Summer Gaming Challenge #5 – Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

1

Quick Info on Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia:
Console  – Nintendo DS
Release Year – 2008
Metacritic Score – 85
Time it took to beat – 10h41m

Wow, I beat half of my Summer Gaming Challenge this year.  That’s a new one.  I usually only get three games in before something else inevitably distracts me from the challenge.  Then again, since I’m not a hardcore game reviewer anymore, I do have more free time to chisel away at the backlog.  And while I had originally planned to end the challenge when I started back classes (which was Monday), I’m over half way through Metal Gear Solid, so I might as well finish that too while I’m at it. So I suppose I’ll extend the challenge to Labor Day.

But anyway, let’s talk about the final Igavania title, Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  A shame that it was the last one, being released at a time when they found an artist worthy of replacing the legendary Ayami Kojima’s work and the game itself really putting its best foot forward in the gameplay department where the previous DS titles were a little lacking.

What?  I find Dawn of Sorrow lacking compared to Aria.  And I’m saying that on the game’s anniversary on top of that.  Fight me.

However, I can see why Ecclesia was the final one–the formula, while great, was really starting to become stale, and although Ecclesia takes steps to help freshen it up a bit, it ultimately wasn’t enough.  Thankfully all gamers needed was a break from the tried and true formula, if Bloodstained’s Kickstarter success is anything to go by.  Much like the Mega Man series, it was just too much all at once.

But let’s get to talking about the game itself, shall we?  Order of Ecclesia takes place somewhere in the Castlevania timeline where the Belmont clan disappeared for a while, presumably because people are jerks that scared the Belmonts away.  Before the Morris family came about to take up the mantle of vampire hunter in their relatives’ absence, however, is when Order of Ecclesia takes place.

2

Spoiler Alert, there’s Dracula in a Castlevania game. Shocker.

Anyone with any kind of video game storytelling knowledge should already know pretty much everything that happens in the game after the first cutscene, but let’s talk about it anyway.  This robust Order has only three members, and the game begins with a bit of bickering between the two ‘not leader’ members of the group.  The main character (Shanoa) was chosen to house the Dominus glyphs, a very powerful magic that is said to help defeat Dracula.  However, her comrade in arms Albus was originally promised said power, and is just a bit miffed that things aren’t going as planned.  He interrupts the ritual and steals the power of Dominus away, and in the process Shanoa loses both her memories and emotions.

The first half of the game involves chasing Albus around, trying to retrieve Dominus and figure out why he’s doing a bunch of weird stuff (like kidnapping villagers).  Of course, the second half of the game revolves around the real reasons for Albus doing what he did (after he’s dead of course, can’t have happy times here), and stopping the revived Dracula because–surprise surprise–the power of Dominus is actually meant to be used to revive Dracula, not defeat him!

Regardless of all that, though, the story was still alright, and the ending was actually pretty touching (in a Crisis Core sort of way–you know exactly what’s about to happen, but it’s sad anyway).  It doesn’t really dwell on any weird or boing points (“oh no I’m the reincarnation of Dracula, the angst” “damn I think I’m kinda useless as a mage, woe” (dramatic reinterpretations may or may not be accurate)), and while it isn’t even a good motivating point to see the game through to the end, the fact that it doesn’t’ really get in the way while succinctly explaining the state of the Castlevania world is accomplishment enough in an age of bloated narratives and endless exposition.

But what really, really shines is the gameplay.  See, Order of Ecclesia doesn’t pull any punches.  It’s a difficult game.  One thing that can usually be said about the Igavanias is that they can really be too easy.  If you get stuck on a boss or something, the answer was usually quite simple–grind a couple levels and come back to kick butt.  Ecclesia doesn’t do that, and the only other portable one I can think that also didn’t do that was Circle of the Moon, although that was mainly because the shop system was borked and you couldn’t buy healing items to help grinding anyway.

3

Cats are important.

Instead, Ecclesia forces you to become better and use your arsenal to your advantage. With the Glyphs, Shanoa can have a huge range of weapons and spells at her disposal, making it very easy to switch strategies on the fly.  So Order of Ecclesia relies a lot less on the highest level equipment and more on taking advantage of enemies’ weaknesses and maneuvering around the map.

This is doubly so during boss battles, as they hit hard and fast, but ultimately have patterns to learn to dodge attacks and know when to strike.  While you can level up and mitigate the damage a little bit, the fact is bosses are such heavy hitters than you can’t just level up or get good enough equipment to tank through the battle.  You have to learn enemy patterns and the best attacks to hit them with, or grind money (which is relatively scarce) to buy a large stock of somewhat expensive healing items.

