Review: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

I don’t get many reader emails,  maybe 3-4 a month. But when I do they are usually requests for me to review a particular title. Of all the review-requests I receive, Ocarina of Time is by far the most requested title. So, for many, (myself included), this review has been a long time coming. Finally, I’m going to share my thoughts on this legendary title.

I’m sure that nearly every person reading this review, or even this site in general is familiar with this game. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, let me bring you up to speed. Ocarina of Time is the fifth entry in Nintendo’s famous “Legend of Zelda” series. It was originally released in 1998 on the Nintendo 64. It is nearly universally-heralded as the best “Zelda” game in the series, and almost equally lauded as one of, if not THE, greatest video game of all time.

I was fortunate enough to play this game a few years after it was originally released. So, even though I missed out on the initial craze, the game holds a deep nostalgia for me – as it does for many gamers.  My first experience with the title was in 2003, when it was re-released as part of The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition compilation for the Gamecube. This version of the game is a nearly perfect port of the N64 title. The collection contained both the original version of the game as well as a remixed version dubbed “Ocarina of the Time: The Master Quest”.  The Gamecube version of the game was released just a few months before the birth of my first son. I have many memories of playing this game during late nights with my infant son in a bassinet by my side. This playthrough was my first time re-visiting the game since those days.

For those interested in playing it, the game is available in it’s original version on the Wii U virtual console, or on the Nintendo 3DS as “Ocarina of Time 3D”. For this playthrough/review, I did in fact play the 3DS version of the game. Either one is well worth your time, but I will state that the 3DS version, in my opinion, is the definitive version of the game. Aside from improved graphics, and some minor button assignments/playcontrol tweaks, the games are virtually identical. Plus, the 3DS version does come with the Master Quest (unlocked after completing the main game).

I will go on record as stating that, to me, the original N64 version had some major playcontrol issues. But, I am one of those rare people that generally disliked the Nintedo 64 controller. Playing the Gamecube port of the game was even more awkward. In my opinion, the 3DS version offers the superior playing experience all the way around.

(Original N64 version –emulated )

Of all of the games in the series so far, Ocarina offers the most in-depth story in terms of lore. Many of the backstory concepts mentioned in the other games are given an epic, detailed treatment in this title.  The Legend of Zelda timeline is so convoluted and complex, that it’s nearly impossible to summarize in a simple way. So, I won’t get into how this game is related to others in the series. But it is important to understand that many of the games take place centuries and ages apart from each other. The hero “Link” and the princess “Zelda” are not always the same individuals from game to game. At the time of it’s release, Ocarina was the earliest title in the series chronologically.

This game focuses on a young child named Link. Link lives in a small woodland village inhabited by a slyph-like race called the Kokiri. Each Kokiri has a fairy companion, each one except Link. One morning, Link is awoken from by a fairy named Navi, who informs him that she was sent by the great Deku Tree, the guardian of the forest. Link soon learns that the tree has been poisoned by an evil man from a desert far to the west. His goal is rule the entire world. Link is sent on a quest to help stop this nefarious villain. His first stop is Hyrule Castle, where is instructed to meet with Princess Zelda. Link’s quest will take him to various locales all over the land of Hyrule. (Many familiar from other games in the series). During his journey he will even gain the ability to travel back and forth through time. All in effort to thwart the evil Ganondorf!

Ocarina of Time is the first 3D title in series. By this time, Nintendo had learned much since the days of Mario 64. The camera issues found in that game were now largely a thing of the past. For me, Ocarina was one of the first nearly flawless 3D-rendered games released for a console at the time. Let’s not confuse the term “3D” being used here with actual Three-Dimensional Technology. Because the most modern version of the game “Ocarina of Time 3D” is an ACTUAL 3-D title. Making use of the Nintendo 3DS technology, the handheld version of the game is presented in a real 3-D format. (and very well done!)

(3DS version)

Aside from the visual presentation, the game follows a format that fans of the series are familiar with. Scattered across the land are numerous dungeons. Each dungeon is filled with various puzzles that must be solved in order reach the end, where a boss awaits Link. As in other games, each dungeon also contains a special treasure that gives Link new skills or abilities. These skills or items allow Link access to new parts of kingdom, thus progressing the game further.

