Friday, November 15, 2013

Castlevania - Lords of Shadows: Mirror of Fate

Developer: MercurySteam
Publisher: Konami / Kojima Productions
Release: 2013 (multi-platform)

Plotline: Ages ago, Gabriel journeyed to a far off place to vanquish evil, sadly he never returned as himself but a monster. Many years later, others took upon the quest, some lived, some died, others were too cursed. Down the line, it became family that took up the mantle to be heroes, to do battle with the monster. Whom they were unaware was in fact their great-grandfather.

Gameplay: From the beginning, players are introduced to the system with Gabriel (before his quest). Next up Simon is in the lead, following what his father (Trevor) left behind. Simon's goal is to reunite with his father, and bring him home. Each quest you are given is done in various stages, from a sleepy town, to inner walls of the Castle. As you progress, you can upgrade your skills, gear, armory, and much more.

Levels: From the start, it is a vast open area, although littered and torn. There is much to be explored, however you cannot reach some areas, so its best to return when you gain more skills. And each level is inter-connected with others, and some contain teleports that take you to-and-fro from other levels in your vicinity.

Music: Atmospheric, dark, and a bit more level like Lords of Shadows. Some contain a few recognizable hymns, including boss themes, and level bgm tunes that change the more you explore the vast world that the heroes are destined to change.

Overall, Mirror of Fate is an awesome chapter, told in various parts. Each connecting the heroes (like never before). In the past it was always about one hero, but herein there is more than one. A unique adventure like no other Castlevania before it, a must own. This title is available on the 3DS, and Live & PSNetwork (HD format). 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Castlevania - Lords of Shadows (Collector's Edition)

Developer(s): MercurySteam + Kojima Productions
Konami - Castlevania Project

Where it all began:
This is a new take on the origin of the series, following the hero Gabriel on a quest to conquer the evils periling mankind. Through a group only known as "the Order", supposedly given divine rights to banish evil creatures and dark powers that threaten existence. There is a catch though, this quest ends with the hero taking the gauntlet of a classic enemy we've battled for two decades.

By your divine hands:
Gabriel's mission from the start is to get from A to B, by getting through obstacles, enemies, and other perils. In other words, the classic formula every platformer has utilized since day one.
Armor - from the start it is pretty basic, capable of protecting our hero from a numerous amount of hits. However once your HP is wiped out, its game over.
Weaponry - Your Iron Cross (the precursor to the "Vampire Killer") is a blessed weapon, forged within holy armament in the shape of a cross, it holds many secret capabilities. At the beginning its capable of limited range attacks, vertical, horizontal, both air and ground attack combos. (later it can be fitted with various attachments that adorn it within, harnessing even more unique powers!)

In addition, you are able to carry various items, any of these can be assigned to the d-pad (later you will obtain more items, and can change them at any time if need be) From crystals, to fairies, and sub-weapons (axe, holy water, bible, etc)

Magic(s) - Light or Dark: A bit further into your journey, you will obtain the ability to harness both light and dark energy properties. (these can be reflected in your attacks as well, and subweapons)
Light: This can also regain lost health, and cause massive damage to enemies
Dark: Gives your attack a boost, depending on enemy it may take less HP away from them. Iron Cross and subweapons also gain a red hue
**If you see any oddly shaped adornments nearby, these are markers that can unlock alternate paths. Depending on the power source, Gabe will react to these respectively, if he flinches you aren't using the right one.

QTE - Quick Time Events:
I will make this a brief discussion, okay so awhile ago a classic arcade game named "Dragon's Lair" introduced timed moves. If you made a bad choice = death, or worst ways to go by mauling, traps, hazards, or utter defeat. Later a SEGA (TM) title named Shenmue updated the format corresponding to color buttons. Depending on what needed to be pressed, each button would respond to an action on screen.

Herein, it responds to the following:
Dazed enemies = counterattack + final blow (if used on guardians, sub-bosses, the timed option to wipe them out shows up in a circle, let it fill up then press any attack button to deliver a punishing blow) *a second attack button will dish out a special move!
On bosses, their weakpoints can be broken! However timed moves are crucial, or you might die!

Iron Cross: Your best buddy
This is your pal, it can slice, dice, chop, frappe' everything! *It can also be used to vault various spaces, from high to low areas, vaulting great distances, breaking stuff, and kicking major butt. **And can harness light and dark magic as well!

Other goodies? I won't give these away, but if you've played any past Castlevania games (or Metroidvania) in particular, you can obtain key armaments from bosses and that can aid you on your quest. Once obtained these can be used on various places you couldn't get to before. There are a multitude of these, and some techniques can also be powered up even further.
Oh the lands you'll see, and the monsters you will duel

I could get lost in here!
Journal entry about your character, and those encountered along the way. 

