Tag Archives: metroidvania

FGC #653 RWBY: Arrowfell

Random ROB chose RWBY: Arrowfell for today’s featured game. As that is a licensed title featuring an all-female cast in an anime-esque universe, it has been decided that we must look at two other games that fit that oddly specific descriptor. And which game is best at what it does? Let’s go ahead and answer that question, too. We will start with…

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Burst Forth!! Choro-gon Breath

What is the origin media?

Eat dragon breathMiss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is an anime based on a gag manga. It is the story of a salarywoman who accidentally shows a dimension hopping dragon some kindness while in a drunken haze, and then said dragon imprints on this woman like a baby bird. Or, given the persistent lesbian overtures, maybe she imprints on her like a dirty old man. The basic premise of every joke is that a mundane woman trying to make rent is constantly beset by issues compliments of her fantastic “dragon maid”. As the series progresses, other dragons show up with various social ticks, and the titular Miss Kobayashi must deal with all sorts of eccentric personalities. Weirdly, the whole thing plays not unlike a harem manga, but with just enough of a wholesome edge for it to feel okay to watch with another person in the room.

Though the fact that nearly every character has an enormous chest does make a viewing party less likely…

What is the game about?

In what can be described as “a very TRON choice”, a smattering of main characters from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid have been sucked into a videogame. Miss Kobayashi cannot do much but make a few comments about how whacky her life has gotten, but her three dragon friends have dragon powers in this game world, so they are going to fight their way out to find the devious mastermind behind this 21-minute adventure.

Does the Gameplay have anything to do with the show?

SlimeyMiss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid: Burst Forth!! Choro-gon Breath is a shoot ‘em up from start to finish. In fact, it is an “old school” vertical bullet hell shooter with general powerup leveling. The only “difference” between this and 1942 is that you have three dragons with three lifebars/attacks, and switching between them for appropriate situations (or to recover health) is the name of the game. Beyond that, you’ve got a back dash and a risky melee attack. One could claim that differentiates it from a game made in ’84. And dragons do have a history of starring in shooters, so it makes a certain amount of sense…

Does the presence of the show enhance the gameplay?

This is a vertical shoot ‘em up with an appropriately narrow screen, so those borders are taken up by jabbering dragons. Miss Kobayashi and her cold-blooded friends are continually commenting on events, and it is probably as funny as your average episode. I must note “probably”, though, as I do not speak Japanese, and there is no way I am paying any attention to subtitles while attempting to survive a bullet hell. At least I can take my time and “read” the plot between levels. Now that is definitely on the general wavelength of the show, but “cinema scenes can have nothing to do with the gameplay” has been a standard going back to Ninja Gaiden, so…

Could this game exist without the license?

Lotta bulletsAbsolutely yes. Without Miss Kobayahi’s involvement, this would just be a shooter with some generic videogame parody-based levels. And there would be nothing wrong with that, it would just sell about 50% less copies. The presence of the DD-dragons here is little more than a marketing gimmick, and these scant five levels could be attached to practically any other anime out there. Want to make a shoot ‘em up based on that cartoon with the 1,000-year-old-but-actually-looks-like-a-twelve-year-old vampire girl? Go for it! And if you don’t know which particular anime I am talking about there, just go ahead and take your pick. You’ve got options…

RWBY: Arrowfell

What is the origin media?

FEAR MEOn the faraway world of Remnant, average people are menaced by malevolent Creatures of Grimm, (which look like a mix between the Hollows of Bleach and the Heartless of Kingdom Hearts). But have no fear! As brave warriors known as Huntsmen/Huntresses uses their magical semblance abilities to stalk the land and protect the innocent by knocking Grimms into next week. Four such huntresses are Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang, who all met at Beacon Academy (well, two were already sisters), and now right wrongs and triumph over evil while solving arc-based issues regarding mystically reincarnated seasons or something. From a practical perspective, this is all an excuse for gorgeous women to have epic, super-powered fights with monsters and the occasional other gorgeous women that may or may not be themed after ice cream flavors.

What is the game about?

In a plot that absolutely screams “these are 100% important events, but must never be mentioned again in the main serial story”, Team RWBY is sucked into what initially appears to be a simple Grimm outbreak, but is eventually revealed to be an attempted military coup. As such, RWBY must beat back a crowd of monsters, a perfectly color-balanced rival team of huntresses, and an endless army of ne’er-do-wells that exist to pad out some of the longer levels. In the end, RWBY saves the local government and its leaders so they can betray the team in a shocking twist that occurs later in the actual series.

Does the Gameplay have anything to do with the show?

