I can’t help but to enjoy Pokémon games. Pokémon Red and Blue helped me discover RPGs and the one genre that I could enjoy while platformers, action adventure, and shooters felt like too much pressure for me. While there have been some games in the series that rubbed me the wrong way (Gen 4 & 7), I have given each new game a try and test to see how the appeal of Pokémon grows to keep me interested. As I reach my thirties, I understand full well that Pokémon is not designed to target my age group, but the developers try to tap into that nostalgia while remaining focused on their young demographic.
Enter Pokémon Legends: Arceus. This is the type of game that we wished we had back on the GameCube (no offense to Colosseum and Gale of Darkness). An “open-world” Pokémon game where you explore the wild and catch Pokémon. It is a bit agonizing that Game Freak has never made a game like this before, but they must have been waiting for when gaming devices got more advance to realize their visions. Right? Right!?
The game opens up with something I wasn’t expecting. Your character is shown floating in between time and space. Since you play as a Gen Z child, your phone is there with you. Suddenly a shining figure appears and tells you to seek all Pokémon to meet it again. After that, you wash up on the shores of Prelude Beach in the Hisui region (later known as the Sinnoh region). A Pokémon researcher named Professor Laventon finds you and escorts you to Jubilife Village and takes you to the Galaxy Team Headquarters. To reassure the villagers that you are not a spaghetti monster in disguise, you agree to join the Survey Corp to help the Galaxy Team and gain the trust of the villagers. From there, you explore Hisui and learn about the native locals and the reason why the sky is falling.
As I played the game, I tried to understand what I liked about the gameplay the most. Some people were quick to describe it like Breath of the Wild or Monster Hunter. I think Arceus takes ideas from both games to create its own experience while leaning more into being a survival (slight horror) game at the beginning and transforming into one of the familiar formats. In Breath of the Wild, you are given every tool that you need at the beginning of the game and it is up to you to decide on how to use those tools to get through the game’s challenges. Monster Hunter is different where you have a main weapon, resources that you pack in preparation, and your wits and reflexes. Arceus gives you a starter Pokémon, a portable craft table, and a dodge button. The rest is up to you to manage. When I compare these three games, I honestly have to say that Arceus may be more difficult than the other two when starting out.
Let me explain. Arceus and Monster Hunter have the common ground of crafting resources to assist you on quests. If you run out of items like potions, antidotes, flash bombs, ect., you can still defend yourself with your weapon until you have time to either gather materials or fly back to camp. Arceus takes the same concept, but your main weapon has a weakness and can break in a hit or two. Arceus almost demands that you prepare well in advance before leaving camp to ensure that you have a strong team of Pokémon that can meet the unknown challenges that you may encounter. You also need to manage your resources since you can only carry a small amount of materials with you in case you need to craft more pokéballs or potions while you are out. This makes certain situations tense when you enter a new area and have no idea if something is going to annoy you or flat out kill you.
The name of the game is catching them all. Since you are creating one of the world’s first Pokédex, it makes sense that you will need to study them. Unlike other Pokémon games where you unlock the Pokedéx entry for catching a Pokémon for the first time, you need to catch them multiple times, battle, evolve, and do other tasks in order to complete your research. You only need to reach a research level of ten to finish each entry, but if you want the satisfaction of 100 percent completion, be prepared for a long grind. This incentive is something that the mainline games lacked to me. I had no desire to catch every Pokémon since there was nothing satisfying about it outside your participation trophy for doing it all. My goal in those games is to become the Pokémon Champion, and the Pokédex is just a tool to help me learn about different Pokémon. In this game, I got excited when finding a new Pokémon because as a researcher it was my main job. The simple roleplay mindset allowed me to enjoy the gameplay since not a lot of battles happen in this game, thus I don’t need to focus on that aspect until the time comes for it (which is a good and bad thing that I will explain later).
Arceus likes to make one thing clear to you; Pokémon are not your friends and will not hesitate to kill you. Some Pokémon are docile and will just try to vibe with you. Others will act like law enforcement and attack you on site with no questions asked. Something that has been missing in Pokémon lately is the understanding that creatures capable of destroying civilizations and worlds are just freely roaming around and have no moral code to be pals with you. These are dangerous creatures! I have a whole new theory now that parents send their children out to be Pokémon Masters just for the off chance they don’t survive out there and thus help with population control (it would explain why there are a lot of single moms in your local Pokémon area). I have never been on edge while playing a Pokémon game, but the overpowered alpha Pokémon that you can encounter plus the almost mystic air of the region just made me cautious until I got the lay of the land. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I enjoyed having the constant air of danger looming over me until I had a tough squad who could protect my fragile ass.
Okay, I’m going to say it now. The moment you have all been waiting for. The comment of the year that has had you on the edge of your set since you started reading this. Brace yourself. This is your moment to shine!
The game doesn’t look that great.
Yes. The visuals in this game are not the greatest. I however do not like the comments that this game looks like a PS2 game. That is an insult to the PS2 and you need to say sorry. If there was one thing that we all knew was going to happen it would be that the game would look subpar. However, it is not game breaking. Some areas look better than others, and I have to give credit to Game Freak for at least providing a stable framerate throughout the game. It just…misses that wow factor that they were trying to go for. You see games like Xenoblade and The Witcher 3 that look great on the Switch, and you wonder why they didn’t get Monolith or Bandai Namco to help them bloom things up. It is not bad to the point of unplayable, but it is something I would like to see them work on in the next Legends game.
While others were complaining about the graphics, no one points out the other bad mechanics that I noticed (too busy bitching about trees again). One mechanic that I find irritating at times is a Pokémon staple; battling. There are indeed times where you need to battle Pokémon and other people in the story. What’s bad about this is that no matter what level your Pokémon are at, they feel weak compared to your opponents. At times you may get lucky with a one-shot, but it feels completely unbalanced how your opponent can wipe your team without breaking a sweat. This is more prominent towards the end and post game where the toughest battles are held and suddenly you are scrambling to create a decent team that isn’t weak to ground (there are a lot of Pokémon who are weak to ground in this game for some reason). Some of these fights can get straight unfair when you are pit three against one in some battles and the game acts like you can handle it no problem. I understand from a lore perspective that the concept of training Pokémon does not exist in this world, and I like that detail. However, from a gameplay standpoint it does not work.
Another thing that pisses me off is when you accidently hit the boundaries of the map. If you unknowingly reach a part of the map where Game Freak is hiding the better graphics, Jimi Hendrix pops out of nowhere and surrounds you in purple haze. It is frustrating when you are just searching the area and you accidentally walk out of bounds and have to find your way out of it. A simple invisible wall would be so much better than this weird fog.
My favorite thing about this game is the level of detail (outside of visuals) that Game Freak fleshed out. It is a nice tough to watch the village grow with new buildings and villagers as you progress. I like that your prior knowledge of the Gen 4 games can come in handy when it comes to the lore. There are a ton of easter eggs that Poke Maniacs will notice and it provides a fun treat for exploring. While those details are good, there are also some bad details that could have been easily fixed. There would be times where my character would just hover above the ground. These sections look like the ground was altered, but the collision was never fixed. There is also this weird sheen that your character gets when it rains, or sometimes you can see the outline of your character clash with dark surfaces. Again, graphical hiccups that could have easily been smoothed out, but Game Freak hasn’t finished that online class yet.
