Ep. 055: Castlevania

MAHQ's general podcast for nerdy things, which ran from 2011-2017.
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Chris
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Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by Chris » Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:15 pm

Chaos Theater Ep. 055 - "Castlevania"
- Download Now: 64 kbps - 134 mins, 00 sec. (2:14:00) 61.34 MB

Special Guest Host: Colette Bennett (opening and Castlevania)

Segment Breakdown for this Episode:

01. Intro: "What We've Been Up To"
Runtime: 0:00:01 - 0:33:05

02. Discussion: "Castlevania"
Runtime: 0:33:33 - 2:06:53

03. Outro: "Audible recommendations" and "Internet whoring"
Runtime: 2:07:22 - 2:12:03

It's time to search for meat of dubious quality in castles owned by vampires during this latest episode of Chaos Theater. Special guest Colette Bennett returns and joins us as we catch up on what we've been doing. We then get into a long discussion of the Castlevania games, from the NES era all the way up through Lords of Shadow. We haven't each played all of these games, so we welcome user input on those titles. There's no Mailbag this time, so we close out with Audible recommendations. Next time, it's a capes and claws double feature as we discuss Man of Steel and The Wolverine.

Music Featured in this Episode:
"Boing Zoom DAKOTA!" from Rock Candy 1 by Shadow
"Satanic Veal (Castlevania)" from Leg Vacuum 2 by Armcannon
"Castlevania II - Bloody Years (Doni's Electro Mix)" from Button Masher - Electro Edition by Doni

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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by eanetdude » Tue Aug 27, 2013 8:47 pm

This episode sucked.

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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by yazi88 » Wed Aug 28, 2013 1:40 am

Not the first time I've heard a Castlevania round up in podcasting (level 9 did it a while ago) but still interesting to hear.

Although I can't say I'm too excited to hear a topic about Man of Steel and Wolverine, Chris and Pedro's opinions are always a sight to listen to.

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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by The Fowl Sorcerous » Wed Aug 28, 2013 4:53 pm

never been a big fan of this franchise, never had access to consoles back in the day and I never had the patience for the difficulty when introduced to methods. but still entertaining to hear Chris and Pedro riff on the topic.

After some digging it seems like no one won the trip to Dracula's 'home town', Konami pulled the prize citing 'unrest in Romania' in favour of a different prize.

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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by Wellman » Thu Aug 29, 2013 3:27 pm

In defense of Castlevania 64/Legacy of Darkness


It was produced early in the days when people hadn't really gotten a hang on 3D games and among the efforts it at least tried to do some newer things with the genre and had interesting gameplay elements. That being said, I agree after a while with better games, it is almost unplayable but I liked some of the elements like multiple characters, the in game time system and the creepy shop keeper who could turn into a boss if you used him too much.

If the later 3D Castlevania's common flaw can be traced back to copying better games, the N64 games had ambitions that exceeded the talent of the development team and the system.

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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by The Fowl Sorcerous » Sun Sep 01, 2013 4:25 pm

in other words they were crud on their own terms?

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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by LightningCount » Mon Sep 02, 2013 2:28 am

Thanks for the shout out. I've got a lot of thoughts, especially on the N64 ones, but I don't have time to put them all down right now, and I've only listened up to the start of the PS2 era.

For now, I'll just start by saying that CV64/LoD on N64 was a very similar situation to what you all were saying about CV 1-3, where the ideas were getting progressively ambitious, but the technology and execution was still a work-in-progress, and the development schedule hit a time crunch. (In fact, these "two" games were supposed to be ONE game, and said game was supposed to have even more content than either released versions). That said, while they have a learning curve and can be rough around the edges, they are far from garbage. The story is even pretty high up there in terms of Castlevania's plots. But I'll get to all that when I have more time.

So, skipping the N64 games for now, here are my thoughts on the games I've played up to this point in your podcast:

Castlevania 1: Solid start to the series, challenging, but it inevitably feels a little "plain" compared to later entries.

Castlevania 2 Simon's Quest: Like Colette, I have a soft spot for this one because it's so different and ambitious with its towns, night-and-day cycle, and lying NPCs. However, once you know what to do, it's a lot easier than other Castlevanias (all but the last boss can be skipped, as I recall). It introduces the idea of a flame whip and collecting Dracula's body parts, which makes appearances in later games, such as Harmony of Dissonance; though, this time, each body part can be used for different things, like the rib is a shield, for instance. Ultimately, it is very rough around the edges, but the experimentation was healthy for the series and gave us a unique entry.

Castlevania 3 Dracula's Curse: Easily in the fight for best Castlevania game. You explained all the reasons it's great. Might be the most ambitious 2D game in the series, as the branching paths and multiple characters create dozens of different ways to play through this game. I like that you have to get to Dracula's castle rather than starting there in CV1. You run across some really cool locations, the designs of some of which--town, clocktower, sunken ruins--I've recently learned were likely inspired by Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro. (A fan out there has done side-by-side comparisons)

Castlevania The Adventure: Its controls make it close to a broken game, but its unique (and chaotic) level designs and largely new set of villains give it a certain charm. Granted, you have to have a lot of patience to compensate for the super stiff controls. The stuff with the spikes you mentioned is definitely crazy...but the old-school platforming pattern challenge it provides is rather riveting, even if it is extremely frustrating. I've played this game straight up on GB, and I can never beat the last boss. I must not have figured out his pattern if it's as easy as you say.

Castlevania II Belmont's Revenge: Like you said, it totally refines what the first game was trying to do, and carries over and expands that "charm" of uniqueness. Enough said.

Castlevania Legends: The Sonya Belmont idea is nice, but the game just feels bland and a lot like a chore unless you don't have access to any other Castlevania game. Even The Adventure, with all its problems, seems like it had a more refined core concept to its visuals and level design. The booklet art for this game is pretty cool, though, and there's a good reworking of Bloody Tears that only appears in this game.

