Posts Tagged ‘Castlevania


Dracula’s Castlevania

Lords of Shadow 2 seeks to wrap up an origin story of Castlevania’s Dracula.  And it seems that it’s quite pre-occupied with a brooding antihero who’s a bad man that should make you feel bad because you think he’s really cool, right? Right??  It’s a neat idea to build a game around playing as Dracula, but it would seem that Konami and Mercury Steam had bitten off more than they could chew. And what you ended up with was a game about one of the most iconic villains in gaming who crawls around on the ground as a rat trying to avoid thugs that somehow make generations of Belmonts look like incompetent circus performers.  It all got to be a bit more complex than it needs to be.  After all, this is a game series where this is the most memorable exchange of dialog:

Which is perfectly fine, and fun.  But it doesn’t exactly demand a trilogy of games explaining what motivates him either.  So I’d like to share what I’d like to see in a Castlevania game starring Dracula instead…

In my own mind, Dracula’s Castlevania would be a sort of reverse Infinity Blade, where the player gets to enjoy being the prince of darkness from a throne in the castle.  It’s what you might expect from Castlevania’s past, but instead of conquering the castle, your goal is to vanquish generation after generation of Belmont as they try to purge you from the land.  You are Dracula though, and you’re too busy breaking glassware and coming up with good villain dialog to be bothered with defeating the pesky Belmonts.  So you summon monsters and demons to do the dirty work instead.

With each Belmont that arrives at your castle, you will have a reserve of action points which can be spent on summoning monsters that can be thrown in the hero’s way.  Chances are that most of these monsters will be dispatched fairly quickly, but it’s up to you to decide which make life most difficult for a vampire hunter depending on where they are at in the castle and how many you choose to throw at him.  Each successive Belmont becomes stronger and stronger, and as they clear rooms of the castle and reach save points, future Belmonts will no longer have to clear those rooms and will start off that much closer to you.

There would be obvious trade offs in determining which monsters you select to summon.  Flea men are a nuisance and can be dispatched easily.  But more powerful monsters would cost more action points, and leave you with less resources to use after that monster has been killed.  The player would have the option to take control of individual monsters as well in order to execute a strategy to inflict the most pain quickly.  The castle is a treacherous place with many sharp drops.  A well timed attack from a flea man could make all the difference in whether or not Dracula has to deliver those lines he’s been working on for centuries.

You can’t leave out the boss fights now either.  After a Belmont has made so much progress, you can pull out all the stops with one of your worst of the worst.  And these monsters could be fully configured by you based on points scored from your earlier victories.  Eventually though, if you’re not cut out to be the dark lord, and a Belmont finds his way to your inner chambers, you can expect to hash out the final conflict in classic Dracula form.  If you’ve got to make a speech before hand, I’m sure he’ll listen, and then you can show him how you get things done around here.

It’s not like the game would have to have cutting edge graphics.  Konami has gotten along well enough recycling Symphony of the Night assets for years.  If there is concern over how it would appeal to core gaming audiences, then I’m sure it could be fashioned into a mobile game with micro-transactions and any sort of other bad idea that makes a game more appealing to publishers to market to casual gaming audiences.  In any case, a game that lets you enjoy being Dracula would be a welcome change in the series and perhaps a bit easier for Konami to deliver.


Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is quickly becoming one of the games that that I play on an annual basis along with Final Fantasy IX.  While it’s an older title, there’s something that’s always satisfying about the experience that entries in the series prior or subsequent that just wasn’t the same for me.  Perhaps future entries (of the 2D variety), having realized the success of Symphony of the Night, became too focused on that success and tried to tweak the formula without entirely understanding it.  I’d wonder if maybe I just felt nostalgic for a game from two generations earlier, but I only played it to completion after the PSP edition of Dracula X Chronicles was released.  I completed it once more this past summer, and then made it about half way through the game as Richter.  If I had to guess what makes the game so memorable, I would say that it would be for the same reason that’s made Bioshock so memorable (even if I didn’t quite care for it): both games had great worlds and atmospheres which speak to the player by virtue of them just being there.  Final Fantasy IX is much the same way, the scale and richness of these worlds make them fun places to just be in.  Bearing that in mind, Dracula’s Castle in Symphony of the Night is like running through a series of haunted houses and collecting all sorts of old monster movies.

