Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Castlevania III - Review

Castlevania II attempted to expand the original Castlevania into a free-roaming non-linear game with RPG elements. It failed.

Not because the ideas themselves were bad, but because they were so poorly implemented. Regardless, after seeing the suck of the previous game, the Castlevania designers went back to the beginning and added tweaks there. Castlevania III is the first Castlevania with multiple characters, multiple possible paths through the game, and bigger and better levels and enemies.

And yet, I didn't love it especially more than the first game. The first game was pure and simple. You were in a castle fighting all sorts of horror movie villains. It didn't take itself too seriously, even offerring humorous film reel credits when you beat the game. By the second game, Konami had decided they had a series on their hands and made it all serious and... it kind of lost something. The third Castlevania also has this seriousness and since the gameplay mechanics are fairly similar, it isn't quite as cool.

Castlevania III takes place hundreds of years before the first game. You play as Simon Belmont's ancestor Trevor. Apparently people mistrust and shun the Belmont family because of their great strength. Dracula and his minions have been terrorizing the land and Trevor decides that he will use his powers to take him down. Along the way, he can encounter Grant DaNasty - a pirate whose family was killed by Dracula, Sypha Belnades - a vampire hunter who had been cursed by a mummy and turned to stone, or Alucard - the disaffected son of Dracula.

Trevor plays just like Simon did in the original game. The new characters are what is meant to add life to this game. Grant wields a dagger as his standard weapon. Its range is miniscule, but he can swing it much faster than any of the other characters can use their weapons. It is also equal in power to the leather whip. He can also acquire the dagger or axe as subweapons. His main special ability is the ability to break Castlevania. He jumps slightly higher than the other characters and most amazingly can change his trajectory and direction in mid-jump. He can also grab onto walls and ceiling and crawl along them to reach otherwise inaccessible places. He is weaker than Trevor and takes an additional bar of damage for each enemy that hits him. Sypha is weak as well and also takes additional damage like Grant. She wields a staff which seems about as long as Grant's dagger and does as much damage, but hits in an arc so it can hit more enemies around her. Sypha doesn't acquire traditional subweapons, but instead magic spells that are unique for her. These spells can be really powerful and make some sections of enemies and bosses much easier. Alucard has the weakest regular weapon of any of the characters. He shoots out a ball that moves horizontally forward about the length of the longest whip. Like Simon, his main weapon can be upgraded. The first upgrade adds a ball that shoots out diagonally upward and the second one that shoots out diagonally downward, but all these balls are weak in the strength. Alucard gets no subweapons, but has the ability to turn into a bat and fly around the screen, using hearts while he does so.

These new characters are nice and fun, but... ultimately don't add a lot because the game is designed to be played with Trevor. Most of the time you want to play as him because it is easier to kill enemies and if you get hit you take less damage. The other characters have their uses. Grant is great for platforming sections, especially those where you may need to quickly kill weak enemies (though the fact that he jumps higher than Trevor can get you in trouble). Sypha can be useful against tough gauntlets of enemies and can absolutely annihilate some bosses. Alucard will literally save your life when you turn him into a bat while about to fall to your death. Still, you only do these things occasionally. Having the extra characters is more like giving Trevor more powers rather than actually introducing new ways to play the game.

Oh, the other new level innovation is the ability to choose which levels to do. After completing certain levels, you get a choice of which path the take. The different paths lead to different levels and at the end of certain levels you meet up with the secondary characters. The addition of some non-linearity is nice and gives the game more replay value, but the levels don't feel so different or amazing that it really stands out.

The game is hard. The original Castlevania was also difficult, but this one is difficult in a slightly different way. I can't quite put my finger on what, though. There seems to be a bit more emphasis on platforming in this game. There are things like moving gears and conveyer belts, flipping platforms, moving spikes and all sorts of other new platform elements to worry about. There, in general, is much more reliance on jumping and moving around, but the platforms and such are well placed so you rarely feel cheated because you miss a jump. The enemy design is also significantly upgraded in this game. This game introduced the gargoyles the fly up and down the screen, the ghosts that require multiple hits, the red skeletons, and others that became mainstays in the series. The bosses in general are a mixed bag. Though there are quite a few re-treads from the original game, many do more interesting things. Frankenstein's Monster now throws blocks. The Grim Reaper now has sickles appear around the screen and come toward you. The early bosses aren't really very interesting, but the ones in the later stages of the game are very well done. Some bosses feel very cheap and you feel you only beat them because you got lucky. Others work much better because you feel more in control of whether you get hit or not.

The music, as is normal for the Castlevania, is awesome. It took me awhile to warm up to it, but I am now fully on board. There are some great tunes in this soundtrack and it even starts the tradition of reusing or doing remixes of tracks from earlier Castlevanias. The graphics are about on par with Castlevania II. There is much more use of color than the original game, and many of the levels feel a bit more organic. They are good quality, especially the large bosses.

This game is good, but it took me awhile to come around to that. For whatever reason, this game didn't do it for me in the same way that other games have. It was only when I reached the final level that it all came together and I could appreciate the style of this game. On subsequent replays, I could appreciate the music and gameplay more. I think the difficulty was a big sticking point with me. I don't mind difficult games where it feel like I can get better with practice, but sometimes during my first playthrough I didn't have this feeling. This game is good and features quite a few innovations beyond the original Castlevania, but I can't really say I liked it any better.

Rating: 8 / 10


parish said...

If you can find it, try downloading the music from the Japanese version. The JP cart had a special sound chip inside that provided an extra percussion track, and the difference it makes is amazing.

Davíd said...

Holy shit, you are correct.

I had heard that the Japanese version had better sound (and was more balance, easier, etc.), but had always kind of passed off the better sound argument as overexaggerated by Japanophiles. I was wrong.

I downloaded the ROM of Japanese CV3 and played the first three levels. My God, that sound chip makes the tunes I initially found okay, to be amazing (well the clocktower level both gained and lost some so was about a wash).