Speaking of online, there are some online functions in this game. You are able to trade with people locally and somehow online. Sadly, local and online battles do not exist in this game (since Pokémon Trainers don’t exist). There is a social mechanic in the game where you can recover dropped items by other players. Whenever you black out for being bad at the game, you drop some items from your pouch that other players can retrieve for you. The reward for doing this is earning merit points that you can use to buy good items like evolution stones. This mechanic is unfair for anyone playing offline, since there is no way to recover lost items yourself.
Let’s start to wrap up with my overall thoughts about this game. I think it’s also good to clarify that I played this game side-by-side with Kat. The extra benefit of playing this alongside someone else is a contributing factor to my enjoyment of the game. We would discover things together and help each other out and it made collecting all the Pokédex entries even more fun since we were kinda going against each other (until the final stretch when we started trading Pokémon that the other one hadn’t found yet). If you are able to play this with someone else, give it a try and see how it goes.
I found this game fun, addictive up to the end, and a true testament that Game Freak can make a good game. They just can’t make a pretty game on current hardware. I honestly feel that the only thing that holds this game back for most people is that the graphics are not “up-to-par” with current standards (whatever that is). For a person like me where graphics don’t make or break a game for me automatically, I’m glad that it didn’t put me off from playing this game. If you are the type who prioritizes graphics and visuals, then you will not have a good time with this game; and there is nothing wrong with that. Is not perfect by all means and could be so much better if it utilized a different engine. As modern gaming continues to evolve, I’m worried that the “fun” factor of a game won’t matter unless it has near perfect reviews and is near flawless in every aspect (almost like it is today). With that, enjoy playing the games you like to play and don’t let someone like me convince you otherwise.
In previous years, I would create a crazy wish list of games that have zero chances of being released. This year, I wanted to look at things on a more realistic level and talk about games that I want to finish this year, games I’m looking forward to this year, and a few wishes that I would like to see happen (grounded in reality). It is my hope that the games I declare that I am going to finish in this post will actually get done this year. I am going to focus more on my older games in my collection since it is high time I start knocking those off my list.
Games That I Am Going To Finish This Year
Unfinished Tales of Games (Destiny/Eternia/Graces F/Xillia 2)
A friend and I decided that we would take this year to finish all the Tales of games that we have not finished. My list only consists of Destiny, Eternia, Graces F (never finished the additional story), and Xillia 2. Eventually I will find a way to play Destiny 2, Rebirth, and Innocence, but for now I will stick to the ones that were released here in North America. If I have the time, I may even finish Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology if I’m feeling up to it.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
This is a long ass game. I am close to done with it at the moment, but I can only play this game in chunks at the moment (I wouldn’t be able to do anything else). The sad thing about finishing this game is not reaching the conclusion of this storyline, but the fact that I can now focus on the first three games in the whole series and then the Crossbell duology when they start coming out this year. I enjoy this series but it is a commitment.
Kat has owned the entire mainline Suikoden games ever since we’ve been together. I always had an interest in playing the games, but never felt motivation to start them. Now seems to be a good time with the spiritual successor to the series, Eiyuden Chronicles, coming out (hopefully) next year. This will give me time to play through at least the second game in the series and cross that game off my gaming bucket list.
Pandora’s Tower escaped me when Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story came out on the Wii. At first it didn’t really interest me like Monolith’s blockbuster hit or Sakaguchi’s legacy. I was able to get the game for Christmas last year, so I think it is now time to get the last of the trio done.
Final Fantasy V
Along with the Tales of games, I need to continue my playthrough of every mainline Final Fantasy game. There are only a few left on my list, so I decided to start with the oldest game on my list. After I finish V I will only have VII, VIII, XI (I guess), XII, XIII, and XV left.
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wing and the Lost Ocean
This is a series that I’ve been looking forward to playing. I’ve had this game since 2018, but I’ve never felt the urge to jump into the game immediately. Going to change that this year and figure out why I didn’t dive into this series earlier.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence/Curse of Darkness
Every year for the month of October, I like to play through Castlevania games to get into the festive mood. I’ve had Lament of Innocence for the longest time and it is the one that started this idea. Unless another surprise collection comes out (N64 or DS games), then this will be the year I finally run the steak through this game’s heart.
Persona 4 Arena/Ultimax
I guess since Ultimax is being rereleased, now is the time to finish the original versions on PS3. I started the first Arena game, but the structure of long dialogue and then one round of fighting really put me off this game. I will strap in and push through it just to cross these games off my list.
While everyone is enjoying the PC release of Monster Hunter Rise, I am going to travel back in time and play the first game on PS2. Let’s see how an unknown game at the time became this global phenomenon that it is today. Hopefully I won’t have to relearn the claw-hand method in order to play it.
Dark Souls 2
Since I finished the first game, the second game should be the next logical step. I am already halfway through with the game, but I’m currently stuck in the catacombs. Once I’m done with the game I would like to ask why this is the black sheep of the series. Minus being easier than the first game, I have been enjoying my time with it.
Fifteen games sounds like a good start. These represent the games that I am committed to finishing this year. There will be others that I will play, but for the most part these are the ones that I am responsible for.
Now let’s talk about some games that are coming out this year. There will most likely be surprises that are announced later this year, but these are the current games I have my eyes on.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus
I’m still not sold on the presentation, but I’m going to look past that and judge the game for what it is. Game Freak has a lot of confidence that this game will live up to their expectations, but we all know an angry mob is ready to go the minute this game is released. Other than that, I’m looking forward to seeing what the game offers and if this is a new experience to Pokémon that I’ve been looking for.
Dynasty Warriors 9: Empires
I’ve only seen a preview of this game, and from what I saw it looked interesting. Despite me liking musou games, I haven’t really played much of the original Dynasty Warriors games. It definitely looks like they are adding more strategy with the game with infiltrating forts in order to mow down your enemies in a hack and slash manner. Keeping this game on my radar for now.
It’s your most anticipated game of the year. It’s also one of my most anticipated games of the year. This game looks amazing. That’s all I can really say.
Stupid name from stupid Square Enix looks really good. I don’t have a big attachment to games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle, but what I have seen so far has piqued my interest. Hopefully the story keeps me engaged unlike Octopath Traveler.
While you all speculate about Mario Kart 9, I will be playing the best racing game for the year. Chocobo GP might not have the status of Mario Kart, but racing with Final Fantasy characters and themes is enough for me. I just hope it is good.
Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin
This game looks stupid. The premise is stupid. Everything about this game feels stupid. That is why I am so looking forward to this game! I needed a new game to match the edginess of Shadow the Hedgehog to be a guilty pleasure for years to come.
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
I’ve dabbled in the Borderland series here and there. I wasn’t thrilled about the performance issues I had with Borderlands 3, but Borderlands 2 was fun with friends and solo. Painting the series with a fantasy coat of paint but retaining gun and loot gameplay of Borderlands sounds like a fun time.