Working together!Absolutely. RWBY ultimately exists as a parable about cooperation and disparate people (people are sometimes cat people) working together for a better world. And RWBY: Arrowfell is a metroidvania where you control four different characters who must all use their special abilities to conquer obstacles. In gaming terms, Ruby has an air dash, Weiss can create “double jump” platforms, Blake uses clones that can weigh down switches, and Yang breaks stuff real good. Beyond that, each of the four characters have differing offensive options, so sometimes you will utilize Yang’s unending flurry of punches, and sometimes you will stab from a relative distance with Weiss’s rapier. And while Team BRIR are original to the game, every last Grimm populating the local caves certainly recall similar conflicts from the show.

Does the presence of the show enhance the gameplay?

RWBY started as an excuse for the author of webseries Dead Fantasy to choreograph amazing fight scenes. You would think this would naturally lend RWBY to a fighting game (maybe something like half its inspirational, Dead or Alive?), but the cast of RWBY has only quasi-starred in one fighting game so far. Beyond that, we’ve had a marginally terrible cooperative monster hunting eclipse, and now a metroidvania. And it’s a really good metroidvania! But it is also very clearly from the same people behind Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, so the tone is a little… muddled. The “voice” of RWBY sounds a lot more cynical than usual here, and there are gags at the expense of fat people and fetch quests less than an hour into the quest. It is a strange thing when the main characters feel like they are visiting another universe with a dramatically different tone when they are technically palling around their usual environs…

But Team RWBY feels like how you would expect Team RWBY to handle in a 2-D action environment, so at least the minute-to-minute of it all feels very RWBY. Partial credit, I suppose.

Could this game exist without the license?

Pew pewOn one hand, this is RWBY from toe to tip, with a delightfully detailed focus on their world, opponents, politics, and characters. On the other hand, you could reskin a lot of this game to suit some other license with a team of four saving the day, and very little would have to change. 75% of of RWBY: Arrowfell feels like filler, and it really doesn’t matter if it is Weiss Schnee or Donatello the Ninja Turtle fetch-questing armor for a local weirdo. This is easily the best game to feature the RWBY license, but it is also just plain a great game, which carries the unfortunate implication of it would be just fine without the shadow-cloning girl running around so long as you replaced her with Naruto. And that’s a horrifying thought all on its own…

Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time

What is the origin media?

POUTLittle Witch Academia is basically Harry Potter written by people that are not spineless cowards. Akko is a teenager that wants to be a famous witch like her idol, so she enrolls in a magic school. Unfortunately, she is the least adept witch that ever lived, so she is going to need a lot of support from her friends to overcome her seemingly boundless magical handicap. Luckily, her levels of optimism put Mickey Mouse to shame, and when she is chosen by an ancient magical staff to undertake a world-saving quest, she is just the right gal for the job. Also, there’s this whole thing about old versus new in the world of witchery, and maybe the main plot is really about brooms versus roombas. Or maybe it is about how you should absolutely support goblins unionizing. Whatever! It’s a good show!

What is the game about?

In another “this happened when you weren’t looking” plot, Akko and her schoolmates become trapped by The Chamber of Time, and wind up in an endless Groundhog’s Day time loop that threatens to make the first day of summer vacation infinite. While the day repeats continuously, our heroines find ways to travel to other regions and investigate the mystery of why anyone would ever watch this Endless Eight. Eventually, it is revealed to all be a sort of accident of a magical spell that a previous semester’s lonely and untalented student set in motion, and, conveniently, she transformed into a monster so you can punch this problem until it goes away.

Does the Gameplay have anything to do with the show?

Clobber 'em!So this is a weird one. Little Witch Academia is no stranger to action over the course of the series, but it is predominantly… how to phrase this… Well, it would probably be more appropriate for something like a platformer, or even a (broom-based) racing game. Akko is involved in a different conflict every week, but violence is generally not the answer. Here we have a game that is predominantly a beat ‘em up. It is a modern beat ‘em up, so there is a leveling system and management of multiple characters within a party, but it is definitely beat ‘em up gameplay. And, while the characters all feel distinctly like “themselves”, if you were to ask a fan of the show to describe loveably cranky witch Sucy Manbavaran, they probably would note about fifty other character traits before getting to her fierce right hook.

Does the presence of the show enhance the gameplay?

And then there is the other half of Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time. The beat ‘em up sequences are the action portions of the game, but there is also a visual novel-esque investigation/adventure game section, too. All the old standbys are here: collect items, talk to the right people, occasionally get confused by puzzles that are simultaneously opaque but capable of being solved by a third grader; and you have to crack these nuts before you’re allowed back on the fighting grounds. And, in a weird way, this does mimic the rhythm of a proper Little Witch Academia episode, as those usually follow a sort of “let’s figure out this problem” and then ensuing boffo action sequences as a finale pattern. So it is excellent that it follows the same beats… except that is terrible for a videogame. As has been noted on this blog before, as much as we all want in depth stories, some genres simply do not mesh well with “sit around and press the x button to advance dialogue”, and the humble beat ‘em up is high on that list. Pick a lane and stick to it, Little Witch Academia, even if this vacillating is faithful to the show.