Super Castlevania IV: Like #3, another easy candidate for best Castlevania. Certainly the most accessible, and maybe the most atmospheric. Some complain that it's too easy--that the 8-direction whip breaks the game design--but this was a template that should have been expanded upon in the 2D realm of CV. This is the game you start people on if they want to understand Castlevania.

Castlevania Rondo of Blood: I've only played the original's port for PSP. After all the "holy grail" talk, which you rightly noted, I didn't find it to be among my favorites. I loved the screens and videos of it, but when I played it, I found it ambitious in design but lacking in gameplay to the point where I felt sort of removed from the experience. It's trying to build off of Castlevania III with better graphics and tease some non-linear elements that will take precedence in Symphony of the Night, but the in-level branching paths allow you to cheat the level designs too often. It has a lot of cool ideas in theory, and it's nice to look at, but somehow it's not very "fun." I think the biggest thing holding it back is a lack of "focus."

Castlevania Bloodlines: I've never beaten this one, as I was a SNES person, not a Genesis person. But I did play it a handful of times and got to the second to last level. Like the SNES entry, it plays with some really cool visual effects of rotation and such that likely tapped the Genesis' limits. The fact that it takes place throughout Europe in the 20th century adds charm and uniqueness to its levels, and the two characters allow for some different play styles and paths in some levels. It's worth noting that this game has the grapple-swing mechanic, but I wasn't very good at pulling it off, and it wasn't as smooth as in #4. The spear-wielding character also has a special move to navigate levels--pole-vaulting. Michiru Yamane started off with this game, not SotN, actually. Very good tunes. So, all and all, this is sort of a alternate take on what to do with Castelvania in 16 bits. It doesn't have the power and refinement of #4 on SNES, but it's a very interesting game that's a lot of fun.

Castlevania Dracula X: This will sound strange. In terms of "fun," I find this one of the most fun in the series because it has such an "arcade" feel to it. There's a score tally screen after each level with a bonus life opportunity for No Damage, and the game just has a snappy pace where you're always whipping and/or jumping. It's nowhere near as ambitious as Rondo of Blood, but its take on Rondo's music and its greater focus on classic action-platforming make it a more enjoyable entry for me. This is a minority view, but I love this game. Despite borrowing assets from Rondo, it has its own level design and special graphical effects/style. There's more of a watercolor/comic book feel to the backgrounds overall, and less of the traditional block sets (rather, platforms look more organic). Level 1 features a beautiful warped flame effect, and the clocktower stage has a level of detail in its gears that's hard to match. The use of branching paths in this is much smaller than Rondo, but is more consequential, since if you fall down the wrong shaft or lose a key between certain levels, you cannot save your imprisoned fiancee and/or her sister. There's more of a survivalist/marathon feel to this one than Rondo because of that, too. It has some rough spots where you could tell the designers were caught between making a new game and making a Rondo port, but I find myself coming back to this game again and again for a pick-up-and-play experience. It's definitely its own game, and even has its own unique bosses, too.

Wow, there's a lot of games. I'm out of time. I'll get to the others and the N64 ones at a future date.
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by LightningCount » Mon Sep 02, 2013 4:35 pm

Picking up from my last post in this thread from where I left off in the podcast with a few notes.

*I’ve never played Haunted Castle, but it’s a very different game visually and level-wise than its contemporaries.

*”Meandering” is another word to describe Rondo for me. Whereas SNES’ Dracula X chose to go a traditional route with a few twists, Rondo’s sheer variety can’t decide if it wants to be CVIII Part 2 or proto-SotN.

*Chris, now that I think about it, Bloodline’s European globetrotting actually has a 16-bit Belmont’s Revenge feel in its level themes. Shame it's not on Virtual Console...

*I forgot to mention that Dracula X has its own special effects on the sub-weapons separate from Rondo. (For instance, the axes are extra large and the cross boomerangs hang in the air for multiple hits before returning; item crashes are also remixed in some cases). Also, the fresh Dracula battle is one of the most unique and ingenious in the series. You fight in a room full of pillars with death pits, creating a strategic need for ranged sub-weapons. This final battle seems impossible, but after many years of trial and error and practice, it’s only slightly tougher than the usual Dracula battles.

*It has recently been revealed in an interview that CV 1-3 had the same core team.

Back to the program:

CV Sharp X68000/Castlevania Chronicles: While it has some great ideas and music, and features one more whip attack direction (like Bloodlines while jumping), as an expanded remake of Castlevania 1, it falls short of Super Castlevania IV. The original version is a lot harder than the Chronicles remix. All and all, it’s a valiant effort, but feels a little too middle of the road.

Now, before we get to the Metroid-style games, I have to say the following: While I liked some of them more than others, and they all are solid to amazing experiences the first time through, in retrospect, I can’t really replay any of them without getting bored now. I think focusing so long on this one style, so different from the origins, has hurt the series. In a way, it’s as if they never made CVIII, and made an even more formulaic version of Simon’s Quest ad-nauseum. Despite nice atmosphere, gimmicks, and exploration, the overabundance of super powers and the lack of consequential platforming with death pits made for a formula that was more relaxed and meandering. Also in retrospect, I’ve noticed that none of these games are as tightly designed as Super Metroid, their primary influence.

Symphony of the Night: Overall, even if it’s not the tightest, visually and experientially, it still feels like the most realized Metroid-style Castlevania from start to finish. (Though I think Circle of the Moon’s challenge and mechanics might make it the better “game”).

Circle of the Moon: Probably the best mix of the classic Castlevania action/challenge and the Metroid-style exploration. But it can be a little bland as a first-gen GBA title. Great soundtrack of hit songs and new tunes.

Harmony of Dissonance: A lot of creative visuals, but the game feels messy in design about midway through. I don’t know that the chiptunes of this that Pedro spoke of are vastly superior to Circle of the Moon; though, they are more original. I find it ironic that Koji Igarashi sort of bashed Circle of the Moon’s story and card system, and then basically remixed them into this game. I had the least amount of fun with this game in the GBA trilogy.

