Tag Archives: time travel

Chrono Cross 08: FATE

Face your FATEIn the end, the resolution of the story of Serge, Lynx, and the Frozen Flame is a bit of a letdown. Lynx reveals that he has been the supercomputer FATE all along, and they have arranged this elaborate plan all so Serge could… open a door. And, while it has been pointed out multiple times on the stream that this plan could have been revised to be more effective (Lynx is secretly Serge’s father mutated into the thing that Serge most fears… but wouldn’t Serge be more cooperative if he was just asked to open a door by his beloved and lost father?), it is a plausible excuse for FATE making some of their more implausible moves across the plot. Need to bodyswap a teenage boy because you can’t find a decent locksmith? Sure! At least it gives the game an excuse to shuffle the supporting characters for six hours…

But while FATE’s whole stupid plan is the stupidest of the stupid, the origin of FATE? Now that is some good stuff.

FATE is a tragedy wholly caused by the events of Chrono Trigger. In one timeline, the enterprising teens of Guardia fired up a computer terminal in some ruins, and discovered the whole of the planet had been destroyed in 1999 by a gigantic space bug. As a result of seeing this catastrophe, they then traveled through thousands of years of history, and, ultimately, destroyed the Lavos creature before it could literally rain destruction from the heavens. This created a new future where, apparently, some spikey thing popped out of the planet, three teenagers crashed a UFO into it, and then everything involved just disappeared. And that would raise some questions, right? First and foremost: what the hell happened? What was that thing? Who were those people? Nobody would be walking around 2000 AD thinking, “Wow, so glad we are not living in an apocalypse right now.” They would all be thinking, “Wait, I’m sorry? Was there a kaiju causing earthquakes for the last thousand years? Could we look into that?”

Behold the genieCenturies pass, and technology progresses. By 2300 AD, mankind has gained the scientific knowledge to look back to the past in all new ways. They find a shard of Lavos, the Frozen Flame, and grow more fascinated by the now-absent Lavos. Aided by Balthasar, a genius transported from an ancient society that was much more intimately familiar with Lavos, they create Chronopolis, a massive facility meant to study what the heck happened three centuries (and 65 million years) earlier.

Chronopolis made a number of mistakes that would never have occurred if Crono and crew were consulted more directly. Researching Lavos? You know that is going to end poorly. Transforming Mother Brain into the FATE supercomputer? Not the route you would take if you knew that another timeline saw Mother Brain literally eating people. And, while apparently Lucca was on hand in some capacity to offer installing Robo as a conscience circuit… well… Nobody ever thought Lucca was the most moral of the Crono kids. She was a heroine, yes, but one with an instant proclivity toward evil laughs. Poor decisions were made in the management of Chronopolis, and, by 2400 AD, the inevitable “Time Crash” screwed up all of history but good.

And it never would have happened if Crono just went ahead and kept his left-handed ass back in 1000 AD. The death of Lucca by Lynx, the dragon-FATE war, and even possibly the militarization of Porre all would have never occurred if our “heroes” never fought to save the world. If Crono had not saved the future, he would have saved his present.

So kudos to Chrono Cross for weaving such a poignant tragedy. The actual machinations of FATE may have been laborious and convoluted, but how we got FATE back in 1020 AD is a catastrophe worth noting.

(Even if the fun parts of the tragedy get rewritten two dungeons later by Balthasar claiming everything was “according to plan” to free Schala from the Time Devourer. But I read comics! I know a hasty retcon meant to justify a final boss when I see one!)

Even Worse Streams presents Chrono Cross
Night 8

Original Stream Night: June 7, 2022

Recruited this week:

  • Steena
  • Draggy
  • (Everyone that previously left the party, except Kid)
  • Turnip
  • Miki
  • Orlha
  • Kid (for the final time)
  • Mel


Random Notes on the Stream:

