Tag Archives: 2006

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin [Nintendo DS] – Review

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

When I talked about Fallout Shelter last week, I began by considering it in a vacuum. Without partners playing too, it grew to resemble a chore more than an enjoyable escape. I feel like taking the same approach with Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin but for a different reason. In a vacuum, this game is practically the pinnacle of the 2D action-adventure genre. The addictive blend of action, exploration, and role-playing elements that the series is known for, still make up the core experience of this game and pair well with new additions. Level design remains fresh throughout, in part due to the top-notch audio/visual qualities and varied surroundings. The reasons to continue playing after completion are immense as well, but, this is like the fifth Castlevania of this style I’ve played, and while they’re individually superb, they elicit less exhilaration after each completion.

Per usual, the animation was top-notch.
Per usual, the animation was top-notch.

When it was released for the Nintendo DS in late 2006, Portrait of Ruin was joining an already extensive collection of similar Castlevania titles that had released relatively recently. Koji Igarashi and his crew at Konami differentiated this game in a few ways, most notably, by focusing on two characters instead of one. The plot centers on Jonathan Morris’ quest to quell Dracula’s uprising amidst a war-torn Europe circa 1944 with his partner Charlotte Audin. He resembles the typical Castlevania protagonist in many ways while she is a spell caster with a growing repertoire of spells, another series staple.

I could freely switch between the two at all times and this allowed me to dabble with both combat styles – weapons with him and magic with her. These two styles were vastly different in execution and perhaps because of my familiarity with previous entries, I stuck with Jonathan. When not actively controlled, the partner was still useful. They would automatically attack on-screen enemies, albeit with little intelligence. This was beneficial in dealing with enemies but it proved most worthwhile in drawing enemy aggression towards the partner, allowing me to attack from behind. Outside of combat, the duo was put to use in progressing past a few (generally half-assed) puzzles. The most memorable of these had both characters riding motorcycles and tasked me with switching between them in order to make sure neither was knocked off by various obstacles. It was a fast-paced puzzle that made me stop and think of a viable solution, unlike most others.

The game had a limited number of NPCs, but each was integral to the plot.
The game had a limited number of NPCs, but each was integral to the plot.

Additionally, the game was distinguished by the variety of locales Jonathan and Charlotte traversed. Now, the primary setting was Dracula’s Castle (naturally) but much of the duo’s time was spent exploring the paintings strewn about, a la Super Mario 64. In keeping with the series, these maintained a gothic design. They transported the pair to the streets of a bombed-out European city, a nightmarish circus, and many more unique backdrops that would’ve seemed out of place as disparate areas of the abominable abode. The series has always attempted to segregate Dracula’s Castle with diverse milieus but this is the best example I’ve seen.

Although Jonathan’s quest was to banish Dracula’s Castle, that vile vampire wasn’t an issue until late in the game. While the castle had arisen because of the agony and hatred within humanity during this period, another vampire took advantage of the castle’s powers for his own agenda and prevented Dracula from reviving. That vampire, Brauner, ultimately worked towards the same end goal of humanity’s destruction, but did so out of the hatred he felt for losing his daughters during the First World War. Brauner was able to harness the power of Dracula’s Castle through his paintings. With assistance from newfound friends and through the evolution of a subplot or two, Jonathan and Charlotte were successful in cleansing the castle of Brauner’s influence and ultimately dealing with Dracula and his ilk.

Some sections of Dracula's Castle may look familiar to veterans of the series.
Some sections of Dracula’s Castle may look familiar to veterans of the series.

There were plenty of reasons to keep going once the story was finished too. Exploration and the mapping of Dracula’s Castle has been a core component of the series since Symphony of the Night, and this game doesn’t disappoint with its 1,000% MAP COMPLETION RATE! That number is perhaps artificially high because of the multitude of paintings, but there is a lot to explore nonetheless. Moreover, there were many collections to complete such as obtaining all items or filling out the bestiary and mastering each sub-weapon, powering them up in the process. These are customary features for the series but also available were sidequests from one of the duo’s associates. I believe this was a first for the series and I had completed maybe 15% at game’s end after passively trying, so there’s much to do on that front.

Two more sets of playable characters could also be unlocked and both changed gameplay dramatically. The environment remained the same with both but the equipment and magic customization was backpedaled completely and a story was basically nonexistent. One pair of characters was a throwback to the classic days of the series with a focus on sub-weapons and the legendary whip, Vampire Killer. This duo was overpowered and playing with them felt like I was in “God mode.” The other duo utilized the touch-screen exclusively. The touch-screen was integrated into the game elsewhere but I literally never used it. The execution with these two was actually very intriguing and their individual means of attacking required different touch-based actions. A Boss Rush mode was also available after completion as well as a co-operative mode (multi-card only).