Finally, let’s talk about some games that I would like to see come out this year.
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: All-Star Carnival
I had the opportunity to play the arcade version of this game. It is intense and a big upgrade from Curtain Call on the 3DS. I thought the controls would make it hard to transition this to consoles, but after playing it, I believe it could work perfectly. After playing Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memories, the control scheme that they used in that would work the same. Service for the arcade version is ending this year, so now would be a good time to port all of the content to consoles. I will keep my expectations of this happening on the lowest scale since this game would be fun, but Square does not care about that anymore. If they could port that crappy Dissidia game, I know they could easily do this.
A Fire Emblem Remake
I don’t know which one they would do next, but it is in the realm of possibility. I would love a remake of the Tellius duology, but any of the Gameboy Advance titles or the Genealogy games would be cool as well. We haven’t heard anything since Three Houses, so it will be interesting if Nintendo would want to compete with Triangle Strategy coming out as well.
Hollow Knight: Silksong
This is for all Hollow Knight fans. I haven’t had the chance to play Hollow Knight yet (despite owning it), but I know how excited you all are for this. I know this, because every time an indie event comes up, it always trends like no one’s business. I’m just ready for this game to come out so people can shut up about it. Please give Team Cherry the time they need to make this game good.
Some Remake or Re-Release That I Wasn’t Expecting Or Don’t Need, But I End Up Getting It Anyway
Last year it was the Castlevania Advance Collection. The year before that was that awful Crystal Chronicles remastered. There is something every year that escapes previous hardware and is available to a newer audience. I could try and guess what it might be this year, but I’ll let the surprise announcement try and surprise me.
Ugh. What year is it? 2021 is over, so now I can talk about the games I played throughout the year. I was originally going to rank the games that I came out in 2021 that I played, but I ended up playing a lot of uninteresting titles. If you want me to talk more about Mario Golf: Super Rush again I can try, but that was already a struggle previously. So, this year I am going to shake things up and talk about my top ten favorite games that I finished this year. There is a good mix of new and old titles in here and it makes for a more interesting write for me. To give you an idea of how slow I am with things, here are two honorable mention list with games I wanted to play and games I started but haven’t finished.
Games Released in 2021 That I Had Interest Playing, But I Never Bought
Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny Pac-Man 99 Poison Control Nier Replicant ver. 1.22474487139… Returnal Resident Evil: Village Chivalry 2 Cris Tales Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind Legend of Mana (Remake) Pokemon Unite The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles Psychonauts 2 No More Heroes III Sonic Colors: Ultimate WarioWare: Get It Together! Cruis’n Blast Kena: Bridge of Spirits Metroid Dread Far Cry 6 Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles Voice of Cards: The Isle of Dragon Roars Forza Horizon 5 Dungeon Encounters Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition(For the lols) Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX Super Robot Wars 30 Wildermyth Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator
Games That Came Out In 2021 That I Played, But Didn’t Finish
Persona 5 Strikers Bravely Default 2 New Pokemon Snap Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin Scarlet Nexus Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game – Complete Edition Back 4 Blood Shin Megami Tensei V Yu Gi Oh! RUSH DUEL: Dawn of the Battle Royal!!
Top Games That I Finished This Year
10. Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City
“Hie thee to the ocean city… To the Yggdrasil Labyrinth. A journey to the blue depths… To conquer the shadows of night. Though you know not what this means, you go towards Armoroad. What awaits is time’s end; death’s demise. A tempestuous dream… To push away the unfathomable dark and bring light to Armoroad… A stormy adventure begins…”
Creating my list was hard, but I knew I wanted to include this game. Etrian Odyssey III was one of the hardest games I have on the DS. My gaming knowledge was new to dungeon crawlers and understanding party compensation.10 years later, I have become an adult with a better understanding of how things work. I went from not understanding how certain abilities could be helpful to finding ways to make my party unstoppable. The mix between dungeon crawling and finding treasure out in sea made the game enjoyable for many hours. The game left such a big impression on me that I went out and got the other games in the series to slowly play through the story canon games in the series. I will report my thoughts when I finish the series twenty years from now.
9. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age
The trend this year was finishing games that I’ve put off for years. I was really excited to play through this game when it first came out, but I found myself playing chunks at a time since I had started grad school at the time. Motivation went south fast when the definitive versions came out and sour my mood when I learned that you couldn’t transfer your progress to the newer, shinier version. So instead of starting all over, I chipped away at the base game and finally finished it this year.
Dragon Quest XI is a comfort game for JRPG players. It is simple and friendly for newcomers while also engaging for series veterans. The story and setting make this an adventure worth playing while never feeling stale. There is always something to see, something to do, and challenges around every corner. I still need to finish the post game and eventually play through the definitive edition one day, but that won’t be until a while from now. I did write a post about this game back in October.
8. The World Ends With You: Final Remix / NEO: The World Ends With You
Yeah I’m cheating with this one. I couldn’t decide on which game I liked more over the other since they both have their high and low points. Ultimately I decided that if you put both together, you get a great game. The World Ends With You took me places that I wasn’t ready to go. The themes of your world ending when you refuse to live in it struck a chord that I never really thought about. It opened a new viewpoint that I was unaware of and kept the optimistic flame in me going. It’s sequel doesn’t do the theme justice, but it did deliver an improved gameplay formula that irritated me in the formal. Both games had me playing them whenever I had the free time to do it, and that’s coming from someone who ignored the original game when it came out. I am sad that NEO didn’t do well enough to Square’s expectations, but here’s hoping that the series can continue with new characters, locations, and a stronger emphasis on its theme.
7. Castlevania Advance Collection
I’m still cheating! When I learned that the Gameboy Advance Castlevania games were being rereleased, I got excited. Symphony of the Night is one of my favorite games and the advance trilogy share the same formula. While most games in the collection were better than others, I enjoyed my time playing through all four games. If you would like a more of my thoughts on the games, I wrote a post about them last month.
6. SaGa: Scarlet Grace – Ambitions
This was a surprise to me when I was looking over my options. The more I thought about this game, the more I remembered my playthrough and the adventure I went on. SaGa: Scarlet Grace has the charm and formula of a SaGa game that is also friendly for newcomers. The almost endless possibility of how your journey could play out makes finding and making decisions fun since you have to figure it out yourself (almost literally since there are not many guides). My journey with Urpina was a daunting one, but rewarding in so many ways. The other three protagonist are still waiting for me to take them on, but I am in no rush to get through theirs (especially since I started playing other games in the series). I wrote about my experience with the game back in August, so you can get the full read there.
5. Xenoblade Chronicles
The award for the game that took the longest time for me to beat this year goes to Xenoblade Chronicles. In hindsight, I could have finished this game a long time ago, but similar to Etrian Odyssey, my dumb young brain didn’t understand how to play the game logically. Xenoblade mimics a MMO game style where understanding how abilities and status modifiers matter. Once I understood this, the game became much more enjoyable to play and finish. It was a bit bittersweet to finally cross this game off my list since I was really feeling it. My advice if you want to play the game is to get the definitive edition on Switch. It is a really good game and worth playing. And yes, I did write about it as well as part of Love Your Backlog month.
