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Locke reviews some Castlevania games

Okay, so I wanted to do something special for October. I wanted to do a game review to fit the theme of the month. I was originally going to review a horror game, but that didn't seem anything particular because I already did a review for a horror game outside of October (My Alan Wake review) so I decided instead to talk about the series that defined monsters in video games.

That series is none other than Castlevania.

Castlevania is certainly an interesting series. Let us not forget that no other game series has made such an impact in the use of popular European myths and legends, novel monsters, and even some film horrors in a video game setting. And what's a better series for the month of monsters than the game with all the classics in it?

Now, I'm not going to review the entire Castlevania series, because there's like, a million Castlevania games. These'll just be the more well known ones. Or ones I've played. I'm going to be talking about these games in terms of difficulty, the monsters, the bosses, and the presentation of Dracula himself.

And where better to start than the original game:

Castlevania:

This game came out before I was born, so I didn't get to see the cultural impact it had. But I certainly heard about it.

This is one of the games that cemented the growing popularity in side scrollers, alongside Mario and Mega Man, only whereas those games were bright, colorful, and child friendly, Castlevania was filled to the brim with shit your pants scary monsters.

The idea of the game was that you played as a vampire slayer named Simon Belmont, and fought your way through classic monsters from media such as skeletons, suits of armor, and even some more famous creatures, like Death and even the Frankenstein Monster. And of course, the defining villain of the series, Dracula.

It seems weird to think about it these days, but I heard from friends of mine growing up that people had gotten nightmares from this game. Making it the first horror game I ever heard of. The reason was because many people were actually scared of the monsters depicted in this game, and to be forced into a situation where you must fight the object of terror really struck some people.

But that's not the only reason this game is famous amongst gamers. There's two other things. Rock solid platforming that holds up even today and the fact that it's HARD!

Seriously! This game is brutal!

Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. A famous example used by many reviewers, but it gets the point across. In one hallway in the game, you encounter an animated suit of armor. Seems pretty easy, just whip him until he dies. But when you approach him, suddenly floating heads start hovering towards you, in an alternating wave pattern, two at a time. Meanwhile, the suit of armor is throwing axes at you! So that three things in three different paths that you have to dodge simultaneously, while attacking the knight, who takes a lot of hits to kill.

In a boss battle, you have to fight the Frankenstein Creature. Sound simple enough, he's a big target, slow, doesn't have anything long ranged to hit you wit-Woo, hunchback jumping all over you, getting in your face, throwing balls at you!

Now you've got to fight the Frankenstein monster while avoiding this annoying little bouncing gremlin with a erratic attack pattern that's throwing shit at you at the same time it's trying to jump on you. Oh, and you can't kill the Hunchback. You can only kill the Monster.

This game is also infamous for having enemies specifically placed to knock you into pitfalls if you're not prepared for them.

And the only way you can heal in this game? You fling your whips at the wall and try to break them open to get porkchops, or chicken, or whatever the hell it is hidden in the stonework. Now, aside from the question of how porkchops got in the walls...HOW THE FUCK WOULD YOU THINK TO WHIP THE GODDAMN WALLS FOR HEALING ITEMS?!

So yeah. This game doesn't mess around. It'll put your reflexes to the test.

As for the Dracula fight himself? Castlevania had another famous moment in it's final boss. See, back in the 80's, it was very uncommon to think of a game's final boss having more than one form. What you see is what you get. They were usually brief, but difficult fights, and they weren't really treated as much more than just another boss at the end of the game.

Castlevania was one of the first games to change this. After defeating Dracula in a fairly simple battle, dodging his attacks and predicting when he'd reappear on the screen, Dracula's head is knocked off in the battle. This was meant to fool you into thinking he was dead and the game was now over. Immediately after, however, he turns into a monster, and a real final boss battle starts. This was surprising, because of not only what I mentioned in the above paragraph, but also because Dracula was never shown to have this ability. So players had no reason to expect this was going to happen. And many an unaware gamer fell victim to this psycheout.

One thing that kind of bothers me about the portrayal of Dracula in this game is that, on the Boxart, he's clearly drawn to resemble the famous Dracula actor Bela Lugosi. But the Dracula in the game looks more like the Christopher Lee Dracula. I don't know, I always found it odd.

Castlevania isn't much to talk about these days, but it's a good game, and a great start to a spectacular series. Unlike this next game...

Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest:

Whereas the first game is famous of it's creative idea and intense difficulty, its sequel is famous for just being annoying.

Okay, so this game has quite a reputation to it. Fans are quite divided over it. There are things that make it superior to the original, and things that made it a laughing stock of the series. You either like this game, or you pretend it doesn't exist.

