We Need A 3D Castlevania Collection. My Experience The Early 3D Castlevania Games.

For the past three years, I have dedicated the month of October to play different Castlevania games. Ever since Symphony of the Night, I have been trying to play as many games in the series that I can before the fatigue hits. Last year, I played through all of the Gameboy Advance games thanks to the Castlevania Advance Collection that came out last year. This year, I wanted to swim in the murky waters of the early 3D Castlevania titles. The only game in this “collection” that I didn’t play was Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. Not because the first Castlevania game on the N64 dissuaded me from playing it, but because I do not own a copy of the game. Most of these games are foreign to me since I have never played them before. In total, there were three and a quarter games played and finished.


Castlevania (1999)

Release Date: January 26, 1999
Platform: Nintendo 64
Canon to Story: Non-canon

I was really looking forward to this game. This game is not foreign to me since I once rented it from my local video store long ago. I never made it far in the game since you are required to have a Controller Pack in order to save the game. So after all these years, I was ready to tackle the very first 3D Castlevania game. Unfortunately, I could not finish the game. I had reached a point in the game where I was just tired and frustrated with the game design, that I just put the controller down and moved on.

Castlevania (1999) was the first Castlevania game on the Nintendo 64, and the very first game in the series to be in 3D. For a first attempt, there were some ideas that worked to set the mood. The design of the stages and some of the effects are creative and interesting. I was impressed with the effects of lighting hitting the trees in the first stage, and watching them fall on fire until the flames extinguished. The stage within the mansion was a fresh change since no two rooms in the mansion were exactly the same. There were some good design ideas that we placed in the game that I unfortunately did not get to see.

The story of the game follows two protagonists that you choose at the beginning. First, you have Reinhard Schneider, an heir to the Belmont Clan of Vampire Hunters and someone who looks like he belongs in the 1980s and not the 1850s (when the game takes place). He plays like a normal (non)Belmont would with his trusty whip and sub weapons that are staples to the series. His plot device is that he is a vampire hunter and must do what his clan does best, slaying Dracula. Then you have Carrie Fernandez. Carrie is a gifted magic user who uses magical projectiles and is probably related to the Belnades Clan. Her plot device is that she senses evil energy coming from Vlad’s Pad and must go defeat it for her clan. Both characters’ stories are similar minus two different stages unique to each character. Other noteworthy characters in this game are Charles Vincent, a guy who really loves Jesus, and Malus, the guy who plays the violin at the start menu of the game that may or may not be Dracula (depends on the ending you get).

Once you start playing the game, that is when you can tell that this was a first attempt at making a 3D action/platforming game. Let me go ahead and talk about my biggest complaint about the game, the camera. Oh dear lord, the camera in this game. For a game that started development in April 1997, you would think by the time it was released in January 1999 that the developers would have seen how other developers handled the camera operations in their games. Out of all four C buttons, only one controls the camera, and it basically just shifts how the camera works. You have your standard “Normal” camera that is positioned a set distance from your character, but will adjust haphazardly to what it thinks is the ideal position. You then have an “Action” view which just spins the camera around so that you can see around you. It will still act like the “Normal” camera and adjust haphazardly to your character. Thirdly, there is the “Battle” view. Battle view keeps enemies in focus and will attempt to adjust the camera to how your character is looking at an enemy. Finally, there is the “Boss” view that is only accessible while you are fighting bosses. This camera keeps things focused on the boss at all times and will actively try to help them as well. What makes this camera scheme annoying is that you have to toggle between them one at a time to get the angle that you want. It is like the developers didn’t know which camera angle would be best for the game, so they opted to go with multiple angles that the player could decide on when needed. In theory, this is a good idea since it compensates for each players’ needs, but in practice it just doesn’t work in this game. There are many platforming sections in the game that require accurate landing or it will cost you an instant game over. For someone who has a hard time with 3D platforming to begin with, these moments were more stressful than certain other moments in the game that are designed to stress you out. If there is one element that made the game miserable to play, it is the camera 100%.

Another thing that felt off about this game was something I didn’t really realize until I did some research about the game. This Castlevania game implemented something in any other game in the series, horror. If there is one thing Castlevania is not is being scary. There are a lot of horror elements sprinkled in this game straight from Horror Movies 101. This is evident in a beginning scene where you open a gate and a giant skeleton greets you with a “jump scare.” This didn’t click to me that it was supposed to be a jump scare since I knew it was coming, but other instances did invoke that stressful feeling. When you first reach the villa, there is a fight where you have to fight a Cerberus in complete darkness. At first I thought that it was some weird glitch, but no. It was an intentional game design to frighten the player. The moment it really clicked for me however is when you are escaping the garden maze. Not only are there two dogs chasing after you that you cannot kill, the developers decided to throw in Frankenstein with a chainsaw to add to the nightmare. The inclusion of these suspenseful moments in a series that is not scary at all is something I was not expecting from this game, and may be another factor that made me put this down. I play Castlevania for the exploration, cool gothic design, and bumping soundtrack. Raising my heart rate with these cheap scare tactics was not on my list when I decided to play this.

Will I return to Castlevania (1999) at some point? Maybe. At the time of playing, I was just getting increasingly frustrated with the enemy respawn rate, the stress level of annoying platforming and racing the clock to get the good ending, the questionable mechanic of waiting for specific things to happen with the in-game clock, and the FREAKING CAMERA. I wish I had a copy of Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness so that I could compare the two to see if some of the frustrating bits got ironed out. If I do return to this game, it will probably be on my own time where I can take things slow without the pressure of finishing within a time frame. I won’t say that it is the worst game that I played in the series, but it is definitely not one of the greatest.


Castlevania: Lament of Innocence 

Date Released: October 21, 2003
Platform: PlayStation 2
Canon to Story: Beginning of timeline

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was the second attempt of creating a 3D Castlevania title (Legacy of Darkness was mostly made with assets that the developers could not put into Castlevania 1999). In a GameSpot interview in 2003, Igarashi mentions that the developers had learned from the Castlevania games on the N64, and wanted to make a 3D Castlevania that actually felt like a Castlevania game. They definitely succeeded in that effort, but there are glimpses in this game that make it feel like a safe, second chance at making a 3D Castlevania game.