  • Fanboymaster doesn’t think we can finish the game this week. He’s right!
  • BEAT was afraid my tweet-based mentions of FATE meant we were going to do “The cooking game again”. He might have enjoyed that more…
  • Ample Vigour arrives as we beat the last dragon, perhaps with the power of the Glow.
  • “Everybody loves Lou Bega!” “Nobody loves Lou Bega, that’s why I’m doing this!”
  • There is always time to discuss cut Kingdom Hearts Jungle Stages while we fight evil Serge/Lynx.
  • There is debate on the nature of “evolution” in the Chrono Cross universe as Serge is reborn as an extremely smug baby (with no nipples).
  • Caliscrub stops by after we recruit random nonsense like Turnip and Miki
  • Toma fucked a mermaid. But that is okay. Oh, and we are at the Dead Sea/Sea of Eden now.
  • Let’s discuss Segagaga as we get to FATE HQ.
  • Oh! The El Nido Map. I love that thing! Is Gaia’s Navel the Giant’s Claw from Chrono Trigger?
  • Radical Dreamers is hiding on a terminal in another universe. Magil is confirmed separate from Guile in an actual game where Magil appears. Yay for translation mysteries finally being solved.
  • Lynx is FATE! Gasp! May as well discuss Cammy wearing pants.
  • Consider this foreshadowing for a Portal 2 stream as we talk about the reason FATE killed Robo.
  • Sonic Generations features the Time Devourer… meaning it is the sequel to Chrono Cross.
  • Love youEnjoy going back to the past to save Kid and confirm Gato and Lucca are dead! Which death is more upsetting?
  • “So did they make this game to shit on Chrono Trigger?” – Pooch
  • Talkin’ bout Dragon Quest 7 tragedies in the middle of a burning building. This is likely how I will die.
  • Okay! Kid is back! And we got a letter from Lucca meant to make us feel worse.
  • And we create the Chrono Cross! While talking about JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure!
  • And we conclude with the tragedy of Banjo-Tooie while we secure Starky’s ship and fly to the final dungeon.

Next time on Chrono Cross: The end! Update nine of ten!

My nips!

FGC #633 Sonic CD

Truly, he must go fastThe future ain’t what it used to be.

Here in the present, we are looking at Sonic CD. Sonic CD is the chronological sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog that was released shortly after Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It started its existence as a port of Sonic 2 for the brand-new Sega CD hardware, but evolved during development into something wholly unique in the Sonic the Hedgehog canon. But, as a result of being tied to finnicky hardware and not being rereleased nearly as often as its contemporaries, Sonic CD has become something of the black sheep of the 2-D Sonic family. While some claim Sonic CD is the pinnacle of 16(ish)-bit platformers, many more shuffle Sonic CD into the “don’t bother” pile with the Master System games and Knuckles Chaotix. In short, a lot of professed Sonic fans will tell you not to waste your time.

And that is a shame, because Sonic CD is all about time. Superficially, Sonic CD’s plot and setting are based on a magical island where the past, present, and future are a little bit more accessible than elsewhere on Mobius, and this grants the hedgehog and his most hated scientist buddy the opportunity to wage war across different epochs. Most worlds start in a pleasant present, but Sonic can easily travel to the future to see a world where Robotnik has conquered the (little) planet, or zoom back to the past to repel the egg army before it ever got going. And how does one save the world from the past? Well, it requires searching over the whole of the current zone, and finding/destroying two of Eggman’s “traps” (the animal/plant containment unit is understandable, but a projector of Metal Sonic somehow changing the shape of destiny raises questions). And the important part of that? The searching. Whereas general “secrets” have always been a part of the Sonic formula, Sonic CD dedicatedly hides two “essential” secrets in two distinct locations in every zone. This is not a situation wherein you simply push against every wall to find a giant ring transporter or two, this is an open invitation to learn the maps of these zones, and devote yourself to finding their specific minutiae. This is a “gotta go fast” Sonic the Hedgehog title, but the player is also all but told they will be more successful if they take their time.

But all is not lost if you absolutely want to play a Sonic the Hedgehog game like a hyperactive omnivore. There are two routes to the good ending: you can either explore every level and find (/destroy) every collectible, or you can conquer the special stages at the end of each level, and obtain all the Time Stones. Apparently claiming the Time Stones guarantees that Eggman will never find these precious rocks, and this will create the same eternally happy ending for everyone on Little Planet. And regardless of method, how do you know you obtained said happy ending? Well, you will see a happy little message at the end of every zone like so…

GOOD END

And fun fact? I am pretty sure that message triggered some kind of PTSD in my soul.