Also within this lovely collection:Reverie and Resurrection, the two extra chapters that complete the first chapter of Gabriel's dark journey into becoming the night.
Mirror of Fate HD: the recent entry in the new LoS saga, that takes part in the legacy of the Belmont clan. Form different perspectives, missions, and drives to put down the monster (who unknowingly is their great-grandfather). Trevor, Alucard, and Simon join in the neverending quest (although is it side by side?)
(review coming soon!)
Lords of Shadows II Demo: A teaser of what's to come for Gabriel's quest in redemption on becoming the monster. Reclaiming his right versus humanity, but what does his powers hold back from his lost soul? This is unlike any other game ever in the series.

The Stone Titan, a formidable boss (um she is huge!)

Can't beat this view, even when the world is falling apart
Towards the unknown we go

Monday, November 4, 2013

Castlevania - Dracula Re-examined

For the longest time I have wondered, "Who is Dracula?" History dictates the original was Vlad Tepes, a madman, mongrel, a cruel leader. Said to have been cursed, lost his love, lead a treacherous campaign of blood and tyranny. Although CV put a spin on the identity of our arch fiend the past decades. I believe it is not the same fellow, which is what Lords of Shadows examines in a unique light.

The Belmont connection:
Lament of Innocence, original CV, Symphony, and X all dished a unique origin story. But we only caught a glimpse of the count. (or then arch rival / enemy) But never developed who or what drove him to be such a monster. Lament did explore the possible transition of loss on both sides, pushing both hero and villain to the brink. X was a game of keep away until the last battle, which gradually connects to Symphony.

Lords of Shadow on the other hand turns the tables. Which gives a new chapter a whole new conclusion.
"Was it the Belmont's fault?" The castle needed a new master, thus he became the monster, not by choice but by his spirit. It is strange, such a journey could open so many possibilities in this new series. Is his heart pure or determined by darkness?

All heroes need a villain, however our new series establishes that differently. This by far is not the same CV we grew up with on the X86,NES,Genesis, and so on. Although we are juggling with a nextgen version of the series, it pushes the boundary we have never explored before. A series like CV can be redefined, gaining a new voice, a heart, and maybe even more.

I have battled my own conscience over LOS ever since the game was released. It was mainly because I read that the game was not complete, with two bonus chapters separate from the main game.I was so used to a finished CV title for years. Never have we had to juggle an unfinished adventure. I waited for awhile, upon hearing news that Lords of Shadows would be re-released with more than just the two extra chapters, but even additional content.

It has always been about storytelling, and I believe this CV series can take things further. Maybe even better than the past was capable of doing before.‎

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Castlevania - Pathway of the Vampire Killer

In the beginning of the series, it was always about the fight between good and evil. For many years, we ventured with heroes, and sometimes Alucard in a battle to save humanity. Sometimes those lines blurred when the roles were reversed, and we were able to find our paths. Many have made the journey, but what lies between the lines of the series?

Crossing various timelines, and many reboots, Castlevania has been a part of gaming history from day one. But many are unaware of its crossed ties, that in fact we have never noticed before. Being a longtime fan, I thought I would share some various anecdotes with you.

For the longest time anyone's played CV, they will right away think of Simon Belmont. Heralded as the first we gamers knew of the family clan. There were many re-iterations of his first perilous journey. At first it was a quest of getting from A to B, while avoiding death and other cataclysm's. I find it strange that poor guy had to fight how many times? And give his enemy back his organs? (*or die?)

To explain that, I believe the dev team back then considered a hero could fall to the hands of their enemy. But they didn't exactly explain how up front. It is very possible they administered the possibility of Simon being related to the Count (by blood, course). The same is explored with Juste's quest years later, having to repeat his grandfather's mission (except his best friend's energy resurrects the Castle).

Which brings us to Richter's two part quest (Dracula X, and Symphony of the Night). Driven by chaos, a hero takes arms, and dishes justice. Question is (A: who started it? the summoner Shaft? Death? Or were people driven mad that it brought "him" back?) It is actually one of the rare moments in the series that Dracula does not rest for more than a brief time.

And in regards, the people you save do have a foreshadowing to what's ahead. Except the fact that Maria, we learn later has a special gift (the ability to summon spirit animals). In Symphony, we find her a mature woman, who seeks Richter's aid when trouble rises again (nowhere to be found). On her quest, running into Alucard, who also seeks to stop his father from causing any more chaos.