Could this game exist without the license?

You've got optionsAbsolutely not. The fusion of “all teenage girls all the time” with “action adventure” with “visual novel” with “beat ‘em up” could only exist thanks to Little Witch Academia. Other titles could follow this pattern, and other games could obviously fuse the same features, but only “wholesome, but produced by the same studio as Kill la Kill” could bring us this nonsense. Little Witch Academia: Chamber of Time could only get on your Playstation with this license. For better or worse…

FGC #653 RWBY: Arrowfell

  • System: You’ve got options! Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PC, and Nintendo Switch. My vote goes to Nintendo Switch, because revisiting old areas for treasure is ideal for portable mode and watching some TV on the side. Hey! You could catch up on RWBY!
  • Number of players: You can control all four RWBY ladies, but you are just one player. If you want four players playing as everyone simultaneously, see RWBY: Grimm Eclipse. Or, better yet, never play that game. Ever.
  • It's a big boyFavorite Character: I always lament choosing “the main character”, but Ruby Rose is the undisputed champion this time. She has a super scythe! And can air dash! As a result, I barely touched Weiss and Blake, with Yang only stepping up to the plate when I needed her rapid-fire punches. I can see how the two “forgotten” members could be useful, but their skills are a little too… stationary for a 2-D game.
  • Favorite Rival Character: Ruda Tilleroot of Team BRIR wears goggles, her name is Polish for “redhead”, and she has drills for hands. I am not certain who at WayForward said “we should make a character that should appeal to Goggle Bob in every way”, but I appreciate it.
  • Fightin’ Time: This is a Metroidvania, but there is a significant emphasis on combat, complete with mandatory battle rooms. And, while the monsters have set patterns that make these fights interesting with different configurations, this would be a better game if there were a greater variety of opponents. Or at least reskin the three different humans that seem to be involved in every other fight? RWBY has always been a franchise filled with groundbreaking grimm creatures, so a little diversity would be cool.
  • Say something mean: While it is true to the concept of sticking to one region, it seems like there are way too many same-y environments for a game where you are hopping all over a country. I can stomach one giant cave when that is the whole point (like some kind of cave story), but the multiple locations on the overworld map all boil down to “cave” or “town”. Never thought I would say this, but I would kill for a minecart or lava level just for a change of pace.
  • Choo-Choo: And one cool, unique area is the train trap that caps off a turning point in the plot! And it is just a series of monster closets! Dammit! I know trains aren’t that interesting for secrets, but the Mega Man series made those chuggers work for stimulating level layouts! It can be done!
  • Look out!What’s in a name: The rival gang is known as Team BRIR, pronounced “briar”. And it is eventually revealed their boss is Bram Thornmane. Their connection is supposed to be confidential.
  • Did you know? Long story short, nearly everything that happens in this game doesn’t matter because the featured region/government gets completely wrecked a little later in the canon timeline. But, considering that “revelation” was released well before this game, that was likely deliberate. And, hey, it offers an excuse for every surviving character to be scattered to the winds, and turn up again in a sequel game later.
  • Would I play again: This is a great metroidvania, and I will likely play it again when enough time has passed that I have forgotten all the secrets. Looking forward to senility!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Them’s Fightin’ Herds! Let’s watch a dragon fight a pony and then pummel an alpaca! Please look forward to it!

They sting

WW #15 Wife Quest

Welcome back to Wankery Week! Today’s topic will be Not Safe for Work and/or anyone that has a general need to read about videogames but not sexual topics. Nothing wrong with that! We’ll get back to our regular programming regarding complaining about videogames, anime, and other nerd topics next time! But this week we’re issuing a basic trigger warning for all sorts of sexual material. Please be aware.

So let’s talk about AI Art.

Let's Wife Quest!If we are attempting to reconcile today’s topic with our featured game, we may as well draw attention to Wife Quest. Wife Quest is a “humorous and often naughty action platformer” (their words, not mine) that features Mia the Warrior Woman as she quests to rescue her hubby from a series of monster girls that intend to use Fernando the Ineffectual Husband in a husbandly way. The “naughty” nature of this game is front and center, as Mia is scantily clad in pink and white armor, and nearly all of her opponents are equally undressed “monster women” that may have dropped their legs for snake scales, but certainly have mammalian breasts to spare. All the dialogue involved makes overt references to risqué situations, and there is significant evidence that there was less time spent on testing the gameplay than checking back issues of Playboy.