Mainly because I finally put my library back together after a year (home improvements! Oh boy!), I have been reading some “classic” comics recently. It has been mostly stuff from the 90’s heyday of the immediate aftermath of the likes of Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman setting the funny papers ablaze a few years earlier. And the amusing thing about reading comics from this nebulous 90’s-or-so era? There are always excuses to peek at the far-off future of a few decades down the line, and it is not uncommon for their future to be literally now. 2015 or 2020 seems to be the exact point that a lot of authors of the time settled on for “the future”, and, while it is always fun to mock a random writer’s attempts at guessing the trends of the future (where is my jetpack fuetcha, you monsters?!), there is another pervasive trend in predicting the future: it is bad. And that is okay! Because these are fictional works starring heroes and heroines trying to make the world a better place. It is only natural that they would witness a “bad future” so they can be reminded what they are fighting for and/or against. A good future is bad! It’s boring! A future where your girlfriend has been transformed into a snake monster, and your best friend is missing all the fun appendages gives you something to struggle against. Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? Keep reading to find out!

Away we goBut there is a bit of an issue with the persistent use of the “bad future” trope. As someone currently living in the revolutionary future of 2022, I can confirm that we never saw half this “bad” coming. There is an international plague, and the biggest reason it spreads is the economy would be really inconvenienced if Sneezin’ Harold didn’t come in today to properly stock the Chex Mix. Our politicians are not necessarily overly corrupt ghouls, but they are almost universally old enough to base their decisions on opinions formed roughly around the fall of disco. And let’s not overlook the fact that an entire generation seems to have been brainwashed by online services initially created for the purpose of distributing silly cat pictures. Which generation am I talking about? Could be a few choices there! And the scary thing about all this? I wouldn’t even call this present-future bad. It’s not like we have to worry about dictators with alien, orange skin ascending to illegitimate power or something. Things can’t be all that bad! Nobody I know has cybernetic arms!

And it kind of scares me that we could be living in the exact bad future we have been warned of by fiction going back the last hundred years… and we just… got used to it? Sonic CD has a clear bad future: it is the future where Dr. Robotnik has conquered the planet. But do the happy little animals that have not been robotocized in that “future” still go about their daily lives? Are they still doing the same things they have always done, just with a few more badniks around? Sonic can save Amy Rose and “beat the game” without ever once creating a good future. Does that mean Sonic is okay with all of this? Just so long as the people close to him are safe, Sonic is totally cool with whatever the future brings? That is very zen of you, you monster.

I played trumpetBah! I’m overanalyzing a game about a hedgehog trying to stop a robot hedgehog from kidnapping a pink hedgehog. To the best of anyone’s knowledge, Sonic CD was never intended as a social commentary on the world that would exist three decades after its release. These are just the musings of a writer that has experience an unusual amount of trauma in the last few years (and months and weeks and days). Things feel bad, and you are now reading these anxieties given written flesh and marginally viable metaphors. No badniks are currently littering the streets.

But there is something we can learn from Sonic CD. Sonic might not have to create good futures, but he can, and it just takes a little effort. Maybe it is through careful exploration, maybe through conquering special stages, but Sonic does have the ability to change the course of history. And we do, too. Are we living in a bad future? Maybe. But there is still more future ahead of us, and we can change that. Bad things have happened. Horrible decisions have been made. But it is not all over yet, and we can still put in the effort, and fish out whatever Time Stones are going to fix the mess.

You can make a good future (at least in zone 2).

FGC #633 Sonic CD

  • Here we go!System: Would you believe this was initially available on the Sega CD? It’s true! It seems there was also a standalone port on Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC around 2011, and it was part of the Sonic Gems Collection on Playstation 2 and Gamecube. It most recently was available as part of the Sonic Origins compilation on Playstation 4/5, Xbox X/S, and Nintendo Switch (no slash).
  • Number of players: If there is a two player racing mode or something here, we are not acknowledging it.
  • Port O Call: As you have likely guessed, most screenshots in this article are from the Sonic Origins version of Sonic CD. What has changed from the original release? I have no idea! I mean, it is widescreen, there is no such thing as “lives”, there is the “drop dash”, you can retry special stages repeatedly; we all know those changes are in there. But the little things? Other than the fact that they dropped Sonic’s “I’m out of here” voice, I have no clue about the little things that have been changed. Let’s assume the fact that I played this a lot more intently than the Sonic Gems version is a simple matter of the ergonomics of the Nintendo Switch, and not because they made sweeping changes.
  • Favorite Boss: The Egg Conveyer is a deadly treadmill meant to trap Sonic in an endless loop of running… but the weakness of the Egg Conveyer is the very treadmill Sonic will inevitably run upon. So, basically, Robotnik built a machine that is weak to its own purpose. This is why you always fail, Ivo.
  • Favorite Zone: Stardust Speedway joins Sonic the Hedgehog’s Star Light Zone as another star-themed zone that is my absolute favorite. And, hey, I dislike Tidal Tempest as much as Labyrinth Zone! This really should have been the “first” sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I played through Sonic CD once before, but apparently it did not stick in my mind, as I totally forgot Sonic Mania’s Metallic Madness first appeared as the final zone of Sonic CD. I thought the shrink ray and “tetris spikes” were original to Mania!
  • Watch it, Buddy: In honor of the release of Sonic Origins, BEAT was going to play Sonic 3 & Knuckles on the stream. But he get held up for a week, so I was forced to play Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) instead. I am not going to play that again for the FGC, so here is the stream:

