Sword or Whip?

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Well now. Here’s something interesting. Koji Igarashi, the former producer of Castlevania has released a new teaser site of sorts. www.swordorwhip.com

The site mysteriously appeared online in recent days featuring a retro look and feel and is dropping all sorts of hints that IGA might be in the process of making a spiritual successor to the retro Castlevania games that we know and love. So far the site only asks that you repeatedly vote for either a Sword or a Whip. As you click one or the other you are treated to random statements and clues. Eventually, you will be assigned a “clan” and prompted to share your affiliation via Facebook or Twitter. So it seems that we are in midst of a social media campaign. Fans of the “metroidvania” style games may have something to look forward to in the near future.

Review: Castlevania – Lords of Shadow 2

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Better late than never! I originally hoped to finish this game in time for Halloween, but I missed it by a few days. Regardless, I have finally finished my playthrough of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Here’s how it went…

This game follows the new “reboot continuity” in the Castlevania series. It is a direct sequel to Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate. In this title, you can again play as Gabriel Belmont. However, this time around, in the aftermath of the first game, he is now known simply as; Dracula. After a brief tutorial, the game begins with Dracula awakening in the modern era. Weak and confused, Dracula leaves the confines of his sanctuary and wanders the streets in search of answers. It is not long before Dracula encounters his previous nemesis, Zobek. Zobek explains that a wicked cult is on the verge of summoning Satan to the physical world. He offers Dracula the secret to a true death in exchange for infiltrating the Satanic cult and preventing the dark lord’s return.

When the game begins, Dracula is in a fairly weakened state. Of course, as you progress through the game he recovers more and more of his former power and ability. The gameplay itself is very similar to the original Lords of Shadow. This is especially true when it comes to combat and skills. However, unlike the original game, the world is much more open. The chapter system from the previous game is replaced with a completely open world.

For the most part, you are free to come and go through previously uncovered areas as needed. Eventually, you reach a point in the game, where Dracula is able to “shift realities” and see the world as it used to be. This adds a whole other world to explore, as you can explore both the modern city as well as in ancient times.

In theory, this concept sounds quite interesting. But personally, it actually seemed a bit confusing to me in practice. On more than one occasion I became lost and had to backtrack quite a bit to get my bearings again. In the beginning of the game, I was often very confused about where I was supposed to go next. Yes, there’s an on-screen map with an indicator, but at the same time it isn’t very intuitive and it does not make your intended destination obvious. The gameworld itself also seemed a bit glitchy for me at times. On two separate occasions, I became stuck in the game due to glitches and had to lose my progress and start back from a previous checkpoint. The first time, because I ended up in an area that should have been inaccessible and could not progress further (fell from a great height near a pit that sound have insta-killed me, but managed to find footing at the last second), and second while playing the DLC scenario (a door that was supposed to be open, did not open).

It would have been very easy for me to get frustrated with the confusing environments if it wasn’t for the engaging storyline. The plot to this title, although a little hard to follow at first (with all the timeline hopping), is excellent. It’s even better if you actually played the Mirror of Fate title that bridges this game with is prequel.

The best thing about this game, aside from the storyline, is the combat system. While very similar to the first Lords of Shadow game, the action in this title has a very polished feel to it. Battles are fast paced and the boss fights especially were much more interesting than they were in the previous game.

While the combat may seem like a bit of a rehash, there are plenty of new features in the game that keep things interesting. Keep in mind, that this time around you are playing Gabriel as Dracula. Thus, he has vampric abilities. Dracula has the ability to possess certain NPCs and use them to his advantage. For example, he can possess the body of a security guard to gain access to restricted areas. Dracula can also summon bats to distract enemies, or even transform himself into a swarm of rats to sneak past guards or explore tight spaces. Sadly, while this sounds good in theory – there’s actually only a handful of places in the game where these abilities come in handy. For the most part, I didn’t even give them a second thought.

Visually, the game is amazing. The environment and characters are beautifully rendered. The transition from cutscene to action is nearly seemless.

All in all, the game is enjoyable and I feel like I got my money’s worth. The initial confusion and frustrations had mostly passed by the time I hit the game’s midpoint. But still, for the price, I can’t help but say I expected more.