Lament of Innocence was created to tell the origin story of the series and how the Belmont clan became involved in this eternal nightmare. Set in 1094, Leon Belmont hunts a vampire named Walter Berhard who has kidnapped his betrothed, Sara (as you do as a vampire). In order to reach the dastard, Leon has to defeat five bosses in order to gain access to Walter’s Lair. Leon receives assistance from an alchemist named Rinaldo who gives him a whip that will later become the famous Vampire Killer. There is also Leon’s friend Mathias who is one who informs Leon about Walter, and only shows up at the end of the game (I will get into that later). 

I was really excited to finally have an excuse to play this game. My final thoughts are that it is a good Castlevania game that’s a mix between the old and new format of the series. Lament of Innocence tries to be a Metroidvania game like Symphony of the Night, but due to the design of the gameplay it feels more like the linear games with branching paths that may or may not have items for you to collect. All six areas of the game feel the same. You move from room to room connected by hallways, where you then have to fight all the enemies in a room in order to unlock the next door to progress. There is a lack of detail that distinguishes each room unless it holds some importance and wants the player to know that something may be different about this room. Ninety percent of the game just felt like I was moving from one end of the map to the other, while retracing some steps in order to unlock my way to the area boss.

Lament of Innocence has some really good elements. Combat is fun even thought it can get repetitive at times. Like any Belmont, Leon uses his whip primarily while using sub weapons that can be picked up. Leon can find different elemental whips to take advantage of weakness, and orbs all you to change the effect of sub weapons. These items help with taking down trickier enemies and solving puzzles. The soundtrack is also on point with House of Sacred Remains and Leon’s Theme being some of my all time favorites from the series. An interesting tidbit is that the composer of the game, the beautiful and talented Michiru Yamane, was instructed to not include many familiar tunes in the game since this was the beginning of the series and the things we know and love hadn’t been established yet.

So let’s talk about the things that broke me in Lament of Innocence. Please welcome back to the roasting pit, the camera. After learning that having four different camera perspectives does not make the game better, Instead, Lament of Innocence takes all camera control away from the player and will adjust to help keep Leon at the center of the screen. This is not an issue since it doesn’t make fighting and running from room to room painful, but it does make one part extremely difficult, platforming. There are platforming sections in this game, as well as a mechanic where Leon can latch his whip onto guard rails to clear some distances. The camera in this game does not make some of these platforming sections easy as it should. Since my brain only has the information that the camera can show me, there were many times where I would overshoot or completely miss where I was trying to land. This makes things even frustrating when you need to use the whip latch mechanic for certain speed challenges, but can’t get the distance or timing right to get past these parts (I forgot to mention the game is very stingy with timing your whip latches).

Outside of my camera and platforming issues, the only other issue that I had with the game was the story (mostly towards the end). My grudge is about Leon’s closest friend, Matthias. In the prologue, we learn that Matthais’ wife Elisabetha dies suddenly and he falls to despair. We learn at the very end of the game that he orchestrated Leon battling Walter in order to absorb Walter’s soul and become the Vlad Dracula Tepes that we know and love today. My problem is Walter’s reveal feels like it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t fit narratively. You never see Matthais in person until this moment at the end of the game when he pops in and then peace out. You don’t even get to confront him at the end. Instead, Death appears and becomes the final boss of the game. What makes this frustrating from a narrative point of view is that the reveal is supposed to be a twist that the player is not supposed to see coming, but the twist fails because there were no hints given that this would happen. You can make the argument that Matthias planned this since he was the one who told Leon about Walter in the prologue, but for me that is a big detail that should be reminded in the story and not just in the prologue. I may have appreciated the reveal more if Matthias was more present in the story and was helping Leon throughout the journey. It would have made the ending a more tragic one after watching along with Leon losing his betrothed and best friend in a single night. I wish we got a follow up to this story from either Matthias point of view, or something that happened in the 300 years between this and Dracula’s Curse (maybe we would have if Iga had the chance). 

Finishing Lament of Innocence took no time at all. I do own the strategy guide book to this game, so I referred to it to check on any items that I may have missed (there is one hidden item that is really easy to miss without a guide). In my eight hour playthrough, I was able to explore 92% of the entire castle and missed out on four relics and one orb that you get for fighting an optional boss. With an extra hour or two, I could have 100 percent the game on my first playthrough. You do unlock another vampire named Joachim as a playable character when you enter his name when creating a new file; and you can play in Crazy mode when you enter @CRAZY as your name in a new file. I’m glad I finally got to play this game after all this time. If this game were to get the same remastered treatment, I would definitely dip my toes back into it.

Games Stats:

Date Started: October 1, 2022
Date Finished: October 9, 2022
Total Play Time: 8 Hours
Percentage Completed: 94.3%


Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

Release Date: November 1, 2005
Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Canon to Story: 3 Years after Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

I had no expectations when I started this game. Like Lament of Innocence, I had no prior knowledge to this game or how it operated. Now that I have finished it, it is the best 3D Castlevania game in the series. I wouldn’t put it over the 2D Metroidvania games (maybe Circle of the Moon), but it is pretty high on my rankings. From gameplay, story, and progression, this game felt well crafted and kept me engaged from start to finish. 

Curse of Darkness takes place three years later after the events of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. In Dracula’s Curse, Trevor Belmont defeats Dracula along with his companions. Curse of Darkness tells the story of Dracula’s actual curse that is spreading across the land due to his defeat. The narrative follows the struggles of two Devil Forgemasters; Hector, a former servant of Dracula, and Isaac, another servant of Dracula who is trying to revive him. After setting the stages for his plan, Isaac edges Hector to regain his former power and defeat once his powers have returned in full. Hector accepts as he seeks revenge for the death of his fiancée by Isaac’s schemes. Hector meets different allies and foes in his journey, including Trevor who seeks to stop Dracula’s resurrection by his own means.