4. Dark Souls Remastered
This is one of my proudest gaming achievements. I had no intention of finishing this game anytime soon, but the more I played and got into it, I was determined to see it through. I’m glad I did since the reward was definitely worth it and I felt accomplished. The original Dark Souls may not be my personal favorite out of the series, but it is now the one I am most comfortable with. There are parts in this game that I dread doing again, but I’m not afraid of facing them anymore. It is somber that I finally get to cross this off my list, but with other games in the series to keep me busy for the next four to nine years, I think the experience will make me a better player.
3. It Takes Two
There is a reason why this game won Game of the Year. It is a well-developed game. I played this with Kat the entire way though to the point where we couldn’t stop playing it. Everything felt well designed from the locations to gameplay to how everything relied on how cooperative you and your partner had to be. The story still irks me in several places, but certain moments make it up for being heartbreaking or hilarious depending on the type of person you are. I wish the game had more to do after the campaign since Kat and I were eager for more. If Hazelight Studios can expand on this gameplay and create something more inline with this, then it would be an instant buy from me.
2. Monster Hunter Rise
A new year, a new Monster Hunter game to play through. For me personally, I enjoyed Rise way more than I did with World. Rise fixed a lot of my personal issues with scaling down the bloated environment and making them smaller and more interesting. I like exploring the maps in Rise since there are things to discover like artifacts from the previous era and remnants of epic battles. My favorite is the Frost Islands where you can explore a destroyed ship and follow the skeletal remains of the monster it was fighting throughout the entire map. It’s details like this that I wish existed in World to make my time getting lost more interesting.
Besides the map, the mobility and how fast the game plays now made for interesting hunts. The Wire Bugs are one of my new favorite additions to the series and offers a lot of elements in and out of battles. I felt “meh” at first with the Wyvern Riding mechanic at first, but once I figured out how take advantage with the controls, it became fun to use. Rampage quest are still a struggle for me. The idea is to have multiple people with you during them, but my lonely self had a hard time maintaining everything that was going on. They do present a nice change of pace and strategy, but it does feel like it was meant to be played with others.
Other than that, the new monsters introduced had their fun gimmicks and quirks. I thought the Magnamola would be a pushover since I had no real difficulty up to it, but it quickly put me in my place when it decided to fly all of a sudden. The two new elder dragons are no pushovers either since they utilize Rise’s gameplay and your understanding of them. They are neat fights and made me say a swear or five. Outside of all of that, I’m happy Rise brought back interesting and creative designs for weapons and armor. It was something I was missing and happy to have back.
I never did write a post on Rise for one reason or another, but there is a lot that I can talk about. I originally didn’t have this game high on my list, but after replaying it this month, I feel in love with it all over again. On the fence if I might double dip and get the PC version when it comes out. I may actually finish Sunbreak when it comes out. The offer still stands if anyone wants to play online.
1. Tales of Arise
Tales of Arise is not a perfect game. If I had to rank it with the rest of the series, I would put it as maybe my fourth or fifth personal favorite. The game has a lot of good qualities in it, but there are glaring issues that hold it back from being up there for me like Symphonia and Vesperia. So why is it my number one game this year? From beginning to end, I could not stop thinking about this game. I wanted to explore everything this game offered and complete each difficult challenge that was available. I tend to avoid doing ridicules challenges in Tales of games, but Arise kept me engaged throughout. I didn’t find the characters annoying outside of battle and their struggles kept me invested. Even though I felt the story wasn’t on par with other titles, it did through me off guard at times and only decided to get complicated at the last minute.
Even as I write this, I still find it hard to explain why this was my favorite game I played and finished this year. There is something to say here about acknowledging all the faults it has while still finding some enjoyment out of it. I may never write about this game because I can never find the true words that I want to say. The best I have is that it is good despite its flaws. Rather that is good or bad is left to the individual. All I know is that Arise was my favorite game that I finished and completed this year.
So that’s all I got. Sorry if it is not the follow-up from last year’s presentation, but there wasn’t a lot of excitement from my gaming bubble. Let me know what some of your favorite games were this year that you finished.
I feel like if I had beaten Dark Souls a few years ago it would seem like a bigger bragging right than it is now. People have played and study this game for years now and there are videos and guides that help new players get through some of the most daunting trials. It now feels like once you beat it, you are handed a merit badge to show off to the other scouts who are busy earning other difficult badges that you are behind on. While that is what one part of my brain is saying, the other part of it is partying like its New Year’s Eve in 1999. I am very proud of myself for beating this game on my own (unlike Bloodborne where I played the majority with a friend). It is not the type of game that I would go out on my own to play, but the lore and culture around it hooked me in and now I’ve fallen in the abyss. Through practice, studying, and good ‘ole trial and error, I defeated Lord Gwyn and ushered in a new age where the next miserable soul would repeat the process. So allow me rest by the bonfire and reflect on this journey that took me (looks at game data…) two years to get through.
Long ago, dragons ruled the world…I think. That all changed when man discovered fire and all of its benefits; like containing souls to kill dragons….I think. Out of this fire, four lords were chosen. Nito, the first person to die I think, the Witch of Izalith and her normal daughters, Gwyn ,the Rock, Johnson, and some other guy. Together with Seath the slug dragon, they vanquished the dragons and established a golden era of fire…I think. Things were going great for a while, but no one told the lords that fire needs fuel to burn. The Witch of Izalith tried to use her flames to create a new one, but created chaos and demons instead. Gwyn sacrificed his life to keep the original flames going, and from there the world got even more chaotic. Those born with the darksign are considered undead and will fail to die until they lose their minds and become hollows…I think. Prophecy states that a chosen undead will leave the Undead Asylum and embark on a journey to rekindle the flame and restore the golden age of fire, or let it die like a badass and usher in the age of darkness…I think.
Act Like The Undead
My journey through Dark Souls was not without pain, torture, learning, adapting, and overcoming hardships. On the surface level, the mood and reputation of Dark Souls is to intimidate and highlight this bleak world that has misfortune around every corner. There is nothing that makes you feel safe at any moment except for the warmth of the bonfire. I find it strange that the one thing that has great power and the catalyst that started all of this is also your source of comfort. Nothing feels as satisfying as getting through hard areas only to discover a bonfire. Though it all, the challenge beforehand seemed daunting just to get there, but once you reach a save point, you start to feel safe and understand your terrain a bit. If there is one thing that I appreciate about the bonfire system is that they are never right next to the next boss or sometimes close to the next best thing. Bonfires can symbolize that you are close to something, but still need to get through something in order to reach it. For example, the bonfire closes to Quelaag has a swamp, big dudes who throw boulders at you if you get too close, and some egg sack creeps before you get to the boos room. When you first make the trek, you may look for an easy way to minimize the poison damage you get from the swamp, what big guys you can take out in your way, and beat the eggy guys before Quelaag. Soon you start to realize that trying to find the “easy” route may be the longest route since you will most likely limit your supplies before the boss fight. Eventually (depending on how many times it takes for you to beat the boss), you start to realize that if you run and avoid combat when needed, you can just as easily reach the boss room while conserving your resources. The game finds ways for you to abandon your cautious nature and take risks to yield better results. Overthinking things and hesitating will get you killed in most circumstances.