In some ways, it is superior. It has much better graphics, more varieties in monsters, and better music. Also, whereas the original was a mostly linear platformer, Simon's Quest is a nonlinear sidescroller RPG, which the series would later adopt as their standard of gameplay...You know...when they actually figured out how to do it right. There was a few flaws that made this a problem in this game.

Okay. let's address the nagging issue here. So everyone seems to be aware of the infamous "WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE" textbox that pops up in this game, pausing gameplay so that the game can transition from day to night. Now, the day and night transitions themselves are heralded as an impressive feat for this game, as that was an idea that was often avoided for being difficult to employ in the game, and wouldn't really see much use as a gameplay mechanic until Ocarina of Time and other 3D games showed that it could be used well.

The problem is this fucking text box appears EVERY TIME the game transitions from day to night, and it is also accompanied by the lesser known night to day transition box. (I don't remember the quote, I think it's like "The morning sun has vanquished the something or other...") What's annoying with this is these text boxes can't be skipped, and it takes 8 seconds before they go away. So that's constantly having the game stop for 8 seconds while the game transitions each time.

Now that alone wouldn't make for a bad game, except that Castlevania 2 has one other thing. It's fucking cheap! This game's biggest problem is it's unbelievably unclear what you're supposed to be doing. You're dropped into this massive world without a single clue to where you're supposed to be going, and your only hint to progress is asking the villagers in a nearby town for clues. This wouldn't be terrible, except the game executed this in an unreasonably confusing way.

See, the problem with the villagers' hints? They're insanely cryptic. Everything they say is a fucking riddle. There's no way to verify their tips, no translations, and some of these assholes even lie to you, which makes the already difficult hints even more unreliable.

And this doesn't help with the fact that the puzzles they're giving tips for are impossible to figure out on your own. Anyone who watches the Angry Video Game Nerd? You know one particularly BAD example of this.

To anyone who isn't aware what I mean? There's one level that isn't available on the main map. But the game doesn't tell you how to get there. The only hint is that you have to "Bang your head" on this rock wall. However, what they actually mean is Simon has to kneel before a wall at one section of the map. Simple enough? Well, it's even worse. See, the game doesn't clue you in on the fact that you're supposed to have a red gem equipped, and only then are you supposed to kneel. So you equip the gem, kneel, and...nothing happens.

Turns out the game also doesn't mention you're supposed to wait 10 seconds, and then a tornado will come and take you to the next level. That's an awful long time to just wait for something to happen, and most gamers will assume that they're still doing something wrong, because the process didn't immediately yeild results.

Now, this is a little less annoying these days because we have GameFAQs now, and Let's Plays and all that. Finding the answers to these questions is as simple as getting online and finding the answer there.

But back then? When this game came out? No such luck, soldier. You had to figure it out yourself, or run to the nearest store, find a Nintendo Power with Simon Belmont on the cover, purchase it for $5, and take it home, and read through it for a guide on how to get through this game.

This was very common in the 80's and 90's. Games were becoming increasingly difficult to figure out on one's own, oddly timed with the invention of the strategy guide and gaming tip magazines that you had to pay for. What an odd coincidence.

Now let's talk about the dungeons. Yes, on top of being an RPG, Castlevania 2 is a Dungeon crawler, much like the Legend of Zelda. You trapse through dungeons to find pieces of Dracula's corpse so that Simon can destroy it and remove the curse on himself that Dracula placed on him at the end of the first game. (End exposition dump)

Okay, so these are pretty decent dungeons, but there's two problems. Problem number 1, fake floor panels. There's several fake sections of floor during the platforming sections that, should Simon walk over them, will drop him right through the floor. Often also right into a deathtrap. The only way to detect these fake floors is to bring holy water in with you, and constantly throw it in front of yourself. If the holy water goes through the floor, fake floor panel. Jump over it.

Another problem with these dungeons? There isn't always a boss at the end. Yeah, that's right. The piece of Dracula at the end of the dungeon is completely unprotected. No boss fight or anything. This leads to a disappointing conclusion on some of the dungeons.

And when there IS a boss fight? It's usually pretty underwhelming. Some of them are unbelievably easy for Castlevania standards. How easy?

There's one boss in this game you can beat by WALKING RIGHT PAST HIM! The door on the other side of the room isn't locked. You can exit the boss room at any time, and never have any need to fight this particular boss.

And then there's the piece of Dracula. Hope you remembered to bring that stake the game never tells you you need to use on these things? You didn't? Well then...Go back and get it from the location the game never thinks to tell you about.

See? The game feels like it needs to drop a text box every time it goes from night to day, and vice versa, but doesn't think filling you in on important things is maybe a good idea.

So all and all, Castlevania 2 is just an example of really poor game design decisions.