I have come to learn that my favorite Castlevania games are the ones where you don’t primarily play as a Belmont. Symphony of the Night has Alucard, Aria of Sorrow has Soma, Order of Ecclesia has Shanoa, and Curse of Darkness has Hector. Being a Devil Forgemaster and a former subordinate of Dracula, Hector uses more than just a whip and the power of Jesus to fight his battles. Like a non-Belmont, Hector uses a range of weapons from swords, axes, lances, his fist, shuriken, and an electric guitar (that one was weird to find). What makes Hector different is that no two items of the same family operate the same way. You have your one-handed swords that are different from the two-handed variety, but Hector’s moveset will alter slightly based on the principles of that weapon. It is a great detail that shows understanding how that weapon would be used effectively instead of just this one is for stabbing while this one is for slashing. Hector is able to use combos with each weapon, making using each weapon type available valuable and gives incentive to switch out from time to time (that and another mechanic).

Hector has more than just his weapons. Being a Devil Forgemaster, he is able to summon monsters (Innocent Devils or I.D.s in this case) to help him in battle and navigation. Familiars in Castlevania games are not new, but they are far more useful and reliable in this game. There are five different types of I.D.s: Fairy, Battle, Bird, Mage, and Devil (also Pumpkin as a joke). Fairies are used mostly for healing and support, but they are also responsible for opening treasure chests for Hector. Bird I.D.s help protect Hector from flying enemies and provide a general barrier for him, but also help Hector glide over large gaps. Along with this, there is a monster raising mechanic that helps level up your I.D.s and eventually evolving them to more powerful demons with more abilities. In order to evolve your I.D.s, you need to farm Evo Crystals from monsters that you defeat on the regular. Crystals drop in different colors depending on the type of weapon that you are using. This is where changing your weapon from time to time comes in handy since each I.D. has a branching path to the next evolution that corresponds to a weapon type’s evo crystal. This made the I.D. system fun to use since certain I.D.s can only be obtained in a specific evolution path.

You are all going to be shocked about this next comment. It only took the developers three games to get it right, but the camera in this game actually works. No longer are we restricted to a fixed camera. You have full control of the camera in this game, and it made me jump for joy when I discovered this. There isn’t a lot of platforming in this game, but just having the ability to turn the camera around just so I can see everything around me was something I really missed. This alone makes it the best 3D Castlevania game.

I also had a fun time with the bosses in this game. Typical monsters didn’t give me too much trouble, but the humanoid opponents felt like intense dances to the death. The two Isaac and Trevor fights put me on edge since they are both fast and resourceful. Isaac will summon his own I.D.s to fight with him, so it felt like a game of summoning the right I.D. to counter his own. With Trevor, he fights like a true Belmont. His whip and sub weapons are brutal, but are not hard to avoid or see coming. I am not the type of person who is good at parrying, but parrying their attacks felt so good since it always opened the path to pass their defenses. The fight with Dracula may be the hardest Dracula fight I have ever been in. Like every Dracula encounter, he has two phases where you fight the elusive spell caster in the first part, and then the brute devil in the second. This fight took a lot out of me since I had to pause for a moment and come up with a strategy to tackle both phases with the limited amount of healing items that I had (I forgot to mention that you are only allowed to buy 5 potions, 3 high potions, and any other healing items can only be obtained by finding them or dropped from enemies). I brought in two fairy I.D.s with me for some healing options, but there was only so much they could do when Vlad does so much damage. I was only able to defeat him when I decided to not summon any of my I.D.s during the first phase, and pile on the assault during the second phase. It also helped that I remembered that I had other weapons that did way more damage than the sword I was using; and that a more powerful weapon would do more damage…

I do have my share of complaints since the game isn’t completely perfect. While the environments are more distinguishable this time around, I found the enemy variety completely repetitive. From my memory, there are around 20ish enemy designs in the game that just get slightly altered throughout the game. Not the biggest complaint, but Castlevania is known for having a lot of monster designs that feel unique. I was just getting tired at some points fighting the same horde of skeletons, but this time with bluish bones. I also wish Hector was a bit faster. There are times where you can backtrack to obtain items you skipped since you didn’t have the right I.D. for the job. Going back to some of these places can be a slog since there is no way (at least in my playthrough) to increase Hector’s movement speed. Another small complaint, but other Castlevania games around this time (including Lament of Innocence) had ways to make you really zoom around the map.

Overall, I would say that Curse of Darkness surprised me with how good it was. I don’t know if playing Castlevania 1999 or Lament of Innocence helped make this an enjoyable time, but I am glad for it. Without using a strategy guide or the internet to help me much, I filled out 92% of the total map. I didn’t grab every accessory in the game, nor did I craft every single weapon and armor in the game. Some items for crafting require special items that I had no idea how to farm or which enemies to steal them from; so I just used what I had and just went with it. You do unlock Trevor and Crazy mode for betting the game. This game was also a bit longer than any other Castlevania game that I’ve played. It took me twelve hours to reach the end where two of those hours was me just grinding a bit to defeat Dracula. This is a title that I can see myself revisiting at some point since it has all the elements that I enjoy from my other favorites in the series. I will also say that if you are familiar with the Castlevania series on Netflix, I think that they are cowards for not sticking with Isaac’s original design.

Games Stats:

Date Started: October 23 , 2022
Date Finished: October 29, 2022
Total Play Time: 12 Hours
Percentage Completed: 89.01%


Bonus Round!

Castlevania Judgment

Date Released: November 18, 2008
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Canon to Story: HELL NO!

“Right on time. Welcome to the time rift.”

*Pause**Camera Pan*

“Time rift? I thought I was done talking about the 3D Castlevania games?”

*Pause* *Camera Pan*

“You thought you were done. But there are other trials that you need to face before ending.”

*Paaaaause* *Camera goes to lunch*

“Fine then. Let’s make this one quick.”

*………………….*

“My name is Aeon. Shall we begin the first trial?”

(Every cutscene in the game is like this…)


Ok. I’m sorry that this post is way long, but I have to talk about this game real quick. Back in 2008, Konami decided to throw everything at the wall and decided to make a fighting game based on the series. On paper, this seems like an interesting title, but when you see the words “3D fighting game only on the Nintendo Wii,” you can’t help but to immediately assume it’s going to be bad.