For my playthrough, I mostly stuck to a one-handed sword with a shield for defense. My character, Yeetes Yotes, was not the bravest of warriors at the start of the game, but throughout the journey she turned into a badass soul slayer. I mostly relied on my shield in areas unfamiliar to me and I wanted to keep my guard up for unexpected fuckery. Once I got familiar with areas, it turned into a use-only-when-needed item since dodge rolling is much more effective. To this day, I do not know what a good pose stat is and at this point I’m too afraid to ask. Since dodge rolling was my jam, I opted for light-weight armor that wasn’t good for defense, but made me hella light and sting like a Japanese hornet. For offense, I started off with a falcon, but quickly obtained the Drake Sword and fell in love. Eventually, I picked up a Black Knight Sword and despite how heavy it was, I quickly boosted up my stats to make this my main weapon for the rest of the game. During this time, I discovered the value of two-handing a weapon and start making most fights into a joke. One swing from me in two-handed mode who dispatch an enemy with one hit, and bosses took little from when I was solely one-handing. The only thing that I wish I took more advantage of during my first playthrough was using sorcery, pyromancy, and miracles. Using magic makes the game much easier in my opinion from playing some of Dark Souls 2 & 3. Regardless, playing the game with only the guns on your arms and a bow for long-range attacks is more than doable.
Yeetus Yotus journey came with great feelings of joy and a lot of frustration. From the early days of the Undead Parish to Anor Londo, each area has its trials that feel good for passing. I view each area as it’s own little puzzle that needs to be solved in order to find the great rewards of either a bonfire or really good item. Sen’s Fortress of Happy Fun Times felt like one of the most daunting trials to get through; and then once you get past it the later levels just laugh in its face. I dread one day returning to Anor Londo have have to deal with scaling the roof while two Black Knights shoot their giant arrows at you. I wanted to give up in the Giant’s Tomb since everything is so dark, but once I found the Sunlight Maggot, it became business as usual. Everyone likes to complain about Blighttown, but once you know your way it is one of the less intimidating places in the game (just annoying). The place that I was most frighten about was the Demon Realm and Lost Izalith since the first thing I saw in the Demon Realm were an army of Capra Demons. I wanted to nope out of that, but after I got passed the first two I found a shortcut that led me straight to a bonfire. From there, the rest of the Demon Realm and Lost Izalith was just an exploration tour to find the Bed of Chaos. I think by the time you are hunting down the Lord Souls, your fears and anguish of Dark Souls starts to wain to the point you are familiar with how the game works.
Experience From Unexpected Places
Boss battles are their own puzzles to figure out as well. Unless it is your first time fighting a specific boss (or you’re a quick learner), you will spend the first few attempts just trying to figure out the boss’ move set and patterns. Once you do that, you find the best way to punish them for underestimating you for the tenth or twentieth time. Since some bosses share similar traits (big and swing around), you can start to utilize some strategy from an earlier fight. Some bosses just outright tell you that “I have a gimmick and you need to figure that out!” The Four Kings comes to mind since they each come out at specific times. So instead of hesitating during the first king, you are encourage to beat each king before the next one joins in. It is one of the only “timed” bosses that you face, and it makes you change from a slow, observant fighter to a fast, hitting one. Besides Ornstein and Smough who you have to fight at the same time, there was only one boss that really gave me the most trouble; Gwyn himself. I’m guessing Ornstein and Smough were learning points for this fight (since they are the only humanoid bosses you fight), but Gwyn doesn’t mess around and his fight takes a while to understand. At this point I was looking at guides on how to beat some bosses, but the guides on how to beat Gwyn didn’t work with my style. I hadn’t been parrying at this point so that strategy was out the window. I wasn’t used to wearing heavy armor or had the magic to fortify myself; so that didn’t work either. Ultimately I abandoned all the guides I saw and opted to do things my way. Honestly, my playstyle from a different game gave me the ultimate victory.
It’s a good thing I played all that Monster Hunter before this game! In Monster Hunter, you are encouraged to stay engaged with your hunt at all times and defense all depends on your playstyle. My default style is using a Great Sword and mostly relying on dodge rolling to evade attacks. So why not adapt that mindset to the Gwyn fight? My Black Knight Sword sorta functioned like the Great Sword from Monster Hunter, and using my instance to dodge roll at the right moment was natural to me. To mimic my dodge roll feel like in Monster Hunter, I equipped my lightest armor that still offered some protection. So then my strategy turned into have shield equipped for extra insurance if my dodge was off, switch to two-handed mode for my attacks, and hide behind a rock (my new bff). Once I started engaging him in this manner, his patterns became more noticeable like monsters I would fight. After a few attempts with this new mindset, I defeated him and victory was mine. Monster Hunter and Dark Souls are two very different games, but it was neat discovering the skills I mastered in one game led to my victory in another. I will have to see if other skills from different games can have the same effect.
The Heavy Hitters
I do have some complaints about my journey that will probably vary player to player. At first, I didn’t really care about the speed of the game. My problem with it probably has to do with playing other games in the series first before this one. Dark Souls 3 was technically my first game in the series and there is definitely a different flow to the former. Bloodborne was the first game in the series that I finished and that demanded a lot of movement and fast actions. Compared to those games, it was hard for me to reset my brain a bit to accommodate to this game. After a while, I grew into the control style of Dark Souls and work with my limitations instead of wanting more.
Another minor complaint I have is how lost you can get sometimes. There were certain points where I had no idea where to go next and the game almost makes you figure that out on your own. I panicked a little when I got the lordvessel and was told to gather the lord souls, but wasn’t told where to start. The game was pretty linear up to that point, and once you get there the game suddenly opens up for you to tackle the rest of the game however you want. I thought there was an certain order the game would think that you would take, but no it’s like a Mega Man game at that point. I know a map system would defeat the purpose of exploration, but that would have helped a bit when planning out my course.
I guess the only other thing I can complain about is PvP. I do not care for PvP in these games and I feel it adds unnecessary stress when you are minding your own business and some dickhead just comes and kills you. It’s for this reason that I hardly ever restored my humanity and played most of the game undead. Could I just simply played offline and restricted my matchmaking? Yes of course, but before I knew I could do that the added stress had already sunk in. It is fun when you find people that want to help you and watch them tear ass through things they’ve done countless times.
Until the Next Journey
I like Dark Souls. Never did I feel like the victories felt undeserved since the challenge felt great to overcome. I will get around to playing a New Game + playthrough at some point since I do want to get the other ending to the game. I do also have the PC and Switch version of the game (courtesy to a friend who wanted to play co-op), so maybe I will create a different character on each and do some experimentation. It’s hard to tell where I would personally rank this game with the others, but I would definitely say below Bloodborne since I really enjoyed that game. For now, the tale of Yeetes Yotus comes to a close here, and soon/one of these days a new adventurer will embark on another journey through Hell and the Abyss.