Lords of Shadow 2 does feature an additional downloadable chapter called “Revelations”. This DLC is not free, and costs about $9.00. In this chapter, you get to play as Dracula’s son Alucard and experience some “behind the scenes” events that occurred prior to the start of the main scenario.

Playing as Alucard sounds pretty interesting at first. But there’s really nothing new here. Combat works the same. Alucard does has a unique set of abilities. In truth, the DLC is only three levels long, and most of these are actually annoying puzzles and timer-dependent events. Compared to the main game, there’s very little combat in the DLC scenario. I think I finished Revelations in about 3 hours. The amount of content didn’t really seem on par with the price of the DLC.

 

Difficulty: Variable –  There are several difficulty modes. These options are pretty accurate. Choosing the easy mode not only seems to make combat slightly easier, but it also removes the cutscene/button-mashing requirements from the boss fights. Making these battles 10x simpler than they are in other modes of play.

Story: The storyline seems pretty shallow at first, if you’re a legacy Castlevania fan. But as you progress through the game you begins to understand more the details behind the plotline. I run the risk of spoiling things here, but the end of the game does a great job of shedding some light on Dracula’s true nature and motivations. Very well done.

Originality: There are several new features in this game that helps it stand out from the previous game. However, there are more similarities than new features.

Soundtrack: The music here is fitting. But I felt it was largely uninspired. The quality of the soundtrack is superb, but aside the little piano ditty you hear on the title screen, I can’t think of a single stand-out track. The voice acting on the other hand is phenomenal.

Fun: If you enjoyed the first game, there’s plenty here as well. Overall, I good time playing this game. But at times it felt a little dry and somewhat wooden.

Graphics: This game really shines visually. The artwork here is as good as ever. The gothic nature of Castlevania is superbly presented here. Everything from the levels to the characters are wonderfully designed and rendered.

Playcontrol: Overall, I have no real complaints here. The controls felt natural and the game responds well. Some of the timer puzzles (especially in the DLC) tend to be a bit cumbersome due to some targeting issues, but overall I have no real complaints

Mature Content: YES- Gruesome violence. Nudity. Occult references. Language.

Value:  Console version of the game will run anywhere from $30-$60 depending on the retailer. At the time of this writing the Steam version sells for $40. The optional DLC scenario will put you out another $8.00. – If you’re a big Castlevania fan and you loved the first Lords of Shadow, this price might be worth it. For everyone else, I say wait a while and pick the came on sale/clearance.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – I love the Castlevania series, and all things considered, this is a decent game. But to me, this title didn’t have the magic that I really have come to expect from the franchise. I have a feeling this game fell victim to Konami’s desire to cash in a sequel more than anything else.

Currently available on: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

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

Review: Castlevania – Lords of Shadow

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A while back I played through all the canonical Castlevania games and offered my personal reviews here on the blog. Those games were part of the original Castlevania series, now Konami has reboot the Castlevania universe and offered us a game called Lords of Shadow.

Forget everything you think you know about Castlevania. At least for now, forget about Simon, forget about Trevor, and even put aside any ideas you may have about Dracula. This game is a total reboot. In this title, our hero is Gabriel Belmont. He is a holy knight of sorts who is tormented by the mysterious death of his beloved. His quest is to seek out the fragments of a powerful mask, in hopes that he will be given the power to bring his wife back from the dead. As he progresses in his journey he learns about the secret origins of his order, and faces his own inner demons…

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It’s difficult to talk about this game, without spoiling the ending, but let’s just say Gabriel’s fate is one that came as shock to me in the end… and sets up a slew of sequels for years to come.

If we’re comparing LoS to the older, pre-reboot games. I would have to compare it games like Curse of Darkness and Lament of Innocence. It’s a fixed camera, 3D style game but I found it not to be as wonky to control as those games. LoS certainly has a modern polish to it. In fact, if you’re familiar with many modern games, I’d have to compare this title to games like God of War and Dante’s Inferno. Many of the same mechanics apply. Combat is heavily reliant on both speed and skill, as well as the memorization of button combos to execute special moves. Many of these abilities are unlocked with experience points earned during he course of the game. Gabriel will also learn how to wield both light and dark magic. Certain abilities can be combined with these magics to create new effects. Most boss battles ultimately involve an interactive cutscene type of event that require either fast-speed button mashing or gracefully pressing the attack button in sync with an on screen meter in order to achieve victory.