It certainly possible to speed through the game by simply following the prompts given to you throughout the game story, but just like other Zelda titles, players who take the time to explore the world and uncover all the nooks and crannies will have an easier time. Ocarina has a number of sidequests sprinkled throughout the main game. Each well worth the time of any serious player.

The hype behind Ocarina of Time is strong. As I mentioned earlier, it is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest games ever made. That’s quite a bold statement. But, it’s also one that I cannot deny. There’s isn’t much about this game that isn’t perfect. Everything from the storyline, to the artwork, to the music – are simply spot-on. The level design is insightful. The puzzles are challenging (but not impossible). The game as a whole is nothing short of breathtaking. I find it difficult to declare that any game is “perfect”. But if any one title is deserving of such a declaration, it is this one.

Difficulty: Medium –  Ocarina of Time does not offer multiple levels of difficulty. But as one might would expect, the game starts off relatively easy and progresses in difficulty as it goes. Most of the challenge in the game comes in the form of various boss fights. For a first time player, several of these encounters can be very frustrating at first. But as typical with most games of this type, each battle has certain mechanics. Once learned, these battles become much easier.  Players willing to take the time to explore and complete the optional side quests will also have a much easier time.  For players of the 3DS version, The Master Quest becomes playable upon completion of the main scenario. This version of the game features a higher degree of difficulty and rearranged puzzles and challenges.

Story: The story presented in Ocarina of Time is nothing short of epic. All the lore from the previous Zelda titles can be found here, and are explained in great detail. The game also serves as the origin story for Ganon, the protagonist for most of the series.

Originality: This title features the gated/progression style that players familiar with the series are already accustomed to. However, when combined with a new 3D presentation, Nintendo manages to breathe new life into this time-tested formula. One new stand-out feature in this game is the actual “Ocarina”. Throughout the game, Link is able to learn new songs that can then be played on a virtual ocarina. Playing these songs can have various effects depending on when and where they are used. This concept is executed by turning the buttons on the controller into actual notes on ocarina itself. This makes for a unique and memorable experience.

Soundtrack: The music in Ocarina of Time is nothing short of fantastic. The soundtrack for the game ranges from emotional to infectious. I personally found myself whistling the ocarina tunes when not playing the game. In fact, the Song of Storms has been stuck in my head for nearly thirteen years. It’s no wonder that the score from this game is a frequent attraction at symphony halls worldwide.

Fun: Ocarina of Time is a blast. It’s addictive. Playing this game resulted in many late night sessions over the last two weeks. I’d often find myself saying, “That’s it. Once I’m finished with this dungeon, I’m turning it off for the night.” Only to find myself pick it right back up fifteen minutes later.  The game can be frustrating at times, but as a result it also ends up being even more rewarding.

Graphics: At the time of its original release, the 3D graphics were state of the art. However, like many games from that era, it has not aged well. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U virtual console does give it a bit of a visual boost than playing it on the original hardware. For most players, I do recommend the 3Ds version. The graphics on this new version are not only sharper and less jaggy, but many of the textures have also been improved.  – I should also note that when playing 3DS games, I typically don’t play with the 3-D turned on. But the 3-D effects in this game were so stunning that I actually spent the majority of my time playing in full 3-D mode. (I played this on the New 3DS which features improved 3-D effects, so your mileage may vary)

Playcontrol: The original N64 version seems to have some annoying playcontrol issues for me. But as mentioned earlier, I’m personally not a fan of the N64 controller as a whole. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console nearly requires a Classic Controller, in my opinion. But even then, the game feels very “off”. The controls for the 3DS version are overall well thought-out and intuitive.  Having played this title on every available system, I have to declare that the 3DS offers the best playcontrol of the lot.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Cartoon violence

Value:  This title is available on the Wii U virtual console for $10. The 3DS version is usually found for a mere $20. Either of these prices are a steal for what you can get out of this game. It’s important to note that the 3DS version does come with both the original game and the Master Quest. So, it’s really two games in one.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Giving this title anything less than a perfect score is unthinkable. It is a stellar game that provides hours of entertainment. As mentioned numerous times above, you’ll often find this game on the list of all-time greatest games. It is certainly worthy of that honor.