Alright, so is Dracula at least well done in this game? Oh god, no. First off, did the game designers forget that Dracula is a Vampire? Because he's a reaper in this game, complete with attacking Simon with a scythe. Even worse is this is the only time in Castlevania (And for that matter, everything in general) that Dracula is not a vampire.

If you wanted a Reaper boss, guys, you do remember that Death is a servant of Dracula, right?

Also, his neat trick from the first game, which would become a defining trait of his character, is not reused in this game. Dracula only has one form. This stupid reaper form.

On top of that, Dracula is laughably easy. Just start spamming fire on him from the start and he won't even be able to move. Once you start this strategy, he's screwed.

Okay, now there's one more thing this game has over the original. Multiple endings. Depending on how fast you get through the game, you'll get one of three endings.

Good Ending: Simon defeats Dracula and removes his curse. Simon gets to live, but Dracula is revealed to not actually be dead. This is considered the canon ending, as Dracula does indeed appear in games set after this game.

Normal Ending: Dracula is defeated, but Simon dies from the curse. Now, this may just be me, but this sounds like it should be the worst possible scenario. The hero died, and it's also revealed Dracula didn't die. Without Simon, the world is in desperate need of a hero to defeat Dracula.

Bad Ending: Both Simon and Dracula die. The hero is lost, but Dracula will never appear again. Despite the loss of the hero, this sounds like it'd be the best possible scenario. Because now the Lord of Darkness will never be a threat ever again. Wouldn't that be a good thing?

So we've got a Good ending that ends on the note that Simon lives, but Dracula is still around, a normal ending that's the worst possible scenario, Dracula isn't dead and now there's no one to kill him, and a bad ending with the best outcome, where Simon meets a bittersweet fate, but manages to stop Dracula for good.

Way to screw that up too, guys.

This game is a mess. Granted, there's some fan made rom hacks that fix a few problems, like making the day and night transitions go by lightning quick, decoding what the villagers say to make hints much more clear, and offering more useful tips, but I've played those, and they don't really do much to save what is still a really unbelievably bad entry in the series. We'd have to wait one more game before Castlevania got a proper sequel...And that sequel, ironically was a prequel. So my statement just now made no sense.

Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse:

Super Castlevania 4:

With the coming of the SNES marking the official jump into the superior 16-bit technology, Castlevania had to bring it's A-game to show that it could advance into the next level of gaming. And boy, did it ever.

Super Castlevania 4 was a reimagining of the original game. Basically the developers' vision of what the games were now capable of being, by making a 16 bit superior version. Once again, you were Simon Belmont climbing to the top of Dracula's castle, only now, there were a few changes.

The levels were mostly redesigned, given new themes and backdrops. Simon had an altered appearence, looking more like his concept design than the generic red tuniced hero from the first few games, and there were even new bosses, and different interpretations on old ones as well. The music was upgraded, new tracks were added, there was new enemies, the whip could now be used in any direction, and even flailed around if you felt like it. The game was longer, there was new challenges, new areas to explore.

All in all, this was a superior rendition to what people already considered a perfect game. And it's not often you will see people acknowledge a remake as superior to the original. But this game is considered to be perfect in the fanbase's eyes.

And for the most part, it is superior...In other areas, not so much.

Calm down, fanboy, let me explain.

There is one issue I didn't really notice until I saw Egoraptor rant about how useless the sub-weapons in this game are. Having played Castlevania yesterday, and this game today, yeah, I see what Arin was getting at.

See, the thing about Castlevania, the original, is that subweapons were superior to the whip. You could only swing it right in front of you, and it's range was a joke. You would need things like knives to increase your attack range, and holy water and axes to be able to attack enemies above you. The whip was almost useless on a lot of enemies, requiring the use of other items to work around it's limited capabilities as a weapon.

In Castlevania 4, the whip is overpowered as fuck! You can swing it in any direction, it's over a fourth the length of the screen, most enemies die in one hit from the thing, and most bosses can be defeated by just wailing on them with the thing. Which is sad, because it's not like the subweapons don't hold their original purposes in the game, it's just that there's not a single use for them that the whip doesn't serve just as equal as purpose.

You didn't need to holy water to leave a lingering area of damage on enemies because you can whip repeatedly at an incredible rate now, and the whip stuns enemies. You don't need the throwing axe's arcing attack because you can now whip diagonally, and you don't need the knife's throwing range because the whip is incredibly long in this game.

I was almost to Dracula before I realized I hadn't used a sub weapon once.

Oh, and speaking of Dracula...While I do like the fact that his fight is a very similar, but updated version of his original battle, remember how in the first game, I said that Dracula turns into a demon in the final boss? Yeah, he doesn't do that in this version. They remade the game, but removed Dracula's second boss form.

