Sum of Its Parts: New “Classicvania”

This article’s been a long time coming. When I started this series earlier this year, I initially meant to post them on a bi-monthly basis. However, I also always wanted to have at least one idea in waiting before writing the next article in this particular series. I’ve had this idea since I first envisioned this series, but was only recently able to think of my next article. Hopefully, the next article won’t take quite as long to come out as this one did. For those of you that remember the previous article, the Sum of Its Parts series is basically about looking at long-running video game franchises that have either lost their way or have fallen into disuse by their companies, taking various elements from a number of games in the series and mashing them together to create an ultimate sequel worthy of its franchise.

This time, we’ll be looking at Castlevania, specifically a “Classicvania”. What is a Classicvania? A miserable little pile of gameplay! But enough jokes, Classicvania is a term I’ve heard used regarding CV games resembling those from the pre-Symphony of the Night era. Linear, stage-based Castlevanias with an emphasis on platforming over the exploration of later “Metroidvania”-style games. Sure, the series hit its peak after this period, but this style has always been my favorite type in this series and it definitely has its fans. Some of the most beloved games in the series were Classicvanias: Super Castlevania IV, Rondo of Blood and even the two good NES Castlevanias had this style of gameplay.

Some of you are probably asking: why make a new Classicvania game? After all, that particular type of Castlevania game got abandoned for the most part after the overwhelming success of SotN, and the best-selling Castlevania game of all time was the original Lords of Shadow. Of course, I’ve always preferred classic-style CV games like Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis and Rondo of Blood for Turbo-Grafx CD over the other variants. Metroidvanias were okay and “GodofVanias” (a derogatory term for the mainline LoS games) never really clicked with me. More important, however, is the respective shake-ups regarding those other two sub-genres of Castlevania. Koji Igarashi, the creative force behind Symphony of the Night and former producer for the Castlevania brand in general recently left Konami, throwing the future of Metroidvanias into question. David Cox and MercurySteam, the creative force behind the recent big-budget AAA Castlevanias have stated that LoS2 would be their final Castlevania and judging by its poor sales, it seems likely that that will remain the case. More importantly from my viewpoint however, is that the most recent Classicvania game, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth for WiiWare, was an excellent take on the series and reminded me just how much I’d like to see a new one.

Let’s start with the most important part of the gameplay: the base engine. As much as I loathe to admit it, the best possible engine for a new Castlevania game would probably be that of Super Castlevania IV, even if it does lack the feel of an old-school CV, it does boast the most responsive and reactive controls. In this day and age, that’s far more important than any nostalgic feelings I may have for the clunkier engines of old. The smoother jumping mechanics, whipping with 8-way aim and the ability to swing off of grapples, it’s great.

Of course, that’s not to say they couldn’t improve upon the engine. I actually played a little bit of IV recently while researching this article and noticed a few glaring omissions. Allow the playable character to jump off of the stairs (something I honestly thought was in 4, considering you could jump onto the stairs), which was actually in Bloodlines. Throw in the backflip (or some other move like it) from Rondo of Blood, and you’ll have a significant improvement. On that note, bring back the full assortment of power-ups: dagger, axe, holy water, cross, stopwatch and the Bible (from RoB). Hell, bring back the Item Crash from Rondo as well, that was pretty cool. Bringing back the flame whip power up from Bloodlines and the Game Boy games (as well as ReBirth) would be nice, but not a necessity.

As for stage design, it’s fairly simple: make them like the old-school games in general. Keep it linear, with several bottomless pits, waves of blood-thirsty enemies and challenging bosses. Specific elements I’d like to see from the other games though would be stage lengths similar to those of SCV4 and Bloodlines and mid-bosses like in Bloodlines or Rebirth. Most importantly, I’d like to see multiple stage paths again, whether it’s in the style of the third Castlevania or RoB. I guess I’d prefer that of Rondo, due to the fact that it allowed for multiple stage bosses and had a much larger effect on the stage layouts, as opposed to simply choosing which stages to go to manually.