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Fighting aside, the game also focuses heavily on puzzle solving. Most levels include one or more brain-teaser style puzzles. This adds an interesting dynamic not really seen in the series before, but One that I found to be a bit enjoyable. At first, I was a bit put off at the radical departure LoS was from the rest of series. This goes for both gameplay and overall feel. To me, the first half of the game felt less like a Castlevania title and more like a cross between Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. However, as you progress into the mid-level and up many familiar faces and themes make an appearance. The seasoned Castlevania fan will notice several easter-egg like references to older characters and places. Although may of these are radically re-imagined.

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I found the game to be packed with content from the get go. However, it is worth noting that there are two additional downloadable chapters available for about $10 a piece that pickup where the end of the game leaves off. The DLC levels are considerably more challenging than most of the base game and the ultimate boss included in the “Resurrection” chapter is quite a beast indeed. Overall, I’m not sure if most players will find the value of both chapters worth a total of $20. I think a price of $10 for both is a little more appropriate.

I have to admit that even though I was not initially impressed with the game at first play, once I got into the meat of it, I become hooked. I have already ordered the semi-sequel “Mirror of Fate and look forward to the upcoming Lords of Shadow II.

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Difficulty: Adaptable- The game features a number of difficulty settings ranging from easy to insanely difficult.

Story: The storyline is very well done. However, some fans of the old series will be a bit bitter over the liberal rewrite the Castlevania universe has been given here. If you’re the type of person that can look past the radical changes and embrace the reboot concept, the lore and story presented is amazing.

Originality: To me, the game was something new. However, I realize that LoS borrows liberally from many other similar titles. I mentioned God of War and Dante’s Inferno in the main review… If you’ve played those, you know exactly what to expect with this title.

Soundtrack: While not exactly very listenable on it’s own, the game soundtrack is very well done and very fitting for the game itself. No real stand-out tracks, but it certainly compliments the game sets the mood appropriately.

Fun: Once I was able to wrap my mind around the way the game works and functions, I found myself having a good time. Players that like these type of games will be right at home here.

Graphics: Excellent graphics. Regardless if you are playing on an Xbox 360 or a PS3, the graphics are top notch and the game look absolutely stunning.

Playcontrol: For me, it took a while to get used to. The number of buttons and options and combos seemed overwhelming at first, but after the first few levels, things tend to start clicking in to place.  I suppose it may take some players longer than other to get the hang of things. But overall, well done.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While not perfect, I found it to be a pretty solid title.  The lack of original design hurts a bit, but honestly, it does not take away from the fun experience that is the game. Konami got way more right with this title than they got wrong.

Available Today On:  PS3, Xbox 360, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania Judgment

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Finally, I am proud to present my review for the last official title in the original Castlevania timeline. Castlevania Judgment. This game is a radical departure for the previous entries. What we have here, is a 3D fighter using traditional Castlevania characters.

The storyline for this title is pretty weak. It seems that an evil being known as the Time Reaper has been sent thru time by a being known as Galamoth  to destroy Dracula. The intention is to take over his power and with it, destroy all of existence. To avoid this tragedy, a mysterious time traveler known only as Aeon  (although the dialogue in the game hints greatly that Aeon may be the same person as St. Germain from CoD) has wandered through time to assemble the greatest vampire hunters in history to thwart this evil plan. I suppose if you’re willing to really stretch the imagination, this whole time rift concept could somehow explain the transition between this classic CV timeline and new world presented in Lord of Shadow?

What this really does is provide an excuse to have various characters from the Castlevania timeline defeat each other in battle. During the course of the game, you can choose from the following characters:

Simon, Dracula, Death, Golem, Carmilla, Grant, Trevor, Sypha, Maria, Alucard. Eric LeCarde, Cornell, Shanoa, and Aeon.

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Each character has a very loose storyline associated with them, when the game starts, only Simon and Alucard are playable. As you complete each character’s storyline, new characters and accessories are unlocked. I should note here, that if you own Order of Ecclesia for the DS, you can link your Wii and DS together for earn some unlockable items and an early unlock of Shanoa as a playable character.