Available on: Wii and Wii U virtual console,  Nintendo 3DS

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ IILink to the PastLink’s AwakeningOcarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild

Review: Star Fox 64

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Today, I’m going share my thoughts on what is considered by many to be a classic title, Star Fox 64. Now, I want to start by identifying that, yes, this is technically the second Star Fox game released by Nintendo, and yes – I never reviewed the original. Why is that? Well, let’s take a moment to delve into that topic by talking for a second about the original Star Fox game.

“Star Fox” was a title released in 1993 on the Super Nintendo. It’s also considered to be a classic title by many for a number of reasons. First, it was very much a good game in it’s own right. But mostly, it is heralded as being one of the first games available on a home console to feature 3D polygon graphics. While the game looks crude by today’s standards, understand that in 1993, software- rendered 3D gaming was reserved for only the most high-end home PCs. Nintendo was able to bring this technology to the console by integrating a special “Super FX” graphics support chip onto the circuit board of the game.

This technology has proven to be somewhat difficult to emulate, which many gamers speculate is the reason that the original Star Fox has never been released as a virtual console title. The lack of an official VC release is also one of the main reasons I did not include Star Fox in my reviews of other SNES titles. The other reason being, that Star Fox 64 is essentially an updated version of the original game.

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Original Star Fox for SNES

So, fast forward five years to the age of the Nintendo 64. By this time, 3D graphics had matured considerably. So, Nintendo decided to release a new version of Star Fox, called simply “Star Fox 64”. The storyline of this game is essentially the same as the original, but Nintendo also incorporated a few ideas from the ill-fated and unreleased “Star Fox 2”. The result was a game that has gone down in history as being a fan favorite.

Star Fox 64 is basically an on-rails space shooter. The storyline takes place in a far-away solar system: Lylat. Before the events of the game itself, an evil scientist known as Andross was banished to a barren planet where he had long been forgotten. Recently, strange activity has been detected on that planet. A team was sent to the planet to investigate, but they met a terrible fate, from which only one member escaped.

This game follows the story of a second unit deployed to the mysterious planet known as “Venom”. The hero is Fox McCloud, a literal walking/talking fox.  In fact, all of the characters in the game are anthropomorphic animals. But in truth, you rarely see them since the game is played mostly from either the perspective of a cockpit, or from a third-person camera view.

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 Essentially, the game works like this: you pilot what is known as an “Arwing” spacecraft through either planetary atmospheres or through various outer-space environments. The flight is very much “on-rails” for the most part, but you are able to weave in and out of various obstacles as you navigate your way through the level. Typically, the end of each stage is met with a boss encounter of some sort. These battles allow you a little more freedom when it comes to range of motion. In-level encounters are the same each time you play, so learning where and when enemies appear is a large part of the game’s strategy.  That being said, even though both the starting and ending levels are always the same, there’s a number of paths that players can take on their journey through the game. So, it’s very possible to play this title more than once and have a few different experiences.

That brings me to another important note. By default, this game has no save-file. Therefore, there is technically no way to save your progress. The game was intended to be played from beginning to end in one single session. However, modern players can certainly create restore points using the Wii. It’s also worth nothing that there is a modern port of the game (Star Fox 64 3D – for the 3DS) that does have a native save function.

Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that the N64 version does also feature local multiplayer of up to 4 players (screen sharing), while the new 3DS version support wireless local multiplayer.

All in all, Star Fox 64 is a fun little title. It’s a great casual game, even if it is a little simplistic at times.

Star Fox 64 3DS

Star Fox 64 3D

Difficulty: Easy –  Overall, I would say that this game is fairly simple from start to finish. There are some optional challenges for players that want something more than a simple walk in the park. The biggest challenge for most new players would be to master the controls, but the game offers a very good tutorial just for this purpose.

Story: The story here is pretty simplistic, but it’s very well done. The planets are interesting and the characters are colorful and fun. This game is mostly a fun-filled romp, so if you’re looking for depth of story, or a deep-thinking space drama –  this may not be a title that appeals to you.

