Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Castlevania Lords of Shadows (CV then and now)

Castlevania – Lords of Shadows Books I&II
MercurySteam / Konami / Kojima Productions

(A Look back and forward)
This series was in the past, filled with various locales, timelines, heroes and villains. However we’ve never grasped onto who the Belmont’s truly were. Sure we took on Dracula various amounts of times. But who was the villain we’ve fought against so many years?
LoS so far has explored the origins of Gabriel, from a quest of redemption to nightmares.

(Level Headed)
In past games, CV relied on funky design schemes, and obstacle ridden level design. Although it pushed the mark another series made (Capcom’s ™ *Devil May Cry ™) relied on a 3d map with overlay, and able to use the camera to examine the level you were currently exploring.

But like all series, they evolve, so DMC and CV also share the map design in common. In Symphony of the Night, however it was a 2D map of the castle, and its depths (in fact two maps, one of the normal and the alternate upside down version).

Speaking of maps, LoS also includes the classic map overlay that Simon Belmont’s quest used (and other Belmont’s to follow). Shown as an actual 2d plane, that displayed distance from a to b, a being where you started, to b where the quest would end, eventually that was the Castle Keep. Over the years, it grew into splitting paths, and would extend like a tree branch pointing out various areas that were hidden once you cleared an obstacle.

(Music Soothes the Savage Beast)
For a long time, CV’s soundtracks were composed by Konami’s Kukeiha Club, a crew of music composers’ that would collaborate on game series projects like Castlevania. With a mixture of classic tunes retouched, to original songs that were rarely heard in videogame music. Mostly taking on an atmospheric persona, these memorable songs would influence many more titles to push boundaries and become unique. (Nintendo’s ™ Metroid ™ has close ties to this similar design, using the in-game atmosphere to capture its essence and mood to push a player to “fight or flight”.)

LoS is a big departure from this design, it is now a full orchestra composed soundtrack. Although it does carry hints of the past games sound design. What has changed the most is the texture, taking on a more dramatic approach instead of a electronica rock, or ballads that the past games utilized on. (However some of the CV series ost’s actually carried orchestral themes.) But it didn’t rely on it from start to finish.

However, rumors have been shared that LoSII might carry the torch, and bring back some familiar sounds we’ve heard in the past.

(I Am the Night)
Speaking of change, as many learned by journey’s end who Gabriel came to be. But its hinted that LoSII, the past and present collide. (an actual full-fledged city nestled beside Drac’s keep) There is no telling, who might join this next chapter, but hinted that Zedd/Death, and Alucard (might even be playable?) reunite once more.

(Going Batty)
LoS has established its own timeline within the series. However, not all fans of the CV series are satisfied. For several since, a fandom community named “Operation Akumajou’ (demon castle). An organized group that demands: that CV returns to its classic gaming roots. (with IGArashi Koji’s vision in mind) **IGA was head producer for many years, and was part of the CV team with Dracula X (Richter’s first quest) (*there were two versions of this game, the Super-CD / Turbografix-16 **import only) (and the SNES edition, which was an alternate version of the game since it was a limited palette.)

Super vs Super -
Super CD was a well-established console overseas, the format could display audio and video, as clear as a movie playing on current systems. However, it had some load times to deal with. Although with enough memory, it was able to cut those down quite a bit.

Super NES however was cartridge based, so no wait, just pickup and go. But its biggest limitations were: level design, music, and controls were broken down to work with the system. That’s not to say it wasn’t challenging, it’s a tough game to beat.

Given how different the games were on two different systems. The Super-CD edition carried a full story, levels, and interchanging paths (this would later carry on within Symphony of the Night).

Another obstacle was the first 3D CV, on the Nintendo 64. Oddly enough it became a two parter, being one of the most toughest chapters around. With an odd control scheme, and a trouble-some camera. It also juggled with a funky gem system, and tricky difficulty in level and enemies spread throughout. However, it was a test of what’s to come.

Later 3D CV adventures like Lament of Innocence (another reboot), following a said Belmont to be the first, versus a friend who becomes Drac. And after Curse of Darkness, the aftermath, with a demon hunter who takes back his humanity after the loss of a loved one (eventually doing battle with an old friend).

Although these various chapters establish enough story to push the series a bit more. Something was missing.. to be honest I wonder why fans of the old CV want to go back. It was great for its time, but I have to be honest, being a longtime fan it needs more to make it worthwhile. LoS calls back to a lot of classic game designs, but also mixes up some unique ideas. It doesn’t feel lackluster, every bit of the game is a welcome challenge (or you can find new things hidden within).

I have to be honest, I actually love the character, level, music, and story design that LoS has delivered thus far. Sure it may not rely on the past adventures, but it definitely has delivered some unique surprises.

But on one footnote, that is why we have past games. We can replay them anytime and go back to when it felt right to us. It may not be for everyone like it used to be, but sometimes we need change. And with storytelling, it needs to evolve and explore new territory.

Lords of Shadows II might be the last CV game we might see for a while. But it will definitely deliver something unique for everyone, whether new or classic fans to explore.

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