My Stats From Finishing Dark Souls Remastered:
1 Full Playthorugh Game Started: February 23, 2019 Game Ended: November 28, 2021 Total Playtime: (I don’t know since the game doesn’t keep track of that) Number of Deaths: Ha Achievements Unlocked: 18/41 (44%) Proudest Moment: Beating Ornstein and Smough Character Stats:
I have been enjoying the Castlevania games ever since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night won me over. The castle labyrinth with its secrets and fun gameplay made me wish I got into the series earlier and play other games in this fashion. While I would later play Castlevania: Order of Ecclessia and some of Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, there were older games in the series that I missed out on completely (especially for someone who loved the GBA). Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, & Aria of Sorrow were three Castlevania games that came out on the Gameboy Advance. All three games followed the structure of Symphony of the Night with the core gameplay of explore a castle with various rooms while finding items to increase your abilities and clap Dracula’s cheeks at the end. All three games are regarded as great games for the GBA and have high standards in the Castlevania franchise. Originally, I was going to purchase all three games via the Wii U Virtual Console (because good luck getting them for cheap physically), but one magically day, rumors started flying around about an Advance collection that had all three games in one package. Great for me, sad day for my Wii U. So for the month of October, I set out to complete as many of the games that I could. I finished all three GBA titles plus Dracula X which was included for some reason. Each game gave off different impressions for me, which made playing each a good different experience than playing the same game with a different skin. I will be going over all four games in the order that I played them. This post may get long, so get comfy and play any of the Castlevania soundtracks for background noise (all of the soundtracks can be found on Spotify)
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
It is the year 2035. Since that is 14 years from now, I am not surprise that the threat of Dracula still haunts us. Soma Cruz and his friend Mina Hakuba are enjoying the lunar eclipse when they are suddenly transported to Dracula’s Castle. Meet by not Alucard, Soma finds himself drawn to the castle as if he was a teenager who likes to trespass onto people’s property. He soon learns that he can absorb the souls of monsters if he is lucky enough, and has to stop a man named Graham from becoming the next Dracula.
This All Feels Familiar…
I will be completely honest here. This is not my first time playing through Aria of Sorrow. I played it back in the day when I first discovered emulation and it was one of the first games that I played with that method. That didn’t disrupt my experience with replaying this game since I had mostly forgotten the layout of the castle. The only thing I remembered were the three souls required in order to get the true ending of the game (for clarity I went for the true ending for all three games). Castlevania games have a tendency for including multiple endings with specific requirements in order to obtain the true ending. Just know for this game you need to obtain and equip the Flame Demon soul, Succubus soul, and Giant Bat soul during your fight with Graham to unlock the true ending route.
Mechanically speaking, Aria of Sorrow is the best out of the trio. The controls, movement, and items that you can obtain are similar to Symphony of the Night while standing out on its own thanks to the Soul Absorption mechanic. You can absorb the soul of every enemy in the game and it will add a new ability for Soma. There are three different types of souls: Bullet Souls shoot projectiles for long range attacks, Guardian Souls that can either transform or provide offensive or defensive buffs, and Enchanted Souls that provide stat boosts. What the three different soul types provide are multiple play styles that you can choose from during each playthrough. There are definitely certain souls that you want to utilize for effectiveness, but having the option to make your playthrough easier or more difficult is something I like to see in games. Along with souls, Soma can equip different weapons that change up his basic attack. Weapons range from shortswords, lances, hammers, brass knuckles, and even a gun. Each weapon also changes how you go about fighting enemies since they each weapon has a different animation, range, element, or aliment attribute to them. Just because one weapon has the higher attack value doesn’t mean that you can tackle all enemies and bosses with ease. During my playthrough I had to switch up weapons since some were harder to hit certain weapons. That all changes once you find Claimh Solais and start murdering enemies since the sword takes up most of the screen.
Difficulty is present in this Castlevania game. Throughout my playthrough there were definitely times where I felt outclassed or the enemies were just kicking my ass over and over. Being a Castlevania game, you are encouraged to explore each area you visit to ensure you find weapons, armor, and souls that can help you get through some of the castle’s challenges. The game is an RPG, so it tricks you into thinking that you need to grind levels in order to be more powerful to tackle these areas. If there is one thing that you take from me about almost all the Castlevania games is that you do not (I repeat DO NOT) need to grind levels. Obstacles require patience and understanding of how certain enemies more, what their weaknesses are, and understanding the best way to overcome their BS. The solution is not thinking that once you get to a higher level you can go on a killing spree. Just like the boss fights, the enemies in this game require your respect and a well thought out plan will get you through their obstacles.
Overall, Aria of Sorrow provided me with a good challenge and a great time navigating Dracula’s Castle (which felt like the shortest out of the three). Collecting souls, finding hidden areas, and blazing through the castle always feels good and the game provided. If I had to complain about something it would probably be the length of the game. I finished the game in about 5 hours across five sessions. I found navigating the castle to be simple and I hardly had to stop and consult a guide on where I had to go to next. Each area is very telling if you should be here on not, and once you find an ability soul for a specific ability, you pretty much know where to go to next. The game is super fun and replayable; I highly recommend playing this in the collection.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
The year is 1830. While the Belmonts were off playing dead or something, Dracula took the opportunity to plan his resurrection for the seventeenth time with the help from Carmilla. Because this tale is non-canon to the series, a vampire slayer by the name of Morris Baldwin, accompany by his apprentices Hugh Baldwin and Nathan Graves, storm the castle to stop the ritual. They fail as Morris is captured so that his blood can be used in the final ritual, and Nathan and Hugh demonstrate what you will be doing for most of the game by falling down a large pit. Hugh rushes off to save his master/father while leaving us with Nathan to ponder why the fall didn’t crush their tendons.
Easily the worst game in the trilogy. I had high hopes for this game since people were talking good things about the game; the collection proudly features Nathan on the title and home screen, and it had high reviews at the time. This was the biggest let down for me and I was hoping that the game would turn around for me at some point, but it never did.
Let’s get my biggest complaints out of the way. I understand that some people may not like the long hallway sections in these games since they are giant time wasters that have nothing interesting in them except hordes of zombies or skeletons. Now, take those horizontal hallways of nothingness, set them up vertically, and make most of you map based on that. The game is essentially a repetitive notion of climbing up sections just to go through a few rooms that make up climb us less, to then climb up some more until you eventually need to go back down to get somewhere else. This wouldn’t be an issue if they included some cool enemies to challenge you on your way up or vary up the platforming a little besides the clock tower. Each ascent just feels the same and their are hardly any enemies or platforming tricks to make the climb feel engaging. It is interesting to have a Castlevania game focus on vertical progression over mostly horizontal exploration, but if there is nothing interesting to do or see while climbing, then its just a waste of time. This bothered me the most during my playthrough since I would get lost often on where to go next; only to find that I need to be on the other side of the castle and will have to backtrack mostly on foot (since there are no warp points at the bottom of the castle) to continue progress. Just writing about it makes me mad and makes me dread playing it again in the future.