Originality: Space shooters had been seen as early as the Atari 2600 days, but despite being based on an aging idea, Nintendo did a pretty good job of making the first Star Fox feel original. Now, since this review is really for Star Fox 64, the same still applies. Even though this title is a remake of the original game, it still manages to come off feeling pretty fresh. Maybe it was the improved  graphics, maybe it was some of the new levels, I don’t know. But it worked.

Soundtrack: The music here is a mixed bag. The tunes are fitting, but they do seem a tad weak. The in-game music has a playful military feel to it, but lacks the “epicness” one might expect from a space-based game. The title features some basic voice acting. This comes off a little silly – but then again, how serious does a talking monkey in a spacesuit need to sound?

Fun: As long as you take this game for what it is, it’s a pretty fun title. Star Fox 64 is a game that was designed to provide some simple entertainment, and if you can manage not to take it too seriously, it does just that.

Graphics: The N64 version of the game looks great. Even today, it still holds up fairly well. Needless to say, it was worlds above the original Star Fox at the time it was released. The modern 3DS version actually suffers in some ways when compared to the original. It’s a bit more jagged looking, but the 3D effect really makes up for it.

Playcontrol: If playing the original N64 version (as opposed to the 3DS version), the real N64 controller is probably the way to go. But since most players will be playing this on the Wii, the Classic Controller is required. The game plays fairly well on the Classic, but I must admit, the original hardware does provide a superior experience. The 3DS version feels pretty natural, but after a while, you’re likely to end up with a mean hand cramp.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: None

Value:  The virtual console version of the game is available for a reasonable price. However, players looking for the 3DS version may have to shop pretty hard. New copies of the game can be hard to find, and usually go for an inflated price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Star Fox 64 is a good family game that really belongs on the shelf of any Nintendo fan. Sometimes, in the days of epic time-consuming games, it is nice to have a simple title that you can pop in and enjoy without having to invest too much thought into. Star Fox 64 does a fine job of being just that.

Available on: Wii Virtual Console, Wii U Virtual Console (Europe only), 3DS

Announcement: The New 3DS

It’s PAX time. One of the geekiest tech conventions around, and this week Nintendo dropped a bombshell with the announcement of a revamped 3DS. The big news here is not a simple redesign, but what appears to actually be a whole new model.

Let’s start off easy, the new model features better battery life, a faster processor and an enhanced screen. The screen touts better 3D performance and now auto adjusts the brightness according to the lighting in the room. There’s also a new micro CD card slot on the back side of the device.
The biggest change to take note of here is the new “C-Stick” control. This is a new control stick, that seems to be pretty much designed for camera controls. There’s also a new set of “z” shoulder buttons. All of these new controls remind me a great deal of the old GameCube controller. Also, the New 3DS will come with build-in NFC for use with the upcoming Amiibo accessories.  (Think Skylanders – but for Wii U and 3DS).

The New 3DS also allows for changeable custom shells. This is a cute little feature that will make is easy to customize the look of your New 3Ds. Interestingly enough, a future firmware update will also add background themes to the software UI. I expect to see themes and shells that go hand in hand.

So far, the New 3DS has only been confirmed for Japan. But there’s really no doubt that it will makes its way to the US. So the big question here is; is this just a newer model or is it REALLY a whole new system. I tend to feel the latter. While a boost in power, and a redesigned screen can certainly suggest a simple upgrade, the new controls really make this feel like something brand new.

A few of the new games announced already hint that a NEW 3DS will be required. For example, a port of Xenoblade Chronicles, and newly announced Final Fantasy game.

There’s a lot of moaning on the new about yet ANOTHER flavor of the 3DS. But personally, I’m not complaining. I feel that the time is right for an upgrade, and assuming that this system retains the backwards compatibility with DS carts, the price price-point of $150-$200 feels about right.

I plan to pick on up shortly after release.

Review: Bravely Default – The Fairy Flies

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Wow. This review has been a long time coming. I purchased this game when it was released in February and I’ve been slowly grinding away at it ever since. Now, after almost 70 hours of game time I have finally finished this beast. Here are my thoughts.