And then there’s the “punishment” factor.

Get 'em, Wife!Wife Quest appealed to me in the first place because it features lush, “retro” graphics that are reminiscent of some of my favorite Metroidvanias. And, while the game is actually a straight-up action title more akin to Mega Man than Metroid, it does generally scratch that “old school” itch. However, my virgin eyes did not completely understand what was happening until it was pointed out by another player: Wife Quest 100% and unerringly relies on some kind of woman-on-woman violence fetish. You are a cute girl, you are fighting an army of cute (monster) girls, and you are encouraged to “punish” every defeated cute girl to climax every encounter. As the game description touts, every punishment comes “with unique animations”, and they can all be unlocked for your viewing pleasure later in the included gallery! Whereas I first interpreted this as some sort of Eternal Darkness-esque “finisher” system that was trying to separate this action title from every other similar thing on the E-shop, it is clear that these “punishments” are here for the swath of people that want to get off on a warrior woman choking a snake lady.

And there is nothing wrong with that! In fact, I am glad people into this punishment kink have Wife Quest. Whereas there is always the risk that some impressionable young buck might download this T for Teen game and start to think that violence in a relationship is the norm, Wife Quest is otherwise not hurting anybody. It loudly advertises its featured fetish, and, if that’s your thing, you are better off steering a digital girl into dangerous situations than attempting to coerce a human person into your kink. The ideal situation for everybody is that Wife Quest Guys find their own willing participants… but have you ever tried to find someone who wants to be choked and wear a harpy costume? The wings alone add like ten pounds…

Or you can just fire up the ol’ AI art generator. Then you can have infinite choking harpies.

Steal those wings!AI generated art has been a hot subject of debate lately. On one side, you have legitimate artists who have been honing their craft for years, and they are dismayed by the simultaneous issues of AI art potentially capturing their (paying) audience and the simple fact that seemingly not a living soul (but maybe some undead estates) granted these companies permission to use their preexisting, internet-shared art. On the other side, you have companies (some of which being the exact same people that were pushing NFTs mere months ago) lambasting their naysayers with claims that only luddites resist this “obvious” progress, and the future of all human creativity is plugging a random phrase into a computer and seeing what the all-knowing AI spits out. And, there, caught in the middle, are the average people that think it is kind of weird all of this bruhaha is being wasted over pictures of anime women with six fingers and inexplicable noodle hair. What’s the big deal, individuals actually paying for AI subscriptions?

Well, maybe there is the whole “infinite porn” factor.

It has been discussed during Wankery Week before, but I will say it again for anyone that needs to hear it: fetishes are weird, and there are more of them than stars in the sky. And, to be clear, the declaration “fetishes are weird” is not a judgment call that your particular fetish will make you a weirdo, it is a simple statement that the strangest, most innocuous thing can be a turn-on for someone. Feet! The simple foot is a vital part of any given human, and, for a lot of people, it is just that thing you stick in your socks. But for anyone with a foot fetish, this unassuming appendage is their most treasured focus. And that can lead to some “weird” places, like entire websites dedicated to every time a cartoon character takes off their boots, or someone noting on every fighting game wiki how Felicia has been barefoot for all of her crossover appearances (Thad, I know that was you. Please stop comparing Akuma to Felicia, and turn in your wiki’ing license). And, once you have one of these “weird” fetishes, you absolutely notice every time something tickles your unique fancy, and how rarely some perfectly normal “in real life” things happen in your medium of choice. Or, put another way, you can count on Ryu being barefoot more often than not, but I’m pretty sure Guilty Gear’s resident sexpot I-No could have a raging toe fungus, and we would never know. She’s supposed to be the sexy one! Why isn’t she deliberately appealing to this subset of sexy!

And now you can just plug “I-No +barefoot” into an AI generator, and you’re good to go.

Stay out of the ovenOr maybe you have to work a little harder for it. Maybe you have to say something about a short-haired brunette wearing a red swimsuit and witch hat. Bare shoulders, definitely. Throw in something about a guitar, too. Sunglasses? Does she wear sunglasses? Does it depend on the game? Whatever. Get those fingerless gloves in there, leave the boots behind (for obvious reasons), and we’ve got a pretty good I-No going. And if Friend Computer generates a shoeless guitar goddess with seventeen fingers or an inexplicable chest butt (for the uninitiated, that would be when, for reasons known neither to God nor man, the AI replaces perfectly good breasts with a prominent ass), then you don’t have to worry too much about that digital atrocity. After all, it only takes seconds to generate AI art now, so you can quickly cycle through the trash pulls and get to your five-star, primo customized pornography in no time.

And if you noticed that AI generated art-porn is presented to the user like a gacha game, congratulations, you have discovered exactly why AI art is going to be successful just as long as it is as unregulated as gacha-gambling.