Castlevania Judgment is a 3D fighting game that is not fun to play. Characters find themselves in a time rift for different reasons that do have no connection to anyone else. Some fight to prove themselves to others, while some are searching for an answer in all the wrong places. And then you have twelve year old Maria Renard who just picks fights against anyone who has a bigger chest than her. I would say that there is a story, but there really isn’t. Nothing is connected since most of the fights just happen without an explanation to why they are fighting (like in an Arcade mode). At the end of each character’s story, an original character named Aeon shows up, says he’s acquired a key, and then stares at you lovingly until he fades to black. You can’t technically finish a character’s story until you finish every other character first, and then replay the character’s story to fight the final boss to end just their story. It’s a “story” mode just to unlock characters and nothing more.

Did I mention that the game is fun? Because it is not. This is a 3D arena fighting game, so let’s talk about what doesn’t work. There is no sense of balance between characters. You have characters that like to spam moves that are impossible to block against, some who are large and will deal more damage with their regular attack just because they are big and strong, and then you have the children who are a bane to my existence. No game has ever made me say the phrase “Just please let me murder these children” before, but Judgment made the impossible possible. I will give credit for making each character feel unique like how Simon and Trevor operate differently despite being the same character, but the moveset on some of these characters can make some fights feel one sided. 

I hope you bought a Wii Classic Controller or Gamecube controller, because playing this game with a Wii Remote and Nuncuck is not recommended. While normal controllers have actions mapped to the different buttons available, the WiiMote’s lack of buttons makes you play in a different way. Start practicing those maraca skills, because almost all attacks are done by shaking the WiiMote. The buttons on the WiiMote are just used to change what your character does while you are shaking uncontrollably. Because of this, combos require you to know which attack chains into the next one; unlike using different inputs just to do certain attacks. It’s not fun. Especially when you are going against hard A.I. opponents who do not need to worry about these restrictions. If you haven’t figured it out yet, using any controller besides the WiiMote is the only way to play the game in a “comfortable” way.

Stages don’t fare any better. Each stage can come in two flavors, tolerable or bullshit. Some stages will just be your normal 3D environment where you can break objects to find hearts and sub weapons. At times, these stages will change to add “fun” mechanics to utilize during the fight. There is one stage that is just a torture chamber, and they made sure to make it feel like one. I’m talking about spikes on the floor, poison water that you and your opponent can just walk right into, guillotines swinging in the background, and a giant buzz saw in the back just for good measure. This is the worst stage in the game, but it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes in the graveyard stage, it will just be a normal graveyard. Other times, you have to deal with zombies that will pop out of the ground, and then leave a pool of acid when they get killed that will poison you. Or how about the bridge where a giant fish will come out of the water, knock you to the end of the bridge, and then you ring out since the bridge is falling apart as well. This does not make the fights exciting. It just makes me want to play Castlevania 1999 since that was a less painful experience. 

There are a few positive things about the game that I like. It is short. I unlocked and defeated the Time Lord in four hours. I do like the character designs in the game. If the design looks familiar it is because they were designed by the mangaka Takeshi Obata; who did the artwork for Death Note, Bakuman, Platinum End, and currently Show-ha Shoten! (one that I am currently enjoying monthly). It takes a while to get used to, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I appreciated his take on the characters (even though Simon is just too pretty for the character he truly is). The soundtrack in this game is a standout. Each fighter’s song is a remix from a popular song from their respective game. Hearing tunes like Bloody Tears, Dracula’s Castle, and Dance of Illusion really help me forget that I’m stuck in one of Eric’s combo loops that is just instant death if you are stuck in it. Seriously, the soundtrack is wonderful and easy to find online.

But yeah. That’s about it for Castlevania Judgment. There are other modes like Arcade, Castle Mode, and unlockable, but it would be bold of you to think I would put that much effort in playing this game more than I had to. It was an interesting experience and a concept that could work, but little to expect from a game that could have used a bit more time in development. If I had to pick a favorite character to play as, it would be Dracula because you can stand in one spot and just assault your opponent with powerful spells from a distance and teleport away if they get too close. Yay game balance!

Game Stats:

Date Started: October 22, 2022
Date Finished: October 23, 2022
Total Play Time: 4 Hours
Best Character: Dracula
Worst Character: Golem (I just don’t like playing big, slow fighters)


And that should finally do it. Only three more sets of Castlevania games to go. Tune in next year to see which set gets covered next.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3 – The Pros and Cons of Good Side Quests

*Warning! There will be spoilers for Xenoblade Chronicles 3 in this post! If you wish to avoid these spoilers, play and finish the game before proceeding. If you have already played the game or do not care for spoilers, then read ahead! I am not responsible for you getting spoiled after I warned you!!*

There was something that I noticed in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 that made it stand out more than its predecessors. The side quests in the game were actually worth a damn to care about. In the previous titles (not counting Xenoblade Chronicles X since I haven’t played that one yet), side quests were there to award you with small rewards and experience for helping out the denizens of the world. They were your typical JRPG side quests where you went to Point A to Point B to either gather something or beat up some monsters. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 isn’t any different really, but the way the side quests are presented made it more engaging and rewarding. 

Side quests have their own story within the game. Every time you recruit a new hero or liberate a Colony, the side quests offer new insights on the Colony’s residents after they have to adjust to a new lifestyle, or you learn about a particular character from each region and their new found struggles. Unlike most optional quests, you are compelled to do them not just for the reward, but to continue to see how people and their relationships change from time to time. The game also rewards you just with new heroes, but doing them will also raise their class level once you are done with all of their quests. And you want to do that if you want to reap the benefits for your main characters.

A ways to go before full completion…

While I like this new emphasis on making the side quests a part of the story, that also leads to some issues. In my playthrough, I had to make the choice of not completing every side quest that I came across since it was inflating my playthrough twofold. There would be play sessions where all I was doing were side quests just so I could learn and unlock new things that filled in gaps to the backstory. That should have been the red flag right there. Instead of playing through the main story to get all of the story content I needed, there was some great lore that was hidden behind these completely optional tasks that you can choose to do or ignore. The downside of not completing them is either missing out on a bigger reward at the end, or completely missing a resolution to a character’s arc or dilemma; and this does not exist only for the side characters.