Several modes of gameplay exist for both single players and multiplayers. Admittedly, I had a lot of fun with the game. It’s certainly not the best fighting title I’ve ever played, but it does have it’s moments.

Overall, it is what it is. As long as you don’t take this title too seriously, it’s well worth the price. In my opinion, it’s best experienced with a friend.

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Difficulty: Adaptable – Single player mode offers various difficulty settings. It should go without mention that when playing against others, the difficulty will vary depending on their skill.

Story: The background for the game is nothing more than a weak excuse to throw all the characters together. Normally unforgivable, I can turn a blind eye. This game is really nothing more than a fan service.

Originality: While there’s certainly nothing original about a brawl-style multiplayer fighting game at this point, it’s certainly a first for the series. Sadly, I don’t think the mass public was too impressed with the attempt.

Soundtrack: Probably the best thing about this game. The soundtrack features classic CV music completely redone and in CD quality. Probably one of my most played CV soundtrack albums.

Fun: Despite my many eye rolls and complaints, I found the game to very fun. Completing storylines, unlocks new content. This continues all the way to the end of the game. The unlockable accessories are cute, but only really serve a purpose when playing against other (to customize the look of your character).

Graphics: Surprisingly, pretty good. Lots of interesting visuals and effect. I have to give the game praise in this department.

Playcontrol: This varies A LOT depending on the control scheme you go with. You can play with the classic remote and nunchuck if you’re feeling adventurous. Personally, I find the best experience to lie with a classic controller pro. I feel like the title was really designed with this controller in mind.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While there’s certainly a lot about this game to be grumpy about. It is pretty fun multiplayer title. My son and I had a lot of fun. If you don’t take it too seriously, this is quite an enjoyable game. The Castlevania characters and settings set it apart from other games of it’s type.

Currently available on: Nintendo Wii

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania Adventure ReBirth

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This is a commonly overlooked title in the Castlevania archives. The Adventure ReBirth is a WiiWare download available for purchase through the Wii Shop. It is a modern day remake of the original Castlevania Adventure. However, other than sharing the name and the lead character there’s not much of a resemblance.

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This title is sort of a retro nod to some of the more classic “stage platformers” of the series. It also takes a queue from Rondo of Blood by incorporating a hidden key/locked door mechanic that will grant the player to new areas of the level and sometimes hard-to-find powerups. However, the overall feel and gameplay mechanics are straight out of the original Castlevania.

Compared to most modern games, this title is very short, only 6 levels.  But then again, it’s only meant to be a nod to the roots of the series, and for the cheap price, there really no room to complain.

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1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs. Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1479: Castlevanis: Curse of Darkness – Hector vs. Dracula
1576: Castlevania Adventure, Adventure ReBirth – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
181X: Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia – Shanoa vs Barlowe and Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula
1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula
1944: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Jonathan Morris vs Brauner & Dracula
2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania
2036: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Dark Lord Candidates & Menace

 

Difficulty: Adaptable – For the first time that I can recall, this title offers a selectable difficulty level. In addition, you can also choose how many lives you begin with. In my opinion, this is welcome. This allows younger players and new players to the series to get a taste of what the classic games were all about without being over frustrated.  There’s also a hidden level select option in the main menu that allows to pick up where you left off.

Story: Nothing new here, this is just a alternate version of the Castlevania Adventure storyline.

Originality: While this game is play-for-play a flashback to the classic CV titles, there’s something about the presentation of it that feels a little fresh. While we have old school gameplay mechanics, the modern 2D graphics and enhanced sound really do feel kind of original. It’s definitely a mixed bag.

Soundtrack: No complaints, but nothing really stands out either. An average score here.

Fun: Most of my enjoyment with this title came from the nostalgia and the visuals. It was a nice change of pace after the last several titles in the series. I got to zone my brain out a bit and just whip stuff.

Graphics: This game has an intentional 16bit feel to it. However, it does seem a bit more polished and colorful than most actual 16 bit Castlevania titles. I think Konami was aiming for a cross between old school and new school with the visual. I feel they succeeded.