First, let’s talk about what Bravely Default is; here we have a classic JRPG style game by none other than the legends of the genre, Square Enix. I should state that this game is the “spiritual successor” to the previously released DS title “Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light”. While it is not a direct sequel, there are apparently a few throwback easter eggs scattered about this game for fans to discover. (Note: I have not played Four Heroes, but it is now on my to-do list). That being said, this game is pretty much a pure Final Fantasy title in all but name. It’s very Final Fantasy-like in terms of storytelling and gameplay. Several classic Final Fantasy character classes and artwork are present in the game as well. One small element of controversy worth mentioning is censorship. The western release of the game included some censorship in terms of the character’s ages (to avoid teenage romance) and a few adjustments to character costumes to make them a bit toned down (less sexy). Personally, I find this overall silly. I’ve seen the uncensored images from the Japanese game, there’s very little difference. Don’t feel like you’re missing anything important.

The game revolves around four young heroes on their journey to save the world from chaos. To do this, they must restore light to four dimmed elemental crystals. The stars of title are:

Tiz – A young orphan who’s hometown and brother we’re swallowed up by a massive chasm that was caused by troubled Earth Crystal.

Agnès – The young Wind Vestal (priestess), who along with her fairy companion intends to restore the failing crystals to their former glory.

Ringabel – A mysterious ladies man with no recollection of his past. He carries with him an unusual journal that seems to predict the future of our heroes.

Edea – Daughter of the Templar of Eternia, the nation currently terrorizing the homeland of the other three heroes. Disgusted with the actions of her own kingdom, she has joined the others.

As the game progresses and our heroes continue to awaken the crystals they inch deeper into the web of ancients secrets that make up their very existence. The game is very rich on storyline and it’s much better to experience it firsthand than to read a summary of it here. But the info above should be enough to give you the basic idea.

 

First off, let me start by saying that this game takes full advantage of the 3DS platform. Moreso than any other game I’ve played. Naturally, the game itself is available in 3D. There are also pre-game and post-game movies that feature augmented reality. Meaning, the movies are seen through your eyes, and you can move the 3DS in a 360 degree range of motion to change the perspective of the action.

In many titles, the Streetpass feature of the 3DS is either ignored or poorly implemented. Not in this game. You see, early in the game, Tiz sets out on a mission to rebuild his hometown. To do so, you must collect residents. This is accomplished through  the Streetpass feature. Every time you tag another Bravely Default player, you get another resident for your village. As your population increases, you can assign villagers to clean up the area and rebuild shops. The ultimate goal here is to have the town completely restored. Thus, unlocking exclusive items and equipment for sale.

Aside from the village mini-game, other players that you encounter can also be summoned to help in battle. Likewise, you have the ability to send special moves and tactics out to help your friends as well. If you don’t have very many real-life friends that play the game, the Nintendo Network will send four players to you daily. So no matter what, you’ll be able to use the online features to participate in this functionality.

 

Aside from this, there’s also one other online feature worth mentioning: Nemesis monsters. Also included with your daily Nintendo Network transmissions are special optional monster battles. These beasts invade your town and you can battle them at will. These creatures are actually modeled after boss monsters from the Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light game. Defeating them will often grant you rewards that increase character stats. Upon receiving a Nemesis in your town, you can choose to lock it in place to fight later, or send it back out into the wild to be caught by another player.

All of this player summoning and Nemesis monster business may not seem to make much sense at first. But as you approach the end of the game storyline, you come to realize that it all does tie in well with the story of the game.

Important note: there is a free demo of the game available for download from the 3DS shop. The demo really serves mostly as a tutorial for the game’s unique combat system. But by completing the demo, you can also unlock some nice little bonuses in the retail game. None of these are exclusive in any way. So there’s no need to feel obliged to play the demo first if you’re ready to jump right in.

So, you might be asking yourself; What up with that name, “Bravely Default”. What does that even mean? This is reference to the combat system. For the most part, combat in this game is handled just like you’d expect from a JRPG title. Turn based combat; you can choose to either use a physical attack, cast a spell, or use a recovery item, etc. The difference here is, you can also choose between two additional options: Brave or Default.

