Digging up the past

This post will be a ramble, as it does not have one cohesive topic or a point. I had intended to do a mecha design post, but that got postponed due to headache, local celebration and other things that required most of my attention span. Thus, my concentration is largely bust for anything proper. However, one things does tie things together in a very loose manner; all the things discussed here are about old franchises.

Now that I think of it, I used to write these rants more often, so I guess this is a blast from the past for some.

All this really started few weeks back when a friend tried to convince me to watch Rogue One, a Star Wars Prequel. While I don’t intend to do a review of its design works or the like, I already covered that topic few times over regarding how modern Star Wars is all about recycling old designs and concepts. Granted, sometimes they give them a new whirl, but under this new management it really shows how lacking their department in creating new things are.

Now what pissed you off this time? I hear some of you asking. Kaiburr crystals, or as the new continuity seems to like to put it, kyber. It’s an old concept dating back to the original scripts of Star Wars and served as the item to move plot, but were rightfully dropped. It did return back in the Expanded Universe as the name of the crystal that allows lightsabers to focus energy into a blade. Now, in this new continuity, they’re what powers lightsabers and apparently the Death Star requires tons of it to run, essentially making its world destroying beam a giant version of a lightsabre. Hell, there’s a book about a Hutt taking Death Star idea and making a lightsabre-lookalike battle station named Darksaber. It’s in the book with the same name.

It doesn’t make any sense for a crystal to be powering something. It is now known that we could make hi.-temperature photonic crystals into batteries to power electronics and machinery, at least if we’re to believe MIT. Rogue One does not only rewrite story of Epsiode IV (Vader claims the Rebel blockade runner had received multiple transmissions from the rebels and that they were not on a peaceful mission, while in Rogue One we clearly see there was only one transmission from, which was given to Leia through a disc of sorts, and they were docked with a revel ship Vader himself saw escaping), but it also just throws everything in the face of common sense.

While we can argue whether or not the old Expanded Universe was good or not, it had loads of things that made sense. One of these things that made some sense was that the Death Star was powered up by a SFS-CR27200 hypermatter reactor that was lined up by stellar fuel bottles that powered up the whole station. How do I know this? I got the goddamn Owner’s Workshop Manual in my hand for reference material. But Aalt, the movie says It’s the fuel for the weapon, not for the station. Considering the rebels keep referring to Death Star as the weapon throughout the film, and not station or anything else, they do mean the Death Star itself. Hair splitting, I know. Of course they might retcon this the second time in other materials, but the movie makes it clear what the crystals are for. You’re using secondary material, notice that. Yes, and if we were to ignore all that, powering a space station able to blow up planets with crystals would still be retarded. Not to mention Episode IV mentions a reactor powering the thin, not bunch of crystals.

Enough of that. Rogue One was terribly boring and mediocre, no better than Episode VII for different reasons. Personally, the franchise is beyond my interests at this point and I’ve got no plans to support what I consider an inferior iteration of Star Wars as a whole.

But just as the kaiburr crystal was dug out from its grave to pander fans, so is Netlix’s upcoming Castlevania. I never had objections about turning Castlevania or any other game into a series, but when Netflix announced they’d be making one based on the classic game franchise, I didn’t expect them to go the anime route. Furthermore, I’ll nitpick that this isn’t Castlevania, this is Dracula’s Curse/Demon Castle Legend. There is a very damn good reason why Lords of Shadow was so popular in the end, and it’s because Castlevania had become anime-fied far too much. The franchise was filled with pretty boys and didn’t even try to hit the classic horror movie notes Universal and especially Hammer had laid down. That’s the atmosphere the original three/four Castlevania games carried on them and despite Lords of Shadow being removed from them as well, the fact is that Castlevania is very much Western fantasy through and through. Making it too anime, too pretty, turns the common consumers away and panders only to the core fans. Nothing bad in itself in that, but when your franchise is essentially one of the golden pillars of the NES library and it ends up as a franchise that keeps repeating the exact same console action-adventure for almost two solid decades, something’s gone horribly wrong.

The show won’t revive Castlevania as a game franchise, but it might open up a small market where there is overlap with anime and Castlevania fans, and there is quite a lot of that nowadays thanks to the aforementioned. It’ll probably be bloody, gory and all the run of the mill stuff anime is nowadays and lacks any punch behind it, because everything’s played safe nowadays. There seems to be genuine love behind the piece, I wouldn’t hold my breath over it, just like I wouldn’t hold my breath over the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery.

The third thing that managed to tick me off is Nintendo’s and UbiSoft’s love child that is Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. The first thing that, and pretty much the only thing I need to say about this, is that it’s terrible. Only very few cared for Rabbids in the first place and saw a detriment on Rayman franchise, and despite the critters getting a game almost annually, the latest ones have been very low-key or on mobile devices. I guess they still sell despite them having zero impact overall, but I guess people like small retarded creatures like the Minions. Perhaps Rabbids are popular in central Europe, as nobody gives a flying fuck about them elsewhere, and somebody paid loads of money to get the Mario franchise in.

