My Relationship with Castlevania

Well, the new Castlevania for the DS has been released and I really do not care one bit.  Sure, I will likely buy the game.  Play it once or twice, but never finish it.

I used to love the Castlevania series and currently own most of the games in the series, save Belmont’s Revenge, Legend, and Order of Shadows.  The problem with me is that I love the “old school” Castlevania.  Then came Symphony of the Night.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I though Symphony of the Night was a great game, I just never saw it as a masterpiece the way everyone else seems to see it.  Ayami Kojima’s artwork was awsome, if a bit effeminate, gameplay was decent, music was great, the storyline (which everyone says is awsome) was barely there, and hardly interesting.  It was fun exploring the map, but after a while, I could care less.  Overall, a good game, but nothing revolutionary in my mind.

The big thing that I thought was just a one-off feature was the inclusion of an RPG system.  Now, I’ve played my fair share of RPGs, but I’ve honestly never been terribly fond of the whole number system to determine everything.  In a straight RPG, its fine because that’s what the game is built on, your stats versus an opponent’s.  I thought the RPG elements added to Symphony of the Night destroyed much of the purpose of the series thus far.  Instead of using actual player experience wherin the player himself becomes more profficient and learns to play the game better, they add artificial experience that pretty much allows you to play exactly the same from start to finish, as long as you spend a good amount of time grinding.  Grinding is perhaps the worst aspect of any RPG and is definitely not something I want or need to see in my Castlevania.  Still, the game came and went and I never thought too much about it.

Then came Castlevania 64 and Legacy of Darkness, the series’ first attempt at 3D and I…loved them.  The games were not perfect, but they were what I imagined a 3D Castlevania to be like and then some.  Castlevania 64 had an incredible atmosphere that Symphony of the Night, while beautiful, was never able to convey to me.  From the opening moments of the game where the lightning bolt splits the tree in front of you, to the giant skeleton greeting you at the gate, the game was just a feast at the time.  The game also featured the return of the Belmonts in the form of Reinhardt, his last name may be different, but I put more stock in the blood in his veins than the letters of his last name.  Carrie Fernandez brought the return of the Belnades family with Carrie, once again, its the lineage, not the name.

The Castle itself had a dominating presence and I thought the game and the art direction were awsome, much more in line with the classic Castlevania games (just look at the European box art, man, I need to get my hands on those).  It was not uncommon for me to simply stop in place, switch to first person perspective, and admire the world built around me, in certain levels especially.  The music, definitely subtler this time around, was used more to enhance the atmosphere.  And the story, for the first time in a Castlevania game, was interesting in itself populated with a great cast of characters.  The moment you meet Rosa in the garden, you know that there is something more to this woman.  Renon, the salesman, has an eerie presence.  My friend actually screamed, “He’s Dracula!” the moment he saw him.

The game also has a bunch of great set-pieces that really made the game unique.  The Villa has an atmosphere you can cut through with a knife.  The hedgemaze creeped me out so much that I wouldn’t enter during the in-game night.  Travelling through the Castle carrying the Nitro and Mandragora, trying no to jump or hit everything had me holding my breath the whole time.  Death turning Rosa on you, who then later sacrifices herself to save you, followed by Reinhardt angrily challenging death to battle, or Actrise forcing Carrie to fight her cousin (or her ancestor, Sypha Belnades if you go by the Japanese version) just made you hate her all the more.  All this and more topped off by a dramatic rise to the Castle Keep up the classic stairway with the Castle below, the moon above, and a mournful choir to keep you company.  Honestly, many of these scenes still blow my mind today.

Then of course Legacy of Darkness was released which added two more stories to the mix.  Mainly, Cornell’s story.  This only expands the awsome narrative told in the Carrie and Reinhardt’s stories.  Cornell has to rescue his kidnapped sister from his old rival.  The rivallry between Cornell and Ortega is thick.  The characters, again, have their own secrets and motives and they come out well in the story.  The ending, which leads straight into Reinhardt and Carrie’s story, is unexpected, but at the same time makes perfect sense.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I loved Castlevania 64, and at first, everyone seemed to as well.  The game averaged 8/10 review scores from most major outlets (it currently holds a decent 78/100 on Metacritic).  Gamepro said “A gorgeous rendition of the old Castlevania tale” and Gamespot called it “A well-balanced, challenging gameplay experience that’s filled with pretty visuals, awesome (though limited) music, plenty of secrets, and some incredible bosses ”  Most reviews by gamers unfamiliar and unbiased towards the 2D perspective or Symphony of the Night in particular gave it awsome reviews.  Then something happened.  I don’t know what it was.  Sometime between the release of the original and Legacy of Darkness, everyone just turned on the game and blasted Legacy of Darkness upon its release.  All of a sudden what was considered a worthy entry into the series and a great first step into the world of 3D was now a piece of junk that fans of the series consider a disgrace to the series and proof that Castlevania should stay 2D.

What happened then?  Well, first was Circle of the Moon, a game that I admit enjoying.  It felt like the old school 2D Castlevanias mixed with a little Symphony of the Night.  The fact that it was the last game to use a version of the classic Castlevania logo should have come as a sign.

Since then, Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, all have been carbon copies of Symphony of the Night.  The first three games listed even had protagonists that looked identical to Alucard, save for the hair and the clothes.  Its here that I started losing my interest.  Four games with really only superficial differences, all based on mechanics I never cared too much for in the first place, levelling up, and exploring a Metroid-esque map.

Sprinkled about in there were Koji Igarashi’s horrible attempts at a 3D Castlevania.  Instead of trying to make a good 3D game with Lament of Innocence, he tried to make Symphony of the Night in 3D and it sucked, hard.  The game was an excercise in monotany.  The entire game basically worked out to kill every enemy in this room, run through the hallway, enter an identical room, kill everything, run down an identical hallway, repeat countless times.  The gameplay was beyond repetitive, nearing the realm of coma-inducing and yet critics praised it as the game that makes up for the “nightmare” that was CV64.

When Curse of Darkness came by a few years later, it was much the same game, only this time critics rated it somewhat lower.

Somewhere in there IGA, the series’ current helmsman, which I blame for the homogenizing of the series’ style and drop in quality of gameplay
and storyline (Jonathan has to unlock the power of the whip in Portrait of Ruin, really?), decided to nip and tuck the series as he saw fit and in doing so removed Castlevania 64, Legacy of Darkness, Legends, and Circle of the Moon from the canon.  Although he’s denied it had anything to do with it, these are all the games after Symphony of the Night that IGA had no involvement with.  Although Wikipedia claims that all but Legends, whose storyline directly contradicts Lament of Innocence, have been restored to the storyline, though the only evidence to vaguely support this is the timeline included with Portrait of Ruin, which simply names the games.

With everything said, I have enjoyed Castlevania Chronicles and Dracula X Chronicles, but that’s almost completely because they’re based on and include earlier games in the series that IGA had not yet sullied with his direction for the series.

So now, given what you’ve read, if you read it, I think you can see why I have no interest in Order of Ecclesia.  Like I said before, there is a good chance I will buy it.  Despite barely caring/playing Portrait of Ruin, I had the thing pre-ordered months in advance for the 20th Anniversary pack, which was worth the price of the game.