Another thing that baffled me was at the beginning of the game. When you start off, Nathan has the classic slow walk like in the classic Castlevania games. You cannot run, you cannot get running starts to some platforms, and it is a slow experience to start the game with. This would deter most newcomers as it seems ridiculous to play a game at this speed until you found the ability to run. What I found to be bad game design is that in the third room that you go into, you find the boots that make you run. What was the point of not having it at the beginning if you are just going to get it without a fight or trial. It feels completely useless to start you off without the ability to dash, only to go through one room with where you fall and get pass a couple of enemies to then be rewarded with the privilege to play the game at a distant speed. If I hadn’t committed myself to play the game all the way through, I would have stopped playing the game right then and there out of spite and worried what other questionable game design choices the devs made.
Okay. Some non-negative things about the game now. I did enjoy the Dual Set-up System (DSS) mechanic that Nathan uses. Defeating certain enemies will make sometimes make a card drop representing an action or attribute. By choosing different combinations of action and attribute cards, you can turn Nathan’s main weapon into a different type of weapon or create spells that can help you offensively or defensively. My favorite spell was to combine the ice attribute card with the barrier action to create a rotating shield that helped me defensively as well as with offense. It made traversing much more tolerable and made some boss fights a joke since my barrier would destroy any projectiles they had. I hardly used any other skill once I had access to this.
Another enjoyable feature that is included in the Castlevania Advance Collection is the ability to create save states and rewind. I didn’t mention these features when I was talking about Aria of Sorrow since I hardly utilized them but would occasionally use the rewind function if I did something stupid. In Circle of the Moon I abused the hell out of these two mechanics. Since running around the castle was a pain, I would use a save state on one side of the castle, and if I realized the path I took was a horrible mistake, I would just reload the save state and choose a different path. No shame in doing that. I would also save state outside of boss rooms since I didn’t have the patience to restart the fight if I somehow lost. This didn’t matter since I abused the hell out of the rewind function during boss fights since I wanted to be done with this game as soon as possible. This made the final Dracula fight so much better since he had this stupid one hit kill rush that you have to avoid or start the whole fight again. I didn’t have the time or patience for that so I became a time wizard and just rewind time to avoid my untimely deaths. Again, I have no shame in using those tools. Without them I probably would not have finished them game and would have caused some minor property damage.
Overall, Circle of the Moon was a chore to get done and I hated every minute of it. I get why some people were excited to revisit what was possibly their first Castlevania experience on the GBA, but with so many better games that came before and after this game, I don’t get it. The slow start, boring level design, and worthless vertical progression just makes me want to stay away from this game forever (knowing me however I will probably stupidly want to go back and 100% it).
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
It is the year 1748. Juste Belmont gets an invitation to a party in Dracula’s Castle. Attending the party are Maxim Kischine, Juste’s friend who went on a self-discover quest only to forget who he was, Lydie Erlanger, the damsel in distress plot, and the typical rose gallery of monsters you would find in these games. Juste and Maxim work together to find their friend Lydie who is held captive somewhere in the castle. While zooming through the castle, Juste realizes that the castle keeps changing, and Maxim goes from chum to chad depending on where he goes. It’s up to Juste to use his Belmont powers to crash the party, save his friends, and maybe murder Dracula along the way.
Better Than Expecting
I won’t lie. I thought this was going to be the game that I would hate in the collection. I found the pixel art for the characters to be awful and one of the driving factors to why I never bothered to play this game. Once I got past that issue, I found this game to be enjoyable and now one of my favorites in the series. Who knew that if you look past a game’s visuals you can find a fun game underneath?
I think the first thing that made this game for me was the speed at which Juste can move. Unlike Soma and definitely Nathan, Juste starts off with a forward dash that he can do with a push of the trigger buttons. It is about the same speed as doing a backstep in Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night, but you are able to spam the dash to make Juste fly through some of the rooms. This made retracting places so much better in my opinion since instead of backstepping my way through places, I could keep a forward momentum while facing forward in case I had to dispatch enemies on my way. The speed at which Juste moves is also a good thing considering this has the biggest map out of the GBA trilogy. Iga wanted to bring back the feel of going through the same castle like in Symphony of the Night. The only difference is that Castle B isn’t upside down like in SoTN. Castle B is more than least the same as Castle A, so it makes you flip through two copies of the same map with the only thing that are different are enemies, background visuals, and items that you have to find. This may be disappointing for some who believe this to be lazy game design just to inflate the length of the game, but I didn’t mind it.
One of the reasons I didn’t mind it was because for the first time in a good while, I got lost on what to do next. The game doesn’t really spell it out to you on where to go next like in the other two games. It gives you plenty of guesses on where to go on the map, but most of the times it is an impassable wall or requires a certain item to get through it. Harmony of Dissonance took me the longest to finish by only an hour, but it was mostly because I was constantly getting lost at certain points, and then when I found my correct path it was a euphoric moment. For context, I didn’t use a guide at any point during this game until it came down to finding one item. When I consulted the guide, it basically told me that I was at the end of the game, and I felt good about figuring things out on my own up to that point. This does make the game hard for newcomers who are not use to the gameplay flow of Castlevania to retrace steps to find hidden secrets and retain knowledge on how to get back to certain areas. I did feel good that I am used to this type of gameplay, but I would find this game tortures to anyone playing it for the first time.
Going back to Juste. I found him to be extremely powerful for having nothing but his whip and sub weapons to mostly rely on. Harmony of Dissonance is still an RPG, so you will have to spend some time outfitting Juste with armor and accessories to boost his stats. I did find this game to rely more on the RPG aspect as it gives you four slots to outfit Juste with head, body, arm, and leg armor with you picking and choosing what fits best for your playstyle. Juste only has the Vampire Killer whip at his disposal, but that is all he needs to kick ass. During your journey, you will find certain tips that you can equip to the Vampire Killer. This tips are mostly elemental tips that you can change out to deal elemental damage to enemies, but some have special properties like the Crash Stone that can destroy certain walls and the Platinum tip that adds a +20 attack to the whip. Classic sub weapons are present like the dagger, axe, holy water, bible, knuckles (which is new), and my favorite, the cross. If your basic whip attack is too short, these projectiles have you back as always, but can be helpful in other ways. Another mechanic that Juste has access to are spell books that can be used to change how sub weapons are used. I would like to be honest and tell you which each did, but there was only two that I used. Those were the cross + fire book spell which creates a giant flaming cross that can stay in one place until you input the command again, and the cross + lighting spell that turns Juste invincible for a moment and summons a giant pillar of crosses that deal massive damage. Boss fights became a joke with that last spell since I would use up most of my magic just casting that and then finishing the job with my whip. The spell book system is something that you can turn off and on when you need to, and it is wise to turn it off when you don’t need it. Sub weapons require hearts to use them, but spells require MP in order to be used. So if you are in a fight and run out of MP, turn the spell book off and you will be able to use the sub weapon no problem since you didn’t have to waste hearts while combined with a spell. This versatility may seem simple, but it makes Juste feel deadly and one of the strongest Castlevania characters that I’ve ever played.