However, the one thing that spells that the developers and publishers know that they are having an up-hill battle can be seen on the linked Nintendo World Report’s third picture about the timeline. E3 was supposed to be a surprise announcement that they teased,(people were expecting a new Metroid game) but at least now they can expect people to be disappointed beforehand. In July they would have had the time for convincing the media and gamers, showcasing the lack of trust they have in their own product. The choice of word here is blatantly sad. If your product is good, you don’t really have to convince anyone with anything, you can simply allow the product to do the talking. PR always helps, and this title sure does require some.

Also note how the game’s genre is Crazy combat adventure, further solidifying this blog’s take that most genre names that gets used are utter bullshit. Why is Luigi also in the sniper class with a fucking vacuum cleaner? Yoshi’s clearly the Demoman of the group.

If I was a cynic, I’d almost say all these three above items I’ve ranted about have been made under some sort of committee that aims high sales. While Star Wars is the only one that has universal appeal, anime Castlevania already puts people off by being anime. Should’ve been a high budget live-action show. Mario and Rabbids in the same game, a role-playing game no less, just won’t hit with the audience. Quit wasting people’s time and money Nintendo, and start doing proper high-end 2D Mario games again.

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Review of the Month; Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2

Few years back I kicked my review category on with Castelvania: Lords of Shadow. For better or worse, I’ve been trying to keep that up. I’ve tried to steer away from games as of late, but this has been on the backburner for some time now. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.

To give a fair go with the game, I went with the 360 version. This way I’ve kept the sub-series on same console to notice what has been changed without resorting to wonder if possible problems are port exclusive. Another problem that I personally have with sequels and their reviews is that more often than not you can refer to the first game’s review to get the basics down. That is unless the sequel shakes things up a lot, like how Super Mario Bros. 2 stood apart from its predecessor. CLoS2, for better or worse, has the same core gameplay as with the first game.

Rather than prefacing Castlevania as a series like I did last time, I’ll try to keep this tight and compact.

Unlike the first game in the subseries, Lords of Shadow 2 tries to replicate the action adventure style gameplay Metroid, La-Mulana and Symphony of the Night are known for. Metroid Prime managed to translate that rather well into 3D, whereas CLoS2 kind of misses it just by a bit. The maps are connected to each other in more or less cohesive way, but what stands out the most is the overall visual and stage design. As the game is split between Past and Present segments, they feel very different from each other visually and tonally. For past the designs and architecture follows the same grand, overdesigned look the visual style the series is known for and it fits just fine. Dracula’s Castle is known to change itself and is a living being here, so seeing how some of the architectural choices don’t make a lick of sense can be attributed to the twisted nature of the castle itself.

The Present segments however suffer from making absolutely no sense in how they were designed. Its videogames, it doesn’t need to make sense, but when you have a bottomless chasm under your bridge that’s supposed to be a driveway, you just stop and look how none of it makes any sense. The architecture follows similar grand style most of the time, as you’d expect, but then suddenly you have almost minimalistic spots that exist simply to add an area between two main ones with a puzzle for the player to solve.

If the game was focused in either Past or Present only, it would’ve been a more cohesive piece with overall better stage design. But either of that matters very little if there’s not much to do on the maps. Designing a 3D environment to be similarly explorable to its 2D counterpart, most often camera angles and obfuscated paths are used to conceal collectibles. There’s less a wonder if finding a way towards something and more just sense that you were tricked not to notice the thing you were looking for.

The graphics are fine, nothing exceptional and do their job. There’s some glitches here and there, but nothing too notable. There’s nothing much to stand apart from what we’ve seen during the last generation of games.

The controls are as you’d expect, most of the time. Dracula moves just fine, targeting is semi-automatic and only few ugly spots here and there have their heads out. There’s no change from the first game in overall terms of controls, and that carries to the platforming. Much like previously, you only have certain spots on the walls or wherever where you can move to. It’s as restrictive as ever. This sort of platforming is tiresome, as the only challenge comes from the occasional timing obstacles. It’s not fun, just a chore you don’t mind until you’re going through the same area for the Nth time because you missed something the last times.

Action gameplay in Lords of Shadow 2 follows the same lines of its predecessor to the point that most attack animations Dracula uses look like they were lifted straight up without any modifications. So sure, the core fighting mechanics are pretty much the same. You have Direct Attack, which you’ll be using most of the time as it packs more punch than Area Attacks, which feels more or less useless in this game. There’s little reason to use Area Attacks, as they do not stagger the enemies nor they function as actually controlling the fight area.

In CLoS we had Light and Shadow magic for healing and heavy damage, and CLoS2 has a similar system with Void Sword and Chaos Claws. Void Sword is weakest and quick, but replenishes Health, Chaos Claws are slower and hit close, but cause the biggest damage, and Shadow whip is just somewhere between. In previous game you could mix and match between the weapons, but the CLoS2 limits you more this time.

Previously you could get Light and Shadow magic just fine, which allowed for a more free action. In CLoS2, you have a Concentration meter that fills as you successfully combo enemies. If you defeat them while the meter is full, the enemies will yield replenishing bits for both Void and Chaos. The meter of course empties straight away if you get hit. It tries to encourage the player to play well, but more often than not it can be completely ignored. That’s a problem that CLoS didn’t have.

