Monday, November 13, 2006

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

As of this year, Castlevania has been in the US 20 years. I was four when the first CV game came out for the NES. It may be a little older in Japan, but I don't really know. Still, 20 years. That's a pretty long time. Anyway, I'm not sure whether Curse of Darkness or Dawn of Sorrow came out first, but the former is the main topic today. CoD is the most recent console release in the Castlevania series. It reuses the 3D engine first developed for Lament of Innocence, a PS2 exclusive. I haven't played LoI, but most of the impressions I've gotten were "at least it's not Castlevania 64." That doesn't really inspire confidence in the title. As an aside, Konami's current subtitling system of "* of *" is getting a bit redundant. Hell, even Squeenix stole it for FFVII: Dirge of Cerberus. At any rate, CoD is the first one I can think of where you play a bad guy...not including Alucard's appearances.

CoD is a follow-up to Castlevania III for the NES, which featured Trevor Belmont. In this one, you play as Hector, one of Dracula's Devil Forgemaster. What's a Devil Forgemaster? One who forges devils, of course! Basically, Hector can summon demons, called Innocent Devils, to help him on his quest to find the OTHER Devil Forgemaster, Isaac, who killed the love of his life. Like every CV game since Symphony of the Night (with the exception of Castlevania Chronicles, a remake of an earlier game), you run around a completely connected map, beating up enemies, earning experience, and getting new weapons. Well, not so much the last bit. Another part of being a Devil Forgemaster is making weapons. Throughout the game, you collect various materials that allow you to build new, more powerful weapons. The map is layed out such that every area is connected somehow, but you may need new abilities to access new areas. There's the usual backtracking if you couldn't get something, as well as the usual need to level properly to get to new areas.

Playing the game is a lot like playing pretty much any modern action game. You have a bunch of enemies in a room, and can attack, block, and dodge them, obviously hoping to kill them all. And that's where the game mostly fails. It's generic. Other than Trevor showing up for an unwinnable fight (I HATE THOSE), and the enemies, there's really nothing that feels properly Castlevania about this game. Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not saying it's by any means BAD, it's just that it could be any game. There's some of the classic CV enemies (no Medusa heads that I've seen yet, thankfully), and the same types of music, but it's just...generic.

Either way, I'm still enjoying it. I like the weapon building system, although it's one of those things that often drives me crazy since it makes me very reluctant to sell or combine anything. I don't want to combine that early sword when it could be used as the ULTIMATE WEAPON at the end of the game. Not that that's ever the case, but you never know. I know if I was designing games, I'd do it, just to piss people off. But I'm a horrible person, so my game ideas probably aren't for the best. Along with the weapons, the Innocent Devils level up, and eat crystals that can eventually evolve them, like a demented Pokémon. The problem here is how it's done. When you kill enemies, they'll often drop crystals. The color of crystal depends on the weapon type (sword, axe/club, spear, knuckle, special) that you use. Different crystals level the Innocent Devils in different ways, but there's no way to tell what a given evolution will do. So you wing it. Hopefully, they'll grow up to be a nice, strong Innocent Devil. But maybe not. I just use the weapons I want, rather than try to level them in certain ways. I figure they'll turn out okay.

Anyway, it's a fun enough game. Not the best in the series, but it's not like SotN is going to be beaten any time soon. I'm glad the series is evolving into the new era, but still really prefer the 2D games. What I'd really like to see is a really old school, level-based game. No backtracking, multiple paths, and no RPG elements. I know it won't happen, but it would still be fun. Oh well.


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