Aria of Sorrow: A very polished game with a very interesting/shocking story and game mechanics for its time. Personally, I think Castlevania should have taken a break from the Metroid style after this entry. It pretty much feels like the culmination of the genre for this franchise.

And that’s as far as I’ve listened in the podcast. I still have to address Castlevania 64, but for now, let me point you to some videos that I think illustrate my upcoming points. If you have time, watch this play-through of LEVEL 2 (Action-Platforming-focused Stage) and LEVEL 3 (Exploration-focused Stage).

Note: The video captured is from Hard Mode with the unlocked CVII Simon-esque bonus costume, so there won't be the scarf animation of the regular costume, but I chose these videos because this player really knew what they were doing, mixing in sword, sliding, and whip attacks with sub-weapons, and even pointing out some secrets (like an invisible floor that leads to hidden life meat).

Pay attention to the mix of gameplay styles and the use of horizontal and vertical level design compared to later 3D attempts, and I'll be back with a full rundown when I get another free moment. In just these two levels you see a great mix of franchise old and new, and the 3D template for blending the traditional classic Castlevania and Metroid-style (which has never been done since):

START WATCHING AT 2:51 through 6:45--> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4s8WNCDo0xs
NEXT, CONTINUE THE FOLLOWING ALL THE WAY TO THE END:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LW79zJ-_MKw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nncqx_ALo8
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24ZSoZckq3A
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnvf9-tedVY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HhuGQ7CJHA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFuRlZvkwF4

Don't stop after a few minutes, or you'll miss the whole point of this.
Last edited by LightningCount on Tue Sep 03, 2013 1:41 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by LightningCount » Tue Sep 03, 2013 1:37 am

Apologies in advance for the triple post, but there's a lot of ground to cover, and people have had some time to put in their two cents in-between. So, here's N64 commentary...and yeah, it'll be rather "spirited." :)

Let’s break Castlevania 64 down. When you stop and really think about it, rather than taking the game’s pros and cons for granted, there hasn’t particularly been a game quite like it. (What 3D game plays with such a mixture of vertical and horizontal openness and direction without almost always forcing camera angles, all while containing consequential platforming, melee-and-ranged weapon combat, puzzles ranging from time to reason, survival horror elements featuring multiple playable and non-playable characters, and an overall internal structural logic with so much attention to atmosphere that things as simple as doors actually tend to open into adjacent rooms (see Villa stage) rather than always transitioning into a lengthy black load screen? When I think about wanting to play a game like CV64, outside of its prequel/special edition add-on, Legacy of Darkness, I suddenly realize that there isn’t an alternative to readily fill its place for a gaming experience).

On this same train of thought, if you think about all of the things that could go wrong in translating Castlevania into 3D, especially with a team that had never done 3D—and we have almost a decade-and-a-half of evidence now!—this entry was, all things considered, a small miracle. I think the frame of mind coming from its creators had a hand in this result. Game Designer Takeo Yakushiji once told IGN: “The Castlevania series has always had a theme of horror behind it. This does not mean bloody scenes or chilling torture, but a mood of darkness and absence of light, [which] still has cool beauty and elegance to it. Retaining this theme has been what I have been careful with while designing the game. In regards to the character design, I have tried to bring the former enemies to life in 3D and retaining their atmosphere, while keeping them appropriate and looking cool for this generation of game system.”

In a GamePro interview, the CV64 creators acknowledged a familiarity with the series even earlier than this, specifically citing Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse as a favorite, and noting Dracula X and SotN in terms of what those entries did with the timeline and gameplay versus what the goals were for CV64’s design. Unlike more recent attempts for Castlevania in 3D, whether by Japan or Spain, this familiarity isn’t simply utilized for broad shout-outs or nostalgia winks, but key and core design choices. As a result, CV64, consciously or subconsciously, is a concentrated effort to pull from the whole of Castlevania’s history up to that point in time; it is not some unholy aberration in vision/design. For instance:

*The game is rooted in that tense blend of action and platforming that was present since the original Castlevania, which the first two stages highlight even as they warm you up for the intricate exploration and puzzles that will follow in Stage 3.

*Environmental hazards and traps, along with enemy placement, play a key role in platforming, making it strategic, rhythmic, and consequential all at once. Many examples could be given, but Stage 2 is a textbook Castlevania level with its flipping, floating, and crumbling platforms; falling guillotines; medusa heads; bone pillar snipers; bats; and fatal heights. (No Castlevania game in 3D post-N64 has come remotely close to replicating this definitive experience, which speaks to something I will bring up later about modern 3D games. Instead, jumping and fighting are separate and scripted in later 3D attempts on PS2/PS3--if platforming is there at all).

*Level designs are vertical as well as horizontal. It seems like a given, but rarely do designers use vertical and horizontal gameplay in a cohesive or compelling manner these days in a 3rd person action game. The opposite was true in the going up and going down inside Grant’s Clocktower of Castlevania III, and, again, it’s true of the up and down flow in CV64’s Level 2.

*Exploration and puzzle elements go back to Vampire Killer, Simon’s Quest, and even Rondo of Blood, to say nothing of SotN.

*Visual tricks of optional invisible platforming for special item pickups appeared in SCVIV’s last stage, and I seem to recall that this element may have appeared in Simon’s Quest somewhere. (To name three places, CV64 has this before the marathon fight with the Cerberuses, as well as near the end of the Tower of Science, and at the end of the Tower of Sorcery).

*Non-playable characters, signs, and other text-based objects are present to provide clues (and atmosphere/story), even if they are cryptic, such as in Simon’s Quest.

*There is a night-and-day mechanic that affects gameplay like in Simon’s Quest.