I honestly thought this was an error on my part. Like, maybe I missed something and I didn't get the true ending. But no. I looked up boss fights on Youtube, I looked at the Dracula page on the Castlevania wiki, I even looked at his sprite sheet for this game...he only has one form in this game.

What the fuck? That's stupid. Why would you remake the Dracula fight, making it reminiscent of the original battle...and REMOVE an entire phase of the fight?

Now, does that make the Dracula fight in this game bad? No. It's still a challenging fight, it's just...disappointing. I mean, he's done that change thing in Castlevania 1, he did it in 3 TWICE. But why, in a remake, does he not do it? This makes absolutely no sense.

I dunno. It's just that at this point, you'd come to expect that Dracula would transform, so when he doesn't, it's a little underwhelming.

Now, do I hate this game? Nope. Enjoyed it more than the original, to be honest. But am I going to throw on my rose tinted glasses and say this game is the flawless entry of the Castlevania series? Nope. It's an amazing game, and I recommend you play it. But there are a few areas where it does sort of come off clumsy, while trying to emulate the original game, that simply can't be ignored. I hope you pick it up and enjoy it as I sure did. Now...onto the next game.

Actually, wait a second, if this game is a remake, why is it called Super Castlevania 4? Wouldn't the appropriate name be just Super Castlevania? Since it's the original Castlevania updated for the SNES?

Dracula X:

Say hello to the first Castlevania I've officially ragequit on.

So Dracula X is the second Castlevania game to come out on the SNES. While being created years after Castlevania 4, surprisingly, I thought this game was a little underwhelming in comparison.

First of all, while I do like the graphics for this game...Something seems odd about the style. The game looks a little too vibrant. Like, there's too much use of brighter colors in the backdrop, and it makes the game look almost cartoonish to me.

It reminds me of the Disney SNES games...I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing.

One of the first things I noticed in this game is that, despite the generally favorable reception of the whip mechanics in 4, Dracula X completely abandons it. returning to the original mechanic where it can only attack enemies directly in front of you. This is a rather unusual decision, as I've never seen a series willingly abandon an improvement on something. Maybe it was because the whip in 4 made the game a little bit too easy. Remember what I said about the whip defeating the purpose of the sub-weapons?

Well, in this game, it's back to relying on those, because the whip is no longer your perfect weapon.

Still, I found it rather odd that they went this direction. They could have just held back on the whip, make it shorter, or at least remove the ability to whip diagonally or flail it around, but to completely scrap the mechanics of 4? Quite odd.

Okay, so what's great about this game? Well for one, the sprites on the characters look phenominally better than in 4, with monsters looking far more menacing than ever, I also like the background effects, like how the first level has a city on fire and the background waves around like you're looking at the distortion from the heat. You know how that happens when you stare directly above a fire? That was a nice touch.

But like I said, something just doesn't look right with the backgrounds. Maybe they're just too bright, or maybe a little more shading should have been applied, I don't know.

There's not really much to talk about this game. Unlike how this review blog's going so far, I have yet to beat this one. I honestly had to look up a final boss video so I could talk about Dracula this time.

Now you may be wondering why I quit this game without finishing it? Well, while the game looks nice, I found this game to just be boring. The bosses came off as more frustrating than challenging, especially a Cerberus that has this annoying tendency to leap off screen where you can't attack it, and it just didn't do enough to distinguish itself from the NES games. Which made it feel slightly outdated.

There's also enemies that the game enjoys cheapshotting with you. Take for example a point in the games where Richter has to run across a collapsing bridge. This is pretty hard on it's own because there's little margin for error in your run. But then the game starts throwing enemies in your way that you have to time very precise jumps to get over. You have no time to plan your jump or wait for them to get out of the way, and you can't attack them because Richter stops moving when he uses his whip. So you have to just keep moving. And if you get hit by enemies, you get knocked back, possibly into the section that's collapsing or even into the abyss. This gave me many deaths.

Now of course, is Dracula at least okay? Well, I never actually got to him, so I can't really talk about him. Here's a youtube video to show you what he's like. I might as well show it, because I had to look it up myself.

Although kudos for the second form reuse like in the first and third games. Although if I must make a comment on this fight, it is a little underwhelming that he's pretty much just an exact copy of the Castlevania 1 Dracula fight, with the only difference being that the floor has holes in it now.

Also, little off topic, but this is the fifth game I've played in this series, and I've noticed Dracula's appearence keeps changing. Come on guys, we're quite a ways into this series now, pick a freakin' design for your villain!

So all in all, this game...it's not bad, but...it's not a really good successor to 4. Maybe if this game came out first, and then 4 was released, it'd be a different story. But for now, it seems a little dull and the only interesting mechanics came from another game anyway.

