What is a Man?
When Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel “Dracula,” he had no idea of it’s influence in other mediums. Taking the title character from the pages of the novel, Japanese game company Konami crafted its own universe for Dracula to rise from his grave and fly from sequel to sequel. The series started out as a standard platformer, featuring plenty of great moments that will live on throughout video game history. After numerous years of playing as the Belmont family and friends, the games made a huge leap in style. Combining Metroid’s style of map exploration with platforming, Castlevania was able to choose a fresh and exciting perspective. However, after several sequels and new games in this new format, the series is now stuck in the same rut it was in after Castlevania: Dracula X.
Leaving on a high note with Castlevania - Order of Ecclesia, longtime producer Koji Igarashi produced his last handheld title in the series on the Nintendo DS. The series had found a cozy, albeit comfortable home in Nintendo handhelds. Order of Ecclesia gave the series canon a strong female protagonist and a new look at the story and world of Castlevania. It even brought the party outdoors. It was a refreshing feeling to enter a town, travel to forests and caves and have side quests. Harkening back to the days of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Order of Ecclesia felt like a spiritual successor to the series’ early black sheep of the family.
Doin’ It For The Fans
In a post-Order of Ecclesia world, things began to spiral out of control for the series. Critics and many fans loathed Castlevania Judgment, a Power Stone meets Castlevania title that catered strictly to fanboys. The art design by Death Note anime series creator Takeshi Obata was criticized for not fitting the Castlevania style. The game left fans confused about the choice in art direction, yet satisfied with plenty of unlockable content. (Personally, I enjoyed the game and felt it got a bad wrap, but I must say that Simon Belmont looked horrible. Also, everybody loves Boobs, I mean Carmilla.)
Back to Basics
Igarashi and his team followed up on the Wii with a remake of Castlevania: The Adventure, originally a Game Boy title. As part of Konami’s Rebirth series, they created refreshed versions of classic franchises. Contra Rebirth was an all new title, however Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth focused on simplicity and retelling Christopher Belmont’s story. An enjoyable but short return to classic platforming for the series, the game was a step backwards. Despite this, it was well received by critics and fans.
Playing with Power (And a Credit Card)
Finally, Igarashi’s last title in the Castlevania series was another experiment. This time the Xbox 360 (and much later, the Playstation 3) hosted Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. The game focused on multiplayer elements, picking several Castlevania protagonists to traverse a map. Each map had an end boss that needed to be defeated in a timely fashion. While Igarashi embraced a truly unique and innovative idea, the Metroidvania multiplayer title suffered from lack of overall motive to play, a poor story, cookie-cutter graphics from previous games, and too much downloadable content. (It should’ve been released on a physical disc for $30 with all the trimmings. The constant need to download new content made the game feel more like a money pit.)
At this point, Castlevania was at a crossroad. Konami decided to give the next Castlevania title to the group that impressed them the most. They knew the series was stagnating, and that the next move was crucial to the series. Igarashi went to work on showing a followup sequel to his magnum opus, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Konami also had Spanish developer MercurySteam create a title. Originally meant to be a remake of the first Castlevania, the title began forming as a reboot of the entire series, tossing out 25 years of lore. The final product, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was considered a huge leap away from previous titles, introducing Gabriel Belmont as the first hero of the series. With the help of Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, the game’s story was expanded to great lengths. Gone were the days of simplistic stories and characters. This Belmont questioned decisions he made. Along with a fully orchestral soundtrack, and characters being voiced by people like Patrick Stewart, the game went for a blockbuster sized budget.
Fans’ reactions were torn. Critics and fans agreed that the game was refreshing in many ways, but to the point of no longer feeling like Castlevania. Medusa Heads were gone. Classic music full of arpeggios and organs were cast aside. Combat felt like a cross between God of War and Shadow of the Colossus. However, many enjoyed the game for finally getting a three dimensional Castlevania game to not suffer from major control and camera issues. The question on everyone’s mind was Castlevania’s identity. Was Castlevania still the same series we all knew and loved?
When I bought the final product for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, I couldn’t help but feel that one of my favorite series had finally been laid to rest. The Castlevania series wasn’t this deep, rich game that demanded to be taken seriously. It was a series that focused on a very Eastern look at a very Western myth. The game series had a certain B-movie feel to it, right down to the end credited of the first game. This is the message of the series that was completely lost with the new game. David Cox, who helped produce Lords of Shadow said a small percentage of fans didn’t enjoy the game due to it being three dimensional, and that there was little reason to go backwards and create the same game over and over. David Cox got so much wrong.
While there will always be 2D purists, many fans have no issues with a solid 3D title. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness were both great games that built on the current story the series struggled so hard to keep intact. Whether the game be Metroidvania style, or classic platforming with stiff controls, the series always kept the same spirit and atmosphere. Lords of Shadow lost what made Castlevania, well, CASTLEVANIA. In all it’s goofy, silly moments, it’s a game series focused on delivering a Japanese gothic, yet b-movie experience.
Days of Future Past
So now, we’re up to date. There were rumblings of a sequel to Lords of Shadow, but there’s been no word for almost two years. Supposedly, Igarashi was in discussion to do another handheld title, this time for the 3DS. Things have been quiet for some time. With E3 right around the corner, we may hear some news, but for fans of the series, the wait has been frustrating. Should the title go back to it’s roots and continue the 26 year legacy it has helped build? Or should it begin from scratch with Lords of Shadow, a title that feels hollow in atmosphere and deep in story? Should the Castlevania games return to simpler days, or continue to be experimented on? Whatever the answer is, it certainly feels like a miserable little pile of secrets.
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