although i’m still not a big fan of it (yet?), i’ve been trying to work my way through the castlevania series. next up for me was castlevania: harmony of dissonance on GBA. it seems that the game is the least liked of the three castlevania games on GBA, and i agree with the general consensus that the game, although it looks more polished (albeit a bit garish) than circle of the moon, is too easy and that the dual-castle mechanic isn’t that interesting. the game was fairly mindless and rote for me and ended up requiring a ton of backtracking, although i got to like it more by the end. there are some nice details in the enemy design that i don’t recall seeing in the other titles (like the skeletons that jump out of the mirrors and the special events you trigger by destroying guardian armors in often amusingly gruesome ways), and the weapon combination system helps make things more interesting (although i mostly stuck to the holy book shield variations). the bosses tended to feel very same-y, though, partly due to all appearing in similarly shaped rooms, long with a low ceiling and two ledges. overall, i would rank this below circle of the moon, which although much more frustrating was also more difficult and thus less mindless. neither of them ended up being particular favorites of mine, although it looks like the next entry, aria of sorrow, features a more-memorable central game mechanic.
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even though i’d just finished castlevania: SOTN i was interested in what the post SOTN castlevania games were like so i tried out its immediate successor circle of the moon. the game is the first of three castlevania games on the GBA, and was one of the few that SOTN producer koji igarashi was not involved with.
having only played SOTN of the “modern” castlevania games i don’t have the larger context, but the game does have noticeably less detail and visual polish than SOTN, even taking into account the limitation of the platform. the game is also much more difficult, which was both refreshing and frustrating. since the gameplay itself is pretty much identical to SOTN, the increased difficulty made combat more interesting in general. there’s a ton of reused palette-swapped sprites, but as with TWEWY in general their behaviors make them distinct and worthwhile. the game’s pacing is really unrefined, though, and there’s a ton of backtracking and save points never seem to be where you need them to be. the middle section was also extremely frustrating and i only found out after i’d beaten the game that this was because i had done one section out of order (the poisonous sewers; apparently i’m not the only one who’s made this mistake). also, the magic system, in which you combine two cards, feels unique but underutilized, and it really, really bugs me that you can only obtain certain cards in a completely obscure way (e.g. fighting an enemy who only appears in one location and only has a small chance of dropping the card).
all in all, even though there was a lot i disliked about the game, there wasn’t a lot that i absolutely hated. as a continuation of the castlevania series there was just enough that was new to keep me interested, and the new modes that are unlocked on subsequent playthroughs look interesting. subsequent entries will definitely have to shake things up significantly more to draw me in, though. harmony of dissonance already feels like a huge snoozefest from the first half hour i’ve played of it, but since i’ve finished the metroid series i’ll probably end up working my way through more of the castlevania series before too long.
circle these castlevania: circle of the moon links:
- nice section on the game at castlevaniadungeon.net. includes a handy chart of all the card combinations and a bestiary with sprites of all the enemies and their item drops.
- strategywiki.org also has a nice entry for the game, including a walkthrough and a guide to the bosses
- PDF of instruction manual at replacementdocs.com
- reviews at vgmuseum.com and videogamecritic.net
- the game has a score of 91 at metacritic (???)
- someone’s advice on what level you should be at to beat the bosses (although i personally was well under those since i didn’t level grind at all)
the much-lauded castlevania: symphony of the night has long been on my list of games to finish partly because it’s so iconic and partly because i want to check out the rest of the series which has been a major presence on nintendo platforms. it’s kind of hard to believe that the last castlevania game i finished was the first N64 release (which i enjoyed) more than five years ago, but somehow the gothic theme of the series just doesn’t really appeal to me that much. i had gotten a fair amount of the way through SOTN years ago but had gotten stuck at the part with the wooden bridge in the caves, but this time with a little help from gamefaqs after a long hiatus i finally barreled my way through to the end.
i can see why the game has been well regarded. there’s a lot of polish (great enemy design; the overall aesthetic reminded me of classic sega games), and the coupling of the traditional action-oriented castlevania gameplay with the exploration of the metroid series is fairly successful (although as a long-time metroid fan the gameplay can’t help but pale in comparison). the RPG elements definitely help with the pacing. the upgrades include some pretty standard ones (e.g. one opens all the blue doors), but there are also some more-unique ones involving alucard’s three transformations. the other unique addition was the introduction of “familiars” who follow you around and generally help fight enemies and who also level up and gain new powers (although their development is much slower than yours). although there’s a lot of content overall, much of it falls into the “so useless you’ll never even bother with them”, such as the bevy of single-use items, spells that you can execute with complicated button sequences, and a bestiary that tracks the enemies’ item drops that you’ve encountered that could be a major time suck if you tried to complete it. i appreciated the little details that were put into the game, such as your bat familiar being confused when you change from a bat back into a human, and so i suppose you could think of all that “useless” content as extra details that help flesh out the game’s world.
the thing that made the game really worthwhile to me, though, was the huge surprise halfway through that by now probably everyone knows about but must have been mind-blowing at the time. like final fantasy 6 it comes just when you think you’re finishing up the game, and also like that game it still feels fresh today. the second half, again as with FF6, doesn’t completely fulfill the potential of the initial reveal, but it still made the game a unique and memorable experience for me.