*Multiple playable characters with varying styles of gameplay and different endings have a history that starts with Castlevania III, but continues with Rondo of Blood and Bloodlines. (Carrie as a clever acknowledgment and logical continuation of female magic-users Sypha and Maria in the franchise, and forerunner to Yoko, Charlotte, and Shanoa. In that context, as an option next to a whip-wielder, her presence fits like a glove. Moreover, I wonder if Carrie’s biological mother wasn’t a “Belnades.” The scene where she acknowledges her stepmother’s love for her to Actrise is pretty powerful, and sets up the fact that her birth name was not necessarily Fernandez).

*The game does not use Hearts as ammunition, but instead uses Red Crystals, which connects to the ammunition system seen in Bloodlines. (Interestingly, this allegedly wasn’t in the earliest builds, which instead used a new meter system).

*Meat and other items are hidden inside candles as well as solid, sometimes even breakable, structures—a feature of Castlevania from day one on the NES. (Interestingly, this allegedly wasn’t in the earliest builds, which instead had items lying around randomly).

*Money bags can be found and are used, logically enough, as a currency here. The money bags have been around since Castlevania on the NES, and the idea of "currency" for shopping goes back to Vampire Killer and Simon’s Quest.

*You have an inventory where you can store up items. Simon’s Quest had this, and SotN brought it back with more items. (This strikes a balance between the two).

*A system of doors and keys is used for progression. The visual idea of door-based progression was big in Castlevania NES, Vampire Killer, and Castlevania III, to say nothing of its inclusion in SotN. The lock-and-key item mechanic has been around since Vampire Killer, and was a feature of Rondo of Blood and Dracula X, as well.

*Enemies drop items when defeated. The earliest Castlevanias had random sub-weapon drops, and SotN took what a defeated enemy might drop to new levels.

*While levers themselves are very rare in Castlevania to this point, similar devices are seen in Rondo of Blood, Circle of the Moon, and Symphony of the Night that create stage-altering events.

*The whip (or weapon of choice) can be upgraded three times by power-ups. (The weapon power-up effects are very visible. Reinhardt’s whip and Carrie’s magic ball both change colors and/or animations, and get better range, as one might expect from series standards).

*Status ailments, seen in Rondo of Blood, Dracula X, and SotN are present.

*Many of the classic sub-weapons are present, and work in tandem with the attack limitations of the character—a key to their importance since Castlevania on NES. (In CV64’s companion game, Legacy of Darkness, you can stack sub-weapons similar to the double- and triple-shot item of old).

*Dropped somewhere in the Beta stages were whip-swinging over gaps from SCVIV and Bloodlines (the hooks to do so are still objects in the final build); but also dumped were a stated whip-wiggle move from SCVIV (where you hold down attack and move the control stick), and perhaps even Item Crash-style supers or special moves like in latter games of the 16-bit and 32-bit eras.

*A crouching/crawling mechanic to navigate precarious places is present, like in SCVIV.

*An attention to a gritty yet haunting atmosphere, perhaps seen most strikingly before in Simon’s Quest and SCVIV, is used well with surprising survival-horror supporting elements.

*Speaking of those survival-horror elements, they fit the legacy of Castlevania. (They were present before to an extent in past Castlevanias, whether it’s the painting grabbing you in SCVIV's library, the tree spawning a monster in Haunted Castle, the changing color of water to blood in Bloodlines and SotN, the zombies coming out at night in villages and the graveyard salesperson in Simon’s Quest, or the ghost in SotN’s chapel. The list could go on).

*The modern and the medieval are mixed together in creative and diachronically bizarre ways, which was a main feature of Bloodlines.

*There are optional bosses and stages depending on the character you play as, which goes back to Castlevania III and Rondo of Blood.

*Enemies can be positional in placement, but also spawn and chase you, allowing you to choose to fight or dodge, which was a balanced element of enemy usage since Castlevania on the NES. (It's rarely boxed in/arena-focused like later 3D Castlevania attempts).

There’s probably more I could note, like locations or things I’m not even thinking about, but the above is enough to make my point. (I could go even further if we talked about LoD, with its swinging chandeliers, flooding levels, pirate ship, rescuing prisoners, etc). In any event, the creators had an acute awareness for the Castlevania franchise in all of its previous variations on one level or another, and weren’t afraid to USE this awareness in fundamental ways while realizing their own vision, ensuring multiple and distinct connection points for those versed in Castlevania to feel at home even while being acquainted to 3D gaming.

It’s certainly dated-looking--but I find a certain impressionistic charm to CV64 still, which connects to several of its art direction choices.

With all of that said, by its creators’ own admission, CV64 uses templates of 3D platforming from the time, such as Mario 64 and Tomb Raider II. It also mixes modern strokes of survival-horror-esque elements ala Resident Evil. As was noted in the above bullet points, neither of these elements in theory is particularly foreign to Castlevania, though, and the gameplay as a whole is unique as noted at the start. Also, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula and Neil Jordan's Interview with a Vampire were stated as additional visual references, but both of these were Gothic in nature and not too far removed from Castlevania’s origins of Hollywood horror and shock theater. When trying for a sense of authenticity with the Dracula legend in all of its incarnations, the team went to some strange and extreme lengths, actually. Takeo Yakushiji told IGN: “We wanted to get information on Dracula, so we went to an event that was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker's Dracula. What ended up happening was that we were put into a small theatre with no bathroom, and got stuck watching eight hours of minor Dracula movies that were not even sub-titled. Suffice to say, we didn't learn a whole lot from that process.” Ill-fated or not, that’s commitment to detail and atmosphere exemplified. Through all of this, it was a transition from 2D to 3D and an evolution all at once for Castlevania.

Now that all of that is out of the way, I’d like to get to a central tragedy regarding CV64.