Playcontrol: Pick your poison. You can play with a number of control schemes. Remote and Nunchuck, Classic controller, or just sideways Wii Remote. The first options gets a little tiresome… whip swinging is a lot of work. Personally, I found the best experience was to simply use a single Wii remote turned sideways. Everything feels natural and is very responsive.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Overall, this game is a fun little throwback and a little bit of a fanservice from Konami. There’s nothing groundbreaking here to be sure, but that was really never the point. The “ReBirth” line was a trend with Konami for a bit, allowing them to make modern versions of some classic games and I think the formula worked well with this title.

Currently available on: Nintendo Wii Shop – WiiWare

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania – Order of Ecclesia

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Finally we come to the final installment of the Nintendo DS saga. This game is famous for featuring the first female hero since the stricken Castlevania Legends (removed from timeline by series producer).

This title takes places somewhere after Symphony of the Night and before Circle of the Moon. It is another game which occurs during the absence of the Belmont family, and like CotM, it focuses around an organization of vampire hunters known as the Order of Ecclesia. The group’s leader, a man by the name of Barlowe, has mastered the art of forging magical gylphs that can be used to combat evil. He believes he has finally created a set of glyphs he calls Dominus, capable of defeating Dracula once and for all.

To wield the glyphs, Barlowe chooses one of the order’s finest students, a powerful young woman by the name of Shanoa. However, it what first appears to be a fit of jealousy, another student name Albus crashes the ritual and makes off with the glyphs. After the dust settles, Shanoa finds herself unable to recall her past and is advised by Barlowe that Albus used a powerful spell to steal her memories. She obeys Barlowe’s order to track down Albus and retake Dominus.

During her search, she comes across a number of captured people from a nearby village. As she helps them escape, their services become available to her whenever she comes back to the town to rest. Eventually, it comes to light that Albus is actually older brother to Shanoa. He reveals that by using the power of Dominus, the wielder sacrifices their own life in exchange for the weapons destructive properties. It was actually the power of Dominus that wiped her mind and he has stolen Dominus to protect her.  This information comes a bit too late as Albus is near death. With his dying breath, he makes Shanoa promise not to use the powerful glyph.

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Angry that she was misled by Barlowe, Shanoa confronts him only to learn that Dominus is actually composed of the Dracula’s dark magic, and that by using it she would have offered herself up as the sacrifice needed to resurrect Dracula. A fight breaks out between Shanoa and Barlowe, and although she defeats him, he in turn uses his own death as the sacrifice and Castlevania re-appears. Determined to put an end to Dracula’s plans, Shanoa storms the castle where the final battle takes place.

The “glyph system” is what really makes this game different from the rest of the series. As monsters are defeated, they will occasionally leave glyphs behind. Shanoa can absorb these glyphs and then use them in various combinations to create new and powerful weapons. This can lead to a lot of fun equipping the different items and seeing what you can create.

The game world is pretty straightforward at first, as you explore new areas they become unlocked on the map and can be revisited later. As new glyphs are collected and new abilities are unlocked, you will often find yourself going back to old area to explore parts of the stage that were previously inaccessible.

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Like several of the previous titles, there are optional side quests that become available as you free villagers. These often lead to weapon upgrades or the ability to purchase new consumables. It pays off to take time to fully explore and free all of the villagers, as this can have an effect on the ending of the game.

1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs. Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1479: Castlevanis: Curse of Darkness – Hector vs. Dracula
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
181X: Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia – Shanoa vs Barlowe and Dracula
1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula
1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula
1944: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Jonathan Morris vs Brauner & Dracula
2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania
2036: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Dark Lord Candidates & Menace

Difficulty: Very Difficult – Konami seems to have cranked up the difficulty on this title a bit. It’s certainly the hardest of the Castleroids since Circle of the Moon, and the hardest yet since the DS games started. The overall challenge of the game has been taken up a notch, not to mention the boss fights. Several of the bosses required many attempts and the memorization of certain attack patterns for me to finish them off.

Story: Again, we have another story that kind of helps explain the absence of the Belmont clan. The idea of their being various Vampire Hunting factions helps explain the strange cast of CotM a bit better. The storyline here is very well done and probably one of the best in the series since SotN.