It’s a game, ladies and gentlemen. Wife Quest is not going to revolutionize vaguely Wonder Boy-like gaming, and AI Art is not going to revolutionize how we express ourselves artistically. However, these are products that are going to make money off of people that find their output appealing. Wife Quest is an otherwise forgettable action game that will turn on anyone that gets a stiffy when suffocating ice monsters, and AI Art is there for anyone that needs to see a pregnant version of Sailor Mars playing poker with a centaur version of Sailor Mercury. Sure, Wife Quest doesn’t have the best hit detection, and AI Art doesn’t have the most human expressions, but does that even matter? You’re horny! If you’re into all of it in the first place, Look awaya little thing like teeth growing out of someone’s eye sockets isn’t going to end your night! Bitcoin was never real money, drawings of sad apes were never real investments, and AI Art creations are not worthy of being hung on the fridge next to your crayon drawings of gnomes.

But they can scratch a particular itch, and if that itch doesn’t get a game on Nintendo Switch every week, you know where to look.

AI Art is revolutionary, but only insomuch as it appeals to people who need 700 marginally different pictures of a giantess Lucina. “Real” art is going to be fine.

Wankery Week #15 Wife Quest

  • System: Nintendo Switch is where I first saw this, but Playstation 4/5, Xbox X/S, and Computer Windows/Mac are also apparently out there.
  • Number of players: You might be married, but you’re single here.
  • Could you play this with someone else in the room? The titular Wife has a few different outfits, and the majority are not as offensive as your average Final Fantasy wardrobe. The “amusing” punishments are skippable with the press of a B button, and the overall aesthetic is much more “cutesy” than “horny”. So you might be able to get away with playing without total embarrassment.
  • Watch it, Buddy: We played Wife Quest on an odd streaming night about a year ago, so if you would like to watch about an hour of a questing wife, Even Worse Streams has got you covered.

    Original Stream Date: March 17, 2022

    … And then we got bored with it and played Smash Bros.

  • Story Time: It is unknown if this is meant to parody “harem anime” style stories or be played straight, but literally every creature in this kingdom, living or undead, wants to $^*& Fernando. Even the dwarven shopkeep has a thing for “your” husband! Then again, this may be explained by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a single other living creature with a penis on this island…
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Once you get past the obvious, there is a glimmer of a game that is worth playing here. Like… it’s not bad? It is, unfortunately, not good, either. It is a pretty by the numbers 2-D action title with one random twist (for once in a 2-D game, blocking with a shield is unusually powerful/useful). Regrettably, the more interesting later abilities are hampered by a limited magic meter, so doing anything more appealing than run/jump/attack consumes a limited resource. Mega Man had this problem in 1987. It should not be an issue in 2022.
  • Stay warmFavorite Ability: The volcano level grants a lizard tail that confers a magical dash that can be used in any direction while standing or jumping. This is a lot of fun! Unfortunately, it is also used for a number of Sonic-esque “dash zones” where your character is bounced all over like a pinball in the service of… maybe kinda looking cool? Whatever! That cannot take away from the joy of instantly zooming around an area to elegantly dodge.
  • Did you know? If you ever want inspiration for AI art creation (or inspiration for an article about AI art creation), just go ahead and plug the hashtag #novelai into Twitter. There is a new Mona Lisa posted every two minutes. And by “Mona Lisa” I mean some people are really into Mona & Lisa from Genshin Impact.
  • Would I play again: I only played it for like an hour on the stream, but then I revisited the rest of the game on my own time. It was engaging enough to keep playing, but not good enough to encourage another playthrough. What I am saying is that I have strangled my last naga.

Nice dwarf
Everybody stop be horny for, like, seven seconds!

FGC #639 Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

Welcome to CastletonEven if you bury it under a pile of bad ideas, a good idea can shine through.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was the second Castlevania title released on the Playstation 2. Opposite a time when traditional, Symphony of the Night-like 2-D Castlevania titles were annually appearing on the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS, Konami attempted a pair of “next gen” Castlevania titles on the Playstation 2 (and Xbox, if you’re nasty). The first, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, was an effort to stick a conventional Belmont into a 3-D battle castle. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. So the promise of the franchise iterating on that experience two years later with Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was encouraging. This could be more than a simple “Belmont with a whip” game. It could be the “modern” Castlevania, where a super-powered dude (why is it always a dude?) with a host of magical abilities and a seemingly infinite menagerie of esoteric weapons stomps through the Castlevania countryside. And… Oh! What’s this? We all had so much fun with Soma Cruz and his ability to manipulate Dracula’s powers that we are getting a whole new Castlevania concept: A Devil Forgemaster. The protagonist for Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is someone who previously “forged” the armies of Dracula. That sounds interesting!