    Please enjoy watching how long it takes for me to get a ball in a hole.
  • Did you know? Every bad future theme on the Japanese soundtrack has lyrics/singing except Tidal Tempest. I do not know why bad futures gets vocal tracks, and what Tidal Tempest did to avoid such a fate, but here we are.
  • Would I play again: Count me as someone who finds Sonic CD to be more of a forgotten gem than a stain on Sonic’s good name. That said, I would still probably play one of the Sega Genesis CD-less titles first. Maybe I will get to this one again on its inevitable next rerelease.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Martial Champion! Never heard of it? I’m not surprised! Come back next week, and learn something new! Please look forward to it!

Look out!

FGC #618 Body Harvest

SPACE STATION BODY HARVESTHelp me out here. I am trying to determine whether Body Harvest, a Nintendo 64 game released in 1998, absolutely needs a modern remake, or if it is a game that could only ever be a product of its unique time.

Body Harvest deserves the 21st Century!

Superficially, Body Harvest has a traditional videogame premise that could slot into any gaming epoch. Giant, vaguely mechanical bugs have attacked Earth, and it is your job to repel the invasion. Hell, that’s just Space Invaders! But the twist here is that you have the ability to 4-D travel along the timeline of their invasion, and you can battle bugs back in the far-off past of World War I or the far-flung future of six years ago (hey, 2016 seemed pretty advanced in 1998). And it isn’t just about slightly changing the background to match a setting, either, each of the four time periods featured in Body Harvest dramatically differ in the firepower, vehicles, or just plain people you encounter.

And that is the first check in our “please remake” column: this was Grand Theft Auto before there was a GTA(3), but with even more variety. Technically, this should not be a surprise, as Body Harvest was designed by DMA Design, which went on to become Rockstar, which was directly responsible for Grand Theft Auto 3 a scant three years later. You can see the exact gameplay with your little orange warrior skipping from car to tank that would be recycled for Claude hopping from… well… He got a tank, too, didn’t he? But, as much as Grand Theft Auto 3 and its descendants tried to mix things up with fun or interesting new vehicles, they still have nothing on rolling around in a Japanese Zero plane while splatting insects. The different time periods naturally lend themselves to a variety of vehicles, and Body Harvest deserves to have Adam grabbing a veritable Gran Turismo of automobiles during his 1966 trip to America.

Stay dampBut this also leads to a significant sign of Body Harvest’s times. There are multiple vehicles in every epoch… but they are all pretty much the same. A plane is a plane, a tank is a tank, and nobody ever likes to be railroaded into a boat. A modern remake of Body Harvest could actually make these vehicles feel distinct, as you better believe it would feel different to drive a Grecian jeep in 1916 versus an American luxury car in 1966. And the weapons? There is a mythical “sun shield” in early 20th Century Greece that functions exactly like a laser from decades later. Does that make a bit of sense? Nope. A game that was designed nowadays could truly make the gulf of a century of technology felt during gameplay.

And speaking of modern changes, you have likely heard that every franchise wants to be The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild nowadays. Well, here is a game that was Breath of the Wild long before Link ever considered his first sheikah slate. The worlds of Body Harvest are huge, and they even follow a familiar pattern of “fog” obscuring the world map until you find and defeat a proper giant bug. Unlike a similar DMA Design game of the era, Space Station Silicon Valley, Body Harvest revels in its open world gameplay, and rewards the player with massive playgrounds when they unlock the epoch’s plane equivalent (usually a plane). Yes, the regions of these worlds work like “levels” with bite sized challenges, but the future tech justified “fast travel” between different areas reinforces how Body Harvest was definitely a game before its time.

