By Yummylee 59 Comments
I bought a 3DS!
Well, I bought a 3DS like maybe two months ago at this point, but nonetheless I still continue to own and play games on my relatively new-spangled videya games console. However weirdly enough the type of cartridges that have found themselves snuggly fitted into its port (uh...) are of DS games rather than the 3D variety.
I do in fact own a couple of 3DS titles--Kirby's Triple Deluxe and Tales of the Abyss--to which I have invested a fair chunk into both. Although my recent craze has admittedly taken over and left those two at the sidelines. My recent craze being of course the Castlevania series! And more specifically the MetroidVania variety at that.
I was pretty hesitant as to which one to get first, and upon reading some opinions it seemed pretty evenly split between which one of the three--Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia--was the most popular. The one I ended up getting first was Portrait of Ruin anywhoo -- I think probably because it was the cheapest on offer.
Portrait of Ruin
I quite like it! A lot, in fact.
I don't have much experience with this sub-genre, so Portrait of Ruin still managed to feel relatively fresh of an experience as of late. I had indeed played Symphony of the Night via XBLA years back, but I can remember getting lost shortly upon unlocking the mist power and got bored exploring the castle... Shadow Complex (which was also my first MetroidVania game) was thusly my primary frame of reference. Though it's admittedly been a fair few years since I played Shadow Complex at that... I should probably in fact give that another go, given my recent obsession and all.
Anywhoo, Portrait of Ruin. It encompasses all of the hallmarks we associate with the Symphony of the Night design of Castlevania, with a massive 2D castle to explore (albeit semi-linearly), light RPG mechanics, screen-filling bosses, and so on. In the grand scheme of things this is essentially another Symphony of the Night, though that's certainly not a bad thing!
The presentation for starters is just as stellar as you'd expect; even when viewed from a modern perspective the game still has a fetching look to it, with plenty of visual variety throughout the castle. The soundtrack is also really good at that -- another staple of this franchise. The combat, while simplistic, still manages to feel satisfying in slashing/cleaving/whipping (especially whipping) your way up, down and around to Dracula's domain. While there isn't necessarily a loot grind exactly, there's enough gear and hidden goodies to locate that exploration always feels beneficial and inspires you to make sure you've searched every corner of the castle.
I suppose the primary differentiator that PoR utilises to help set it apart from its forebearers is the introduction of starring two dual protagonists, Jonathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin. Jonathan is basically your traditional Castlevania protagonist, being able to utilise an all manner of swords and whips ect, and is likely to be the one you'll be directly controlling the most. Whereas Morris relies on melee and many of the series' staple sub-weapons (and then some), Charlotte is a spellcaster. Though that doesn't mean she can't also handle herself in a scrap, courtesy of a number of books she can equip that'll then sprout swords and shit for her melee attacks. The books that extend three different weapons at different angles in particular are actually really effective. That said, her overall melee damage can't quite compete against most of Jonathon's assortment of toys, nor can she take a hit quite as well, either.
Her variety of magic spells still offer up a lot of customisation all the same, and the handy ability to instantly call her at your side to perform a set-spell before then disappearing again is ever so useful. You can also opt to have her follow alongside you thattaway, to which she will join in attacking whatever enemies are nearby, and any damage she (or Morris if you're controlling Charlotte) sustains will instead eat away at your stamina/mana bar instead.
That said, I still more often than not rolled with Jonathan on his lonesome, occasionally switching to Charlotte when I want to cast a spell to its full potential -- summoning her to your side only has her cast the spell at half its power. Having her along to dish out a little extra damage can certainly prove useful, but because the AI is so rudimentary then it sometimes amounts to a waste of stamina having her going about attacking things of her own volition.
There's some occasional puzzles that requires you to switch between characters, or maybe tell one character to stay put while another does something else. But by and large it ultimately feels just a little tacked on. Though I believe you can in fact play the game cooperatively??
If there is one major problem I have with the game it's that its default normal mode is a little bit on the easy side, especially once I acquired a Long Spear, and even more so once I unlocked the Royal Sword. However its Hard mode feels just a little bit too punishing... It probably starts to ease up a little as you acquire more gear, but the beginning of that game on Hard mode is fucking nasty. Practically everything can kill you in like 2-3 hits, whereas it takes much more to kill one of them. Even the most rudimentary of enemies like the zombies, bats and skeletons prove to be a serious threat. Overall the balance of frustration and fun is a little off for me in that mode, in that it's basically all frustration with none of the fun =/
Nonetheless overall I've really enjoyed it, and it's made for a great jumping off point into me binging through all of these damn things. In fact I've even gone back to it and decided to play through it again from scratch -- because why not?? Also, the way the 3DS makes the sound of a door opening/closing when you open/close your 3DS is pretty cool.