Originality: Konami seemed driven not to let the franchise get stale. They certainly changed things up a lot by having a female lead and completely revamping to concept battle. The glyph system allows for two separate attack buttons, and the number of glyph union combinations is pretty impressive. This is was certainly a surprise when I started playing.

Soundtrack: Qualitywise, very impressive. The use of the stereo speakers is well done. However, I was not overly impressed with the composition. It definitely has that Castlevania feel, in fact while playing, my wife overheard the music and said “That sounds like a Castlevania game”. So points there. But, in my opinion it was just lacking something.

Fun: Frustration aside, I enjoyed this title quite a bit. The game is quite long, but it sneaks up on you. The storyline does a good job to keeping things moving and pushing you to see what’s around the next corner.

Graphics: Every time I think they can’t get better, I’m proven wrong. OoE has the best 2D Castlevania graphics I’ve seen yet. Personally, I’d have to rank them even higher than Symphony. I was very impressed.

Playcontrol: At first, I found that having two attack buttons to be a bit unusual. After a while I got used to it. But something just felt off with the button placement. Luckily, if you’re like me you can complete remap the controls. Other than this little hiccup, the response time was perfect. Oddly enough, I don’t think I ever used the touch screen – which is thought was a requirement on the DS. So that was a bit unusual.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – A great game, and definitely one worth experiencing if you want to see how things in the original series wrapped up. The graphics and storyline make this one well worth your time.

Currently available on: Nintendo DS

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania – Portrait of Ruin

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These games keep getting bigger and longer! But I’ve finally finished my playthrough of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin. Once again we’re back in 2D land. This installment returns to the familiar “castleroid” style of gameplay hailed by fans.

At this point in the life of the Castlevania series, the timeline had grown convoluted and confusing to many. Fans had questions about some of the heroes found a few of the games, as many of them were not Belmonts. This game was made to help answer these questions. Portrait of Ruin is also in many ways a direct sequel to the obscure game Castlevania: Bloodlines.

In this title, you control Jonathon Morris – son of John Morris. You also control Charlotte Aulin – gifted mage and lifelong friend of Jonathon. Jonathon possess the legendary Vampire Killer whip. Handed down to this family from the Belmonts, he finds that, unlike his late father, he is unable to wield its power effectively.

When Castlevania mysteriously appears, the two heroes arrive on the scene to investigate.

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They soon learn that the Castle has been occupied by another vampire named Brauner. While he has no loyalty to Dracula, Brauner is hellbent on destroying all of humanity. Using his dark magic, Brauner has created a series of secret worlds hidden in oil paintings. Jonathan and Charlotte must explore these worlds to find a way to put a stop to Brauner’s plans.

During their journey they encounter the ghost of Eric LeCarde, friend of Jonathan’s father. They learn that Brauner has turned his daughter’s into vampires. Eric promises to teach Jonathon the secret of unlocking the full potential of the Vampire Killer in exchange for saving his daughters.

Eventually it is learned that the Belmont clan was stripped of their powers to fight Dracula until his final resurrection sometime in the future. In the meantime, any who wish to wield the whip must first earn it’s power by defeating the spirit of the Belmont, locked away in the whip’s memory. The downside to this, anyone other than a Belmont who takes on the whip must use it sparingly or it will slowly drain them of their lifeforce. Such was the fate of John Morris.

After traversing thru a number of panted landscapes, the portrait hiding Brauner is accessible and the heroes confront him. Upon his defeat, the magic seal Braunder erected to ward off the power of Dracula is broken. Dracula is temporarily resurrected and our heroes do battle, once again sending Dracula’s spirit to the netherworld.

This game is similar in many ways to Dawn of Sorrow. However, gone are the annoying  hand-drawn seals. This time the touch screen is used to send commands to the secondary character. Aside from that, you can switch the lead character from Jonathan or Charlotte at will. While Jonathan excels at physical attacks, Charlotte is adept in magical arts. There are few puzzles in the game that require quickly switching from one character to the other.

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I found the game to be a nice upgrade in many ways from the previous DS title. The graphics are improved and new dual-character system makes for a fun dynamic.