If you choose to ignore the system and stick mostly with the whip and only use either Void or Chaos weapons when absolutely necessary, the system falls to shambles. Perhaps this is why Dracula can replenish health from enemies as a Finisher, so that players don’t need to rely too much on the Void Sword.

There’s parry system that’s pretty weakly implemented, and it’s something that you just need to use. It’s something that’s not really that intuitive, as the action is not really fast. It looks and should feel fast, but it’s walking instead of running. One example is how the enemies sign their Unblockable attacks with a red ring. First I immediately dashed from their way, only for the enemy to home in with their attack. It takes a solid two or three seconds for the actual attack to start, as if the game is saying HEY, I’M GOING TO DO A BIG ATTACK LOOK OUT and it’s extremely jarring. You don’t really control the fighting or dictate its pace, the game controls what you’re able to do and how.

Nevertheless, when things fall into place, the fighting is enjoyable and upgrading the skills is decent fun. Personally, it’s not about really learning the game’s system, but dumbing down reaction time and trying to give a damn about how it works. It’s not like in Metal Gear Rising or Bayonetta, where you can dictate the pace of the fight and need decent reactions to play well, even when the possibility is in there.

CloS2 still fucks things up. There are sequences that serve no other purpose than to put more length between the game’s segments. There are numerous forced stealth sequences, of which one actually makes sense in-universe early on, but when you’re forced to do a stealth sequence against Pan’s brother Agreus only to reach the area you fight him, you just have to groan and ask was that sequence necessary. These forced sequences are the weakest part of the game alongside the platforming, and most if not all of them should’ve been removed. They bog down the game’s pace and overall atmosphere. The aforementioned Agreus’ stealth section is not hard by any means, it’s just annoying as hell.

The music is… well, it fits. It’s very atmospheric, but not one tune gets stuck in your head. It’s in the exact same way as its predecessors. I’m not even sure if there’s a big difference between Past and Present maps’s music, it serves so well as BGM. Like with the first one, it’s nice to listen in-game, but it’s not something I’d buy a CD for.

Storywise, Lords of Shadow 2 is a mess. It relies Mirror of Fate, an in-between game, to set most things up with the titular mirror and characters. The game’s not necessary thing to play, as CLoS2 sums it all up. It’s your usual Castlevania bullshit really, nothing spectacular and serves as a basic excuse to whip some monsters and chew down necks. However, I did notice that the story forces itself too much on top of the gameplay at times, making it more or less a chore to sit through. There were few times I simply skipped a scene because I didn’t want to sit on my ass for five minutes to see Dracula discussing some shit. The goal was marked is marked on the minimap anyway, so it’s not like this game with adventure as its main part will let you get lost.

Outside these, there are some notable nitpicks to have. First thing is the stupid pseudo-fanserivce lines that Dracula makes against the Order soldiers. Y’know, Die monster and all that. Internet memes do not make good script. In addition, all the major enemies keep spouting their lines over and over and over, which ends up being annoying as hell. It would have done good to either have them yell basic attack yells instead of talking, have far more lines they say at scripted points or just put far more time between when they talk. In fighting games the same yells over and over doesn’t become irritating as the fights are less than one minute overall time, whereas in these games the scripted fights can last fifteen minutes or more, at worst.

The length of the game is about the same as its predecessor. It can be beaten in about week or so, less so if you skip all the scenes and know what you’re doing. Then the time falls sometime between a day and thre days. The major only major differences between the two are the changes in the combat mechanics and the adventure aspect with CLoS2. Because of both of these, this sequel feels less tight, and the design lacks same sort of directional polish that CloS had.

Do you see a problem in this review? It’s that it refers a lot back to the original game. It’s pretty much the same game in new pants.

Perhaps the game needs to be faulted in playing things too safe. CLoS shook things up, which made it one of the most selling Castlevania games and most of the fans absolutely hated it, but CLoS2 seems to have lost that. Whether or not Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is better game than its predecessor is mostly up to opinion. While I have always felt a slight yearning to return to the first Lords of Shadow just to complete it again, I don’t have the same feeling with this game. Lords of Shadow 2 is kinda there, wanting to be something but never really telling what or in what way. Much like a lot of games of its era, it’s not really all that great, but it’s not bad either. It’s a mediocre game that has Castlevania slapped unto it, but still being better 3D Castlevania than those without Lords of Shadow slapped to its name.

Do genres need to be absolutely accurate?

Adventure. That’s a term that encompasses a lot of ground. There are many forms of adventure, as many as there are people. Add action to it, and you have something that people want to hear, see and play.

As a genre, console action adventure games have always been about finding new ways to find your way around a vast map, spotting things you can’t just yet reach until you’ve done some more venturing and action. Without a doubt during that venturing you will face new spots that require you stray from your plan, because there may be something you want to check out or is required. It’s all part of the adventure.