One thing I really appreciate about these games is the tradition of including an uber-powered unlockable character to then get up to all sorts of sequence-breaking with. By which I'm of course referring to Richter mode! Or... ''Richiter'' mode as the game refers to it.
Playing as Richter is a joyous amount of fun, and while there's no story, inventory management, items, gear, or... well not much of anything really besides what you see on the screen, Richter himself is so bloody fast and powerful that the sheer act of playing as him is a reward in and of itself. Plus, you do at least level up so there's some degree of progression to it all. Since Richter is so powerful I decided to play it on Hard mode with him, and while it's actually still pretty damn difficult, it feels like I have much more of a fighting chance overall. Though because of how fast he is it can be a little difficult to reign myself in; sprinting and leaping around on full-auto is so fun that it's hard to stop, which very quickly results in my death...
I wish I could carry the same enthusiasm for the Sisters mode, though. I was actually pretty excited to play as the duo, only to have that excitement deflate like a ruptured whoopee cushion upon finding out that all you can do with 'em is use the stylus to perform a spell per sister. It's just kinda boring really, as you simply float about and stick the stylus on the screen to watch ice orbs fly everywhere. There's of course still no gear or anything like that and it's extremely shallow. There appears to be a bit of story involved with this one, but whatever, the stories even in the main modes are rather thin and poorly written, so the story of a small side-thing isn't exactly very enticing. Shame really, as again I was pretty excited at the notion of getting to play as them.
I've also read that there's an unlockable Armour Knight character, only it requires you to kill 1000 Armour Knights during the main game... One Thousand. Of this one specific enemy. Putting that to scale, by the end of my first playthrough I had killed about 3000 enemies.
Symphony of the Night
The Grand Daddy of the entire franchise, and one half of the whole MetroidVania sub-genre thing in the first place. As I mentioned earlier I did already play this way back when, but after putting in some time with PoR I then figured now is as good a time as any to return back to the Champion.
And I quite like it! A lot, in fact.
Because it's a much older game there are certain elements that are inferior to the DS releases, however what it can hold above the rest is funnily enough its presentation. Whereas most games in this series have adopted a more anime-inspired look and sound, Symphony of the Night carries the classic Gothic stylings of the series. The game still looks superb to this day and has a heavy atmosphere about it all, in so small part down to its soundtrack. PoR certainly has some great tracks on there, but it's much more JRPG-ish as opposed to the grander and more bizarre SotN's soundtrack.
Despite that, certain aspects like your inability to slide, or the less prominent fast-travel portals, can make it a little less accessible. Plus, while there's plenty of weaponry, most are all basically just swords. There are different qualities like some have a faster attack animation and such, but there's nothing that gives you the same degree of disparity between switching from a regular long sword to a spear for example.
One other aspect that I really dislike is the use of fighting game-esque button commands for your spells. In the heat of battle having to pull them off is tricky enough as it is, let alone when you're also trying to do it with a 360 controller. As such, I primarily went through the game pretending they didn't even exist.
OK, and just to get the criticisms outta the way, Richter mode in this isn't especially great. I mean playing as Richter is still a lot of fun, and that slide leap move of his is probably my favourite anything in the history of Castlevania thus far. However because there's once again no gear to collect or even any levelling up this time, it's like Richter was dropped into the wrong game. Which... of course is true in a way. It basically feels as if the main pull for playing as Richter is to fight the bosses, as exploring the castle is kind of a drag. To constantly leap around only to be rewarded with more hearts really sucks. Also, most of the bosses are kinda easy as Richter funnily enough.
I've read that you can at least increase your overall health, though there's no kind of feedback to obtaining a health upgrade, and it treats it no differently than if you've just collected another heart. It basically feels unfinished, as if this was the developers experimenting with the idea rather than actually giving you a healthy alternative to Alucard.
Now, with all that outta the way, this game is still pretty damn awesome. One aspect that is undoubtedly worth all the praise is its Inverted Castle. It's probably the best use of a New Game+ ever from what I can tell. With the way it literally flips the entire castle upside down, it in doing so creates a completely new environment with new traversal obstacles to overcome. Of course, there's also plenty of new enemy types, bosses, and gear to find. So in that regard I don't know if it really counts as an example of NG+... But in any case it's a shame that no other Castlevania game to my knowledge has utilised such an interesting concept.
The voice acting and dialogue are also hilariously awful. Well, Alucard's mostly fine, but Richter & Dracula in particular are a laugh riot. Also, fun fact: the guy who voices Richter is the same guy who voices Chris Redfield in the original Resident Evil! Hey, it wouldn't be a Yummylee blog without a sprinkling of Resident Evil in there somewhere...