I heard there IS a better version of this game called Rondo of Blood, and that it's far superior to Dracula X in almost every area, but apparently that's a PC game only released in Japan, so I'm having a little difficulty getting a copy. If worst comes to worst, I might get a rom, but I'd rather not stoop to that level immediately.

Now what game to review....

Castlevania Legends:

Not even getting close to running out of Castlevania games to run into, I decided to try some of the handheld games first. This one in particular struck me because of a single thing. The hero being a female Belmont.

To my knowledge, Castlevania has only had one other female protagonist, and even then, she wasn't a Belmont. So this was an interesting area to explore for me.

Well, this game is kind of difficult to judge. It's a gameboy title, so pretty much all my areas of criticism are nulled by the limited abilities of the Gameboy. The thing is the most graphically incapable machine of the 90's, only able to render games in black and grey pixels.

As far as gameplay, the gameboy wasn't that much better off than the NES. IT was a little better. We got games like Pokemon and Link's awakening, which I'm sure the NES probably wouldn't have been able to conjure. But it's just not an easy machine to talk about.

But what the hell? I'm up for a challenge. So let's talk about it a little.

Well, to be clear, having the protagonist be a female was a pretty interesting change. I believe this is only done one other time in Castlevania history. Sure, there's certainly no shortage of female characters in the series, but a female getting her own game? That's not very common. It's probably the reason I picked this game over the other two Gameboy titles.

Probably the other thing that lured me in is the fact that Konami officially disowned this game, calling it an embarassment to the series. They wrote the game out of the canon and consider it the one they don't speak about.

Wait...Simon's Quest, the most hated Castlevania game of all time, exists, and THIS is the one they disowned? Oh, this, I have to fucking see.

Okay, so I started the game up. Looks okay. Graphics are good for game boy, there's the classic Castlevania music, Bloody Tears, playing the background, and the game plays like a Castlevania game. Side scroller. You got the whip. I don't see what's wrong with this game so far.

Alright, so I go through the first level, and I notice the first glaring issue. One, the floor collapses at set points, forcing you to fight a ridiculous amount of enemies that constantly respawn. First off, these sections go on far too long. Second, an enemy almost always spawns right where you're standing. Okay, this is going to get irritating fast, so I need a little help.

  • 1 beer count.

Alright, so I move on through the level, and start to notice another flaw...This rendition of Bloody Tears gets annoying. FAST. It's really kind of sucking me out of the fun. And no, it's not because of the Game Boy's limited sound capabilities, I've heard some pretty enjoyable music pieces come out of the gameboy. IT's just this song loops so fucking much, and it just isn't pleasant to listen too. This doesn't even sound like proper 8-bit music.  And they messed up the song, too! This only sounds like Bloody Tears for like, 6 seconds!

  • Two beers count.

These levels drag on too long. In any other Castlevania, I'd have been to the boss by now! And why does the "enemy killed" sound sound exactly like the gunshot from Duck Hunt?

  • 2 and a half beers count.

Okay, so I finally get to the boss of this level, and it's friggin' batman. No seriously...I know it's supposed to be a demon, or gargoyle, or whatever, but the sprite looks like Batman. One side, Dracula! Bruce Wayne wants to kick some Belmont ass!

Okay, first off, this fucker is ridiculous. For one thing, his attack pattern is pathetic. He has two attacks. Slide across the screen to slam into you, or homing dive into you. The first attack is piss easy to avoid, but the second one is absolute bullshit. You're given almost no time to get out of the way, and his hitbox is ridiculous. His sprite doesn't even need to touch you and you'll take damage. If you're 4 pixels away from the proximity of his sprite, you're still taking damage.

Even worse is that when you get a game over, you start right back at the boss! Which is cool in any other game, but this basically deprives you of the chance to gain the whip upgrades that strengthen your attack, or collect hearts to use your other attacks. So you're basically stuck with jack shit to aid you. And this guy is ridiculous!

  • 3 beer count.

Okay, so through sheer force of will, I actually eventually beat this fucking boss. And so we go onto the next stage, which I'm assuming is the inside of Dracula's castle. Yet now we get more annoying background music, made even moreso by the fact that it just drops out at random.

Okay, so I climb my way to the second boss, and it's...a dragon. Huh...Is it just me, or does a dragon in Castlevania just not sound right? I mean, I thought we were going for more gothic monsters in these games. A dragon doesn't seem to fit in a game of vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.

So this boss is pretty pathetic. His attack pattern is even more predictable than the last guys. Shoot fireballs, drop parts of the ceiling down. Whack him in the head, and he's dead.

Okay, I am bored out of my head with this game, so let's skip right to Dracula.

So...Dracula. First off...His sprite looked terrible. Is that supposed to be the lord of the vampires or Garland from Final Fantasy 9? His cravat looks like a beard! The fucking NES Dracula sprites looked better than this!