The duo had access to super-powerful co-op attacks that drained their MP.
The duo had access to super-powerful co-op attacks that drained their MP.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin has all the staples I’ve come to expect from the series as well as a few differentiating features. The core of these, a focus on two characters, helped to freshen the formula but it was probably the variety of settings that kept me most entertained. Not to mention the accoutrement found in the various collections to complete, sidequests to beat, and unlockables to try out after the plot had wrapped up. The more modern backdrop and the twist on the classic premise were appreciated as well. I think this is probably the most complete Castlevania I’ve played of this style, but I don’t think it tops Aria of Sorrow for me. That was my first foray into the series and each one I’ve played since has been chasing that experience. They’ve all been outstanding, but like the saying goes, I’ll never forget my first, and I’ll forever be comparing successive entries to it.

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Random Game #29 – Deep Labyrinth [Nintendo DS]

Deep Labyrinth

When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

This is a fairly recent addition to my collection. During one of the more recent buy 2, get 1 free promotions at Vintage Stock, I acquired this game. I have yet to play it, and I’m doubtful that I’ll complete it once I check it out. It’s an old-school first-person dungeon crawling RPG which I can dig, but I’m unsure of the game’s quality. The game is sitting at 55% on GameRankings, and even taking into account that RPGs generally don’t fare too well with western critics, that’s low. However, Ii do enjoy making graph paper maps and this game may bring out that need and other minor OCD tendencies.

Deep Labyrinth was developed by Interactive Brains and originally released as a mobile game in Japan on December 1, 2004. They ported it to the Nintendo DS and it was published by Atlus in North America on August 15, 2006. It has some revered individuals behind it according to Wikipedia; namely, the script writer behind many Square classics Masato Kato and the prolific composer Yasunori Mitsuda.

Random Game #24 – Sonic Riders [GameCube]

Sonic Riders

When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Before this came out, I thought it looked very interesting. I wasn’t super into Sonic at this point, but I had been previously, notably after the launch of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. I wound up forgoing this game, but a friend purchased it and we played a fair amount of it. I remember the controls being super sensitive, although imprecise. This didn’t make for an enjoyable experience, especially with a shrunken screen during multiplayer. More realistically, I just wasn’t as good as he was because he had the opportunity to play it more. My poor performance colored my impressions of the game, although I’d like to return to it and examine the single player component. I still think the game has cool look to it; in my mind, it’s very evocative of the time period it was released.

Sonic Riders was developed by Sonic Team, with assistance from NOW Production. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube in North America on February 21, 2006 and published by Sega. A PC version was released later that year: November 17, 2006.

Random Game #17 – Naruto: Clash of Ninja 1 [GameCube]

Naruto Clash of Ninja 2

When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Here’s another recent acquisition – as in purchased this year. I remember picking it up at a Goodwill earlier this year and haven’t played it yet. It’s precursor though, my friends and I played that a great deal. While not a big fan of the property, I’ve always thought the Clash of Ninja series punched above its belt in terms of licensed anime fighting games. The games are lacking in a lot of the same ways most fighting games are: no in-depth single player mode or story and little extras to keep playing outside of multiplayer. The combat has always felt really good though – very fast-paced, partial to button-mashing, but great fun locally.

Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2 was developed by Eighting and published by D3 Publisher in North America on September 26, 2006. However, it was originally released in Japan on December 4, 2003 – nearly three full years earlier.

Random Game #4 – Galaga [Xbox Live Arcade]

GalagaWhen you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Ever since I can remember, my dentist’s office has had a few arcade cabinets. Between them were the likes of Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, and Frogger, but my favorite was Galaga. The others were awesome, but there was something about the space setting and the shoot ‘em up gameplay that drew me in, and continues to do so. The port for Xbox Live Arcade was the first time I owned a home version of the arcade classic. As best as I can tell, it’s an arcade perfect port with minimal bells or whistles. It’s also an easy 200 Gamerscore, not that that matters, or anything (maybe a little). It’s a fine version of one of the best and most influential arcade games of all time.

Galaga was originally developed by Namco released as an arcade game in North America in December 1981. This port was published by Namco Bandai Games on July 26, 2006. Outside of a Japanese release on the Wii’s Virtual Console, this is the only standalone digital release of Galaga on the seventh generation video game consoles. However, it was released on many Namco compilations, and that’s without a doubt the best way to own it.

Pokemon Trozei! [Nintendo DS] – Review

Pokemon Trozei!Pokémon Trozei! is a game I’ve wanted to play for many years. This comes naturally as I’m a fan of the franchise and puzzle games, in general. Even more so with it being a Nintendo DS game, meaning it was well-suited for bedtime play. I finally encountered a copy of the game for a fair price not too long ago, and have recently completed the single player campaign. It was a brief playthrough, but I found it to be a solid matching puzzle game with a unique style, all its own.

Each gameplay field was limited to less than a dozen Pokémon.
Each gameplay field was limited to less than a dozen Pokemon.