''What do you here?''... u wot luv
The difficulty is an improvement too, as it can certainly prove to be a challenge at times. Galamoth is also without a doubt the hardest anything I've fought across all of these I've played... The only way I could beat him was with the shield rod and alucard's shield. Oh, and btw, I had to look up that using the shield rod with shields actually grants you different abilities. As far as I'm aware the game doesn't ever tell you the button combination to then use the ability. Anywhoo, it's actually kinda hilarious how broken that ability is. Once activated your shield then does about 424423 damage per second. Which, hey, at least it gives your a shield an actual use!
I attempted Galamoth many a time simply with my skill, but I just couldn't do it. Those electric balls he'd constantly keep summoning, and reading that he has like 15000 health, when all of my attacks do about 4 damage without any sort of buff, well... Would you kindly go fuck yourself, Galamoth. It gotten to a point where the boss was built around a war of attrition than anything.
Dawn of Sorrow
Given that I'm seemingly on a quest to play every single one of these in the wrong order, next up is Dawn of Sorrow!
And I quite like it! A lot, in fact.
It's always strange when you play a predecessor, because you can't help but head in with the mentality that you're playing a sequel, even when you know to expect that maybe it won't be quite as refined, or maybe this one feature you liked isn't there ect. Though because so many of these games are so similar, it's pretty easy transition all the same, especially after going through SotN.
In fact beyond a few minor differences, it is exceptionally similar to Portrait of Ruin, right down to enemy sprites. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. While they're both rather comparable, I think I'd hafta say I prefer Dawn of Sorrow just ever so slightly. Which is weird because at first it wasn't quite grabbing me as much, yet as it went on it eventually became just as addicting. I don't what it was that clicked, but... this one definitely took a bit of time for to me really get stuck in for whatever reason.
Anywhoo, I'd say it has a more consistently entertaining soundtrack, and the overall difficulty balance is a little better, too. It's still not especially difficult, but there's more of a challenge all the same I'd say. The way you can acquire like every single enemy ability in the game is also really enticing and makes it exciting to encounter new enemies. Sure, in PoR a lot of enemies would drop their weapon or a spell centred around their attacks, but because so many were spells as opposed to weapons or sub-weapons, it wasn't quite as exciting as what you could potentially uncover in DoS. Manticore Tail, motherffffffffff!
Some truly memorable boss battles as well, with the puppet master and mirror jester bosses in particular a couple of standouts. Though on that note, it also features some of the worst. Dario is an especially poor one as he basically just stands there with like 3 attacks or something. That, and there's his infuriating ''ha-ha-ha-ha-ha'' he literally does like every 3 seconds.
I also think it's interesting how instead of finding weapons, you upgrade them via specific enemy souls you acquire. On one hand it can make exploring around a little less engaging, because of the knowledge that you're not going to find any new weapons. But on the other, it again only makes grinding out enemy souls all the more surprisingly addictive. It's a pretty great system overall that I really enjoy, and of all the ones I've played thus far it's easily my favourite with regards to your sub-weapon/magic customisation.
Now the one primary complaint I have for this 'un is the magic seals -- the ''connect the dots'' stylus sequencer things. They're honestly more trouble than they're worth and at best merely prove to be a minor nuisance, but at worst can be utterly infuriating. They start off simple enough as you basically just connect the dots to make a triangle, but of course they soon start getting more complicated, until you find yourself doing circles followed by semi-circles and stuff. The one that really tore at me was when fighting Death and having to do magic seal 5. The battle itself was rather tricky to begin with, and to end it with that Magic Seal BS really tested my patience. It got to a point where Death himself wasn't much of a problem, but every time it came to the magic seal I wouldn't quite do it fast enough or my lines weren't straight enough or whatever.
It doesn't really add anything to the game and mostly comes across as something they shoved in purely because, hey, there's this touch screen doohickey so... Having to hold a stylus in my hands while also play the game can be a tad unwieldy anyway, and I'd much rather developers either build a game completely around the use of the stylus, or pretend that it doesn't exist. Though to be honest I think that's probably my only major flaw with the game.
Oh, baby here we go. To be quite frank I'd probably say I've had about as much fun playing as Julius as I've had with Soma. For starters he's basically in his 50s, which I always like in my protagonists, which also means that he's not quite as... athletic as Richter for example. He comes across a lot more even scaled overall, and in fact his default running speed seems to be slower than Soma's. All in all, playing as Julius is a lot of fun, and I especially like the additional music peppered throughout the game. It even has a Barkerville remix!.. Oh, yeah, I must confess that when that song started playing, my first instinct was to start humming it while pronouncing the Barkerville syllables in my head. Curse you, @brad...