Each of the six main characters have side quests that dive into their backstories and increase their class rank. Out of the six, Noah and Mio’s side stories are entwined with the main narrative, leaving Lanz, Sena, Eunie, and Taion’s side stories completely missable if you do not go back to key places to trigger them. Some of them like Lanz and Sena help improve their characters through the side story, but nothing that feels like a major story element to enhance the overall narrative. The one exception that I feel was a terrible mistake was Eunie’s side story.

In Chapter 3, Eunie finds a particular dead body on an old, abandoned battlefield; her body. She confirms this by examining the dog tag on the body, and then starts to get headaches and flashbacks to her previous death. She hides this from the rest of the party even though Taion knows something is wrong with her (and seeing that he can see her thoughts when they interlink). The conflict she has affects her in the rest of the chapter when she encounters Mobius D, the one who killed her previously. She does find the resolve to face him in battle during a later confrontation, but outside that, she never reveals to the rest of the party why she was so afraid of him in the first place. Not even when D is defeated for good do we see Eunie get the satisfaction of defeating her murderer (a different scene steals that spotlight). Enter Eunie’s side story.

To even initiate this quest, you have to go out of your way and find info fragments around the City. Only then will Eunie have the courage to tell everyone about the dog tag after learning about a Gold rank colony that has disappeared. Two chapters later and being completely optional, we start to work on Eunie’s resolve as a character. At the end she doesn’t even fight against the person who has been tormenting her for the last two chapters. You would think the main story would use Eunie’s dog tag to reveal to the other characters about this cycle that they are in. It’s brought up in the main story, but leads to no conclusion unless you go off the beaten path to find it. I was waiting for the dog tag to play a major part of the story since it was heavily implied that it would cause moral problems for the cast, but it never happens if you are only playing through the main story.

This is where I believe one of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 faults lie. Sure the side quests are better than they were in the previous games, but some great story elements are never revealed in the main story, but locked behind side quests that can be missed all together. There is a point towards the end of the game where you can upgrade everyone’s blade. In order to do so, you have to complete a side quest where you have to find seven noppon that only appear in other side quests. So if you missed one of these side quests, you will be spending more hours of your playtime just to unlock this feature. In my playthrough, I had to go back several side quests just to complete the one chain that I needed in order to get access to a locked area that I knew one of the noppon was hiding. Again, completely optional and has no bearing on the story whatsoever, but dangling this reward in front of your face and finally putting the shiny objects that you find all over the world to use at the very end of the game feels weightless. There is almost no point in unlocking the mechanic if you never took the time to do the optional quest up to that point. 

Another game series that comes close to this problem that I’ve played is The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel saga. There is a similar approach to how side quests are handled in that game. In Cold Steel, side quests help explore and flesh out the side characters that are important to the world and main cast, but have no responsibility to the main story. They exist solely to give the player more understanding about each side character and help expand the world. Of course you have your normal monster extermination quests, but every quests feels like their own short and complete side story that doesn’t take away from what’s going on in the main story. Another side quest doesn’t pop up just because you finished the one before it. Once you finish that side quest, that short story ends and you can move on (outside a few that I’m probably not remembering). The side quests don’t take anything away from the story, but help put more background lore that you don’t really need unless you want it (and serves to build up a big reward at the end if you finish them all). 

Compared to Xeno 3 that follows a similar structure, side quests feel more like an investment where the payoff varies. Instead of just concluding and moving on to a different character, the quests just continue to build up and try to make you invested in the relationship of the characters, but that only works when the reward justifies the means. There is a series of side quests where you help these two assholes when they decide to go on an adventure by themselves. Every interaction with them is the exact same; they have a falling out with each other over something stupid, you help them, they become friends again. Rinse and repeat. I thought there would be some big payoff from helping these two characters whom I never learned their names with their stupid problem, but it never paid off at the end. It just wasted my time dealing with two characters that I (and the main casts) hated helping all the time. I thought for sure this was going to lead to me getting something similar to their vehicle for faster ground traversal, but silly me for believing something like that. At the end of the day, that is the best way for me to summarize Xeno 3’s side quests; an investment that never pays off unless it involves the main cast or a hero.

This is just a fourth of the affinity chart. No one is important if everyone is.

If there was a way to improve the side quests, I would tie the colony side quests to its respective hero (since each colony leader is added to your party). Having a lead character interact and work with the people they are most familiar with would help me care about the relationship building since it is the main characters assisting the colony leader in helping out the people that they are in charge of protecting. It helps build a better connection with the people who you will never remember their names and help with the character development of that hero. I would have a better time doing these side quests if the payout was seeing these characters actually evolve after completing each, and maybe even change the class rank to increase upon completing each side quest. And of course the obvious, do not lock important main character development behind optional tasks. Side quests feel better when you have the complete option to go out of your way to do them. Completing quests out of obligation leads to a false sense of accomplishment with no payout at the end.

That’s just my viewpoint on side quests. I don’t mean to take my aggression out on Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but it did get my brain a-thinking while I was playing it. Do you feel similar or think I’m viewing this in the wrong way? If you have examples of good and bad side quests in games, please share them as I’m now interested in observing how side quests are handled in different games. 

Thanks for reading.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate – The Missing Piece to the Puzzle (Backlog Tale)

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate was the black sheep of the series to me. Generations was a celebration of the Monster Hunter series up to the point before Monster Hunter World came along and made the whole experience better. From revisiting old locations, both village and hunting grounds, old monsters returning, and familiar faces interacting and giving you quests, this should have easily been one of the best Monster Hunter games to play. I tried. I really tried when it came out. I could not find any enjoyment out of the game. For some reason, it took six years (starting from Generations on the 3DS) for me to appreciate this game for what it is. I now hold this game in a positive light from the dark corner I once casted it into.