The limitations and flaws of Castlevania 64 are obvious. Some of it is based on scheduling circumstances, some of it is based on technical limitations, and some on inexperience with 3D. Director Yuji Shibata told IGN one of their challenges: “The limitation on the number of polygons that could be on screen and in the enemies. Also, with the lack of memory space, the number of enemies that could be running around on screen at one time.” As I said about the unique nature of this game’s elements, exemplified further by how it tried to be true to Castelvania as a franchise, they didn’t have any great models to help them. People cite Zelda: Ocarina of Time as proof of CV64's ineptness, but that was in development at the same time as Castlevania 64 from a team that had already worked on 3D games and had internal company insight on the N64 hardware. There’s no way CV64’s team could have looked at Zelda: OoT in-depth before releasing CV64, and Legacy of Darkness developed several months later as a way to get some closure on CV64's many unused elements already had certain framework elements in it that could not be changed, only polished or finished. Most importantly, Zelda and Castlevania are fundamentally different games. Castlevania leaned more toward a realistic style with realistic proportions, and was based in split-second action and platforming far more complex than Zelda’s more leisurely auto-jumping and largely puzzle/target-based bosses.

Now, these kinds of limitations, camera and all, can be improved upon. But some of these limitations, such as inexperience, led to strengths that are difficult to replicate due to stigmas in the modern gaming and game development communities.

Pedro stated the problematic nature of transporting a 2D game to 3D. This has its pitfalls and awkwardness, but this is actually one of the brilliant things of the early 3D era, in my opinion. It led to two things: 1.) Trying hard to faithfully translate the core kernels of franchises into 3D, no matter how hard or absurd it might seem, rather than reinventing the wheel and basically retrofitting the name onto a product that was something else altogether 2.) In doing so, it meant tweaking and experimenting to gradually reshape the game from 2D to 3D, rather than throwing out everything and starting from scratch.

Just to use one example, it’s this mindset, largely a unique product of its time, which allowed for the consequential platforming described earlier in Stage 2. It also let us have gears to traverse in a clocktower, something fundamental that Castlevania in 3D really hasn't figured out post-N64! It also allowed for the tricky platforming of the Tower of Sorcery. Now, yes, that has frustrating issues attached to it; but in today’s market, almost no one has the guts to try to design a 3D stage like the Tower of Sorcery that requires such death-defying Mega Man-like platforming and quick decision-making in a full 3D space. And if you’re making a 3D game, use the 3D space, I say. Can it be improved? Yes. Will it be even looked at for improvement in an era obsessed with fixed camera angles and safe on-rails plaforming events for action games? I sadly doubt it. Designers and gamers are seemingly scared of 3D jumping without having their hands held. It’s safer to make things more movie-like than game-like. Games like Capcom’s Maximo series and the 3D Bionic Commando are exceptions to the rule, but we see those swept under the rug, despite their merits of having better addressed issues of a 3D camera and 3D platforming seen earlier in flawed trailblazers like Castlevania 64.

And as soon as you take out this mindset of full 3D platforming's potential, it extends into use of 3D space in general. Everything tends to get chopped up and trends toward flatter, less dynamic or interactive environments. Instead of navigating a 3D box filled with a cohesive or semi-cohesive environment (a predominant and progressive idea during N64 because ironically no one knew any better), you start playing with tighter and tighter (and more obvious) invisible walls in what amount to glorified corridors or stand-alone set pieces (a rule-of-thumb trend in most modern 3rd-person perspective action-gaming).

But see, there is a flow to 3D platforming, just as there is a flow to 2D platforming. Yes, distances can be hard to judge at times, but that can be helped by design choices and camera controls, and it’s really part of the thrill when all is said and done. Learning the 3D platforming in, say Mario 64, requires a certain kinesthesia with the game, and the same could be said for what was managed in CV64, by and large. You need to learn and understand the game’s physics and physicality, just like how jumping in Castlevania was different from jumping in Super Mario Bros or Ghosts N Goblins back on the NES. As Chris said, a hallmark of Castlevania was dying as the player, and trial and error. You gave respect to the medusa heads and the pits they knocked you into rather than saying they were a bad design choice. I’m not saying CV64's perfect by any means--the first stage in particular has some very rough spots--but I am royally upset at how the industry has taken the safe route too often, especially in a series like Castlevania that, in my mind, fundamentally depends on consequential platforming at its roots. (You see no such consistent or thoughtful platforming design in any of the 3D attempts since).

That Mercury Steam, IGA, or any other developer of Castlevania would NOT take a long and serious look at what was achieved in CV64 (and LoD), instead picking and choosing scripted platforming from “successful” things such as Uncharted, is inexcusable—especially when the former cites pre-SotN titles [often CV 1, 3, & 4] as a key reference and starting point. If one wants Castlevania to sit at the table of God of War and Devil May Cry with largely superficial nods to the franchise, I can understand to an extent. It’s a business, I get it. But if you want Castlevania to stand on the table and actually stand out from the competition in ways that will surprise people, you’ve got to go for the glory and assert an identity (and if you have a franchise like CV, why abandon that long-established identity, collectively noted from the *-based points above). With all due respect to the good things Lords of Shadow has done and the hard work put into it, to date, it’s largely stuck in the same limited and deferential box as Lament of Innocence nearly a full decade after the fact. (There’s still a heavy emphasis on boxy arena combo action, limited and scripted platforming, fixed camera angles, and largely cut up or flat areas).

Those last three paragraphs might have gotten a bit heated, but it does get frustrating to wait in vain for over some 10 years. I thought it needed to be addressed, given the critical historical junction CV64 marked. I see no logical reason this series couldn't have flourished in the 3D era; though, now it faces a steep uphill battle.

Finally, a few points of interest and a general summary:

-While horror movies are noted as a strong influence, there is definitely a balanced anime flavor to CV64. At least one somewhat controversial anime artist worked on CV64 during its life-cycle, and design ideas like the spider ladies and the unique flare to the outfits seen on many characters are a direct result of anime sensibilities on the action-horror genre. As a result, in my mind, Reinhardt, with the fur and the scarf and hair spike is one of the most iconic Belmont-types, which adds to the memorable visuals of CV64 despite their graphical limitations. He’s tough and rugged yet sleek, and looks like a one-of-a-kind warrior who’s well prepared to take on Dracula. Similarly, Carrie’s main outfit has a villager’s simplicity and ruggedness with just a dash of elegance and eccentricity hinting at her supernatural abilities and past as a girl trying to live a normal life. It all strikes a stylized balance between likeability, functionality, and recognizably generic archetype.