What in blazes is thatAnd, yes, that means these “huge” worlds are 100% “huge” with the caveat that they are areas in a N64 game. Just like how the giant bugs scale with your lil’ space marine, so they do seem to be gargantuan, formidable opponents… that can barely move. In the same way that exploring a giant world needs a little more horsepower to craft a truly giant world, the enormous bug monsters would be a whole lot scarier if they were not hampered by a system that allowed them to move about as fast as a sloth contemplating the benefits of a reverse mortgage. The whole concept here is that bugs the sizes of buildings are wiping out humanity, so it is super important that these creatures are immediately perceptible as maddeningly enormous. Unfortunately, that makes everything but the basic drones effectively immobile, so a little more RAM under the hood could really add to the threatening bug realism here.

In short, everything that Body Harvest tries to do could be made better by modern technology. You can almost feel the game that Body Harvest could be if it were released in 2022.

But would it still be the same game if it were released today? Because…

Body Harvest is a relic of the 20th Century!

Want to know the number one thing that surprised this 21st Century Boy when playing this pre-2000 videogame? Adam the Orange Warrior can enter houses. In fact, you have to enter a house as part of the opening of the game, and making progress through the various areas all but requires stopping into people’s homes. And they are not just dialogue boxes hiding in houses: these are actual “maps” that include hidden items, health refills, and even the occasional puzzle. Some of the “ancient Greek” dungeons could be mistaken for Zelda areas, and some of the future “sewers” could be entire (terrible) games on their own. And they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore! You know that if Body Harvest were made a few years later, “somebody put the bridge up” would simply be a communications dialogue box, and not a house including a person. The “dungeon puzzles” would somehow be modified to be solvable without leaving your car du jour, and any sort of regional/epoch variety would be completely lost. Actually seeing and interacting with people in a game where you are trying to save said people makes a big difference. You are not rescuing random humans that fill up your “humans lost” meter, you are saving that guy that lives in that house over there. The one with the water barrel that fills up your health! He’s important!

This is a friendly placeBut that does bring us to the whole “different time periods” problem of Body Harvest’s design. To be absolutely clear on what happens in Body Harvest, every epoch also has its own geographic location. 1916 is Greece, 1941 is Java, 1966 is a generic city in America, and 1991 is Siberia. If you find some NPC you like in the first time period, sorry to say that you are not ever going to encounter that guy again. It is a shame, as one of the coolest things a videogame can do is play with time travel for the ever popular “plant a seed, watch the tree grow” experience that is generally impossible in actual reality (or at least far too boring). However, this also means Body Harvest straddles the line between “open world” and “levels”. By the finale of the 1916 area, you can go practically anywhere on that map, and maybe find a random laser component or two to make your life easier. But the minute you activate the boss of the level and claim victory? You ain’t seein’ 1916 or Greece ever again, boy-o.

And that is antithetical to modern day “open world” design. The benefit of Breath of the Wild is that, barring Link breaking his own legs while shield-surfing down a mountain, you can always return to the starting plateau. You can venture around the world in any order you want, and then venture backwards through that same world as you so choose. Cutting off areas by epochs? That is either going to mean there are places you can never return to; or, even worse, making “backwards” time travel a mandatory solution to puzzles. It is cool to see a world grow up over a hundred years, it is dramatically less fun to be told you have to scoot back to previous areas every other scene because someone programmed in backtracking puzzles. That’s the opposite of an open world! That’s a crap world!

It must stink down hereSo maybe Body Harvest is bound to its own epoch. Maybe we could never see such a game today, because too many modern conventions seem to state, “we don’t do that anymore”. Designing entire building interiors just to support random NPCs? An open world that is not an open world? Levels? Screw that noise. That is some 1998 wiz biz, and we are unlikely to ever see it again.

Or not? What do you think, humble reader? Could we see an ideal Body Harvest HD? Or is it never going to be half the game it once was in an effort to be the game it could be today? Past or Future? And does said past or future include giant bugs?