Games like Contra, Mega Man or Castlevania are linear action games, there’s very little venturing done in them. Castlevania Lords of Shadow is in many ways just a direct 3D transition from the classic mould with little adventuring. Perhaps this linearity was that ultimately put people off. While one could argue that Mega Man Legends did the same, it is far more closer to Zelda’s Action RPG genre. The two are not interchangeable, but very close to each other to the extent people making assumptions that Zelda is an action adventure.

Action adventure as a term has been adapted to describe very different kind of games because people like to call their games as adventures. More often than not, the adventure part in this comes from the story they’ve written for the game, which of course is more or less incorrect and doubly so when it comes to console games. The PC adventure games have always been a genre that can easily be contrasted again console action adventures, where fighting is usually minimalistic or does not exist, but the emphasize is on scrounging the rooms and screens, solving puzzles and similar things that the genre is known for. If you’d add the action element there, you’d have a new kind of game, a game like The Legacy of the Wizard or Space Hunter.

The term Metroidvania has been coined by fans to describe two dimensional action adventure games, a term that needs to die out. It’s a term that describes nothing about the genre. In addition, this is largely used by the Western core gamers, who mostly have lost touch with the general public. Doomclone originally was used to describe games similar to Doom, but it soon became apparent that such naming is stupid and the term First Person Shooter, FPS for short, took its place. FPS is such a simple and effective name for a genre. It describes the very core of the gameplay idea, much like how survival horror does. What does a Metroidvania describe? Nothing. It’s a nonsense term from nonsense people.

Metroid was, and still is, one of the most influential action adventure games out there, but it wasn’t the only one developed at the time. While Space Hunter was released a year later, it was in development at the same time with Metroid, a reason why Metroid’s original title couldn’t be used. The original Mugen Senshi Valis was released in the same year as Metroid and while it was more linear than Metroid, it has an unmistakable adventure take on the stage build. Non-linearity is what separates action from action adventure at its core, and during the 80’s European platformers were known for their more non-linear approach than their Japanese and Western counterparts. While Metroid’s position as a game that made the genre a household name with the general public, the genre wasn’t born with it. When asked to describe what sort of game Metroid is, most people will drop the terms action and adventure in some form. Non-linear is another one, and while I personally would call them non-linear action adventure games, that is a bit mouthful to say, not to mention the amount of space it takes.

It’s rather amusing to note that Castlevania; Symphony of the Night was released in the US in 1997. The term Metroidvania was born only after this, and the first mentions of this term that I personally recall date to somewhere early 2000’s. For more than a decade the term action adventure had been used to describe a genre of certain kind of games this then new non-linear Castlevania games and Metroid belonged to. This is, in a way, a showcase of core gamers ignoring the history and rewriting it however they want. Remember how the PlayStation, Saturn and N64 era was called the Third Generation at one point? Both hardcore gamers and the gaming press acted like there existed no game industry before the NES. This is also reflected in people calling the late 90’s as the Golden Age of gaming, despite the term is already used for the era encompassing the from the late 1970’s after the first video game crash up until the second in 1983, when titles like Space Invaders and Pac-Man made immense impact not only on the gaming industry, but also on the culture at large. Atari became the biggest name in the home video game system market as well.

It may make me sound like an old grumpy guy when I’m saying that gamers need to stop for a moment and look at the past. Rewriting history with one’s own notions does not serve anybody. Just like in the sciences, historical accuracy is about speaking the true, not what we want to regard or find as true.

There has been little discussion how accurately video game genres should be noted. If we were to describe all genres as they are listed, then we’d have Shenmue games in the F.R.E.E. category and Mega Man Legends games belong in Free-Running RPG. These are of course nonsensical and should be largely ignored, much like the term Metroidvania should be. Genres in general encompass large scope of different kind of products, much like Horror movies have both comedies and exploitations under its banner, so does action adventure. Being unnecessarily nitpicky about how strictly we divide the genres will only lead to further division down the road, which will at some point end up in a game title becoming a genre. This has almost happened with Metroidvania, but it indeed already happened with Doomclone, from which we luckily got rid of.

Ultimately, genre is a descriptive way of categorising something, and as such we need to use descriptive names to tell customers what it is. To ignore this is nothing but stupidity.

Reconstructing history

This week has been a busy one, so this will most likely be the only update for the week, but perhaps that’s good. The last few days have been rather busy and awful overall, but then I just had to hear about yet another small, but camel’s back breaking, news about the Swedish national television and radio censoring the 1969 Pippi Longstocking television series. You may be asking what in the world would such a body of work have to censor, and the answer would be nothing, unless you’re uncultured.

In the original version Pippi speaks of his father as the negro king and plays Chinese by pulling her eyes back. There’s nothing wrong with these as they are, as the series is a window to its time. There is no hatred or malice behind these scenes, words or deeds. They simply are there and to extent one could argue that they are essential part in portraying the time. These two scenes have been more or less hacked now, as Pippi just speaks of his father as king and the whole playing Chinese scene is removed.