So, it’s definitely not a cakewalk.  I do like the balance that the healing items bring to the table, though.  I was better at learning some bosses’ patterns than others, and having  the option of just saying ‘screw it’ and bring nine bowls of ramen to the battle while only dodging half the attacks is an option I liked having.  Even though it always seemed I’d use a pricey healing item then kills the boss in the next hit…

But yeah, a very good, very satisfying Castlevania title.  I love how it’s balanced (even if it’s not perfectly balanced), and the 10 hours I put into it were a lot of fun.  Will I complete it and play Albus mode?  Probably not, considering it’s pretty damn hard, but it’s my favorite of the DS Castlevania titles.  I do need to replay Aria of Sorrow sometime though…

Summer Gaming Challenge #4 – Radiant Historia

1

Quick Info on Radiant Historia:
Console  – Nintendo DS
Release Year – 2010
Metacritic Score – 85
Time it took to beat – About 25hrs

It’s August and I finally beat my first RPG for the Summer Gaming Challenge.  I meant to spread the RPGs out a little more evenly, but… it just didn’t work out like that.  Such is life when you review RPGs and played FFXIV religiously for an entire month.

Anyway, Radiant Historia is one of those titles that I started, then it fell by the wayside when I got about halfway through the game.  And when I mean ‘fell by the wayside’, I really mean it–I ignored the game for at least two years, promising myself to get back to it but not liking the fact that I needed to grind (more on that in a bit).  With the Summer Gaming Challenge this year, topped with Anne Lee’s JRPG July, it was finally time to sit down and knock this puppy out (even if it was a couple days too late for the latter).  And I finally did… but honestly, I’m really conflicted about liking it.

Note: I’ll be going into spoilers for everything beyond this point, including the ending.  I warned you.

Radiant Historia stars Stocke, a protagonist that rivals Squall in terms of the use of silence to convey… um, something.  Usually it’s intimidation.  My joke aside though, I do like Stocke as the main character–he’s pretty morally grey at the beginning of the game, but eventually grows into a semi-proper protagonist, though thankfully he doesn’t have any qualms or sudden mental breaks about all the people he flat out kills.  And believe me, he kills a lot of people.  Oh, and he has amnesia, but really doesn’t even care:  It’s mentioned once or twice in passing by his best bud, but it’s largely ignored until the very end of the game, after the game beats you over the head for ten hours about who Stocke really is (but never says it).

Basically what happens is, Stocke is given the White Chronicle, a book that grants the user miraculous powers, such as the ability to travel through times and go to different timelines.  It’s up to Stocke and (eventually) his little ragtag group of “friends” to stop the desertification that threatens to engulf the entire continent, a remnant of an old empire that misused the power of Mana and ruined the earth’s ability to heal itself (essentially).

Woah, coming on a little strong there Stocke

Woah, coming on a little strong there Stocke

It’s an interesting plot, and with the ability to switch between two timelines, it’s mostly handled pretty well–what happens in one timeline can affect the other, but ultimately they do not intersect, so you get different party members and conflicts in the two timelines.  Also, the world of Radiant Historia is very interesting, though unfortunately a little undeveloped in the end.

However, the story starts to fall apart near the end, in my opinion… because it turns into some sort of weird family drama.  About halfway through the game, we meet Eruca, the princess of Granorg, who looks suspiciously like Stocke.  She is immediately reminded of her long dead brother and so on and so forth… I don’t feel like regaling the whole tale, but it’s obvious the Stocke is Eruca’s brother and the prince of Granorg.  The game always dances around it though, where it and other “foreshadowing” events almost feel insulting.  It’s just a bit annoying, and it’s around this point that the game really starts to focus on the characters, which leads to its own set of problems.

In the main story, Radiant Historia only really focuses on Stocke in Eruca in terms of character motivations and development, where the rest are kind of left on the wayside.  To find out more about the people we’re dragging into battles, we have to do their specific sidequests, but the problem is it’s hard to figure out where these quests are… especially with the time mechanics making it hard to traverse the world freely.  It also is required for the true ending, which makes it difficult to really miss.