The world may never know. Then again, maybe we’ll see Body Harvest HD before Grand Theft Auto 6…

FGC #618 Body Harvest

  • System: Nintendo 64. It was nearly a launch game! … But then some stuff happened.
  • Number of players: Adam Orange must fight a hundred years of giant bugs all alone.
  • Where in time is giant bugs: Most of the epochs are just an excuse to pal around in familiar settings of the last century, but the modern level in Siberia is either a tremendous diss to Russia, or an excuse for a zombie level. Or both! Siberia’s military facility (?) is lousy with all sorts of modern armaments, but it also has a severe nuclear zombie issue. Maybe it is supposed to be a Chernobyl reference? The dangers of modern technology? Whatever. Point is that it is a really weird final “real” level, and maybe speaks to the developers getting bored about 80% of the way through their own idea.
  • I do not like it hereAn end: The finale is, as was the style at the time, a level that forsakes everything that made the game great, and just an excuse to zoom around an alien asteroid in a homicidal hovercraft. At least you used the hovercraft in other levels/battles, so it is not completely out of left field; but it is still a sad excuse to not have a final “future” level with more interesting future vehicles. And then you kill a giant cockroach that is also your brother. Real Shakespeare s%&# right there.
  • Filthy Cheater: There are also a variety of cheats coded into the game, with some lifesaving (health refill, have all weapons) and some a little more on the silly side of things (have fat legs). Come to think of it, the N64 era was the golden age of ridiculous cheats. Or maybe we all just enjoyed big head mode a little too much.
  • Favorite Vehicle: For some reason, my dad has always liked the Ford Edsel. It is a weird little car, and my dad is a weird little guy, so it makes sense. So imagine my surprised when Edsels pop up as the first car available in the America stage of 1966! Despite the fact that the Edsel stopped production in 1960! Weird little choice, guys!
  • Did you know? Body Harvest was going to be an N64 launch game compliments of Nintendo publishing. And, according to a scant few interviews on the subject, Body Harvest was micromanaged by Nintendo of Japan quite a bit before the company outright dropped the title for theoretically “it’s too violent” reasons. DMA Design struggled to find another publisher, and Body Harvest was eventually released in its current (and only) incarnation. Worth noting? This inevitably caused a bit of a gulf between DMA Design and Nintendo, and considering DMA digivolved into becoming Rockstar… is there an alternate universe where Body Harvest stayed the Nintendo course, and Grand Theft Auto 3 is a Nintendo Gamecube launch game?
  • God bless America/bugsWould I play again: Maybe? Body Harvest is a strange game that is very much a product of its time, but it is a downright shame it never saw a follow up to its own unique flavor of gameplay. Grand Theft Auto 3 is the obvious descendant, but I could use a game with a rocket launcher and a few more giant bugs. So maybe I’ll try Body Harvest again for the experience.

What’s next? Looks like Valentine’s Day is next Monday, so we’re going to have a special Wankery Week article ready for the holiday of love. There will be cooking! Please look forward to it!

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

Reflections are importantCastlevania: Harmony of Dissonance was released back in 2002 on the Gameboy Advance. It was the first Koji Igarashi-directed metroidvania to follow the wildly successful Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and would be followed by the critically beloved Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow a year later. While many at the time lauded Harmony of Dissonance for being a step up from the non-canon, non-Iga-directed Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, in the years since, Harmony of Dissonance has gained the reputation as one of the “lesser” Igavanias. Nobody seems to claim it is particularly bad, but the understood consensus is that you would be better off playing literally any other metroidvania in the franchise. Iga was still getting used to portable Castlevanias, guys, play one of the games after he found his skelelegs.

And that is a damn shame, because Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance has some great ideas that were never seen in the franchise ever again. Take for instance…

Juste Belmont is all you need

This guy looks familiarCastlevania stars Simon Belmont. Castlevania 3 stars Trevor Belmont. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood stars Richter Belmont. And then we got Castlevania: Symphony of the Night starring Alucard, and we only ever saw one Belmont in a headlining role ever again. Juste Belmont is that Belmont, and he’s here to chew bubblegum and whip skeletons (and he’s fresh out of bubblegum).

Juste Belmont plays like a Belmont. There is no gimmick here, no secret power that makes Juste a creature of the night just like his opponents. He runs. He jumps. He attacks with a whip of clearly defined length, and flicks its limp form around to block medusa heads at will. He can perform some of the “later” Belmont abilities, like the slide and backward dash. He even has a forward dash, because some weirdo gave the Gameboy Advance an L and R button. But, a few extra skills aside, Juste is familiar, and a clear descendant of Grandpa Simon (and maybe the old man that trained Richter a few decades later).

And in the friggen Castlevania franchise, it is nice to play as a Castlevania protagonist.

You could claim there is a clear dichotomy between Simon-like protagonists and Alucard-like protagonists in the Castlevania franchise. Soma is an Alucard. Shanoa is an Alucard. Castlevania-wannabe Miriam is an Alucard. But claiming there are only two options is reductive. John Morris of Portrait of Ruin is very close to being the typical Belmont, but there is a lot more nuance and variety to his moveset. Or, put another way, there is no way Juste Belmont could ever turn into an owl. It may be a result of the presence of Charlotte, but, one way or another, John is no Alucard, but he certainly is not a straight-Belmont, either.