In fact, the concept of a “Devil Forgemaster” hits all the buttons you need on a Castlevania game. First of all, it is just plain good lore to, after decades of vampire slaying, finally reveal why Dracula has a castle hopping with infinite fleamen. Previously, we were forced to conclude that the Lord of the Night went off and recruited an army of frogmen during some Belmont downtime. Now we know the real story: all those devils were forged by one or two adepts in Dracula’s employ. Dracula is royalty! Of course he subcontracts! But even more important than the story implications are the gameplay possibilities. A Devil Forgemaster should be able to draw on all the powers of those little devils, right? So you can immediately unleash the stony gaze of Medusa? The endurance of Frankenstein? The strangely kung-fu-based abilities of the Werewolf? And a host of special abilities means a number of different ways to keep a new castle appealing. The devil army can do more than double jump and break open walls, so more powers mean more ways to traverse the eponymous Dracula’s castle. When the biggest problem with Lament of Innocence was that the castle was exactly as boring as twenty different hallways sewn together (throw in a bathroom somewhere, guys), the mere mention of a Devil Forgemaster immediately ups the potential ante.

Rip and tearUnfortunately, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was not to be the (vampire) savior of the franchise. Hector is certainly the Devil Forgemaster that was advertised, but it turns out that such a position does not confer all the abilities that could be imagined. Hector gets a double jump and a host of (forgeable!) weapons, but beyond that, the “Devil Forgemaster” conceit is reserved exclusively for a system that looks a lot like Symphony of the Night’s seven-year-old familiar system. There are five required innocent devils (and a bonus sixth one if you feel like playing with a pumpkin again), and they all come with abilities of varying utility. The bird-type devil helps you to glide over a pit, while the faerie devil opens treasure chests that are (for the first time in the franchise) locked. Unfortunately, aside from the devil’s ability to sink into the floor, none of these abilities are new or even remotely stimulating. What’s more, these innocent devils are maddeningly generic, so whereas “golem” is a Castlevania mainstay, your Magmard companion looks like it could have originated from Final Fantasy as equally as Castlevania. And that is definitely the problem when it comes to the black mage-looking mage-type devil. But even if you are happy with these designs, those abilities are still lackluster, and the environments of the castle match that lack of creativity. So, yes, get ready for another endless series of battles in boring hallways, but with the “upgrade” of now there is a skeleton bird flapping around behind you. And, lamentably, a skeleton bird can carry only so much on its bony wings.

Good rock pileHowever, beneath the muck of a boring Castlevania adventure, there was apparently a story worth saving. When presented in 2005, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness had the most generic Castlevania plot outside of “Belmont slays Dracula”. In the grand tradition of Shaft and his plan to pit two vampire hunters against each other, there are two Devil Forgemasters, and Dracula’s ultimate goal is to possess one of them to return to menace Trevor Belmont. So, in being manipulated into this goal by Death, Hector gathers strength across the area to eventually face Isaac, who thinks he is the puppet master influencing his former comrade. Isaac was responsible for the death of Hector’s wife, at least! Regardless, these two parallel Devil Forgemasters have a simple yin and yang dichotomy, as Hector left Dracula’s employ years earlier in defense of the human race, and Isaac stuck around because he is some kind of sadist (and possibly masochist! Check out that outfit!). In the end, it is an extremely cliched retelling of the same old IGAvania story, complete with a persistent villain that is supposed to be ultimately sympathetic despite a body count climbing up over the hundreds. At least he is not as bad Dracula! That dude eats people!

But the allure of the Devil Forgemaster was just too much…

Up we goThirteen years later, the Castlevania Netflix series premiered its second season. Whereas the first season was little more than an expanded movie meant to introduce the main players of Castlevania 3, the second season of Castlevania is where the animated series became a proper series. A cast of supporting characters appeared in Dracula’s castle, and among them were two vaguely familiar faces. Hector returns looking much the same, and continues his job as a guy who makes monsters for a living while being weirdly fond of the people about to be eaten by his monsters. But Isaac is changed dramatically, shifting from a red-haired friend of Voldo to a solemn African man that holds a quiet grudge against humanity for his childhood enslavement. And while the details of being a Forgemaster are different in this iteration of Castlevania, both men are still filling the same general role of filling Dracula’s ranks only to later strike off on general missions of mayhem/salvation/revenge. In fact, as the show proceeds through another two seasons, these two Forgemasters become prominent characters in their own rights, often overshadowing the more popular heroes’ adventures in punishing priests and participating in twincest.