-It’s interesting that games like Ocarina of Time managed to hold three save slots on the cartridge, while CV64 requires a Memory Pak. Konami’s Hybrid Heaven was that way, too, for N64. That’s why I sometimes decide to play CV64 without saving/checkpoints. I’ve gotten pretty far with that technique—at least to Castle Center, as I recall—and it makes for some extra challenge, while also showing a cohesive classic-style game buried within the product.

-It’s possible to save in the wrong spot in the Castle Center with the nitro event item and be unable to advance. Luckily, on such a rare occasion, the developers put in the choice to return to the beginning of the stage at the Game Over screen. Frustrating, but forgiving.

-There are Special Jewels in the game which unlock “CVII Simon’s Costume” for Reinhardt and “Rondo Maria’s Costume” for Carrie. (More nods to the series’ heritage by the developers, and more elements for replay value aside from the Hard Mode Special Jewel).

-There is a slide mechanic, which can be useful in various situations, especially battles where you’re cornered. I’ve found you can do custom combos, where you slide-tackle into an enemy, slash with the sword, and then get up and attack with the whip. It’s neat and natural-looking with a sense of physics, rather than the superman-centric, pre-programed combos of later 3D games.

-CV64 has some neat “show not tell” storytelling thrown into the flow of the game design. Items left behind by villagers, gravestones with family histories, mirrors that show no reflection of vampires, etc.

-I’ve found that using the R Button centers the camera pretty well during most platforming. (As I hinted earlier, I love full 3D platforming, and find the challenge an extension and rethinking of what was experienced by Mario 64. And as you guys said, CV NES was built off of the jumping of Mario NES, replacing the stomping with whips and sub-weapons. etc).

-The story has some very interesting interludes and plot elements. This time the Belmont type encounters and falls for a vampire girl who tries to commit suicide to end her despised existence as a vampire; he stops her from killing herself, but she tells him it is hypocracy since he’s sworn to kill vampires. It creates an interesting little tragedy/redemption tale. There’s also a young boy, long before the Soma Cruz idea, who is who is more than what he seems and manipulates you, and can even marry the girl player character in a bad ending. There is also a haughty, old-school vampire hunter you encounter who thinks your character should leave Dracula to him, but if you do certain actions, he ends up a vampire, and you have to face him. The salesman in this also has a disturbing tale to tell. The list goes on in plot elements that are rather clever for Castlevania, especially given the timeframe of release.

-This game includes no-name vampires as lesser enemies and/or bosses outside of Dracula. Basically unheard of up to this point in CV history. And some of them pretend to be harmless villagers.

-I won’t go in depth on Legacy of Darkness, which was a expansion game with remixed levels and two extra characters, the biggest being a wolfman with his own story and totally new levels/bosses. Given that the two games have crossover content and unique content, I think both should be played for the full experience. I like some elements of one over the other, but it's not uniform in one direction. (Though, it’s worth nothing that neither still contain all of the ideas/characters planned for the game originally).

...And so, I'm back where I started: CV64's weaknesses were a product of the time and circumstances it was released, but CV64's strengths were also a product of the time and circumstances it was released. Consequently, while its weaknesses can be theoretically fixed in the modern gaming climate/philosophy, its strengths are no longer a part of the modern gaming climate/philosophy, and that's a problem, IMO.

I will conclude by saying this: While I wouldn’t put the N64 games as the best in the series, they are easily the best 3D entries, and were significant in making me far more aware of just how much I liked the Castlevania franchise. How Ironic.

In summary, with some inevitable repeat, let’s take one last look at what the N64 era accomplished with Castlevania in 3D back in early 1999 before dismissing it so easily:
*Multiple unique characters (up to four in LoD, two in CV64) with alternate levels/bosses
*Full 3D gameplay (ala Mario 64, so it's not "on-rails")
*Multiple endings based on performance
*Level Design features spatial depth and variety (vertical and horizontal--not flat hallways)
*Day-and-night cycles with time-sensitive events (like Simon's Quest)
*Weather effects (rain, lightning, moving clouds, and "fog"--the last one likely being a graphical shortcoming that actually helped)
*Dynamic, real-time lighting (next to candles, for instance)
*Spot-on spooky atmosphere
*Death-defying platforming of all sorts (including ledge grabbing).
*Environmental/enemy hazards (medusa heads, spikes, guillotines, buzz-saws, cannons).
*Innovative survival-horror/suspense elements for CV
*Vampires that pretend to be human and vampires as regular enemies besides bosses
*Status changes, including poison and vampirism
*Manageable questing with inventory items (meat, keys, cards, cure ampules, etc)
*Rather interesting, involving plot (characters like Rosa, Vincent, Renon, Malice, Henry, etc)
*3D in-game cinemas
*Some voicing
*Unlockable alternate costumes
*Long and short-ranged attacks (IE: whip + sword)
*upgradable sub-weapons (in LoD)
*There is a useful slide and duck/crawl play mechanic
*Diverse mix of old and new enemies in 3D

Thank you for reading. Given all this and the videos, and given a different perspective, can you see how CV64/LoD opened the way for Castlevania working in 3D and staying pretty true to its roots, despite its flaws? I’ve since heard you mention LoI’s connection to Devil May Cry, but CV64 did Castlevania in 3D basically on its OWN terms. I don’t think even Lords of Shadow can come anywhere as close to claiming that, as it still has more in common with DMC and God of War and other franchises than the series name of “Castelvania.” But I still have to listen to your thoughts on these latter 3D attempts that, IMO, threw out the baby with the bathwater with regard to the N64 era. I'd like to hear your reaction, Chris, when you have some time, since you hadn't had much exposure to the N64 era, and Pedro, while his reaction was understandable, doesn't sound like he took the time to really experience the whole thing and put it in perspective.