1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs. Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.
1479: Castlevanis: Curse of Darkness – Hector vs. Dracula
1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula
1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula
1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula
1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – John Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula
1944: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin – Jonathan Morris vs Brauner & Dracula

2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania

2036: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Dark Lord Candidates & Menace

Difficulty: Hard This title is about as difficult has Dawn of Sorrow. Some of the boss battles seem kind of cheap until you figure out the right combination of moves and weapons. The overall game maintains a bit of a challenge too.

Story: As I said earlier, this game attempts to explain a lot of gaps in the series. In fact, until this title was released, many of the earlier games had been retroactively removed from the timeline. Titles such as Castlevania 64, and Circle of the Moon. The explanation of how various people can effectively control the whip helped to restore these titles back to their former glory. The overall story in the game is well done, and the chemistry between the characters is quite enjoyable.

Originality: Just when I thought the 2D handheld style was getting old, Konami managed to pump a little “fresh” back into things. The portrait system helps keep the level design interesting. Also, new to this title is the addition of Online functionality. Through WiFi, you can purchase items for sale by other players. Thus allowing you to obtain things needed for quests that you may have missed or sold to the shop NPC by accident.

Soundtrack: Not the best, but not the worst either. This game has a pretty much middle of the road score. A few catchy tunes here and there, but overall nothing to write home about.

Fun: I found a lot of fun in this title. Playing casually, it took me about a month to complete. I spent maybe a few hours on it at first, but as I got farther into the game I did get a bit hooked and sped through the last half in just a few days.

Graphics: A bit better than DoS! The background scenes are especially well done. I was a bit impressed with over all look of the game. The anime art is clean and colorful, as is the overall level design.

Playcontrol: No complaints. Spot on controls for a 2D game. However, I do feel it’s best played on an actual DS or DSi. I played half of this title on a first gen 3DS and found the device to be a bit too small for my big hands. I actually cramped up a few times, but this is no fault of the game itself.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Overall, there not anything to complain about. This is a solid title, and a long needed addition to the Castlevania mythos. This is another example of how the later generation 2D Castlevania titles really shined with each new release.

Currently available on: Nintendo DS

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Review: Castlevania – Curse of Darkness

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This one took me a while. Curse of Darkness is Konami’s attempt at another 3D style Castlevania. In many ways it is very similar to Lament of Innocence. In fact, it is built using the same game engine. So anyone familiar with that title will feel right at home here. The camera controls actually seem to be a bit improved too, which is a big plus.

While this game is very much like the previous 3D title, it is also tinged with a touch of “castleroid” flavor. This time, instead of the levels being hub-based (as they were in LoI), the game is open-world like many of the GBA titles. There are warp rooms that allow you to backtrack to older areas. This helps you find hidden treasures or secret areas that may have previously inaccessible on your first trek through.

The game is a spiritual sequel to Castlevania III, it is set in the year 1479; three years after the adventures of Trevor Belmont. Despite his victory against Dracula, the evil vampire curse still brings a fog of death and evil over the surrounding countryside. The star of this game is Hector, the Devil-Forgemaster. Hector was once a minion of Dracula himself, employed to summon-forth (or forge) many of the terrible monsters in Dracula’s army of evil. At some point during the course of Castlevania III, Hector disavowed his evil ways and left the employ of Dracula to live in peace among other humans.

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When the game begins, we learn that Hector’s beloved, Rosaly, has recently accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake for her “sins”. As it turns out, the charges were trumped up by another Devil Forgemaster known as Isaac. Having once worked together for Dracula, Isaac has made it his goal to get revenge for Hector’s betrayal.

The game is made up largely of Hector chasing Isaac through the countryside and eventually back into the newly re-appeared Castlevania. All the while, Hector  must re-acquire the skills that he lost after turning his back on Dracula. A big part of the game, and the secret to success is the new system of “devil-forging”. As enemies are defeated, Hector will acquire items that allow him to give birth to new monster-companions. Knowing which companions to use at various points in the game are on of the major gameplay factors.

During the game, Hector encounters various characters that help flesh out the unfolding storyline. Several game cutscenes include Trevor Belmont, Isaac, a strange -yet sinister man known as Zead, and the odd and quirky time traveler St. Germain.