Let’s travel back to 2016. Young adult me has been enjoying Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, when he hears that a new Monster Hunter is coming out that summer. Natural reaction, excited for it! I preorder not only the game, but the New 3DS model that was releasing along with it (I was in the market for a New 3DS anyway). July 15, 2016 comes around and the game…feels mediocre. Monster Hunter Generations starts off incredibly slow. There is a lot of information presented to you about the new mechanics of the game and how you can travel to different locations from previous games. The quests that you go on at the beginning all consist of gathering and slaying small groups of monsters. It isn’t until Village Quest Level 2 that you start to hunt the large monsters; which consist of the beginning large monsters like the Great Maccao, the Gendrome, and Cephadrome. These are good beginner monsters, but it slows the momentum of the game when you want to get to the good stuff. For a game that is a celebration of the Monster Hunter series up to that point, it felt more geared to players who were new to the series.

That was the point where I felt disconnected with the game. I had spent hours in 3U and 4U that being forced to start from square one again felt restrictive. I could have just ignored the village quests and head straight for the Hub quest, but I am the type of person who likes to do all of the quests if I can; and going back to the Village quest after doing the Hub would have been rough.* At that time of my life I was impatient. I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t stand how slow the game felt. To damper my spirits even more, Monster Hunter Generations did not include G Rank in the game. Not only was the game moving slowly, but the challenge I was looking for at the end was not included in the game. This isn’t the first time a Monster Hunter game was designed like this, but after 3U and 4U were released to the West, we would get the definitive version of the game.

*In Monster Hunter, you have a set of quests that you work on solo (Village) or with others (Hub). Village quests are designed to let new players become familiar with locals and monsters that you hunt. Village quests start on low rank and end at high rank. Hub quests are similar to village quests, but have some differences. The most noticeable difference is that the stats of the monster will adjust for the number of participants for the hunt. There are also certain monsters that only appear in the Hub area. In earlier games, the Hub was the only way to access G Rank hunts. This was changed in Monster Hunter World and Rise where an expansion would grant access to Master Rank.

The definitive version of Generations did come out, but not here in the States. Monster Hunter XX (Double Cross) was released on March 18, 2017 in Japan only and would get a Nintendo Switch release later that year on August 28, 2017. With Capcom originally stating that Monster Hunter XX was not coming to the states, my enthusiasm to play Generations quickly faded. It didn’t help that on June 12, 2017, we learned that Monster Hunter World was in development and was releasing early 2018. You could take one look at World and then Generations and decide on which game you would want to spend time playing. For all intents and purposes, my interest in Generations should have died then and there, but it didn’t.

Out of nowhere, Capcom announced on May 10, 2018 (four months after World released) that Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate was coming worldwide on August 28, 2018. To legacy Monster Hunter players, this is what they were waiting for. For me, I was almost done with most things in World. I had no interest in returning to Generations in any shape or form, so I bought the game day one in order to give it another try. My interest in Monster Hunter was at an all time high after playing through World. Surely the momentum would help me see this game in a new light. Can you guess what happened next?

Where can I find the Minecraft shield?

I still disliked the game. Playing World and then going back to the old school style of Monster Hunter did not help at all! I had gotten used to the bounty of quality of life changes in World that most things just irritated me. It also didn’t help Capcom didn’t bother doing anything with the visuals since it looks like a 3DS game with a sprinkle of improvement (3U on the Wii U looked better than this).  I managed to get to High Rank in the Village quests, but I couldn’t find a playstyle that felt good to me. I hated the feeling of being slow and constantly forgetting items that I needed for hunts. There was nothing that I could do to make the game enjoyable for me, so I placed it on my shelf and left it as one of the many unfinished games on my backlog. There it sat for the next four years, waiting and binding its time for the right moment. Which brings us to a few weeks ago this year.

At an event where I was able to see some of my old college buddies, I was able to reconnect with my old hunting buddy (for the rest of the story I will call him Knivitor). Knivitor loves Monster Hunter as much as I do, but he is definitely more experienced than I am. His go to Monster Hunter game right now is Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate. To him, it is one of the best Monster Hunter games even though he really liked World and Rise. When I mentioned that we should hunt more often, he asked if I wanted to play Generations Ultimate. I agreed with the pretense that this is what I might have been missing this whole time. I warned him that I was at Hunter Rank 1 and that it would take some time before I reached his level. All he did was flex his Hunter Rank 163 badge at me and said “Don’t worry. We got this.”

The coolest character in any Monster Hunter game.

In one week, I went from doing Low Hunter Rank 1 quest to G Rank level 2 quest. Was this from Knivitor carrying me all the way to this point? Most definitely. However, something along this journey awakened in me. All of my past experience with Monster Hunter came flowing back into me, and suddenly I was holding my own in most fights. While I switched around deciding on the Sword and Shield and the Switch Axe, I finally went back to my roots and picked up the Great Sword again. Once I did that, all the fun I had while playing Tri, 3U, and 4U all came back to me. I was trying so hard to adapt to the new, different ways to play the game that I never adapted back to playing the way I used to. Even though I was rocking the low rank Rathalos armor set during the final fights in High Rank, I was having fun using my skills and experience to become this glass cannon with a big sword. Even when we ended our group sessions for the night, I found myself wanting to play more of it and get some things done on my own just so we could press on through G Rank (he really wants me to fight the White Fatalis). The game has been on my mind constantly and most of my free time now is spent playing this and Rise (just started the Sunbreak expansion on Switch and blazing through the quests on PC).

These two bastards are my favorite.

So what happened? How did this game go from one of my least favorite games in the series to one of my all time highs? I guess the simple answer is that I started to play the game in a different way. I have been a very solo hunter these past years and I can definitely say that playing with others completely changes things. The strategy, the banter, the laughing and reacting to things that happen during the hunt turned the game into a completely different experience. I’m no longer playing the game just to get through the hunts and make it to the end. I’m now eagerly awaiting the next hunt with friends on my quest to regain my lost power. When I’m hunting solo, it is no longer about just checking off quests that I need to do; it’s now about getting the materials that I need to craft better things so that I’m ready for the next hunting session. My mind is all about making myself better just so I can enjoy hunting with my friends without being the one who gets carted the most. A simple change in perspectives helped me realize why a lot of veteran hunters still prefer this game over World and Rise.