Second. His fight sucks. His first form has ONE ATTACK. Shoot a predictable path of fireballs at you. Just whip him until he's dead.

The second form, Dracula turns into a dragon. Which makes sense I guess, because Dracula means "Son of the Dragon". This looks...stupid. First of all, Dracula's dragon form is just a silouhette on that background, and the only thing that moves is his head. I KNOW the Game Boy can do better than that for final bosses.

Okay, so we get an earraping rendition of Vampire Hunter, the iconic song from Castlevania 1, while our protagonist fights the...floating head of Dracula Dragon. Again, he's got one attack. Shoot fireballs at you. This leads to a very anti-climactic final boss.

So Dracula is defeated, we get a cheesy conversation where Sonia, the protagonist, talks about how humanity's ability to love and bond makes them a better creature than Dracula, who foresaked his humanity for power, and...oh. This is interesting. Dracula reveals that he is eternal, and the power of a mortal cannot ever fully destroy him. And it is upon these words that Sonia vows the Belmont family will hunt Dracula forever so he can never be a danger.

Wait...so this is the game where the Belmonts' lineage as vampire slayers was established? Huh. I...didn't think they'd ever actually reveal that fact. That's...cool.

Actually, wait, no it's not, because this game is no longer canon. *Rolls his eyes* So the best thing about this game is irrelevant. So I don't even need to bother sticking around for the ending, do I?

This game is...not as bad as I thought it'd be. Yeah, it's boring, it's dull, the sound is goddamn awful, but it's still a functioning game. And honestly? I liked the idea of a female Belmont, and I like the idea that she was such a key player in the plot. At least until they retconned it.

Honestly? If I can walk away from this game liking something? It's that Sonia is my favorite protagonist so far. I heard some people rumored that the game wasn't actually retconned because of it's bad design, but it was actually retconned because the director of the series hated the idea of a female being such a major character in the Castlevania canon. I don't know if that's true. I see a lot of reasons this game was taken out. But if Sonia was taken away as a canon character because of sexism? That is a tragedy, because she had so much potential.

All in all, a good protagonist trapped in a bad, boring, annoying game. It's a real shame. But Sonia? Canon or not, I will always appreciate you.

Onto the next.

Lords of Shadow

I'm going to jump ahead a little, because this is one I'm particularly dying to talk about. Lords of Shadow is the game people seem most divided on. On the one hand, people criticize it for abandoning that godawful annoying Metroid-vania style that I cannot understand why people love, (How is constantly getting lost and being stuck in the same environment the whole game an improvement on the original formula?) and because it's a 3D game with more fact paced, combo chaining action than past Castlevanias, playing more like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, or as much as I hate to compare a series I like to God of War...God of War.

Others embrace the game because of it's standing as a reboot, since the plot of Castlevania had become confusing, contradictory, and far too large, and it was time for a reset. They also like the fact that it returned to the format of the original titles, albeit with an updated, 3 dimensional style, as well as praising the fact that finally, there was a decent 3D Castlevania title.

Me? I'm in the latter. I felt it was about time to start over with Castlevania. I believe I lost interest after the "genius" idea to kill Dracula off and resurrect him as an anime kid. Or the idea to bring in the Morris family line from the Dracula novel despite the fact Castlevania has nothing to do with the novel, nor is this even supposed to be seen as the same Dracula interpreted in that book.

To be honest, I was about ready to give up on Castlevania, due to the messy plot. If a story loses itself, then it's lost me. When Lords of Shadow came out, I had no interest in it whatsoever. Until I heard it was an alternate, self contained interpretation of the plot.

Hmm...You've piqued my interest, Lords of Shadow. You can promise me a new, less sloppy plot? Very well. Do go on.

And then I heard that even Hideo Kojima was helping with the writing in this game. Well now, you've just assured my interest, then.

Well, I picked up a copy of Lords of Shadow, and I was immediately blown away by the sights and sounds of the game. The voice acting was flawless, featuring famous roles like Jason Isaacs and Patrick Stewart, the music was aweinspiring, and the graphics looked amazing. I particularly loved how you could even see the rain dripping off the protagonist Gabriel's hair in the opening.

You're thrown right into the action in this game, as Gabriel fights off a massive horde of lycans and Wargs. This immediately hooked me into the game. The combat flows incredibly, the Combat Cross feels wonderful as a weapon with it's amazing reach and astounding amount of combos. Fluid, flawless, fun. That's what I'd call this combat system. It's a clear improvement over repetitive whipping.