This isn’t just censorship for no good reason, this is also historical reconstruction in order to portray bodies of works in more political correct manner for the modern day. It would seem that the people spearheading this sort of thing think they’re driving understanding and tolerance, but this is essentially the very opposite of those. This is akin to hiding the black sheep from the flock under a sheet and acting like it doesn’t exist, which does not promote understanding or tolerance. It promotes censorship above all else.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn had the exact same thing done to them. All the instances of words injun and nigger were replaced with something less offensive. One needs to realize that both Lingdren and Twain use the terms as they were used in their time. It doesn’t take a genius how these elements can and should be explained to anyone. The people with power grossly underestimate children in this case, as time after time I’ve seen with my own eyes how simply explaining the differences in times and how things were is more than enough. Children do have understanding of passage of time, and under five years old don’t even recognize the terms properly. Even then the parents should do their damn jobs and raise the kids properly to realize this sort of things my themselves.

However, I’m afraid this is just another event in modern Sweden. The country has infamy regarding their immigration and how their own culture has changed. It’s no wonder the Swedish national television and radio personal would be afraid, because hurting some people’s feelings is far more horrible than staying true to the work and the time it was produced in. People should grow tougher skin and practice tolerance.

This isn’t even the first time Pippi Longstocking has seen issues with racial depiction. Pippi Longstocking theme part used to sell old curtains depicting her with her negro king father and few black kids waving leaves over her head. Rather than taking the curtain pattern with the understanding in which time the illustration was made, as well as noting that this would be very normal for a king and his family, a Swedish mother basically rioted how the curtain pattern depicted racist colonialism, where the children are Pippi’s slaves. Context check here; Pippi’s father, the Captain Ephraim Longstocking, is no colonist. He was lost at sea, found ashore in South Sea island Kurrekurredutt Isle, where he was made a fat white chief by the natives. The reason is never given, but seeing how Pippi is the world’s strongest girl and inherited her strength from the Captain, it’s safe to say that Ephraim did something remarkable enough to warrant his place. Of course, one could analyze this in many ways and I assume many people will start poking at the racist elements in there where there aren’t any. There’s a story where Pippi takes a travel to the Kurrekurredutt Isle with her friends, where she is admitted to be Princess Pippilotta, but not straight away. Her friends don’t really gain any position. With this context, the illustration becomes far less racist. One can argue, that despite the time and context, the illustration is still racist. I can’t fully agree with that notion, as there is no malice behind it. Changing Ephraim status from negro king to just king doesn’t change the fact that he is the chosen to be a king by the natives.

The outrage the Swedish mother had showed her own ignorance and intolerance. Because of her, the production of the curtains has ceased.

Hell, German theologian found Pippi Longstocking books racist. I’m not going to pull out the Nazi card here, but seeing how Tintin is called a Catholic hero but the Vatican, I see no basis to call Pippi anything but normal children’s book, that is a bit out of its time.

However, I do understand the reasons both sides had for pulling out these bits from Pippi’s history. Nevertheless, they’re driving forces are in wrong in both cases. All that said, Astrig Lidngren herself didn’t really oppose changing her works to fit the times, but seeing how many times Pippi has been refilmed and animated, there’s no reason to touch the past works anymore. If one doesn’t want the references for negro kings and Pippi playing Chinese, the more modern cartoons would fit the bill better.

Political correctness and overprotection has gone far too overboard within the last decade. It’s far too common to see people analysing events, scenes, objects and things. Often these things are driven by an agenda and profit, much like how the whole GamerGate has shown how certain sites and journalists are willing to use minorities in order to create clickbait articles and content berading matters. One example of this when Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s scene, where weak Dracula attacks a family to regain his strength, was judged as rape by usgamer. The accusation is still baseless and highly biased. First, vampires have always been depicted rather violent creatures without remorse, and secondly there’s no traces of rape. Just a fictional supernatural being sucking blood from his victims. Yes, there is a level of eroticism in there as with any neck licking stuff, but it’s far from being a sexual assault or trivializing it. It’s just how the writer wanted to take it,  because the topic would bring in clicks and revenue.Much like how the censorship with Pippi Longstocking, the scene was overly analysed with an intention to drive an agenda.

It’s not really enough people to grow thicker skin. Tolerance goes both ways, and if you’re being intolerant and unwilling to understand or even research behind why something is done or said they way they were, you’re doing the exact same thing you accuse opposition for doing. In equal world, the same requirements would apply to everybody in equal amounts. If you would demand me to understand your position, the same applies just as much to you. Censorship promotes the very opposition of this, and that is horrible. Tampering with history is very dangerous and often can end in disastrous results. When that censored and suppressed history gets out, and it will eventually get out, things will blow up. Gorbachev can testify on that.

 


This, racist? Nah, all I see is a mid-1900’s kid explaining Chinese people to her friends. It’s stereotypical for sure, but that’s all it is. Nothing more, nothing less

Review; Castlevania Lords of Shadow DLC packs

You might want to read the review of the main game before entering this one. All there said applies here.