Last notes: As of January 1998, the N64 game was roughly only 10% complete according to interviews. That's a quick turnaround for what would be a January 1999 release from a team that had NEVER done a 3D game before this. I think a lot of improvement on the base concept could have been made if this team had worked on 3D Castlevania going forward instead of Igarashi. (As an aside, despite graphics limitations, the atmosphere in the N64 games as a whole is some of the spookiest and most palpable in the series).
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by Chris » Tue Sep 03, 2013 10:48 am

Thanks for the feedback, Lightning. I'll check out those videos. I'll probably try out the games at some point. I've always wanted to so that I could see for myself what they're about rather than just going by the opinions of others. At the very least, based on what you've written, it sounds like the 64 games made an earnest attempt at translating the series to 3D, rather than just copying other franchises like the Lament and Shadow games have.
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by LightningCount » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:12 am

Chris wrote:Thanks for the feedback, Lightning. I'll check out those videos. I'll probably try out the games at some point. I've always wanted to so that I could see for myself what they're about rather than just going by the opinions of others. At the very least, based on what you've written, it sounds like the 64 games made an earnest attempt at translating the series to 3D, rather than just copying other franchises like the Lament and Shadow games have.
You're welcome. I finished listening to this show now, and you came to a conclusion similar to what I mentioned, which was Castlevania has decided to copy other franchises instead of creating or maintaining its own identity.

I'll just finish up with the other games you mentioned on Chaos Theater.

Lament of Innocence: I didn't mind the music quite as much as you guys, as the more electronic or exotic tunes had some parallels with stuff from Rondo and SotN. (I mean, SotN had full-on rock songs and a jazz song for, I believe, a prison area). I really enjoyed the characters, voicing, and story of this game, despite it borrowing elements from the anime/manga Berserk. I thought it was a much more interesting/plausible Dracula origin story than Lords of Shadow. Now, the game itself...I had a lot of fun with it the first time, but it's ultimately inspired too much by Devil May Cry, and it doesn't really hold up on future playthroughs. The atmosphere is kind of nice, but the level design is boring and tiresome, and the combat gets old fast. At least its whip fighting had a sense of physics to it compared to the combat cross of LoS, though, and the real-time item use, where you couldn't pause the game to use a potion, added a bit of tension.

Curse of Darkness: In terms of level design/gameplay, this is the worst 3D Castlevania game. It is a bizarre game. First off, they take the flat level design of LoI, and make it even flatter and more monotonous. Second, the combat is looser than LoI and relies on a central memchanic of leveling up familiars that fight alongside you ala Pokemon. Now, some of these familiars can do neat things, like reveal secret passages or allow you to glide, but on the whole, they take away from the Castlevania feel. The other mechanic is weapon building, where you forge all sorts of different weapons by fusing weapon drops from enemies. It's an interesting distraction and adds more variety, but it's ultimately very gimmicky. Speaking of gimmicks, there is a side quest to find all sorts of exotic chairs, inspired by the furniture collecting in HoD for GBA. The game does nothing to enhance the legacy of Castlevania III, which it is a sequel to, and there are some strange or intriguing story/character introductions that seem like they would have played out in future game stories, but didn't.

Nevertheless, it is not without some pros. They finally devised a 3D camera that you can fully control (LoD started this on the N64, but this seemed far better), the boss battles are pretty cool, the voice acting is strong with Crispin Freeman from Eureka 7 at the helm, the music is great, and the games levels are all interconnected/backtrackable like SotN rather than a central hub like LoI. Unfortunately, the games levels are stretched out so long, and eventful design choices are so few and far between, that it really is a grind. As such, I think pure stage-based progression like the N64 games is the best choice for 3D Castlevania. All of that said, the atmosphere of the game still retains more of a Castlevania feel than Lords of Shadow did. But this was the first Castlevania game where I was really disappointed.

Dawn of Sorrow: Basically felt like a remake of Aria of Sorrow, but the surprise of the story and play mechanic was already used up with Aria, so it didn't have as big of an impact for me. It was the first Castlevania game in some time that I skipped for a long time. The extra mode was interesting, but the game had already felt tired to me by the time I really got to play that part.

Portrait of Ruin: Another game I waited to play for some time, as I was burned out on Metroid-style Castlevania. The two-character system was intriguing, though not as utilized as one might hope. The portrait level system was not as game-changing as I hoped, because every stage still played like a mini-Metroid game rather than a classic action-platformer with death pits and the like, which defeated the point of having them. As a sequel to Bloodlines, it really falls flat, and the level background repeats were monotonous and felt like padding. The sisters extra mode is very different, but not compelling enough to really invest a lot of time in. As in almost any Castlevania game, there is some memorable music, though. As a whole, I think I had a bit more "fun" with this than DoS, but it was not as solid a game as DoS.

Order of Ecclesia: I still haven't played it. Even as a variation on the Metroid style, I wasn't ready for another CV using that style at all. I am somewhat intrigued by what Pedro and others have said about it, though.

Dracula X Chronicles: As Pedro noted, and I already expressed, the whole package didn't do it for me. It was interesting to see Castlevania in 2.5D, but Rondo just wasn't as strong a game to do it with as I would have hoped or thought from it's reputation. Regardless, and sadly, it may be the best post-Original Gameboy portable Castlevania for pick-up-and-play at the moment. The way you could customize the level soundtrack was sort of neat. By the way, SotN for PSP still does not include the Saturn areas, despite having Maria playable.

Castlevania Judgement: Controls and designs are iffy (would have benefited immensely from Motion Plus), but some entertainment can be gotten out of the game with its various modes of play. It's a lot more like Capcom's Power Stone than Namco's Soul Caliber in terms of fighting. The atmosphere of the world is well done, and the music selection is nice. It feels more like a Castlevania game than Lords of Shadow, despite being stuck entirely in arenas. It's amusing in short bursts.