And Gogglebob.com is not going to officially recognize the Castlevania Animated Series as the best thing since sliced skeletons, but it is an entertaining, original take on the Castlevania franchise. It has its share of problems (not the least of which that every character in a Warren Ellis-based universe must be an asshole at all times or they crumble to dust), but you cannot say it was not unique. And unique is exactly what Hector and the whole concept of Devil Forgemasters deserved. In a franchise that has been languidly heisting mythological and movie monsters since its inception, the distinctive idea of a Devil Forgemaster deserved Lad?a similarly distinctive story. And the tales that are told of Hector and Isaac in Netflix Castlevania are nothing if not exceptional (at least one narrative includes a floating ball of corpses! You don’t see stories like that in dusty old books!). Somebody finally waded through the boring game of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (or at least its Wikipedia page), and sifted out the best concept that experience had to offer.

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness was a middling Castlevania title, but, over a decade later, it was forged into something worthwhile.

FGC #639 Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

  • System: Playstation 2 globally, and Xbox if you were in the USA. I wonder if Japanese collectors jockey on eBay for that rare “American” version of Curse of Darkness.
  • Number of players: A Trevor mode may be eventually unlocked, but you won’t see the ability to play as two characters during this Castlevania.
  • Say something nice: I am a sucker for monster breeding, so I will admit that I enjoy the whole “evolution” aspect of the Innocent Devils. I like using a spear over and over again to see if that will change my golem into, like, a different golem. It is the little things in life that make castles worth storming.
  • Take what you can get: There is a complete “material/crafting” system here. There are scads of stupid doodads to pick up if you want to forge the more interesting weapons, and there is even a “steal” system so you have the ability to nab even more items from opponents. And it all adds up to a fat lot of nothing, as it is the same endless arsenal as other Castlevania titles, just now with extra steps. Boo.
  • Feeling better?Favorite Innocent Devil: Oh give me a home, where the hulking golem roam, and the skies are not darkened all day.
  • An end: The trigger for Hector’s quest is that Isaac is responsible for executing Hector’s wife. Over the course of the adventure, Hector is aided by Julia, who is eventually revealed to be Isaac’s sister. At the close of the story, Isaac has ultimately been killed (or turned into an innocent devil?… He isn’t Isaac anymore, at least), and Hector is anxious to rest with his forged monster buddies. Julia offers Hector sanctuary, and it appears they are going to have a deeper relationship from there. So, in summary, Isaac killed Hector’s wife, so now Hector is going to bone Isaac’s sister.
  • It’s about time: This is also the Castlevania that introduces Saint Germain. Saint Germain is a time traveler, and seems to be part of that time travel plot that was teased across multiple Castlevania titles. Either because of the reboot and/or because Koji Igarashi never really knew where he was going with all this, all of these random time travelers across the Castlevania franchise never really added up to anything. Maybe they were meant to retcon any continuity errors? Or offer an excuse as to why you can always nab a pocket watch that defies space and time? Whatever. At least Saint Germain has a dapper outfit.
  • Did you know? Appropriate for a guy that looks like he might be a carnival barker, Saint Germain is the only character so far in the Castlevania franchise to break the fourth wall and directly speak to the player. Or the camera just didn’t pan around, and he was actually babbling on to a particularly attentive skeleton warrior…
  • Would I play again: I will be honest, I started playing this game again when I got the Wild Arms 3 Let’s Play going (as I was testing capturing directly from my Playstation 2 with different looking games), and it took me months of playing off and on to actually complete the thing. It is a slog! And not the good kind of slog (that would be Slogra, who does appear in this game). So, no, I am likely to play literally any other Castlevania again before getting back to this one.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Resident Evil 4! Let’s stop by a quaint Spanish village and see how the local populace is dealing with the current economic crisis. Please look forward to it!

It was the best part
Oh! This happened in the show!

FGC #630 Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, a game released within the last year. It is not really a plot-based game, but if you would like to go into the experience completely untainted by knowing the final (incredibly telegraphed) twist of the adventure, do not read this article. If this does not bother you, go ahead and read on…

Not Wonder LandThere is no other way to say this, so I’m just going to be out with it from the start: Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, which is maybe the 3,000th indie Metroidvania released in 2021, nearly made me cry.

I am going to talk about why.

Bah… I guess I should talk about the game for a hot second before getting into the details of my own anime-based psychological problems. RoLW:DiWL is, as previously stated, a Metroidvania. It specifically is a Metroidvania in the style of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and by “in the style of” I mean “Konami might need to hire a few more lawyers, but not too many lawyers, because man is it obvious what is happening here”. To say this game feels like Symphony of the Night is an understatement, and the minute-to-minute seems more like that seminal title than some later games made by the exact same guy who made Symphony of the Night in the first place (and, yes, I am talking about Bloodstained here). And, to be clear, this isn’t a bad thing for any franchises that may currently exist, as IGA already made Symphony of the Night, he did not have to do it again. Meanwhile, Team Ladybug clearly wanted to make a game that was “Symphony of the Night, but with an immortal elf instead of an immortal dhampir”, and then they went ahead and did it. And they did it well! RoLLW:DiWL is a phenomenal Metroidvania all on its own, and, if Symphony of the Night inspired much of it (right down to the protagonist’s persistant and unnecessary/radical shadow), then it is simply a testament to how SotN had amazing bones to begin with, and any fleshy homunculus built around it would be astounding.