The DLC packs come in two sets; Reverie and Resurrection. These two packs are pretty short and cost 800 MS Points, thou I have no idea or desire to check what the price is on PSN. The reason is quite simple; both of the DLC packs are pretty bad.
Let’s talk about Reverie first. Reverie consist mostly of re-used castle designs from the main game for battle areas, but then has few new areas with puzzles in it. Nothing more. No really, the first DLC is just there to further the plot and waste of money.
The second DLC is a series of timed platforming at its worst and two boss battles, that are meant to be hard, but are just frustrating because the boss is designed to take advantage of the controls’ shortcomings. The fight against the Forgotten One could’ve been a good optional high difficulty end boss, but it’s so counterintuitive that it hurts my head just thinking about it.

The two packs, in all essence, are waste of money and time. You can watch the story scenes from Youtube and receive better experience that way. All that the weaknesses are present in the DLC more than any of the strenghts. The DLC for CLoS is half-assed at best. At best they were like a bad ripoff of Crash Bandicoot, but that’s not saying much when the game’s called Castlevania.
The thing is, these packs are essential for continuity obsessive people; the DLC storyline sets between the final battle of the main game and the ending cinema after the credits.

Does the DLC packs ruin the game? No, but they do bring down the overall quality. After finishing them there’s no value in them, no replay value or similar. Personally, I feel that I could play CLoS through again in the upacoming season, but not the DLC. It would have been decent in price whether they had put the packs together, but 1400 MS Points for this carbage is way too much. No wonder they never released these packs in Japan.

Review: Castlevania Lords of Shadow

Casltevania Lords of Shadow (CLoS for short) is the latest instalment to the 25 year old horror action game series. CLoS didn’t really sell that well, but if sources are to be trusted, it sold enough to warrant a sequel. Now I’ll be blunt; reviewing this game will be a difficult task, as I do like the game, but there are things that make me uneasy because it bears the name Castlevania. Is it good? Yes. Is it bad? Not really. Is it Castlevania? Well, kinda, but that’s something we’ll have to dwell into deeper.

Lords of Shadow is a reboot to the series, thus newcomers do not have to know anything about the lore of Castlevania, a good thing since they began to shove something called “complex plot and characterization” into the series since Akumajou Dracula X; Chi no Ronde on the PC-Engine. It all started to go all bonks when its sequel, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released making the series basically abandon its roots and started what we call a Metroidvania or Castleroid, meaning that linear venturing forwards stage by stage was replaced by one large castle that interconnects everywhere to anywhere, but you can’t access all the places unless you have items/skills/magic/vehicles/something to get there. For example, you might need a double jump ability to reach high places.

From this…

… to this.

Back in the day this caused a small outcry in the people who disliked the change. After the change all 2D Castlevanias have followed the Metroidvania gameplay and abandoned the difficulty the series was known for. Symphony of the Night, at the time, was what we would call “babby’s first Castlevania” nowadays, and many series fans began with this game.
When Castlevania jumped into 3D with the Nintendo 64, it was an abomination. I won’t defend the games, as they’re the same game, but the latter one was a fixed version of the first one. When your game is released as unfinished software and you release another one while calling it a sort of “sequel,” it will never bode well. And no, you can’t do Street Fighter comparison as all previous Street Fighter games were complete products that weren’t web of software bugs with bad music, horrible controls and camera that wants you dead in every pixel of the screen. The PS2 games did the 3D a lot better, something that wasn’t a hard thing to do in Konami, but they still weren’t Castlevania games people wanted. See, in the Golden days of gaming Castlevania was known to be filled with gothic horrors with vibrant colours and awesome graphics with an intense difficulty and awesome gameplay. PS2 and the N64 games everything else than that. 2D Castlevanias on the handhelds on the other hand kept promise of the graphics side most of the time, but lacked previously mentioned difficulty. For better or worse, every 3D Castlevania got better than the last. It all came to a halt with Castlevania Judgement, a Castlevania Fighting game not too dissimilar to CAPCOM’s Power Stone. Unlike Power Stone, Judgement was a horrible, horrible game that should have not existed for any reason just because it had a terrible art direction.

Above:  Simon Belmont, a barbarian from the medieval times carrying the Vampire Killer whip. Now excuse me, I’m going to burn my eyes

You might ask what was wrong with Judgement other than art direction, plot, gameplay, platform, and graphics. The answer would be “It’s not Castlevania game.”

At this point Castlevania has seen numerous games on vast variety of platforms and few remakes. The first Castlevania has been remade at least four times now. Only games with demand are treated with such passion, and games that are detested are soon forgotten only to be remembered by some Internet video game critics. There are numerous exception of course, and remakes that treat their inspiration and origin in a horrible way, like the recent Yar’s Revenge. A question rises amidst all this; Where does Lords of Shadow fall into all of this?

CLoS does not just respect the roots it stemmed from, it embraces them. It takes what makes a Castlevania game, tempers with them and uses them in a different way. The same way Metroidvania is Castlevania game, but completely different, CLoS is a game that seems to be Castlevania but rather than “being Castlevania” it is made “of Castlevania.” The difference is subtle at first, until you realize how little time you spend inside Dracula’s castle, or in a castle at all. There is very little “castle” roaming in Lords of Shadow, or if you pardon the bad pun in Finnish, “Siellä linnoissa ei paljoa vaanita.” However, everything else is there; the gothic horrors, the vibrant graphics, the difficulty (especially with higher settings) and the great gameplay.

