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Continuevania: The Quest for the Preservance of Castlevania

22 years is a long time for any video game series to be around. Castlevania has now achieved this milestone and could therefore raise a strong toast to its long journey. But while celebrating, it should also sit down to ponder the past and the future. Naturally the future of Castlevania is directly connected to the contents of linnavaanijat.com, which is currently celebrating its fifth anniversary.

The gameplay mechanics of Castlevania have been altered throughout the years to succesful and sometimes less sucessful results. What started as linear platforming with a time limit and stiff controls, was transformed into an open landscape quest already when Simon’s Quest came out. The real breakthrough was done through Symphony of the Night. Both were turning points of the series on their own right, but the difference is how they affected the series’ later evolution. Simon’s Quest was a product of its era; an experimental sequel aimed to make a game completely different from the original. But the makers (and the gamers) apparently felt overly radical changes were not for the better. For the third installment they went back to the linear style of the first one, but adding alternative levels and different playable characters. Simon’s Quest is often criticized for its playability and rightly so. But without its experimental nature the developers might not have been able to piece the puzzle and create Dracula’s Curse. The decisions were ultimately effective, as DC is regarded by many as the best Castlevania to date.

The same has been said by many of SotN. But to get back to the continuance of the series; they have so far made five Metroidvanias with SotN as the template and if the presumptions are correct, a sixth one is on the way. Some haven’t gotten tired of the formula and Portrait of Ruin is the latest Metroidvania to gain praising reviews. I’m not saying Portrait of Ruin is a lousy game, but I would go as far as to say that many of those reviews were greatly affected by ignorance regarding the series’ history.

Different magic systems have been added to the Metroidvania pattern and the most noticeable recent novelty has been the touch screen utilized by the Nintendo DS. But is this enough? Dawn of Sorrow, too, is a fine game and I personally rank it the third best of the Metroidvanias. The use of touch screen can be considered needlessly purposeful for a reason. Then again, the same can be said of many other game series’ games that have been ported to the DS.

The chronology of the series is a double edged sword; playability and music are so important to many that they can’t be bothered to care about the dramatic content of the games. The question of what is most important is a topic for another article. But it’s clear that for the hardcore fans and/or for those who have grown older with Castlevania, the events of the series and the history of its characters matter. Perhaps this is comparable to Castlevania’s evolution from a horror movie inspired platformer into a a gothic action game series with RPG elements known especially well for its promo art and music. Times change.

The series’ chronology spans almost a millenium. This has inevitably resulted in repeating storylines and twists. And why not; Castlevania is rooted in straightforwardness. Its basic plot could be called thin, but I would personally use the word classic.

So, we have been at the beginning and the end. We, the gamers, saw Dracula being born in a dark 11th century castle in Europe and the captured castle Dracula disappear inside an eclipse in Japan in the?2000’s. After so much time it’s reasonable to ask: what is left? What more can we be offered? What haven’t we experienced yet? When browsing through the most direct and most extensive archives of feedback, Internet discussion forums, one can’t help but answer all three: a lot.

We have yet to experience the battle of 1999. We don’t exactly know what happened during the centuries Dracula and the Belmonts had not battled each other directly. A three-dimensional Castlevania that fully employs all its potential has not been done yet. We haven’t seen what the newest technology or reimagining past games could accomplish. The games so far have also introduced characters whose potential for creating maybe even spinoff games is significant.

Castlevania needs to continue evolving. There is no doubt about that. It is the seventh game console generation and the word of the day is performance. So far the series has mainly kept itself a two-dimensional beacon in a gaming ocean gone almost completely 3-D, warming the hearts of many loyal fans. But will that be enough later? Can cult status keep a game series alive if it wishes to remain on store shelves? Can occasional leaps to 3-D be enough when thinking about the future?

Three-dimensional Castlevanias have had flaws. Their graphics have not fully utilized their hardware (possibly because of resources), their playability hasn’t been the best possible and their level design has been sadly mediocre. But time after time they have shown improvement, but not enough to show up as spikes on sales charts. So what is the problem?

The fact is the experiments need to stop as soon as possible. The most dedicated fans have waited patiently for things to fall in place again for Castlevania to equal success according to sales, reviews and gamer opinions. It has been so before and it can be so again.

But how will this be achieved? First of all, communication between the consumers and the developers has increased more and more over the years. This serves both parties’ purposes. The developers get more assurance they are making a product that will get them profit. The gamers get a game that more profoundly rewards them for the amount of money they sacrifice. It has become more and more common for video game developers to read discussion forums to map out the gamers’ opinions and wishes. Dracula X Chronicles and the extra mode of Dawn of Sorrow are quite clear examples that the Castlevania team listens to the fans, at least when it comes to popular characters and formerly region-exclusive games. But do they know what we want from new Castlevanias when it comes to level design, for example?

The other problem is time. There have been nine Castlevanias over the last seven years. That is a lot. Even if the number is proportionized to the amount of re-releases, ”FastVania” is a phenomenon that has inevitably affected the quality of the games. The games have not been uninteresting, but very, very much alike. This has been partly good and not so good.

Easy does it, goes the old saying. My own simple opinion is the CV team needs to take more time in developing new games and use the gamers’ opinion to their advantage more during planning. The fans won’t disappear if they have to wait a little longer for the next game. On the contrary. The wait would probably make most of them focus on the previous games with more enthusiasm and wait for more with hope.

I first played Castlevania about 17 years ago. It is one of the first games I have owned and has stayed in my mind permanently ever since. I didn’t become a fan right away, however. That happened about 11 years later. That was when I rediscovered the whole series. Though its place in my life has inevitably continued to diminish and will likely continue to do so as time goes by, I would say that I am still a Castlevania fan. I am thus a living example that the fan base can evolve as a video game series gets older.

Castlevania is not completely unique as an over 20 year old game series. Its age is still an accomplishment not to be taken lightly. Time will tell what fate has in store for both Castlevania and those whose life it is a part of. While waiting for what lies ahead, let’s continue in the castles of our lives, whipping candles in the hope of finding something useful inside. I end this article by wishing both Castlevania and Linnavaanijat long life.

Written by: A-Yty

A-Yty
7.6.2009


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