We eventually reunite with the reluctant hero, only to find him under Shaft (the summoner) puppet strings. A vagrant follower of the lord of the castle, and cause of the previous quest. (It was he and his fellow castes that sacrificed some poor lady to resurrect our fellow Dracula, and thus the Castle.)

Another note to consider, is just how many monsters are trapped within the castle keep. Including the "Inverted" one we fortunately have to explore, to make things right. I often wonder how Dracula has so many on his side from the nether realm. Although most of these are kept within the crypt, some are able to exist beyond the walls.

**It makes me think of Beetlejuice, where he comes into contact with other non-living entities. (only those gifted are able to see) Speaking of that, maybe that's why the townsfolk, and those of humanity at the time were able to give Dracula's resurrection such a shove.

**Speaking of those gifted, in Order of Ecclesia, Shanoa meets various members of the extended Belmont bloodline. Administering that they are the key to keep their homeland balanced. I believe its one of the rare times we ever get to interact with descendants of the clan. Given the outcome of the tale, it would be awhile until the Belmont's would ever reveal themselves again.

Now here is where things get a tad bit crazy, Bloodlines and Portrait of Ruin happen during the same time. I find it highly possible that there were many heroes on the battlefront. Sadly the wielder of the holy spear does not survive his battle, giving aid to the two heroes (and finding out the truth about his daughters).

Lament of Innocence was meant to tale the beginning of the Belmont's legacy. As Leon, returning home from the crusades, only to find his lost love missing. Sadly losing her, until she enables her spirit to give the whip he obtains, the "Vampire Killer" its powers. Although his return is misfortune, with an old friend being the enemy. It becomes a fight to the finish! (no wait it does not)

Curse of Darkness is another bizarre installment, taking place sometime after Trevor's quest in CVIII. As Hector a devil summoner, wanting to take up arms against his rival Issac (also a badguy). Oddly enough, these two are said to be Dracula's head warriors (human, or not?) Venturing further, we find out that our hero lost his love to the hands of another, vowing revenge for her death, he battles the odds to put his arch rival down once and for all.

The interesting connection between these two chapters is a bizarre fellow named "St.Germain" a time traveller with unknown origins. With the ability of time at his will, he tests both Leon and Hector's strength to see if they are worthy of being called heroes. **I have wondered why would a time traveller be mixed in all of this. But thinking about it later, perhaps he wanted to rewrite history, knowing that others were already playing their part. **Zedd is another mysterious being, later revealed as Death (**actually it is rare to see the face of the messenger)

Circle of the Moon (summoner= Succubus) No Belmont's? Hmm, I doubt that. Plus Dracula's form takes on an dimensional being (did she fuse with her master?) And to add, although the DSS card system uses elements and Greek gods, the whip you brandish takes on elements close enough to being "VK".

Aria of Sorrow (the two part melody)
First, Soma is a reincarnated Dracula. Second, somehow the Castle was teleported into an eclipse.
Third, J the current VK wielder loss of memory, gains it back. Yoko, a descendant of the Belanades family gives aid to Soma and his cause. Arikado (really Al in disguise, looks great btw).
Your villain: Grant, a believer in this "resurrection" also has powers, uses them for evil deeds. Things get ugly.
(**I really dislike dredging this up, the "War of 99" we only hear of a big battle of humanity versus Dracula. But we never get to experience it.) (um or do we?) *LOS2

Dawn of Sorrow: the second piece
Soma and his allies are brought into a new mission from a mysterious cult wanting to dredge up old memories. More or less, bring about Soma's actual powers for wrongdoing. Many others were born the same day as he, however they too wield unique powers. A priestess from Mina's clan, gone rogue to bring about a new leader, and more chaos. And J has the lovely mission of dueling Soma (if you choose wisely) in a battle like that of his forefathers!

**J=Julius's quest takes on CVIII's design, being able to play Yoko or Alucard. Reaching the finish versus an uncontroller Soma / Dracula?

Lords of Shadows:
The recent retelling of the origin behind the series. With a Belmont at the helm (hero?) it is his quest, to find a new path, a destiny. But once more obstacles get in the way, things are not what they seem. Although it was criticized for retconning everything about the series, it is a much needed restart. Exploring what makes us human, a drive to find our identity, sadly this story is not a heartwarming fairytale, for it is the origin of a villain we have fought many times once over.

Being a long time allowed me to re-examine how I truly feel about the classic tale, and the new ongoing adventure. For one, it has always been the battle of good vs evil. Just only till now, have we truly experienced a different side of the mission for once. Perhaps it may interconnect with the other timeline shaping the way we process CV from now on. Whatever generation of gaming, or storytelling you are a part of, let it be known this is one of the few times that you play a part in shaping its future.