And having a 100% Belmont on the team makes for a different, unique game. Juste eventually gains a “super jump” to traverse long vertical passages, but, for the majority of his adventure, he is stuck with little more than a regular Belmont arc jump. And that changes the castle dramatically! There is no expectation here that you will eventually be able to fly into narrow passages as a bat, or “mist” through glass windows. Juste is stuck with legitimate keys-as-keys, and a castle that could reasonably be traversed by a human on foot. And that’s the rub! Belmonts are humans, and that appropriately restrains the Castle to something that is never going to require reversing gravity or filling in map squares by bumbling around as a wolf.

It is nice to be human sometimes and know that castle completion is not tied to some esoteric ability you will find five feet before Dracula. HoD perhaps hampers itself too much with its human protagonist, but a more thoughtful sequel could use this “limitation” to open all sorts of doors.

But speaking of being a Belmont…

The Vampire Killer is all you need

Nice viewLook, I like variety as much as the next guy. I like finding peanuts and learning that Alucard must toss them in the air to get so much as a bite. I like earning the “curry” power, and forcing an ability-copying boss to chuck hot plates like it is his super power. I like there being two different fairies, one with inexplicable piano prowess. I enjoy the sheer breadth of nonsense “stuff” that appears in the Igavania titles, and I appreciate every time I find a new secret or ferryman skulking around in the shadows.

But, dang, sometimes I just want to play a videogame, ya know?

The thing about variety is that is causes choice anxiety. You have a sword, right? And it is fast and strong, but there is a stronger sword that is slower. Which is going to perform more damage per second? Which will allow you to quickly backdash away from danger? Which has the more powerful “arc” to blocking enemy fireballs? They have elements, too? So is the holy sword going to cut down all these undead foes, or are some of these monsters supposed to be resistant to the light of God? Is this one of those franchises where fire beats water, or the opposite? Thunder do anything for anybody? I have a fast, lightning-based sword, but is that going to do zero damage to rocky enemies? Am I thinking of Pokémon again?

Then there’s Juste. Juste doesn’t have to have a brain in his head, because he has a whip in his hands.

The Vampire Killer is supposed to be the greatest Dracula murderer of all time. It was all Simon, Trevor, and Richter ever needed. Juste wields this same weapon, but is allowed to have a little customization. With the right item, it can shoot fireballs like Christopher Belmont, change elements for weakness hunting, or just plain upgrade to stronger versions like back during the Quest days. In general, it is linear progression with the tiniest bit of customization for particular circumstances. And that’s great! You don’t have to spend the rest of your day worrying distinguishing between +1 Pow or +1 Speed when “have whip” is all you need to know. There is joy in finding the secret sword that makes farting noises when it hits skeletons, but there is also joy in not having to worry about your equipment screen, and ignoring any worrying about bringing the wrong hammer to a guardian fight.

Sometimes, the Vampire Killer is all you need… and that never happened in a 2-D ‘vania again.

And on that note…

Mundane Monsters are all you need

Prior to Harmony of Dissonance, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon introduced the concept of particular monsters dropping unique abilities. After HoD, Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow pioneered a system whereby literally every monster dropped some kind of attack, ability, or upgrade. This became the standard for Castlevania titles going forward, and now it seems completely normal to fight mermen over and over until you can breathe underwater.

Harmony of Dissonance made no such attempt at having a wholly unique “ability drop” for every monster lurking around the castle. And, not coincidentally, Harmony of Dissonance also included this creature:

Creepy Crawly

Now, I’m not saying that when you grant every monster a unique, obtainable ability, you lose the chance to make some gigantic weirdos that have nothing to do with “can throw spear” or “+2 Con”, but… It does seem like more than a coincidence that we never saw that dude again.

Nobody wants to grind a hundred skeleton spiders.

Two Castles are all you need

Out and inCastlevania: Symphony of the Night turned the franchise on its head by including an entire hidden castle in addition to the “traditional” solitary sanctuary of Dracula. Later titles would either stick to one large castle (the Sorrows, Bloodstained [which we are still claiming is a Castlevania]) or one castle plus a number of “level” areas (Portrait, Order of Ecclesia). Never again did the franchise try two separate, but similar, castles.