And holy crap, the subweapons from the old games have even made a comeback! The Holy Water is used as it's original intent, as a grenade like weapon with a powerful, lingering attack, and the knives give Gabriel the ability to stun enemies. And a few more were even added in. If I remember, Gabriel can also use fairies to distract his enemies, or use a gauntlet to grapple his enemies.

The monsters in this game look amazing. The lycans look terrifying, the wargs feel massive and overpowering, and even the later designs for monsters are horrifying creatures. I think my favorite design is the vampires. They look hideous, they are huge, they are monstruous, revolting. The stuff of nightmares.

The boss fights are just unforgettable. Facing down towering monsters like the king of the lycans, the queen of the vampires, giant crow demons, wargs, all manners of creatures far larger than yourself, and quite easily capable of horrendously murdering you, is something I can't ever forget. And with amazing designs as well, it just makes the experience all the more memorable.

And these environments. Absolutely breathtaking. Expansive scenery, unbelievable views paired with the right mood in the music. Every environment, from a simple swamp to Carmilla's castle, the town besieged by vampires, the forests, graveyards, canyons, and ruins, all of them have their own atmosphere, design, and feel to them. And the music just seals it.

This is truly what I envisioned Castlevania to be. A dark, atmospheric series with amazing music, hideous monsters, fun combat, and unbelievable battles. Not that wannabe Metroid, make every game a clone of Symphony of the Night crap! THIS! THIS is what Castlevania should be! This is progress, this is breathing life back into a decaying series, this is a return to form with a new spin, and amazing improvements on what made the series great.

Now...As I calm myself down...that is not to say the game doesn't have a few flaws. Let's look at the big ones.

First off, let's look at a big buzzkill here. There are two occasions where the game deliberately copies Shadow of the Colossus. Which, while the boss fights in that game were impressive, you don't need to go stealing the idea, guys.

Yes, I'll admit this. In two boss fights, there is an exact copy of how Shadow of the Colossus fights worked. You rough it out with a titanous monster until you find an opening, then you get on the creature, and stab it's weakpoints until it's dead. IT's the same damn thing.

Now...Is that a bad thing? Yeah, it does feel like a bit of a copout in a game that seemed so perfect. But it's two bosses in a game that has like, 12, so I can't really say that it's a gamebreaker. And hey, if you liked Shadow of the Colossus' handling of boss fights, but didn't want to play a soul crushing game? Then here you go.

The second part is that there is a level that just drags on too fucking long. Carmilla's castle is about as big as the Dracula castle in Symphony of the Night, and while this comes into play in the plot for the Lords of Shadow series, it is kind of annoying that this castle remains the set piece for the story for an ungodly long time, considering Carmilla isn't even a particularly bigger villain compared to the other two Lords of Shadow.

Another complaint is that using minibosses as part of the game's puzzles made some of the creatures feel gimmicky. Use a troll to smash something, use a warg as a mount, yeah, it gets a little stupid.

But if that's the worst sins of this game? Hell, I'll take it.

Some people say it's a little stupid that the gameplay style is so similar to God of War, but in my honest to god opinion? It didn't take the GoW style and copy it. It took God of War's combat system and IMPROVED it. Not bad for a "ripoff", don't you think?

Now, I can't really talk about Dracula's portrayal in this game in great detail, because he's not well..."born" until the ending. Taking his place as the final boss is another villain that's been implied to exist in Castlevania canon, but finally makes his appearence in this game. I won't spoil him, but if you haven't seen my favorite boss fights blog where I have mentioned him, his identity is there if you really want to see.

But I will say that I did NOT see the plot twist that revealed Dracula coming at all. This is the perfect amount of mystery and reveal that I needed to see. And I guess it only helps that Kojima, well known for his particularly professional writing skills amongst the gaming community, helped to write this game's story, so that may have had an impact on why Dracula's reveal was made unpredictable.

All in all, Lords of Shadow was a stunning display of what the Castlevania series can be, and in my opinion? SHOULD BE. Yeah, it's flawed, yes, I wish the developers try a little harder next time with some of the issues, and not resort to copying another famous game for ideas, but for a first entry in a redefined series, I consider it 3 steps in the right direction.

Lords of Shadow 2 Preview Analysis:

I know it's no longer October as I'm writing this, but I was having fun with this blog.

So to celebrate Halloween, Konami and Mercurysteam released the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow collection, consisting of Lords of Shadow, a console port of Mirror of Fate, and both DLCs that explain what happened to Gabriel between those two games. I recently picked up this collection due to a surprisingly cheap price of $40, and found something else that interested me. There is a demo of Lords of Shadow 2 in the game. I decided to check this out first.

So I started the game, and to be honest, it doesn't look that different from the original Lords of Shadow. A nice pre-rendered cutscene introduces us in the game, of Dracula sitting on his pimp throne, sipping his daily blood. Dracula has a significant redesign in this, having black hair instead of white, a beard, and a red coat instead of a black on. Also, his skin is less pale and he's not as inhumanly tall as he was in the main series.