The good times will not last forever. Eventually we might drift apart again or another game will come out that takes up our time. I think the best thing this revisit to Generations Ultimate did was help me revisit my glory days of playing Monster Hunter. With a game that celebrates the series as a whole up to that point, the one thing that I was missing with the experience was playing with other people. Now that the package feels complete, I feel like Generations Ultimate is one of the best Monster Hunter experiences that I’ve had after World. It’s too bad that the game feels out of date for anyone who started with World and the phrase “Monster Hunter on Nintendo Switch” makes people want to vomit for some reason. It is hard for me to recommend this game to others since Monster Hunter has become more accessible to people thanks to World and Rise. Believe me, I will not stop playing those games just because I found a new obsession with this game. If anything, I want to enjoy playing this game before the next Monster Hunter completely shadows it and becomes the next definitive Monster Hunter experience. From this point on, I won’t be afraid to open my hub up to random players who just want to hang out and hunt monsters with other players who enjoy doing the same thing. It can help turn a lackluster experience into one of the best times that you can have.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate Statistics

Release Date: August 28, 2018
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch

Date First Started: August 28, 2018
Date Finished: September 4, 2022
Platform Played On: Nintendo Switch
Total Playtime: 90 Hours

Number of Quest Completed: 270 (At the time of this writing)
Weapon(s) of Choice: Great Sword, Sword and Shield, Switch Axe
Skills Used: Handicraft, Light Eater, Unscathed
Style: Guild
Hunter Arts Used: Absolute Evasion, Lion’s Maw II, Shoryugeki II
Palicos: Nico and Moonlight
Favorite Hunting Ground: Deserted Island (Where it all started)
Favorite Monsters to Hunt: Rathlos, Malfestio, Lagiacrus, Astalos, Gore Magala, Shagaru Magala, Valstrax

Bonus Gallery

Finishing the Final Game in the Final Fantasy Advance Ports – Final Fantasy V (Backlog Tale)

Image from Final Fantasy Wiki

I never really grew up with the Final Fantasy series. My first encounter with the games was watching my older cousins play Final Fantasy VII whenever we would visit them. It wouldn’t be until the re-releases on the GameBoy Advance that I would properly play through the games. I had Final Fantasy 1&2 Dawn of Souls, followed by Final Fantasy VI Advance, and then Final Fantasy IV Advance. The only game in the series that I never got around to buying was Final Fantasy V Advance. The game never really appeared in the stores that I encountered, and I had since given up on finding it. That all changed in 2016 when I discovered one of my favorite retro game stores [include link to estarland] and decided to mark the occasion by completing my set. Now six years later after obtaining it, I have finally played and finished Final Fantasy V Advance. Was it worth the wait? No really.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of FFV, here’s the brief. The world is slowly losing the power of the crystals after overabusing them. Noticing the weak state of the wind, the king of Tycoon heads off to the Wind Crystal with his daughter following behind. At the same time, a meteorite crashes near the castle carrying a man who has lost his memories. All the while, an adventurer with his trusty Chocobo happens to be in the area and rescues the princess near the crash site. The two team up with the asmethic man to investigate the Wind Crystal while picking up a pirate captain on the way. They soon witness the Wind Crystal shatter before them and then are tasked with protecting the remaining crystals with the new powers they have been bestowed. The rest of the story follows how they continue to fail to protect anything and lose a lot of people and places along the way. They eventually defeat the evil being known as Exdeath and somehow restore balance to the world.

If my story explanation seemed rushed at the end, that explains how I felt about the story in this game. The story was the weakest part of the game to me. It felt subpar to me if you consider the game that came before this and the one that came after. Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy VI had a good story foundation that was carried greatly by their characters. The journey of Cecil is interesting to see him go from a dark knight to a paladin. The cast of FFVI all have their story motivation and you understand each of their motivations in both acts. FFV has a good plot to it, but none of the characters have a lasting motivation that carries from start to finish. You are given a reason why they are on this journey and small sections here and there to what keeps them going. There is little interest in these characters since they are not the main attraction in this game. If this game came out before FFIV, I believe that it would have more notoriety since future titles really started to focus on the character developments within the story.

The main attraction in this game is the new and improved job system. FFV allows you to fully customize your characters in any way that you see fit. Every time you fail to save a crystal, you are given shards of power that contain a new job for the group. Instead of worrying about your character level, the idea is to level up your job experience to unlock job abilities and stat growth.. While each character can only be assigned one job at a time, you do have the ability to assign a secondary action from any job that you have leveled up. This means you can have a knight who can cast black magic, a white mage with monk abilities, and so on. For me, this was the fun part about playing this game, but I wish there was more incentive to use all of the jobs.

You could play the game how the developers intended with changing out jobs when they would be most effective, but that makes little sense if you know the build that you want to go with. Since you normally get around 1 to 2 job points per battle and the number of points you need to level jobs increases, it makes most sense to just level up the jobs that you want to master to avoid the endless grind. Since I was familiar with the job system, I knew which jobs and abilities I wanted to give each character; making experimentation with other jobs pointless when I knew my end result would carry me through the endgame. When I got around to unlocking the “best” jobs in the game, I didn’t bother with them since I had the set up I wanted and didn’t want to grind out more points just to master them. Most of the playtime in FFV comes from grinding job points and not from the length of the game. My 30 hour playtime could have been reduced by a third if I didn’t grind for job points and the ultimate weapons.

While I am someone who enjoys grinding here and there, I was spoiled by the fact that I have played games with a similar job system and have done it better. The obvious example of this is Bravely Default. Bravely Default has the same job system from FFV, but streamlines it so most jobs have some appeal to them either through passive abilities or commands. Grinding job points was easier if you met certain requirements or unlocked abilities that granted more job points. The grind was fun in that game since the game was rewarding you from the start to get the most potential out of each job. If I had played FFV before Bravely Default, I would have personally rated it much higher.

In the end, I was met with a classic game that has been outdone by its spiritual successors in my opinion. After FFV, there would be no other Final Fantasy game in the mainline series that would use this type of job system. It was good for the time, but other games have proved that it can be much better. Pair that with a story, characters, and world that felt very flat to me, I feel like FFV is now at the bottom of my personal tier list. If I ever revisit it, it will probably be in the form of the Pixel Remasters since every other version that I’ve heard of is meh. To leave things off on a positive note, the best character in the game hands down is Gilgamesh. I now understand why he is a recurring character in the series and his death was the saddest one for me.