The game followed the exploits of Lucy Fleetfoot – a secret agent intent on rescuing stolen Pokémon. Following the guidance of her commanding officer and equipped with the Trozei Beamer, Lucy was able to track down storage units containing stolen Pokémon, and transfer them to a safe place. Her Trozei Beamer allowed her to see what Pokémon were in the Poké Balls, and when four or more like Pokémon were lined up, safely export them. In gameplay terms, this translated to sliding rows and columns of Pokémon icons around on the touch screen.

Games like this are usually noted as match-three, but this one started off like a match-four, requiring me to match four like Pokémon. But, once a row or column (no diagonal matching) of four Pokémon was matched, a Trozei Chance would happen. When this occurred, the requirements were lessened so I could match three like Pokémon, and if I was successful again, I was able to match pairs. Almost always, this resulted in large chains, clearing most of the Pokémon from the play field. The columns would plummet quickly, and the half-second I still had to line up multiples was ample time to react.

The campaign was void of story beyond the initial setup, although Lucy would do battle with bosses of the rival organization. In these instances, they spouted quick diatribes regarding Lucy’s cause and promoted their nefarious intentions. These quick little segments highlighted the unique art style of the game, which didn’t truly shine in the gameplay. The Pokémon icons were cool too, and highly distinguishable (to a fan like me, at least) but the character designs were evocative of 1960s spy cartoons, circa Nickelodeon during the 1990s.

Lucy Fleetfoot herself.
Lucy Fleetfoot herself.

It took me roughly three hours to complete Pokémon Trozei! and of that time, nearly an hour was spent battling the final boss. I didn’t spend any time with the multiplayer, but it seems like it’d be fun and that there’s some variation in the available modes; plus, it’s has single-card play which is always awesome. There’s a Pokédex of sorts to complete in-game, but it’s nothing more than a listing of the Pokémon, which totaled about 380 when this game was released. I didn’t find it incentivizing, personally. Still, I did enjoy the basic gameplay the game offered. It provided a unique take on the match-three formula and the implantation of the touch screen was perfect.

Grandia III [PlayStation 2] – Review

Finally, I've gotten around to playing Grandia III.
Finally, I’ve gotten around to playing Grandia III.

Wow! I just went back and read the reviews I wrote for the previous games I’ve played in the Grandia series – Grandia, II, and Xtreme. The grammatical errors and poor consideration for the paragraphs is awfully humbling. I completed Grandia III this week so hopefully I can construct a better review this time around. It sounds like I generally enjoyed the lot, and made mention of their narratives, characters, and gameplay. I’ll attempt to do the same here, albeit, better. Like its predecessors, it was developed by Game Arts, although it was published for the PlayStation 2 by Square Enix in 2006.

Magic was broke up into four elemental affinities.
Magic was broke up into four elemental affinities.

Yuki, a teenager with a passion for flying airplanes is the primary protagonist, and the element of flight plays a large part in the narrative, at least early on. Before too long though, the greater narrative kicks in. This, after Yuki and his mother Miranda encounter Alfina, another teenager, although one who’s able to communicate with the guardians of their world. Emellious, her twin brother shares this ability but, disillusioned, he seeks to destroy the guardians and revive Xorn, an evil guardian who he believes will bring about a world of crystalline harmony. As a result, Alfina is on the run from his henchmen.

As the narrative unfolded over the forty hours I spent with the game, the element of love kept appearing. Indeed, love no matter what the circumstance was the moral of Grandia III. It was illustrated in many instances, but no more powerful than the love Alfina had for Emellious, despite his actions. Up to their final confrontation, Alfina’s unyielding love for Emellious was the key to the protagonists’ eventual success. In the final cutscenes and battle, this aspect grew cheesy and I wouldn’t have been surprised if “All You Need Is Love” began playing over the credits.

There was a world map, but it was barely seen.
There was a world map, but it was barely seen.

What drew me to the series originally was the fast-paced battle system, and this game has the best in the series.  The battle system is turn-based at its core but the leverage I was given in my actions and the quick pace do much to make it entertaining. In regards to the previous games, the only addition is the aerial combo. They didn’t amount to much extra damage, but were fun to strive for. Like in previous games, I used all of the magic and special attacks that were available to me; this, because they improved through their use, or improved correlating stats of the characters. Even having to grind levels for a few hours wasn’t so bad. In fact, I could trust the CPU-controlled characters enough to play a few Game Boy games during battles.

On-field enemies are still the route to battles.
On-field enemies are still the route to battles.

Grandia III is an expertly crafted JRPG. The narrative was entertaining enough to keep me interested, although it contained plenty of genre clichés. Some of the characters were cardboard cutouts from other games in the genre, heck even from earlier entries in the series. And the presentation of the struggle between good and evil was very simple. But the battle system is one of the genre’s best. The fast-paced nature made it feel more like a real-time battle system and I can’t get enough of those. Coupled with the continual stat and gear improvements that the genre is known for, it proved to be a worthwhile journey.