I'm kind of on the fence about whether or not I prefer this design to the old one. On the one hand, his vampirism is a little more subtle and like I said, he's not freakishly tall like he is in the classic series, making his design a little more believable. However, I'm just kind of used to his old look.

There is a reason for the redesign, but I don't want to spoil it. Messsage me on my talk page if you want to know.

Dracula is lost in thought, possibly contemplating his dark fate, before the sounds of soldiers slamming at his throne room door with a battering ram catches his attention. Like a boss, Dracula casually drinks his blood, throws the goblet, and rises.

The demo then officially starts, with you playing as Dracula...Wait, what?!

You play as Dracula, the villain of this series, for once? Holy shit! It's finally happened! It took over twenty years and a reboot, but they finally made it! A Castlevania game where you play THE Dracula himself! Oh my god, there are no words for how on board with this I am! Sold game, fucking sold! I'm sold!

And it's the Dracula. The vampire lord of Darkness. Not some stupid reincarnation, but the OG of the bloodsuckers himself.

The game gives you a moment of peace to freshen yourself up on the controls. Once you've learned the basics, the soldiers suddenly break down the doors...You know, guys? I've had just let you in if you asked, you didn't need to break my fucking door. It wasn't even locked.

Four heavily armored soldiers run into the throne room, shuddering before the mighty Lord of Evil himself, as Dracula just grins and raises his cup to them.

"What a timely coincidence!" he says, bearing his fangs with amusement. "I'm dying for a little drop of blood."

Epic words before Drac royally assrapes these guys.

The soldiers realize too late that maybe, being the same guys who in the last game were killed by even the weakest of enemies, they're probably not the best choice for fighting the most powerful vampire in the world. The game uses this time to train you in the combat as you lay the unholy smackdown on these cannon fodder soldiers, even introducing you to Dracula's special ability. Biting his enemies to regain health. Not that you'll need to use that in this fight, these guys are a joke.

You're also introduced to Dracula's weapons. a chain forged from magic that works much like the combat cross from Lords of Shadow 1, a sword that steals life from the enemies, and Dracula's ability to set his hands on fire and beat the shit out of someone with burning fists.

So after the most onesided fight against Dracula in Castlevania history, Dracula pushes the battering ram out of his door and proceeds to exit the castle, noticing it is now being bombarded by catapults. You're introduced to the platforming here.

Dracula steps out onto his balcony, seeing catapults, soldiers, everything but the kitchen sink being throne at his castle. And probably even the kitchen sink, too.

I AM NOT MAKING THIS NEXT PART UP! Dracula watches the seige take place, and in seeing the army's attack, mutters the line. Castlevania fans? You know that line. Say it with me.

"What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets!"

You may now commence fangasming.

Suddenly Alexander, on loan from Final Fantasy, attacks Dracula and destroys the balcony he stands on. Also, the leader of the attack shows up, wearing shiny golden armor with a lion's head chestplate complete with a cross and a laurel crown on his helmet, golden wings, and fire swords....subtle.

We get a boss fight against Angemon here, and there's another throwback to Symphony of the Night. "Die monster! You don't belong in this world!" Don't worry, you do get to kick his ass for stealing that line, he is not worthy of it.

After you reduce his health bar, Goldy McShinypants runs away like a little bitch, and you must fight more soldiers on the body of the 900 foot tall robot that's smashing up your castle. Goldar returns eventually and decides to quote another meme line "You shall not pass" as I officially realize this must be Castlevania's first douchebag character.

The rest of the demo's pretty linear, you're basically destroying the Seige Titan as a giant platforming section while Flashy von Jerkoff fires arrows at you, although there seems to be a little more throwback to Castlevania's original difficult because I died 8 fucking times trying to destroy this fucking thing!

Finally, Dracula topples the titan, and it lands on the army. (Lol, pwned!) Finally Sparkles wants to finish the fight, but unfortunately, the fight ends as him and the King of Darkness prepare to face off. The date for the official Release of Lords of Shadow 2, February 2014, appears on screen.

Okay, so that demo was awesome. It's pretty cool to finally get to play as the infamous villain of the series...the ACTUAL not, not a reincarnation, for once, and was something I was really kind of wishing the series would do.

Dracula is amazing to play as. Just the idea that you're this unstoppable badass, a being of raw power, and pure evil, fills me with a rush of adrenaline. I sure hope he stays the main character in this game, he is fun as fuck to play as!

The gameplay's not that much different than in the original, although to be fair, it's combat system was already perfect.

Unfortunately, the demo is not out to the public, but I hope my summary best explains what it basically is.

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