Brave allows you to add an extra move to your turn. You can choose to use up to 4 Braves at a time. So in theory, you could make 5 attacks in a single round. The downside to this is if you blow all your moves in one round, you will be defenseless until you have earned those moves back. So, spend 5 moves now, you have to wait four more turns before that character can move again.

Default is just the opposite, you forego a move for one turn. Doing so raises your defense, but also adds an extra move to your bank. So using these methods you can expend and reserve extra turns per combat round. I seems confusing at first, but you figure it out pretty quick. Learning how to master the Brave and Default system is a big part of the game. Good players will learn to make the most of these options to overcome challenging boss monsters.

Another important mechanic of this game is the Job System. This will be familiar to fans of Final Fantasy. As you play through the game, you will have the ability to unlock new jobs (classes) to equip on your characters. All the classics are represented here, Black Mage, White Mage, Thief, Ninja, Summoner, etc. Each job features certain abilities and weapon specialization. As you progress through the game, your characters earn both Experience Points and Job points. Your character and jobs level independently of each other. As your job levels up, your character will learn unique abilities that can be used even if you switch to another job later on. For example, you can be a Pirate who can also use White Magic (assuming that character learned the ability previously). Mastering the job system and learning to mix and match abilities is just another secret to overcoming all the obstacles that the game will throw at you.

I know that’s quite a lot to digest, but I feel it’s important to touch on what makes this game unique. Bravely Default is quite an interesting title. It’s presented in a classic JRPG style, with a new twist on time-tested game mechanics. Graphically, the game is beautiful. I’m not a big fan of the 3D option so I don’t use it for daily play, but from what I saw – this game implements the 3D feature elegantly.

When it comes to audio, Bravely Default also earns high marks here. The game is almost completely voice acted, and very well done at that. The music is simply stellar. So much so that I went out and found a imported copy of the soundtrack.

If I have any complaints about the game at all, it would have to be with the length of the title. As I mentioned earlier, I completed the game at right around 70 hours. Now, of course I took the time to unlock every job, level everything to the max and explore every dungeon. The game has two endings and I made sure to experience both. But even so, the game feels a bit drawn out. I thought that I was coming close to the end about 40 hours in. Only to find out – nope. Not even close. – You see, it’s hard for me to explain the problem without spoiling the story somewhat. But you get a point in the game, where you find yourself forced to repeat the same process over and over and over. For a total of four times. Now while this does factor into the game story, it feels a bit excessive. Regardless, it’s safe to say that you certainly get your money’s worth.

Overall, Bravely Default is nothing short of a masterpiece. If you’re a fan of the genre and you own a 3DS, there’s no reason not to own this title. It’s a no-brainer.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  The game features a number of ways to customize the difficulty. There are general Easy, Normal and Hard modes. Additionally, you can disable certain features of the game such as quest indicators. You also have the ability to control the monster encounter rate. Making random battles more frequent or eliminating them all together.

Story: This is real reason you will want to play the game. The storyline here is nothing short of epic. All the elements you’d expect from a JRPG are present here: otherworldly evil, magical crystals, ancient sages and young heroes. It’s all here and it’s done just as brilliantly as ever.

Originality: Square Enix has done a great job of taking a time-tested formula and giving it a new life. This accomplished both due to some fresh ideas and due to the unique features of the 3DS.

Soundtrack: The music and voice acting in the game are superb. I cant praise the soundtrack enough. It sounds excellent through 3DS speakers, but even better if you’re able to use headphones. Seriously, it’s that good.

Fun: I really enjoyed this game a lot. I do admit, that about halfway through some fatigue started to set in. I feel like the game is a bit long in the tooth. But once you manage to get past that hump, it’s back to having fun again. Despite the long hours invested into the game, I was still wanting more when it was all over.

Graphics: The graphics are very well done. The environments are excellent and the spell effects really awe inspiring. I’m not a big fan of the 3D capabilities, but as I said in the review, they are implemented quite well in this game. So if that’s your cup of tea, you’ll be sure to be pleased.

Playcontrol: No problems here at all. The game controls feel natural and I did not experience any issues here at all.