The gameplay isn’t perfect (nor is the voice acting) but that doesn’t get in the way of finding different ways to traverse the castle and unlock its secrets, all the while enjoying some great music and art.  Furthermore, I can hardly think of a platform that the game isn’t available on.  It feels like a natural fit on the PSP, but I would have a hard time envisioning it on iOS or Android.  It’s a game that I don’t hesitate to pick up for multiple platforms either.  Just this past week, I bought it once more on XBLA while it was at half price, and while I didn’t complete SotN until I owned a handheld edition of the game, I still had it sitting on my shelf for years prior.  Dracula’s Castle is a big playground for the game’s verbs, for which there are plenty to be mixed and matched throughout the normal and inverted castles.  If you haven’t played through it before, Halloween is the perfect season to pick it up and give it a go.  It’s a game that’s retained its entertainment value over the years and demonstrates the value of building an enjoyable game world, first and foremost.

What? Are we playing jeopardy here, or something?


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Cinematic Game Play and Signal Scrambling

And that's how we got cyclopes

My eye! Belmont! You dick!

During the previous two generations of games, cut-scenes and full-motion video were greeted with groans and disdain.  Criticized for wresting control away from the player and forcing them to watch sub-par movies; they could become a tedious experience.  It’s a design practice that lingers in only the most firmly established franchises such as Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy.  But even then, their relevance is waning.  Have designers seen the light and steered their games towards more interactive experiences?  Kind of.

The HD era of video games has allowed developers to meld the cinematic with the interactive.  It’s a better idea than inundating the player with cut-scenes, but it’s still a practice that manages to drag down a good number of games.  In my own recent experience, I’d say that it has spoiled Dante’s Inferno, Lords of Shadow, and Vanquish.  How exactly?  Well, cinematic sequences are meant to be watched; meaning they will distract the player from what’s important to game play, by design.

Only in the case of Modern Warfare 2, mostly because Infinity Ward seemed to successfully take into mind that they don’t want to punish players for taking in the sights.  Critical, cinematic game play moments were exciting, but not really challenging.  You were only fooled into believing it is a challenging scene.  In contrast, the other examples I listed make some of the most challenging moments cinematic ones as well.

In Vanquish, the frenzy of action on the screen at any given time only serves to distract me from the fact that an instant death lay only a moment away.  With Lords of Shadow, I was expected to perform dramatic QTEs to finish off bosses.  If I failed, then I would be punished not only with having to try the sequence again, but also by the fact that the boss would have some of its health restored.  And finally, with Dante’s Inferno, I would  completely forget about poor Dante when the camera zoomed out to reveal incredible landscapes.  Other times camera angle prevented me from being able to judge depth at all, leading to many pitfall deaths.

It certainly looks nice, but it’s only trivially more interactive than cut scenes and FMVs since the player’s ability to gauge what to do ends up being severely hampered.  Nothing gets me to be frustrated with a game more quickly then poor signalling, and I’m certain that it’s a major contributing factor to the times when a game feels like it’s being “cheap.”  “Cinematic” games are this generation’s FMV.


Lords of Shadow

"My name is Vamp. You are the Solid Snake of Christmas past! Hop on my back."

I’ve played through the demo for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and I’ve picked up the full game from Gamefly.  I’ve been really looking forward to the game.  The trailers have been very promising (at least to me).  I’ve always enjoyed the metroidvania branch of the series, and bore with the PS2 3D iterations as well.  Unfortunately, I think my optimism about Lords of Shadow is misplaced.  The game looks and sounds great for the most part, but the story so far is copy/pasted from Van Helsing, and the game play has been uninspiring.  The real kicker is the game’s quick time events, which are liberally spread about the game.  I think QTEs can work when the player has been adequately signaled, and when they reward you for successfully executing them.  So far, LoS just throws them at me constantly.  If I complete it, then I get to continue.  If I screw up, I get penalized.  It’s not fun.  As Jim Sterling put it on twitter: “Lords of Shadow isn’t Castlevania. It’s Dante’s Inferno (but worse).

It’s a stone’s throw away from being bearable, but as it stands, LoS is tiring.  I’ll stick with it for a while, but it’s disappointing.  It’s definitely evident that a lot of work was put into it.  It’s an attractive game, but it’s not the game that I envisioned.  Maybe it will pick up later.  In the mean time, it’s a chore.

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