more than a hundred days remaining to a big fat zero in the span of a night’s sleep. It’s the game betraying the player and everything gauges stand for, but it does feel realistic, and an appropriate punishment for anyone that has ever thought they could procrastinate writing a report or building an army to repel shadow monsters.

But, to be honest, I never much cared for my digital kingdom, as my subjects seemed like a bunch of fussy whiners. Sure, I turned your community into a toxic waste dump, but do you have to keep giving me the stink eye? I was trying to get my own fun out of the game, and it caused… issues.

This goes back to my time with Fable 2. See, as I said before, I played through Fable 2 multiple times, but I realized early in my first run that Fable 2 was not at all a LUTE HEROdifficult game. Despite playing video games for years, I don’t claim to be “naturally” good at any kind of game that doesn’t involve mustachioed plumbers, so I usually see my share of game overs until I “master” the controls du jour. For Fable 2, I never came close to “dying”, and discovered (online) that even if you do lose all your HP, all you get is a teeny tiny scar. Lame.

In an effort to create a sort of “personal challenge” for Fable 2, I decided to turn to pie. See, there’s a weight mechanic in Fable 2, and it makes gaining weight easy, while losing weight is difficult. So, new Fable 2 challenge: I’ll buy all the pies (all the pies!) and only use those to restore health. Only in safe areas (like towns) will I attempt to reduce my character’s weight (through leafy greens! Yum!), and, basically, my “score” will rely on how skinny I can keep my digital avatar. The winner is the thinner, or, basically, Abercrombie and Fitch rules. Since the game “logs” your avatar’s appearance at distinct points in the game, it would be a great way to look back and see the difficulty of a particular segment of the game. If the game didn’t present a risk of death, at least there would be the risk of a fat ass.

Incidentally, just to be clear, no, I don’t see being heavy in real life as a failing. Metabolisms gonna metabolize. This was just a (ridiculous) way to track progress in this particular game. If it was harder to stay fat in the game (which would probably be more epoch accurate), that would have been the challenge. It’s just how the game was designed. And, apparently, that can change…

So, with this prior experience in mind, I played through the opening area of Fable 3. I found, for better or worse, practically nothing had changed, so I decided to partake in the same pie challenge. At the first town, I loaded my inventory with desserts, and went about exploring a dungeon. A large contingent of the undead got the drop on my poor princess, and she devoured her share of pastry on her way to the goal. After getting back to town, I decided to check out the stats screen, and see what this had wrought on her girlish figure.

Red?I found that her “weight” gauge was all the way in the red. I assumed, naturally, that this was a Western RPG, the bias is that fat is unequivocally bad, and red equals bad, so my character must be as fat as possible after all those pies. Huh. She didn’t look bulky, but I figured the more obvious “your character has gained weight” graphics had been dropped for whatever reason from the previous version (if memory serves, that exact thing happened between Monster Rancher and Monster Rancher 2: just make “weight” a gauge and call it a day, why modify graphics?). So, okay, this is what maximum fat looks like. I’ll keep that in mind.

Except Fable 3 had changed the weight mechanics between games. In Fable 2, it was nearly impossible to lose weight, and actually impossible to lose weight through anything but “trying” (i.e. noshing on items deliberately built to help shed pounds). In Fable 3, however, you lose weight naturally through any activity, like, say, running through a dungeon and remurdering undead hordes. And, yes, because I was used to the old system, I was completely misinterpreting the gauge. Red is skinny, green is fat. Fable 3 had the same “your model will look fatter” mechanic as Fable 2, I just never got into a situation where the pie outpaced the natural weight loss. My character was thin, but I thought she was fat. I thought that was what fat looked like. I decided to lay off the pies, because we were already at the maximum red point on the slider. I didn’t want to let that plump princess bust any more belts.

But I was wrong.

I… I gave my player avatar an eating disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder and anorexia, specifically.

Fable 3 is the most realistic game I’ve ever played.

Just… probably not for the reasons intended.

FGC #107 Fable 3

  • System: Only on Xbox 360. Is that the first time that’s happened on the FGC? Oh, no, wait, we had that Banjo game. But, wait, that’s on Xbox One, too…
  • Who's a good boy?Number of players: Most likely one, but you can bop over into someone else’s world through Xbox Live, so yay for online co-op. Or wreck up the place. Whatever is considered cooperative.
  • Secret of Evermore: I no longer remember why my dog is now a robot.
  • I like words: One other big change in Fable 3 was dropping practically all of the menus of Fable 2 in favor of an animated hub area that is narrated by John Cleese. It was a terribly implemented, if noble, idea. But it wasn’t a complete failure, particularly for a game with so many hair/clothing/etc. options. On the other hand, it made all the “lore” books of the game an absolute bear to actually “read”. Stop attacking me, bandits, I’m listening to funny narration!
  • Bookends: For all the issues I have with this game, I do appreciate the symmetry of having the first fight in the storyline so perfectly mirror the final fight. Tutorial to final boss… not bad!
  • Downloadable Content: In addition to DLC that would be eventually released, there were a number of DLC items that could be purchased prior to Fable 3’s release through Collector’s Editions, controllers, and probably a breakfast cereal or something. There was even a Fable 3 tie-in novel that contained DLC for a rare sword, and I scoffed at that height of marketing gone wild. Then I found out the book was written by Peter David… so there it is on my bookshelf.
  • Did you know? You can import your save data from Fable 2 and… it will remember your gender from the previous game. Since the hero of Fable 3 is the child of Fable 2’s hero, this will determine the pronoun most used during the six times the “previous ruler” is referenced during the game. And that’s about it. Man, importing save data is useless outside of Mass Effect.
  • Would I play again? I’m betting we’ll see some Fable 2 & 3 rerelease at some point in the future, so I’m sure I’ll replay it again then. In the meanwhile, it’s unlikely I’ll be hitting it again on its original hardware, but it’s at least a possibility!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bubsy 2 for the Super Nintendo. Dammit. I’m not even going to pretend to be excited about that. Please look forward to it, I guess.

Saaaaaaaaaail Away