This new game could also borrow various elements from other styles of Castlevania. The most obvious choice would be throwing in some labyrinth-style non-linear stages, like those in the first half of Order of Ecclesia. That would have an added benefit of breaking up the monotony most detractors associated with the linearity of old-school CV games. Avoid throwing in the leveling and hub-world mechanics though, as well as item equips, they just wouldn’t work in a Classicvania game. As for the Lords of Shadow games, implementing one of their giant bosses could be pretty cool, if done in conjunction with IV’s grappling system. Similarly, throwing in the climbing and scaling engines from the platforming segments of LoS, would be a pretty cool addition as well. Leave out the combat engine though: Mirror of Fate proved it just doesn’t work as well in a traditional Castlevania setting.

Other elements I’d like to see return from older Castlevania games would be the ability to use multiple characters. I’ve always liked using alternate characters in CVs: Eric LeCarde, Maria Renard and Grant DaNasty all come quickly to mind. I can’t really say which existing method of implementing them I prefer: being able to switch between characters on the fly (like in Dracula’s Curse or better yet, Portrait of Ruin) is pretty cool, but being able to choose between two different characters for the entirety of the game allows for more diverse stage designs to accommodate entirely different sets of abilities (Bloodlines). The latter method would also add to the game’s replay value, which is a definite plus. It would also be pretty cool if there was some sort of a co-op mode, which allowed two players to work together. Sure, it didn’t work so well in Harmony of Despair, but if it could be tweaked, it would definitely be an interesting experiment. Also, though this may seem obvious to most companies at this point in time, please, PLEASE use save files in addition to stage selects. Rebirth only had a wonky stage select, where you could only start from a stage if had already beaten it, which made beating the game in more than one setting way more difficult than it had to be.

Of course, what would a Castlevania game be without a storyline? Personally, with IGA finally departing, I’d love to see my favorite Belmont recanonized with a brand-new adventure. I’m talking about Trevor’s momma, Sonia Belmont. She originated from the no longer canon Castlevania Legends, an average game that was the first attempt at giving the Belmont clan an origin story. She was also set to be in the cancelled Castlevania Resurrection for the Dreamcast alongside her descendant, the Tim Curry-esque Victor Belmont who would eventually be reworked into Lords of Shadow 2. Of course, the most popular choice for a new Castlevania game would be “Castlevania 1999”. An event alluded to in the Metroidvanias Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, 1999 was the year Julius Belmont killed Dracula once and for all. I’ve always been of the opinion that finally showing events that have been alluded to in fiction is always disappointing (blame Star Wars), but most people appear to disagree with me. Go figure. Oh well, as long as the gameplay’s good, I’m in.

I feel a similar apathy towards deciding the game’s graphical style. I’ve always been fond of the old-school simplistic 2D sprites from 16-bit Classicvanias and Metroid-like Castlevanias. You know, where none of the characters have any facial features, but have fairly detailed hairstyle and clothing so each character is distinct from one another. As I said in the Sonic article, I’m not really too offended by 2.5D graphics, though I do hope that if Konami goes down this path again, they make them look better than they did in The Dracula X Chronicles. Granted, part of that was the artstyle itself, but it just didn’t turn out well. Regardless, as long as I can tell what’s happening and it isn’t offensive to my senses, I’m good.

Music, by contrast, is extremely simple: just bring back Michiru Yamane. She composed some of the best Castlevania soundtracks out there, David Cox be damned. (Her music’s too feminine? I wasn’t aware that coherent melodies were considered girly.) Yuzo Koshiro and Manabu Namiki would be good alternates, though. I’d like to see a mixture of older and original songs, like many of the more recent games have had, but when delving into Castlevania’s backlog, it’d be great to hear some less common songs. I mean, there’s only so many times you can hear “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears” before they get old. There are so many obscure songs from this series that don’t get nearly as much love as they deserve and frankly, now’s as good a time as any to rectify that. Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth chose mainly less popular choices and it had a killer soundtrack. Speaking of which, use that old-school arcade instrumentation from Rebirth as well. I love me some Konamiesque orchestra hits.

Compared to my previous request for a brand new 2D Sonic, this request is definitely a pipe dream. Most die-hard Castlevania fans are clamoring for a brand-new Metroidvania. Well, a brand-new Metroidvania that’s actually good. (Looking at you again, Mirror of Fate). Still, I recently replayed some of Dracula X Chronicles and frankly, Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth got my hopes up: that we could live in a world where Metroidvanias and Classicvanias can coexist. Well, anyway, keep an eye out for the next article in this series, where I pitch a new game that’s bound to have way more demand behind it than this one.

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