Rotating Header Image

Reviews – Video Games

Review – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1)

Konami – Playstation – 1 Player

Castlevania games are hard. Or at least they used to be. They tend to be kind of random, long and have clunky controls. At least on the NES. I have never really cared much for Castlevania games. The whole “goth” and “vampires” thing never really appealed to me either. Still, Symphony of the Night I one of those games you hear people talk about a lot. When people start saying a game is one of the best they have ever played, it generally is worth giving a little attention to.

I had first purchased SotN on this notion. This was still several years after it’s release and it would sit in my collection for several years after I acquired it. I still couldn’t quite bring myself to get over the fact that it was still a Castlevania game. Eventually of course, I came up on a need for something to play, so I decided to work my way through this game.

I’ll have to say I was initially disappointed by the main character. I suppose I still am a bit. I have always associated Castlevania as being Simon Belmont. Or at the very least SOMEONE named Belmont. Instead I find that I get to play as some flakey gothy vampire wannabe named Alucard. What’s with Japan’s obsession with anorexic pretty boys sporting flowing white hair anyway? On top of that, you don’t even get to wield the classic whip weapon. Still, there was something intriguing about the gameplay and environment.

Also the music was intriguing. The soundtrack for this game is absolutely wonderful. It matches the visuals extremely well to create the perfect atmosphere for the game. It also helps to keep things entertaining, which is good because there is a lot of backtracking and random exploring involved in this game. The castle is quite large without being overwhelming. The designs and areas are varied more than enough to keep you from getting lost without having to look at the map all the time. Not to mention that once you reach the second half of the game you realize just How brilliant the level designs are. It’s not every game that allows you to traverse every area upside down as if it were designed to be played that way.

The action is quick as well. There are RPG elements of upgrading weapons and levels to help prevent you from easily traversing areas you’re not supposed to be, though generally there are lots of puzzles and required items that do this quite well. In that respect the game does come off as a bit of “Find item A to enter area B, now find Item B to enter area C” aspect to it. Still, many of those old power-ups remain useful for most of the game.

I guess I should interject some sort of opinion here, this being a review and all. This game is a blast to play. It is certainly deserving of all the praise it receives. After I finished the game the first time through, I felt compelled to replay it again, several times. Fortunately there are some reasons to replay. As Alucard you have the option of several different endings, depending on which items you have in your inventory at the time an how you go about defeating some bosses.

There is also the ability to play as Richter Belmont. Hey look, we get to be a Belmont after all! Complete with whip power. Richter’s gameplay is also considerably different than Alucard’s, it’s more reminiscent of the play style of more classic Castlevania games, essentially you simply charge through and kill everything until you get to the end. Not plot or leveling or power ups required. NOTE: in the Saturn version you also get to play as Maria, I’ve not played this version of the game.

Anyway, this classic game is spot on awesome and comes highly recommended.

Review – Disgaea Hour of Darkness (PS2)

PS2 – Atlus – 1 Player

Lately I haven’t been the type to buy games until they’ve been marked down at least twice. However for some insane reason I picked this game up very soon after it came out based on one person’s recommendation. Sounds like a mix for disappointment personally but in the end it was a good idea.

For the most part I really hate these grid based Tactical RPGs. Final Fantasy Tactics was frustratingly boring/difficult/lame after like 4 battles. This game is ten times the game FFT was. The battles are much quicker for one thing, especially if you’re replaying old matches for experience. Also you can move all your characters on one turn, something I really hated in FFT. Though I must admit after a few days of regular playing it gets a little old. I find eventually become a bit tired of this game and become distracted by other games or other things going on.

However, the game is easy to come back to, and the charm picks back up almost immediately. This game is a very good “filler game”. That is to say, it’s something good to pick up and play for a week or so when you have nothing else to play.

Anyway, how about some information on the game itself. You are Laharl, son of the late Lord of the Underworld, your mission is to defeat everyone else and become the new Overlord. It’s about time someone made a game where you play as the “villain”, or at least the less than heroic character. As you battle through various locations eliminating other contenders for the throne. You’ll gain several of the characters you encounter to your party to assist you in combat.

You’ll need more than just the story characters though if you want to make quick work of things. Any of the characters in your party can recruit followers from a large list of characters. New classes and upgrades of classes become available as your existing characters gain experience. One minor complaint, It would have been nice if the class upgrades would have gotten new sprite (graphics) instead of just recolors, but I suppose that would have made things a little too confusing.

You can also recruit any monster you’ve battled before, but the cost of doing so is generally excessive for as weak as they are. If you want monsters, the real way to do it is to capture them. If you’ve weekend a monster in battle you can pick it up and toss it into your home base panel. If the monster is weak enough and the party members in the panel are strong enough, you’ll capture the monster.

It doesn’t take an eternity to gain levels either. I once made a new level 1 character and had her kill a very strong (weakened) monster and she gained 19 levels in one fight. She was ready to battle along side my stronger characters in no time. Which is really nice since otherwise I’d have had an essentially useless character that late in the game. Also this is the only RPG I can think of where levels go into the hundreds and thousands.

Speaking of levels, you can level up a lot of things. All your characters have regular experience levels of course. Each character can also level up their special abilities, magic spells, and weapon skills for each weapon type. These levels are dependent on how much you use the skill or weapon. Weapons and items themselves can be leveled up as well. You enter the Item World and fight through maps repeatedly. Each map cleared is a level up for the item/weapon. Along your trip through the item world you collect Residents. The Residents are special monsters that give bonus status effects to weapons and items. Once you’ve collected a Resident you can also move it to another more useful or more powerful item.

There is also the Underworld Senate. You can bring bills to the Senate for things like “Better items for Sale” or “Stronger Monsters”. The probability that they will pass depends on your favor with the senators. By bribing the senators with items you can gain more favor. Also if you’re strong enough you can challenge the senators that vote against you to a battle. You can also take tests to increase your level in the senate.

Back to the core of the game, battles. Like I mentioned, they are fairly quick and generally easy. They do get more difficult in the later worlds, but there are some easy tricks you can use to gain levels quickly. One of the main gimmicks in battle are the colored Geo Panels. Random squares on the map will be colored one of several colors. There are also colored Geo Stones lying around the maps (Note: Not every map has Geo Panels). The stones add affects to the colored panels. For example, a stone may have the effect “Recover 20%” and it’s sitting on a red panel. This will cause every red panel to recover 20% of the HP of any character on that space. The Geo panels also affect monsters, so some strategy has to be used sometimes. There are a ton of different effects from “Enemy Boost” to “Warp” to “Invincibility”. Also you can initiate massive chain reactions by destroying Geo Stones on the Geo Panels. These chain reactions are often the only way to gain bonuses on some maps.

Also, in battle characters will often initiate combination attacks with nearby characters. If done correctly it’s possible to do many more hits of damage than you would have done with single attacks. Also you can toss monsters or heroes around to help cover more ground. Monsters can be combined into stronger monsters for more experience as well.

The plot is generally bizzare. I imagine it may possibly turn some people off, however its excessive strangeness almost makes it come off as more of a parody than anything. The silly episode previews, advertising titles like “Super Dimensional Gal Etna” are amusing. Overall the story is prety solid as well. Flone’s constant moaning about Love gets old after a short time though. You spend the first half of the game trying to become Overlord, then the later half concerned with actually being Overlord, and other plots. This game also features a new game plus feature, which is something you’ll probably need if you want to unlock everything.

Overall this is a great fun RPG. I havn’t really found too many RPGs outside of Final Fantasy that were that great. This one is definitely a winner.