Mature Content: No Concern – Fantasy violence, some occult-inspired monster names, suggestive themes are few and far between and would likely be overlooked by young players.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the game retails for $30. Well worth the price. Especially when you take the time to consider the number of hours of entertainment this game provides.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – A game this perfect doesn’t come along often. When the only complaint I can think of is that there’s too much game to play, you know that the developers have scored a win. That being said, this is really a title designed for the hardcore JRPG player. Casual players will probably find the game too big and too complex. Be warned going in.Currently available on: Nintendo 3DS

Other Reviews In This Series:

Bravely Default  –   Bravely Second

Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light

Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

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Taking a quick break from the retro reviews to provide my impressions of the latest installment to the Castlevania series. With the true sequel to Lords of Shadow out in a couple of months, I figured now was as good a time as any to check out the supplemental game for the 3DS.

This game is part of the new Castlevania universe and acts a semi sequel to the original LoS. Several classic characters are re-introduced into the timeline, but with new origins. The game is broken up into three distinct chapters, each with a focus on a different character. During the course of the game you will play as Simon Belmont, Alucard, and Trevor Belmont.

While it’s nice to see some familiar faces in the new continuity, there are several things that have changed. This time around, both Trevor and Alucard have completely new origin stories. I’m trying not to spoil too much here, but it’s fairly safe to reveal that Trevor is revealed early on in the game to be the son of Gabriel Belmont. Also, this time around, Simon is the son of Trevor (where as he was his grandson in the previous timeline).

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Aside from the reintroduction of many classic characters, this game returns the series to it’s side-scrolling roots. While it’s not quite what I would call a “Castleroid” game, it does have some elements that should satisfy old school fans. Interestingly enough, there’s also many elements of LoS mixed in as well, push-button finishers, etc. So there’s a little for everyone.

Aside from the sidescrolling action, in between scenarios and various other points in the game, you are presented with comic/illustrated style cutscenes.This is where to story develops. And I should say, the game has a really fantastic story. I was surprised by the number of revelations included in a title that’s supposed to be considered more of a sidestory than a full-fledged sequel to Lords of Shadow.

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As typical, with 3DS games, I played the game with the 3D setting turned off most the time. I do feel that effect was very well done in this game and not overused. Still, for me, it’s too easy to mess up the effect by simply moving the 3DS through normal gameplay, I find it distracting.

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Difficulty: Medium  –  Classic Castlevania gameplay here. Many of encounters in the game are challenging and can be frustrating at times, boss battles especially. However, the game is a bit forgiving when it comes to continues. Progress is auto-saved at various points during big fights and at almost every new item or area discovery. This softens the blow a bit when you get your butt handed to you.

Story: I was both surprised and impressed at the rich story that was presented in the game. I honestly expected something kind of half-ass. I figured most of the good lore and plot twists were being saved for the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2. I was happily mistaken. Lots of new juicy surprises for fans in this title.

Originality: While the game is mix of both old and new, the presentation here does feel pretty fresh. Good job to the dev team on keeping things from getting stale.

Soundtrack: Not the best Castlevania score for sure. While there are some really good mood pieces that pop up from time to time, the score was largely forgettable for me. I found the voice acting to be superb, however.

Fun: This is very well built game with a lot of great things worthy of praise. But for some reason, I didn’t find it particularly riveting. It was fun, yes, and well worth the new price, but I did find myself wishing I could skip over some parts… the story was a real motivator for me. Moreso than the gameplay

Graphics: This game is a mixed bag graphically. The backgrounds and level designs are beautiful. The cutscenes are lovely. The sprites leave a bit to be desired… BUT not all the time… it’s weird. The camera zooms in and out of the action with a mind of it’s own. When it’s far away, things are very pixelated. This is not an issue up close. I’m sure this dynamic rendering is done by design to help ease the load on the 3DS when there’s a lot going on. I found it interesting, but weird.

Playcontrol: For the most part the game controls well. The use of shoulder buttons for certain abilities seems a bit awkward to me at first, but I eventually got used to it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 –  There’s a lot of reasons to like this game, and I did. However, I felt it was missing something. I’m not sure what exactly. I recommend this game to fans of the series, but for those unfamiliar with Castlevania, I feel like it might leave the wrong impression.

Currently available on: 3DS, PSN, Xbox Arcade, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II