If there is one more complaint I could make it would be the lack of secrets that you can find and things that you could miss. I spent a lot of my time hitting walls thinking that one of them would be a secret room, but in my entire playthrough I didn’t find a single one. Breakable walls have been a staple of the Castlevania series, and if I knew this game didn’t have any besides the visible ones that you need a certain item for, then I wouldn’t have wasted my time checking everywhere I went. Instead of breakable walls, you do discover that some walls have an invisible path that you just have to discover on your own. To my knowledge, no other Castlevania game features invisible walls, so it trips up both newcomers and veterans to check for stuff like that. Going along with this, there are relics around the castle that help you travers different areas. There is a point in the game where you get the high jump ability, but you will sometimes find barriers that you can’t get through. You would think that you would need to find a relic to help you get through that barrier, but that is not the case. There are random boots that you have to find located off the beaten path that gives you the ability to break those barriers when equipped. The same thing happens when you come across one dark area and have to find night vision goggles to get through the area. For something as important that you need to get the things you need to unlock the final area, I wish it was a little bit clearer that these boots were important. If I didn’t read the description of them, I would have missed the fact that performing the high jump while they are equipped will destroy the barrier. Something minor that most people won’t have a problem with, but I could have spent another hour searching for something that I already had in my possession.
Overall, I was surprise that I enjoyed this game. Looks were very deceiving and I was not expecting to have a good time. So far, Juste may be my second favorite Belmont right behind Richter (his game on the other hand makes me rage).
Castlevania: Dracula X
One day while watching people suffer while playing Castlevania 3, Toru Hagihara was displeased that he didn’t have a bombing soundtrack to go along with his entertainment. He decided to task Akira Souji, Keizo Makamura, Reika Bando, Koji Yamada, and Satan himself to create on of the best soundtracks that they could come up with. After months of work, they created one of the best soundtracks that blew everyone away. To market on this great soundtrack, Hagihara had the great idea to program a game around it and sell it as a video game instead of a music CD. The team decided to call this album, Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (Castlevania: Rondo of Blood) and release it as a computer game to get pass customs and dominate the PC music genre. While they saw great success for the PC version, they quickly realized that they didn’t live in the era of the PC master race and not many people played/listened to music on their home computer. The team then decided to re-release the soundtrack two years later in a cartridge format to fit into people’s cars. The cartridge wouldn’t fit into most commercial car radios, but it would fit perfectly in Nintendo’s Super Nintendo at the time. They were also lucky that Hagihara’s game program was also on the cartridge so that listeners could do something while jamming out to the music. Thus, Castlevania: Dracula X came to existence. Oh yeah and I guess the game has something to do about a guy named Richter Belmont storming Dracula’s Castle in order to save his lover Annette or something…
I am bad at this game
I played this entire game without figuring out how to perform the Item Crash ability. That should set the tone of how badly this playthrough went. I will admit that when it comes to Castlevania, I am a bigger fan of the “metroidvania” design over the 2-D platformer. The difficulty curve that they can throw always infuriated me with how bad I am with platformer games to begin with. It is all about trial and error and knowing how to utilize the tools that are at your disposal. None of that really translate to my brain much as I’m just trying my best to get to each goal as best as I can. It doesn’t help that health is hidden in each stage and there are limited. Thus, this creates a stressful environment for me where I am trying to play my best while avoiding hits that make me unprepared for the next screen or boss fight. I like to play games to relax and not send me to my therapist office every Friday evening.
But, Rondo of Blood/Dracula X felt different from other classic Castlevania titles. Sure there were some unfair enemy placements to create that artificial difficulty, but the game didn’t feel impossible or cheap like the time I played Dracula’s Curse. I could actually tell that the game was trying to help me get through the stages with helpful sub weapon placement and telegraphed enemy movements that makes playing the game easier if you notice these things. Of course there were times where I felt like my own skill level was preventing me from tackling things better, but once I took my time to analyze things and work at my own pace, I found the journey rewarding and manageable. I still don’t like the idea that Richter will jump back like a meter to the nearest pit if he gets hit, but all of this became manageable once I started utilizing the best feature of the game.
Yup, I used the reset function like crazy in this game. I probably used it more here than in Circle of the Moon due to my zero patience for platformer games. Does this diminish some of the difficulty of the game? Absolutely. Do I give a flying fuck? Absolutely not. When you are garbage at platformer games like me, you take all the advantages that you can take, and since the rewind feature is built into this version of the game, hell yeah it becomes a game mechanic. This doesn’t mean that I was going about rewinding after every hit or death. There are such things as strategic defeats in order to gain the upper hand. This mostly came in when I was low on health and couldn’t get past the onslaught of obstacles in my way. Dying will put you at the beginning of that screen, and then from there it is just practice to find the best ways to get past enemies. Randomly on like Stage 6, I finally discovered the backflip ability that you have access to at the beginning of the game…so that helped me out a lot going forward. Bosses can either be challenging or a joke if you can see their attack pattern coming ahead. Surprisingly, boss fights weren’t difficult to me since instead of platforming I just had to learn their pattern and attack when the opportunity came. The Dracula fight however is extremely tedious and requires you to jump on several platforms just for the change to attack him, and the time it took me just for the chance to hit him almost killed me before he got the chance to do so. The second phase however is a joke if you came to the fight with the cross (the cross will always be my favorite sub-weapon).
So with all of that, it would be no surprise that I didn’t like the game for being a challenging platformer game right? Well, as a shocker to myself as well, I came to enjoy this game once I got a feel for it all. The soundtrack to the game definitely helps since it was one of the driving forces that kept me pumped for more. Of course Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears are instant bangers, but other tracks like Richter’s theme Blood Relations and the Cemetery just struck a cord with me that boosted my moral. Without the rewind function, I probably would not have finished this game as fast as I did, but with it, I discovered what is now probably my favorite classic Castlevania game. I will have to play the game one day without the rewind feature, but hopefully by then I will know the game well enough that I don’t have to rely on it (and my blood levels can stay stable).
Advance Collection Overall
Honestly I am really glad that I experienced these games in this format. Playing the original games with an actual Game Boy Advance will probably feel like the best way to play these, but this collection makes these so easy to play. I played the collection on my Switch and the first advice I can give is to play these games with a comfortable controller. I played everything with my 8bitdo controller since it is in the shape of a Super Nintendo controller and felt comfortable playing games like this on. You do have the ability to customize your button layouts and that was a saving grace for me for attacking and jumping comfortably (its an available option, use it). Each game has a built in tracker that helps keeps tracks of relics that you find, cards and souls that enemies drop if you are trying to collect them all. This is super helpful and makes collecting items so much easier. There is also the after mentioned save states and replay functions. If you are having problems playing through the games due to their difficulty, please please please use these features to help make the games more tolerable. They are built in functions for you to use; use them to the fullest and never feel bad about it.
Overall, these are all good games that are worth playing (even if I think one of them is technically bad). They take no time to beat and can be replayed over again. If I had to rank them out of my personal enjoyment it would go as following:
1. Aria of Sorrow 2. Harmony of Dissonance 3. Dracula X 4. Circle of the Moon