in terms of putting the game into its historical context, jeremy parish’s write-up on gamespite was the most informative. he presents it as a game intended to be a swan song to the series, a 2-D game during a time when 2-D was shunned in favor of the new chunky, polygonal 3-D games. he writes that the creators “were crafting a game for love, not churning out an assembly-line product” and says:
- That’s where historians get it wrong. These days, Symphony is seen as the first modern Castlevania, the moment where the franchise broke loose of its legacy tethers. … No, Symphony simply embraces some of Castlevania’s less familiar traditions, highlighting the series’ underlying concepts — and it does so strictly for the sake of creating the ultimate Castlevania game, the culmination of everything the games to that point had embodied.
In short, Symphony of the Night is a tour-de-force: the summation of a classic franchise, crammed with self-referential fan service yet bursting with new ideas. It strikes a perfect balance between old and new, faithful to the series’ essence while unafraid to forge ahead.
i definitely wouldn’t rank this among my favorite games of all time since the core gameplay is so familiar, but the game is significant as it marked a new direction for the castlevania series. the only problem there, though, is that it seems all the subsequent games of the series have strayed minimally from the formula of SOTN. i’ll have to see for myself if that’s the case since you could say that about pretty much all series, but i’m not too optimistic since parish says, “the series has limped along for more than a decade since Symphony’s arrival. … Igarashi managed to wrangle Symphony into a template, a formula, but the original game’s greatest success was that it so boldy defied expectation, that it so elegantly exceeded preconception.” stay tuned …
the sun rises over these castlevania: symphony of the night links:
- there’s certainly no shortage of links to info on SOTN. the section at vgmuseum.com and the entry at castlevania.wikia.com are a good starting point
- FAQ at gamefaqs and walkthrough at shrines.rpgclassics.com
- PDF of instruction manual at replacementdocs.com
- wallpapers at castlevaniacrypt.com
i’ve still been listening to video game soundtracks, but i haven’t really been posting reviews since there’s not a whole lot say other than “i liked it” or “i didn’t like it”. but since i’m in the middle of a lot of games w/ none quite finished i thought i might as well post some comments on one of the more memorable ones. castlevania 64, with a soundtrack by masahiko kimura, motoaki furukawa, and mariko egawa, is a generally underrated game which i played through last year. in the game’s opening, which immediately sets the tone of the rest of the game’s soundtrack, we see the young boy malus play a haunting solo violin line which is then accompanied by an habanera (i.e. tango-esque) rhythm in the lower strings. the designers made the odd decision to keep the first stage devoid of music, but after that the soundtrack in general is a great mix of very classically-influenced music, dramatic and heavy on the strings, oftentimes driven by prominent percussion parts which, although anachronistic, work extremely well. there are a fair number of “mood” pieces with much sparser arrangements, but they’re so effectively done with interesting instrumentation that they’re never boring. there’s also a refreshing lack of gothic organ music for the most part. given the limitations of the n64 audio, the CV64 team did a fantastic job of creating an ideal accompaniment to the company’s first foray into three dimensions, and it’s one of the best on the system or of the series i’ve heard thus far. so if you need another reason to check out the game, there you go.
i finished castlevania 64 a couple of weeks ago but am just now getting around to collecting my thoughts (and links!). i’m quite familiar with the original NES castlevania, so i was interested in playing the 3D version despite reading people’s complaints about it. the game does have its faults, but i actually ended up rather liking it, definitely enough to play through as carrie and pick up the “sequel”, legacy of darkness (eventually).
most people will probably mostly agree with the reviews posted at vgmuseum.com and ign.com. i appreciated the storyline, such as it was, but my biggest complaint is that the gameplay gets a bit too repetitive. it may just be me, but endlessly jumping over pits and whipping medusa heads and candles gets old. in the center of the game are a villa and a castle that you get to explore which make the game much more interesting.
one thing that people consistenly complain about is the game’s camera. i’d recently read this feature at 1up.com about the differences between japanese and western approaches to game design, and so i was much more accepting about it. if you keep the mindset that the fixed camera is part of the challenge of the game, then you shouldn’t be too disappointed. it’s not too problematic anyway, and at times it even makes the game more effective. for example, at one point you’re being chased around by a baddie with a chainsaw, and if you had complete camera control you could always just turn around and see exactly where he was, which would be a much different experience than never quite knowing how far behind you he is.
not much more to say. i’d previously said that it was interesting how franchises reuse the same elements over and over (enemies, weapons, etc.), but in this case i found the reuse to be a bit stale; not quite sure why that was. anyway, i’ll have to see how the next castlevania game i play fares.
- vgmuseum.com: best cv64 site, with scans of the instruction book, all the dialogue transcribed, screenshots of all four endings, and more.
- nice guide from ign.com
- castlevania.classicgaming.gamespy.com also has some good info, including concept artwork and a comprehensive timeline
- about.com has some good bios on carrie and reinhardt.