The art of whip

Gameplay is a point that many people have been barking at, saying that the game is unbalanced between the combat moves and the enemies. I see where their aiming at, as most enemies do not stagger enough when they are hit, making proper use of larger combos and moves difficult to use. When enemies do not stagger, they just deliver a hit and stop your attacking. However, they fail to realize that CLoS’ combat mechanics enforce the player to use all three states of the character; no magic to stack in magic energy, light magic to heal and to deliver Holy damage, and Dark magic to bring in the punishment. When using the Dark magic the enemies get staggered as the damage is multiplied by two, and to keep up the damage deliver one must switch off the magic to stack the energy. The use of Sub Weapons is also recommended, thou personally I forgot them at times. It would be a good idea to throw those Silver Daggers at Lycans. The combat shines in boss battles and one-to-one scenarios greatly, as you can use multiple strategies depending on your own skills and selection of moves. The first major boss battle against the Dark Lord of the Lycans was especially memorable due to the moves at my hand and the set where it was staged. I was invested in the fight, not because of the plot, but because I enjoyed the gameplay. Is the combat flawed despite my own enjoyment? Of course it is, no combat system is without flaws. One would indeed be the staggerless enemies, especially when mobs attack you. Areal attacks are a bit too weak, but they’re essential. Also, there’s dedicated evasion button, a thing that I had hard time to get used to, as most of the time evasion is made with →/← + Jump Button. Nothing major, but that’s one button left in a game that could’ve used a Sprint button. While there a lot of context sensitive button presses, why wasn’t side + jump used? Then again, sometimes it seems people are unable to press two buttons at the same time on a controller these days.

Never look down unless you have to

Platforming in Castlevania has been stable since the beginning. In CLoS this has changed a bit into more acrobatic wall-climbing and whip slinging. Some parts of the whip slinging reminds me of Super Castlevania IV, which only a good thing. More things should remind me of Super Castlevania IV. While the basic movement control doesn’t lend itself well to the platoforming, the acrobatic wall-climbing has it’s own control “set” if you will, where actions are made according to situation with the help of the whip at times. It bodes well, and I found myself wishing for more wall-climbing rather than platforming due to this. It’s nothing special, but it works and doesn’t really stop the game’s action, a thing most platforming segments in other games does due to horrible controls. It’s like natural evolution to 3D from Super Castlevania IV rather than from any other Castlevania game. It’s flawed more than the combat system, but I’m happy that this game doesn’t place enemies near pits or edges that would tip you over like in the old games, like Medusa Heads or Bats

Like a shadow

Castlevania’s music is always been superb, a fitting themes of catchy tunes played upon every stage. You might want to put on any version of Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, Theme of Simon or Praying Hands on Youtube while your at it. I’d recommend finding older versions of the Vampire Killer thou, as many modern composers can’t seem to use real instruments to express the song very well. Surprisingly, Castlevania Judgement has a pretty damn good version of it. That doesn’t make the game any better thou. Go on, start some music, I’m not going anywhere. In CLoS the music is very subdued, very melodic and in-the-background and at times I won’t notice it. I like when background music is there and I don’t notice it, but it has an effect. It gives me thrill without taking my attention from the fight at hand. This is completely different thing from previous Castlevanias, where the music always stood out and made you stop to listen to it. I have numerous hours in my Dawn of Sorrow because I stopped to listen the in-game music sometimes. The music’s good, there’s no doubt of it, but I wouldn’t buy the soundtrack, unlike in Castlevania Chronicle’s. There are nice touches here and there, for example Vampire Killer can be found inside a music box.
When walking towards the Bernhard family’s castle, the scenery, colours and the music make a perfect blend of atmosphere. It’s foretells about a castle of horrors and dangers. The same feeling overcame me when first time I stepped inside Dracula’s courtyard in the first Castlevania. This time however, it was far more immense feeling, more dense and drafting. The music crowned it, and I applaud the composer for choosing to make so subdued soundtrack over the catchy melodies of classic games.

It’s the art, not the graphics

The art direction is jut what Castlevania needs; murk gothic scenery. While I have enjoyed the kind of art Kojima Ayami has given to the series, I’ve always felt that pretty men do not belong in Castlevania. She did make Dracula into an attractive old gentlemen thou, and that’s respectable. The Lugosi look, while classical, slowly has becomes rather old and does not translate well into colour.

CLoS art direction takes cues from the game sprites of old and draws lot of inspiration from European architecture while keeping the strong fantasy vibes in there. Clichés in every regard of art is done well and they don’t bother. The sketch styled art within the artwork looks great something that could’ve been done in the past. Of course, it does have a modern twist in it which makes it rather ageless. Gabriel’s attire and overall design looks great; Hideo Kojima was right in wanting the character to look more heroic. Thou I like the idea of barbarian vampire slayer, a Brotherhood of knight serving God in vanquishing evil from the land doesn’t really feel like a place for a barbarian.
There’s very few points to say. The art direction, from the high castles and Frankestein’s mechanical spider to the village Wygol, looks fitting and smooth. Only here and there some designs might rise an eyebrow, like the jaw of the Ghouls, but MercurySteam showed here that they get what Castlevania should look like.

