Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
11 November 2007
Castlevania on GBA
The Castlevania series, if Wikipedia is to be believed, has been plodding on now since September 26 1986, making it exactly one month younger than I am. In those twenty one long years, the only two times that it has decided to veer its metaphorical 4x4 off the motorway of mediocrity and into the forest of innovation is when it nicked the entire gameplay style of Super Metroid in 1997 with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and when it stiched its various components into the horrific third dimension and created a sparse variety of gruesome 3D action RPG abominations (starting with Castlevania 64) that felt similar to getting repeatedly poked in the eye by an inverted pincushion. Its the first deviation that's spearheaded the 'modern' Castlevania game, and the second one that's forced all the relatively decent Castlevania games onto handheld consoles because Konami reflect the idiot sensibility that the 'big' consoles are for 3D games only.

Which propels me nicely forward into the GBA Castlevania library, which I'm currently rocketing through. They are exactly like Metroid only they have levelling, which is nice, and the gothic art style means a load of slitty-wrist young teens can draw some disturbing fanart.

The ethical question that strikes you as you play through all these games is whether you're supposed to be a harsher critic when you realise that they're all the bloody same. Konami even spent a considerable amount of their development time recycling the same damn sprites and settings. Any potential comfort in repetition soon evaporates when you work out how much money you'll never see again because it's all gone on the same product three times. All Konami have to do is ctrl+c and ctrl+v, toss in a little gimmick and they're ready to go gold. But, then, this formula is the exact same one that alleged pioneers of scintillating innovation Nintendo have been using forever and ever now, and nobody ever seems to get angry at them for doing it because they're too busy falling hand over food in a desperate rush to obtain more official Wii peripherals.

Dracula is considered to generally be quite a bad dude, and serves as the omnipotent evil force that runs concurrently throughout the series. Konami have shamelessly plucked out one of Bram Stoker's creations and boiled away at it for all these years to really intensify all that concentrated evil; the only ways Konami have left to make this guy any worse is if they turn him into a nazi, put in FMV sequences of him forcing children to eat rat poison or reveal that he moonlights as a presenter for Fox News.

So, one handheld console, three gothic Metroid rip-offs where you exist to do nothing more than navigate a large maze and vanquish whatever remnant of Dracula that's kicking about at whatever particular moment. Harmony of Dissonance has thin, zig-zagging corridors and a heavy emphasis on combat. It's quite hard at first, until you realise that being good at combat means using the dash shoulder buttons to rocket yourself backwards and forwards. Thankfully being forced to dodge all your attacks helps you not think about how the audio sounds worse than a hundred different excrutiating reality TV show singing auditions all piped through the same tiny, NES-esque speaker. I'm sure there's a technical reason as to why it sounds the way it does (really bad) but I'm not here to talk about fixing the problem; I'm just going to point it out and then move on.

It's the most action packed GBA Castlevania, which means it's very different to Aria of Sorrow which is, comparatively speaking, a complete doddle and and has soul-collecting moments that almost remind you of playing a Pokemon title. Collecting stuff also features in Circle of the Moon, as you pair up two cards (which are dropped occasionally by fallen enemies. Collect them all!) to create spell effects and stuff. Aria of Sorrow, though, finally does away with the whip fetish and lets you wield an array of weapons, which is great until you learn that some weapons are good (the short sword) and some weapons are bad (every other weapon in the entire game apart from a big sword you get at the end of the game which makes killing the last boss a completely unexciting event) and it's also set in 2035 which was initially quite exciting because my mind got ahead of itself and imagined a whole bevy of exciting new monsters and the juxtaposition of the gothic landscape with awesome stuff like evil robots and cyborgs before it realised that Konami would never actually change anything about any of these games and I spent ten hours dealing with the enemies that I've seen in every Castlevania game since the beginning of time itself.

No matter what one you're playing you'll spend too much of your time walking too slowly and the biggest enemy in any of these games is the unresponsive controls, which exist basically to hate you for the entire game as if they were a stroppy teenager sitting in the back of a car being dragged to a family resort. Eventually you learn to pacify the fiddly brat but it's too late, because you're basically at the end of the game and you've levelled up so much that now nothing can pose any significant threat to you whatsoever and that nice collection of restorative items you've stocked up on means you can breeze through the final boss even if you put the Gameboy on a table, sat on your hands and started controlling the game with your nose.

The games like to introduce exemplary moral issues, usually giving you the choice of a 'good' or 'bad' ending. You get the good ending by looking up what insanely easy to overlook thing you're supposed to have equipped at one certain point in the game on GameFAQs and you get the bad ending if you think it's possible to play a Japanese game with a levelling feature and not resort to using internet guides.

Seriously though, what's the point? I don't know, and I can't tell you. They're all quite addictive, and I can't stop playing the little buggers.

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--Martin at 06:12
Comment [ 1 ]

Comments on this post:

Yeeeouch. Nice save at the end, but I'm still waiting for a jvm-longer-than-the-original-post comment.

By Blogger rufbo, at 12 November, 2007 10:40  

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