If you are wondering about my personal rankings of the GBA Final Fantasy games, they are:

VI Advance
Tactics Advance (need to finish)
1 & 2 Dawn of Souls
IV Advance
V Advance

Backlog Tale – Kirby and the Forgotten Abilities

When you think of Kirby, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If you said Kirby’s Avalanche, me too. If you are a normal person, you probably think about the copy ability. This has been a staple concept since Kirby’s introduction in Kirby’s Adventure on the NES. While basic at the time, we have seen Kirby’s copy ability evolve over the years to see them pull off some devastating damage. We have even seen them go so far as to have a copy ability called Black Hole (in Japan). Without the various copy abilities at their disposal, I don’t think Kirby would have as much appeal outside their cozy inhale/exhale gameplay.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land continues this crazy experiment on what Kirby can and cannot copy. The new Mouthful Mode gave us plenty of nightmare fuel, but at the same time felt like watered-down copy abilities. At most, they felt like a gimmick only meant to be used to solve puzzles or traversal. The actual copy abilities themselves saw a better improvement from other games. I got Kirby 64 vibes when I saw that you could upgrade abilities to different forms. Not quite similar to 64’s mix and match abilities, but it was something different than having the same ability do the same thing without any variants. Seeing this mechanic excited me more than Kirby turning into a car and making DaBaby look like a poser.

 Something still felt missing though. Every ability was fun to use, but I felt like some copy staples were missing. Where was the plasma ability? The beam ability was also missing due to the fact that the developers wanted to give Kirby a gun instead. I like the wheelie ability and understood why that was missing, but it would have been cool to have outside the car segments. Even the umbrella ability was missing, and you don’t take Kirby’s fucking parasol away from them! This got me to examine the available copy abilities and try to understand why certain abilities were chosen over others. My observation led to an interesting discovery.

No Kirby fun times allowed

All of Kirby’s abilities in Forgotten Land can be grouped into three categories: Attack, Traversal, and Sleep. Abilities like Sword, Hammer, and Gunner are mostly used for attacking and solving puzzles. These are the abilities that you will mostly stick with in fights unless you are working on a mission objective. Traversal abilities would include Tornado, Ice, Needle, and Drill. These abilities can be used in fights, but their overall design leads more toward progressing through stages quickly due to their forward momentum. Sleep is an unfair ability that restores Kirby’s health after a good night’s sleep (which we all wish we could have). The selection of abilities is diverse enough to encourage using whichever ability tickles your fancy, but that is not how Forgotten Land wants you to play the game.

Forgotten Land’s level design can be explained simply as “hand-holdy.” It likes to give you the illusion of choice, but the game constantly hints at you which ability you should be using and how long you will be using it for. This is done in several ways throughout each stage. If the game introduces a new mechanic with an ability, it is safe to guess that you will be relying on that ability for the rest of the stage. Even when you need to switch abilities to solve a simple puzzle, the game will “hint” at an ability you need by having it readily available or have an enemy constantly spawn so that you don’t miss out on secrets or puzzles that you need to solve. At least from my opinion from the other (limited) Kirby games that I’ve played, this game seems the most determined to make all the answers simple enough for the player to understand and solve.

I think back to other Kirby games that I’ve played. In Kirby 64, you have to find crystal shards throughout the level. Some would be easy to get, but some were stuck behind walls or other obstacles that would require one ability or the right combination to obtain. It required the player to understand the different combinations available in the level in order to complete the game and access the true final boss. Another example comes from The Great Cave Offensive in Super Star. For being a game about collecting treasure, you would expect some backtracking and puzzle solving. To get that 100% completion rating, you have to go out of your way and use the right abilities to find secrets that the game doesn’t point out in an obvious way. While that sense of challenge is still present in Forgotten Land, it is not as nearly as difficult to figure out when the game highlights it so clearly.

I haven’t mentioned Mouthful Mode abilities yet, but they also feel like a limited ability. They can also be divided into their own categories of Traversal, Puzzle Solving, or Dumb. I will give credit to some of the Mouthful puzzles since a small few of them require some fast thinking on what you need to do. The traversal modes (Car, Arch, Coaster) are fun since they change the gameplay up a bit and provide their own challenges. Car mode would have these time trials that made you observe the track and find hidden shortcuts that you might have missed the first go round. The roller coaster mode would have you dodging and collecting items, but also on the lookout for switches that would be easy or hard to see depending on the speed that you are going. While I appreciated some of those, Mouthful Mode was also scripted to be used for certain points. If the stage did not purposely prevent you from taking an ability with you to a new screen, then it was obvious that you would need it for another section. But what is worse than that is when you just use them for a small section and nothing else. I’m talking about the Light Bulb, Roller, and Dome. These are just used for quick situational moments that could be ignored if you were allowed to. They don’t add any gameplay variety or fun minigames to go along with them. Overall, I would have just preferred old or new, unique copy abilities that I could use outside of the given situation.

I think that is my biggest complaint about this game. Outside of boss fights where I can choose which ability I want to use (as long as it’s not tied to a mission), the game is too busy trying to get me to play the way it wants me to play. There’s hardly any desire to experiment with things unless you want to go out of your way to do it. In more recent 3D platformers (that I’ve played), it seems that the developers openly welcome experimentation with abilities that they give the player. In Forgotten Land’s case, it felt like the developers were too afraid to give players complete freedom in fear of missing out on something. That is not a bad thing, but it does restrict my enjoyment when I’m not allowed to play things the way I want to play them. 

Does this make Kirby and the Forgotten Land a bad game? It depends on the player. I still had a good time playing through the game. Some of the later challenges were fun to do and the overall presentation of the game is charming from start to finish. I won’t spoil the final boss, but if you have ever played a Kirby game it is very much a Kirby final boss. What holds me back from saying that it is one of the best in the series are the items mentioned above. All I’m saying is that if you take the parasol away from Kirby then you have not only nerfed them but the game as well.