The story of beginning

The plot is what divided the Castlevania fandom, seeing this is a reboot to the series. Some hate it, some like it, and I just want to whip some evil ass. The plot is rather complex on its own; the lands have been shrouded in darkness as evil beings roam the lands and people are suffering. The Lords of the Shadow are exerting their might upon the people. Gabriel Belmont’s wife is murdered and he seeks rightful revenge against those who wronged her. He gains help in form of Zobek, the oldest member of their Brotherhood, with whom he plans a way to get rid of the Lords. Gabriel uses the Combat Cross, later nicknamed the Vampire Killer, against those who stand his way to reclaim their Holy power. There are many twists and surprises along the way, especially in the end where Gabriel SPOILER ALARM becomes Dracul after his quest.

Fanbase didn’t really like this take on Castlevania’s lore, and I understand why. Because of the game’s set, premise and plot the game can’t really be called Castlevania; Your not a vampire slayer against Dracula, Death isn’t your second-to-last boss and you’re not Simon Belmont. Gameplay wise plot is irrelevant and as such the game succeeds in being a great evil slaying action RPG in 3D. However, the fact still stays that there’s very little Castlevania there. Then again this shouldn’t matter when we’re discussing about a remake.
… or at all, as Symphony of the Night pretty much did the same thing and I can’t remember anybody complaining back then. Oh well, fanbases and their wishes.

Other points

Personally, I’d like to see a 2D Castlevania done with same values as CLoS. The demand is there, especially now that we have a reboot. The classic timeline is far too polluted by numerous anime clichés since Dracula X, and the new timeline most likely will be set in modern times if they’re going to make a direct sequel. Super Castlevania IV remake for the PSVita, anyone?
The thing is, the game could’ve sold more if it had been more aimed to the Symphony of the Night fans. I’ve heard that NES Castlevania players liked CLoS, whereas Metroidvania players disliked it. This is only hearsay thou. The real feelings are mixed all across the board.

The fact this that this game was turned into a Castlevania game in the middle of development and it shows. MercurySteam had to do Konami’s bidding and did it well in the allotted time and resources they had. The developers had worked on Severance: Blade of Darkness, and there’s some similarities here and there. Severance was also a pretty damn good game, a game worth checking out. It’s a rather unknown gem.

Indeed, the game has a feel that it isn’t really Castlevania, but beyond that it’s really a nice piece of software. People might call it a God of War clone, but that’s like calling a dog a clone of another dog when they both came from wolves. Technically I’ve have had nothing to complain about. There are bound to be a lot of bugs here and there, and I found few. There’s a level where Ghouls first time appear, and to stop their spawning you must make statues fall into their spawn hole with the help of Zobek. Once Zobek’s animation started behind another statue, a statue that needs to be moved beforehand, so he was pushing air. No matter, the statue I was pulling fell into the hole. The second glitch happened soon after. If you grab an enemy, Ghoul in this case, and if the enemy dies in your hands before the timing even appears, the camera won’t return to it’s normal state but will be kept zoomed in until you grab something again or jump to the Map Screen. These are few and did not take anything off from my enjoyment.

And…

As final words, I’ll say that the game is good. It’s nothing special, it’s not going rock your world. Unlike Super Castlevania IV. It’s pretty to look at, has subdued sound department and good combat, even if it is slightly flawed. It offers nice challenge when needed and delivers what it promises and nothing more. It’s not an underwhelming title, especially now that it’s in the sale prices. I got mine for 15€ and it’s a game I could’ve paid more when new. The game is rather short thou, lasting a weekend or so, but that’s normal for your standard 3D game.

Best way to judge the game would be to try the Demo and judge it yourself.
The game is Lords of Shadow, but is it a Castlevania? No, not really. In same manner the Dark Knight is a good movie, but a bad Batman movie this game is a good movie, but lackluster Castlevania game.

And this is for you weeabos.

Happy 25th Birthday Castlevania

Today is the 25th birthday of the Castlevania series. It all began when Konami released a game called Devil’s Castle Dracula, or Akumajou Dracula for the Famicom Disk System, which soon saw a port for the MSX2. Later the game was ported to the NES in the west. Castlevania is one of the oldest game series still alive and belongs among the classic series like Mario, Mega Man and Ys. Those who had NES most likely played a Castlevania game at some point, thou exceptions are not uncommon. The series was known for it’s difficulty and gothic themes, until it got a complete facelift in 90’s with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the first Metroidvania / Castleroid. Since then the games have been trying to find their place in the modern world of games with varying success.

Whether or not the future of Castlevania will bring on a new 2D or 3D adventure, the only thing we can be sure of is that the future is uncertain. The latest Castlevania game wasn’t the success Konami had hoped for, and the lack of any kind of celebration from Konhami’s part only makes the doubts grow even more.
Castlevania isn’t an outdated series, it is a series that’s been treated badly. While we have a divided fandom between the classic style, the new style and the 3D fans, we could use full blown back-to-the-basics game with the same development budget as the latest 3D Castlevania had.