As the plot unfolds, it becomes apparent that Isaac has been warped by the curse of Dracula. Zead is revealed to be Death in disguise and the whole thing is nothing more than an elaborate plot to trick Hector into becoming the new body-vessel for Dracula. When Hector does not succumb to the dark temptations, Isaac’s body is used instead and Dracula is reborn once more. As you might assume, at this point, Hector battles Dracula in the climax of the game.

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An interesting point to note here, Curse of Darkness stands as the last “regular” console release in the original Castlevania series. In the epilogue for the title, the time traveler St. Germain gives an interesting speech about the various battles with Dracula over the years. He seems to elude that the greatest battle, the one that finally destroys Dracula for good (the same battle talked about in DoS and AoS, between Julius and Dracula in 1999), has yet to be told. He drops the hint that perhaps we will soon hear that story once and for all. Yet, in same breath he also mentions as a side note “or perhaps the tale will begin anew…”

I found that statement interesting. As someone finishing this game for the first time in 2012, it is not obvious that Castlevania series has been rebooted. I have to wonder, was this the plan all along? Did they know at the time CoD was released that a reboot of the series was pending. Hmm… Regardless, here’s my breakdown:

1094: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – Leon Belmont vs. Walter & Death

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.

1479: Castlevanis: Curse of Darkness – Hector vs. Dracula

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula

1691: Castlevania, Super Castlevania, Chronicles – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula

1748: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance – Juste Belmont vs. Dracula

1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula

1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula

1830: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – Nathan Graves vs Dracula

1844/1852: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness – Cornell, Henry, Reinhardt, & Carrie vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel

1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

2035: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Castlevania

2036: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow – Soma Cruz vs. Dark Lord Candidates & Menace

 

Difficulty: Medium Most of the game is pretty much a cake walk. A few of the boss fights are challenging. However, if you take your time to unlock all of the devils and seek out many of the hidden items. Things get much easier. Sometimes, it is easy to forget to go back and save. On more than one occasions, my progress was stunted by an untimely death that resulted in having to start back at an older save spot and replay nearly an hour or two of content. Frustrating.

Story: Very good storytelling in this title. The whole “Devil forgemaster” thing is interesting, but struck me as bit out of left-field. It was nice to see Trevor again, however.

Originality: Konami tried to make this title the best of both worlds. Good 3d graphics, which the open world feel of the recent side-scrolling games. However, I’m not sure the recipe worked.

Soundtrack: Not bad, but sub-par compared to many of the games in the series. Not much to say here.

Fun: While not a bad game at all, I found myself a bit bored by this title after a while. Aside the from the cool cutscenes, there was really nothing that drove me to keep playing. I’m not really sure  what exactly went wrong here, but the game just didn’t grab me like some of the others did.

Graphics: On par with LoI, but yet I found the visual to be a bit drab. Everything is dark. LoI used much better lighting in my opinion. Also, and this might just be my imagination, but it seems to be that this game is not quite as “sharp” as LoI.

Playcontrol: This has been the best 3D CV so far. The camera controls are much improved. Occasionally, things get a little haywire, especially during big battles. But it’s a big step up.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Not my favorite game in the series by any means. If I had to recommend one PS2 title from the series, it would have to be Lament of Innocence over this title. Who knows, perhaps I’m suffering from a bit of Castlvania burnout. But I just felt indifferent about this game.

Currently not available. (PS2, Xbox)

Other Reviews In This Series:

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

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II

Castlevania Playthrough Update

Well, it’s Halloween. I think now it’s obvious that I’m not going to meet my goal of playing through every legacy Castlevania title before the end of the day. But, I gave it a good shot!

I’m almost finished with Curse of Darkness. After which, I have two more DS titles and a Wii game. At this point the original series is complete. There is of course a remake of Castlevania Adventure on the Wii virtual console, and then a quirky multiplayer mashup. I’m going to continue with the playthrough and hopefully finish up in November.

I have admittedly been distracted by a number of things. The original version of Final Fantasy XIV is about to end. I have been very busy collecting once-in-a-lifetime achievements for the game, as well as playing the new Wizardry Online beta.

I plan to restore some normalcy to the blog in the coming days, so stay tuned.