What's also neat is how you're not just playing as Julius, but will eventually come into contact with Yoko and even Alucard. And by Alucard I mean Alucard... Like, Symphony of the Night Alucard, right down to his inability to slide and how he's the only one of the three who can sit in chairs. Because he already had that animation so, hey! Though despite that, I still found myself playing as Julius more often than not. It's his name on the mode after all! Alucard seems to purely exist for his traversal abilities really, and I guess Yoko has her small healing ability by way of her regular attacks each providing a small bit of health -- like, literally 4 or something. Though it's honestly so small that it borders on useless, even if it does slightly increase every so few levels. Her magic abilities are rather powerful, but... Julius all the way, mang. Plus, switching between characters isn't nearly as instantaneous as it is in PoR, so it's something of a hassle really. Though you are invincible during the short transition animation, which I guess could be used to your advantage if timed right.
Like Richter Mode, playing without the option to use items gives an additional layer of complexity to the game and suddenly makes you take all of those potions and puddings for granted. It's certainly not impossible, though, it just means there's less room for error. Fighting Death has proven to be rather tricky, but thank the Lord there's at least no magic seals in here!
Shame The Abyss(full) area is so short, though. Once I went through the portal I had hoped it was then going to open up an entirely new area about the size as the Cultist Castle. But alas.
Order of Ecclesia
All right, here we go! A badass looking female protagonist, complete with a return to the more Gothic-inspired art style of old! It's even bucking its own trends and trying out some new ideas!
And yet... I don't quite like it...?
Man, this sucks. I don't mean the game exactly, but rather my own reaction to it. It has a lot of qualities that should make it shoot right up to becoming one of my favourites even. However the way the combat is designed doesn't sit well with me. OK, first I at least want to say that I'm not opposed to the World Map design. While having this giant, singular environment to explore is fun, I'm game for any other ways they wish to dish out all of the many different environment aesthetics. And boy, is there variety! The game looks fantastic as well and is easily the best looking of the DS trilogy.
Unfortunately I'm not much of a fan of the combat. See, instead of picking up weapons, you must find Glyphs. Upon absorbing these Glyphs they will give you your weapons and also magic spells. You can equip a different Glyph per hand, so you could dual-wield swords for example, or stick a sword on one and a lance on another. However all weapons (least so far) function the same, and instead are differentiated by their type. So, you're going to want use hammers against skeletons for example. But their actual animations all play out the same and just don't quite carry the same satisfaction as the weapons of the older games do.
You can again also equip spells, and there are Glyph combinations that can form into a unique special attack. Oh, because you also now two mana bars, with one determining your regular attacks/magic, and the other being your hearts, which is used for your Glyph combos, making it resemble closer to the older games of the series. Though your primary bar replenishes almost instantly when used. Hearts, however, are much rarer, so it'll force you to use your Glyph combo attacks in moderation.
I have little problem with the idea behind the Glyphs system, but the core combat attacks don't quite do it for me. I also don't think the music is anything special thus far, either. Though being able to collect CDs of classic Castlevania songs and play them over the level is quite a treat. I also like the idea behind the HUB village, that you slowly grow as you save more of its villagers. Again, there's a lot of things I like in this game, but unfortunately I currently can't get over the combat system as of now.
I'll certainly make an effort to complete it, though it's also much more difficult than its priors. That crab boss in particular musta taken me about 20 attempts! Still, part of me wants to complete it just so I can play it with the unlockable character and see if maybe I prefer it that way.
OK, I have actually totally been playing Aria of Sorrow and Harmony of Dissonance lately as well.... But hawt dayum I think this blog is long enough as it is, so if I were to be bothered to write up a little summin' summin' related to those then it'll have to be for another time. To put it short, one I like, one less so. Guess which one's which.
Still, my point has been made: these games have got me good. I'm admittedly fearing the inevitable burnout like you'd expect, but it's not quite here yet and damn if I can stop even if I wanted to! I've even got Aliens: Infestation over here for just a little extra smidge of that Metroidvania'n.
And who can blame me! It's a design that still stands up to this day; the 2D format allows some stupendously beautiful art for starters, and the act of continually unlocking new stuff and being able to further explore an ever growing environment is ever so tantalising. It's that aura of mystique that pulls us on, it inspires us to search every cranny and whip every wall... just in case. It may have taken me a few years, but I'm happy I've finally gotten around to discovering what is so beloved about these games. Though weirdly enough they're all a lot... shorter than I would have imagined.
Don't get me wrong, with them all averaging at about 9-10 hours just with the main game, they've certainly got a decent length about 'em. But when you look at the map and your statistics, you'd think you would have just surmounted a 25-30 hour long adventure. Eh, but again, I'm certainly not complaining about their value. Maybe it's just my way of admitting that I want more -- more castles, more whips, more double jumps,
Also, @vinny, where'sa ma VinnyVania?!
Outro Music Sure Why Not