But honestly, I didn’t like the true ending.  While the normal ending is purposefully unsatisfying, the true ending kind of cheapens the plot and the revelations that come in the final chapters.  Right near the end, Stocke learns of the true use of the White and Black Chronicles, and that his soul would have to be sacrificed in order to stop the desertification and give the continent more time, so to say.  An important part of this is the fact that how ‘mature’ a soul determines how effective the ritual is and how long the ritual can be delayed until another sacrifice is needed.  So for all intensive purposes, Stocke is the only one with the power to actually sacrifice himself.  So you beat the final boss, the wielder of the Black Chronicle (who is really only trying to stop Stocke from killing himself), Stocke and Eruca perform the ritual, roll credits.

During the true ending, we learn of all the changes that have been made in the world, with all of Stocke’s friends looking for ways to permanently stop the desertification and prevent more sacrifices.  It’s bittersweet, and pretty darn good–a lot of the game involves the characters wondering if there’s another way to magically stop the process, but it’s also made clear that there’s no time to find out, and the sacrifice must be made.

But then there’s the very final scene, where the wielder of the Black Chronicle sacrifices himself in place of Stocke to allows his nephew (yes) to live.  While it was stated that his soul wasn’t mature enough, it’s then figured that ‘seeing Stocke’s resolve’ matured his soul to the point that he could be a proper sacrifice and sae both the world and Stocke, which… well, is bullocks.  It ruins the point of Stocke’s journey and his sacrifice, and also ruins everyone else’s motivations… they’re working to save the world because their dear comrade died, not because the asshole uncle decided to have a moment of clarity.

2

I suppose I should stop ragging on the story… it’s not really all that bad, but these nagging issues really bring it down.  Let’s talk about the battle system.  It’s turn based, but you can manipulate turns and enemy positions with skills and special moves.  It requires a little more effort than just simply mashing A over and over.

It can become tedious at times, however.  Especially after a certain point, the difficulty really ramps up, and even normal battles require some concentration.  That can be a bit annoying at times, but ultimately the ability to rack up crazy combos and moves is pretty neat.

That said, I never truly got the hang of the battle system.  It’s likely because I didn’t change my party around much (and as such my levels were unbalanced), but I was never able to get the super high combo levels that I saw in various Let’s Plays and videos.  That’s okay though, I survived well enough with the overpowered Trap moves.

So, Radiant Historia.  I can’t deny it’s a good game, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as most.  The World Ends With You will always be the best original RPG on the DS.

Oh yeah, the music was pretty dope.

Summer Gaming Challenge #3 – Kirby’s Adventure

kirbys-adventure-1

Quick Info on Kirby’s Adventure:
Console  – Nintendo Entertainment System (released on Virtual Console and Kirby’s Dream Collection, and remade for the GBA as )
Release Year – 1993
Metacritic Score – 77 (This score is based on the 3D Classics remake)
Time it took to beat – 3h08m

The third game is down!  A little late on this one, since I already beat the fourth game of the Summer Challenge, but such is life.  Anyway.

Kirby’s Adventure is the second game in the very long running series starring the pink puff ball, but it’s the first one that really gives Kirby its identity.  It’s the first time Kirby is actually is pink, and more importantly the first game that Kirby is able to suck up enemies to gain special powers.  It’s also quite a bit longer than the original GB Kirby.

I had played a bit of Kirby’s Adventure in the past, though I never finished it… mainly because I was playing it on an emulator and didn’t actually own the game.  But, with Kirby’s Dream Collection on the Wii, I was able to finally play it legally… and since it was the last game in the collection that I actually hadn’t beaten yet, what better time to get to it than now?

Kirbys-Adventure-P4BS

I can’t believe how downright pretty this game is.  As an NES title, the game really pops with the background in particular, being extremely colorful.  Unfortunately it seems to lead to a fair amount of slowdown when there are a lot of enemies on the screen, which made a lot of the later stages a bit harder than they needed to be.

But honestly, I liked the challenge that Kirby’s Adventure provided, for the most part.  For me, a lot of the problems I have with the later Kirby games is that there is no challenge unless you go for the extra stuff–well, that and I didn’t like some of the weird mechanics of some of them (Kirby Mass Attack, I’m looking at you).  Kirby’s Adventure provides a decent challenge that doesn’t over do it, for the most part.  The final final boss was a bit of a pain, but otherwise it was a well balanced romp that you couldn’t just float through.

Of course, consider what game in the series this is, the gameplay is overall pretty basic.  That of course isn’t a bad thing… simplicity is when I think the Kirby series shines the most.  Instead of trying crazy experimental mechanics, the developers can focus on level design, and that’s great.

There’s not much else to say, Kirby’s Adventure is a great game.  Three for three so far for the Summer Gaming Challenge!  I’ll have a post up on game #4–Radiant Historia–soon.