Castlevania The Adventure Rebirth: This was the most fun I've had with a Castlevania game in a long time. It's clearly a limited budget game, but they managed to pull off quite a bit in this. The 3 modes of play have different level designs/enemy placement/appearance, and there are modes to play with motion controls, as well. The Hard Mode's level designs are the most fully realized and challenging, really forcing you to learn and utilize the secret passages and optional point bonuses in each level. I would have liked to see more nods to the Adventure, given the title of the game, but it's a fun entry. It's not mind-blowing, but when you play this after being stuck in rather plodding affairs like Portrait of Ruin, it really shines, IMO. Some of the bosses, like the Jekyll-and-Hyde boss of Level 2 are really fresh.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow: There have been so many stories denying that this was originally not a Castlevania game. I tend to agree with what Chris is saying. I played through the whole thing, and it's not a bad game. On the other hand, it has very little to do with Castlevania. The creators insist its a direct translation of Castlevania 4 in 3D, but I don't see it. It's nice to see the whip used in a variety of ways, and a little less hallways than more recent 3D efforts, but it's still very flat and combo-centric. I haven't played any of the downloadable bonus levels or its sequel on 3DS. After all the talk about how this would solve Castlevania in 3D, it largely was LoI with a bigger budget, worse story/characters, and elements grabbed from other popular games.

Now, as for Pedro's idea, I don't think it's necessary. The survival-horror feel/elements were already introduced in the N64 era, and the Bayonetta combo combat has already proven itself ill-suited the Castelvania's identity with what we've seen in LoI, CoD, and LoS. You can't have these lengthy smack-fest combos in Castlevania, no matter how agile they look. It slows the gameplay down, and leaves no room for strategic sub-weapons or meaningful platforming, since every whipping motion starts you into a chain of attacks. That would cause you to fall off a platform if you were trying to whip a medusa head in your way. If you look at Castelvania at its best, its always pushing you in motion. You're not constantly stopped in slugfest arenas like in so many modern action games, including Bayonetta.

Again, I would implore anyone hoping for successful Castlevania in 3D to give a second look at CV64 and LoD as a whole, and see the groundwork they laid. It can be mightily refined, but the nuts and bolts are there. I think the unrealistic backlash from fans wanting SotN#2 or the polish of Ocarina of Time is what caused such hate for CV64, and then that semi-trolling just carried on and expanded with the internet. But if you look at initial reviews from magazines, they weren't so bad. Unfortunately, all the backlash led to the trend that started in LoI, where Konami stopped trusting its own gameplan. But I've gone on long enough.

(The final thing I will note is that LoD is easier than CV64 in terms of challenge to my recollection; but to this day I'm not sure which is better, as I think certain levels or control ideas are better in one and not the other, and vice-versa. I need to play both again to try and sort that out, and I don't own a copy of LoD right now. Regardless, both games have epic Dracula battles if you're trying to get the best ending, and while each game has content that seems the same, each has entire levels or portions of levels exclusive to their respective cart).

The next Castlevania after Lords of Shadow 2 is rumored to be in development for 3DS by a Japanese company that has expressed interest in Mercury Steam's 2.5D assets. One wonders if the Metroid-style will return again. Personally, if we have to go back in the realm of 2D, I would like them to expand on the gameplay from Castlevania 4 with the level variety of Castlevania 3. A one-off like that would be a good stop gap until they can give an honest look at doing a 3D game that doesn't play like some other game. If nothing else, I would love them to do a 3DS Director's Cut of CV64 that keeps its exclusive content, but adds in the remixed and new content from LoD, along with the other ideas scrapped in the "Dracula 3D" Beta, like whip-swinging over gaps, and a refined camera system. But that's one for Hopers and Dreamers. *sigh*
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by Chris » Wed Sep 04, 2013 2:21 am

LightningCount wrote:Personally, if we have to go back in the realm of 2D, I would like them to expand on the gameplay from Castlevania 4 with the level variety of Castlevania 3.
This is basically the Castlevania game that I've always wanted but that Konami has never made.
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by YokozunaBulldozer » Thu Sep 05, 2013 11:44 am

There was a time years ago when I was dreaming of a Castlevania Online MORPG where players would be "various descendents" of the Belmont lineage out for Dracula's head. Either way, fun episode to listen to. I am glad you guys did a round-up of this.
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by Blackbeltsam » Mon Sep 09, 2013 8:19 pm

...I've played more Castlevania in the last week then I had in the last 20 years of my life combined, and it's all your fault.


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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by LightningCount » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:17 am

Something I wanted to add, but never did. You talked about how different Castlevania was on the NES at the time, and indeed it was. But there was at least one title, albeit a little more cartoony, that had some similarities with Castlevania in some of its game design/atmosphere choices, and that was Ghosts 'N Goblins. Speaking of which, maybe that series could make an appearance on Chaos Theater in the future?
Last edited by LightningCount on Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by Chris » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:18 am

Do you take us for masochists? :)
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by LightningCount » Tue Sep 17, 2013 2:26 am

Chris wrote:Do you take us for masochists? :)
:lol: HA! I just know you guys have got some classic, old-school blood in you, that's all. It always makes for fun stories. Then again, one wonders how many people even remember that series around here. (There were two iPhone games released a handful of years ago that I really wish had gotten PSP or DS ports, because they were more true to form than the new PSP game that came right before them, IMO).

PS: Did you ever get around to watching those videos on the first N64 Castlevania game's Level 2 and 3? Granted they're limited and you aren't in control of the character, but did they produce any different thoughts compared to, say, Lords of Shadow?
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Re: Ep. 055: Castlevania

Post by hotlimit » Thu Sep 19, 2013 10:26 pm

I get what your guest was saying about Breaking Bad. I'm into all the tense cliffhangers, but Jesse and all the f-ed up drug culture stuff makes me feel like, "UGHHHH". I want to reach into the screen and smack that dude, haahah. We're about 3/4 through the series now.

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