And two castles are the exact right number of castles to have!

The concept of a “dark world” works similarly to time travel in many videogames. In short, you have two distinct areas, but they influence each other in interesting ways. In the time travel adventures, you can usually affect change in the past that dramatically impacts the future. The classic “fill a lake in the past, see a future where a desert becomes a forest in the future” dichotomy serves as an easy example here. Similarly, you can have “light/dark world” situations wherein one area is a funhouse mirror version of another area, but making changes to one “castle” can drastically impact the other. The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past or Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver are the classic examples here, but many videogames utilize these dual worlds to create exciting scenarios and save on assets. An evil mirror world is fun and economical!

Unfortunately, for having two castles (both distinctly noted as being formed from two differing minds), Harmony of Dissonance whiffs on doing anything interesting with the concept. Whether there was ever meticulous thought put into the differences between the “normal” and “chaos”-based castles is irrelevant, as the end result is a castle that is effectively double the size, but with very few actual parallels. Yes, you might find some similar or “reference” monsters in comparable rooms. Yes, you are likely to see a few more deadly monsters or blood-red sunsets in the “bad” castle. But, beyond a few extremely basic “wasn’t this room a little different over there” situations, this is a complete waste of a brilliant idea. Harmony’s two castles could be so much fun in a different, more considered game.

This is funAnd that is the tragedy of Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance: there are a lot of appealing ideas here, but they ultimately add up to an experience that is aggravatingly rote. With proper budget, drive, and familiarity, a direct sequel to HoD’s ideas could be one of the best titles in the franchise. As it is… well… Let’s just say that Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow keeps getting paired with HoD in collections, and it is obvious which game you should play.

(And in case you’re curious, it is the one that actually had its own sequel.)

FGC #604 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance

  • System: Gameboy Advance on two separate occasions! Later, we had a WiiU release, and now it is on modern systems thanks to the latest Castlevania Advance Collection.
  • Number of players: This Castlevania quest is even more solitary than usual. Do you learn that weird shopkeeper’s name? That seems like it should be important! Guess we are sticking to one player.
  • Story Time: Props to HoD for featuring almost exclusively two characters: Juste, and his frenemy Maxim. Literally no one else matters in this story of childhood friends having occasional spats over kidnapping other childhood friends, and that kind of laser focus on the task at hand is great in a Metroidvania. I guess Death gets to squeeze a word or two in, too? Who cares? That dork is a little too Strider this time, anyway.
  • Love this bossThe Other Hero: Naturally, Maxim mode is unlocked upon completing the game. And Maxim rocks! While the meticulous planning that went into producing this Belmont-based adventure goes right out the window the minute Mr. Triple Jump appears on the scene, it is fun to see how much of the castle can be explored immediately without a need for keys or teleporters. Give Maxxy a way to level up, and it would likely be one of my favorite “other” modes in Castlevania history.
  • Favorite Sub Weapon: Juste has distinctly Sypha Belnades genes, and can utilize magical books to powerup his attacks. Unfortunately, this skill is completely useless, and should be ignored. Sorry, Great Gramma Sypha, you cannot beat traditional holy water.
  • Favorite Boss: Speaking of Sypha, two Castlevania 3 bosses return in modern-ish form: the Skull Knight and Cyclops. Cyclops is my favorite in the game, as he looks so goofy compared to his original, menacing sprite. Skull Knight does get a rad laser, though…
  • Interior Decorating: Apparently, that “Furniture Room”, where you can collect various tables and candelabras and such to decorate one tiny cube in Dracula’s Castle is a holdover from an idea that was nixed during the production of Symphony of the Night. This would have absolutely made sense for Alucard, as he would logically have his own room in his father’s castle. But Juste Belmont? A man who knows damn well that castle is going to collapse seven seconds after whipping an evil count? He should know better than to put effort into trimming such a damned castle.
  • ClassyDid you know? The doors that Juste uses to travel between the two castles look just like the portals the Doppelganger used in Symphony of the Night. Does this mean Alucard didn’t kill a monster, but an alternate universe duplicate? Probably not! And don’t suggest that again. Alucard has enough guilt without potential murder-suicides!
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Or at least not for another few decades. I want to see the HoD sequel, but the actual game isn’t all that fun… particularly when nearly every other Castlevania would be a better time.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Curses ‘N Chaos! We’re going to celebrate the Day of the Dead with a visit from Castlevania ‘n Curses’ old friend Death. Please look forward to it!

WRONG