Is it hot in here?But this is not to say that Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth does not have its own identity. For one thing, there is a surprisingly complex “color system” that influences every piece of gameplay. Deedlit has the ability to switch between wind and fire spirits through nearly the entirety of her adventure. When in wind mode, Deedlit can hover and boost a jump or too, and fire allows her to perform an invincible, flaming slide. This means you are frequently presented with rooms, monsters, and bosses that necessitate using one element or another. Or perhaps you will find that a certain “pattern” is tremendously more surmountable if you stop trying to jump with wind and start sliding with fire. Additionally, as one would expect in this kind of situation, different monsters are vulnerable to different elements, so if that fire dragon is withstanding a dozen fiery slashes, switch over to the windy side and blow that beast away. And everything from basic mooks to giant bosses seems to use at least one attack that is elementally themed, so turning on your fire element when facing down a blaze means you’ll take zero damage and absorb some extra mana to boot. We have seen “switching” mechanics in games before, in everything from Silhouette Mirage to Devil May Cry, but RoLW:DiWL makes it a gameplay feature both welcome and wonderful. And the simple way it is implemented without frequent menu finagling feels a lot better than at least one of its Metroidvania sisters.

So if you are looking for a great Metroidvania, look no further than Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth. If you enjoyed Symphony of the Night, you will enjoy this. If you want to see some marginal improvement on the formula, you will enjoy the switching system involved. If you want most anything else new, you will not find much (the arrows work in fascinating ways… but do feel kind of like a vestigial gimmick, and the “magic spells” are absolutely vestigial), but what is there is solid gold. It is hard to imagine any reason anyone else would be tempted to play this Record of Lodoss War game.

Oh, wait, right. The whole “Record of Lodoss War” thing. That’s where things get… sentimental.

No EarthSo, for those of you that are unaware (which is anyone who is not a giant nerd very specifically between the ages of 35 and 50), Record of Lodoss War was a novel series and Japanese manga published between 1988 and 1993. It was also had an OVA (original video animation: essentially the “limited series event” of anime) that was finished in 1991, and a 27-episode anime in 1998. In its time, it was very popular. But, unfortunately, “its time” was before anime really made a foothold in the West (I personally blame Pokémon for that), and Record of Lodoss War was already looking pretty long in the tooth before Cowboy Bebop and G Gundam offered their stylish alternatives. And, while it is a shame that Record of Lodoss War seems to be forgotten by the nerd populace at large for anything more than being the anime that makes you say “well, you’d probably like Slayers more”, it is not a surprising end. Ultimately, Record of Lodoss War is incredibly dry by practically any epoch’s standards. It is the typical tale of swords and sorcery in a Dungeons and Dragons setting, and very little gives it that essential “twist” that separates it from the myriad of books, comics, and cartoons that have dominated the “fantasy genre” since Tolkien first decided to put hobbit to paper. It is a story of knights, wizards, elves, and dwarves, and if you have seen even one dragon slaying, you have heard it all before.

The good kind of bouncyBut it is hard not to have affection for these knights, wizard, elves, and dwarves. Record of Lodoss War is a banal story, but there is familiarity in the mundane. Parn is every young adventurer who grows to become a gallant knight over the course of his escapades. Etoh is the noble priest and Parn’s steady friend. Slayn the sensible wizard is similarly reliable and often a makeshift mentor figure. Ghim the dwarf is everything you expect from a dwarf willing to die to save another. Woodchuck the rogue is just as trustworthy as his archetype will allow (which isn’t very much). And Deedlit (the titular star of the game that I am pretty sure this article is still about) is the high elf that wants to learn about the “human” world outside of the insular community of elves she has always known. Put it all together, and we are looking at every tabletop roleplaying gang ever played. Yes, you might have had more unique players in your own Dungeons & Dragons or Shadowrun (look, an elf is an elf, dammit) games, but the wizened wizard or the reliable cleric is a trope for a reason: it just works. And if you are into that nonsense, it is hard not to see Slayn being similar to your friend Steve, or Woodchuck bearing more than a passing resemblance to your buddy Fruitbat (example nicknames will not be explained).

And that puts a little bit of a different spin on this adventure when you find out that Deedlit…