Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ben's Gaming Memories: Returning to a Series After 20 Years (Castlevania)

I'm going to be very blunt. Halloween, monsters, etc, it has never been my thing and I don't really care about any of it. As a kid I liked dressing up as a Power Ranger, Batman Beyond, or other heroes, but I didn't actually like Halloween. I'd dress up, have fun being a dumb kid pretending to be my favorite character, and I'd go out and get some candy. Most of the time though I was just happy being able to dress up at school for our Halloween party, and then do nothing afterwords. I didn't care about seeing horror movies, I didn't care about monsters, witches, ghosts, and zombies, and I always hated it when we would have to watch movies like Nightmare Before Christmas at school. This sort of thing just isn't my cup of tea, and it only got worse when I was older. By the time I was 9, I was done with it all together.

It wasn't just Halloween. Although now days I like games like Resident Evil (and others with horror elements), growing up I avoided it all. Was it because it scared me? Sure, that was a part of it, but actually the real reason was because I simply didn't like what I saw--or rather, didn't feel right about it. Bloody monsters, demons, zombies, it all went against how I was raised and what I believed in, and even as a kid it bothered me. I felt like I shouldn't be watching movies or playing games with these sort of things in them, and because of that I avoided them. Halloween was just one day of the year where all of this came out, and because of that I couldn't (avoid it that is). Although, despite hating monsters and what not, I did make one exception to my own rule. There was one game I would play from time to time, but even that sometimes evokes a mixtures of good and bad memories for me.

Castlevania--it was one of the first video games I had ever played, and it is one that went against everything. The first time I played this game I was around one and a half years old, but I don't really remember playing it much until I was three or so. From what I can tell, it is a game my family kept from me, and because of that I couldn't always play it. Still to this day I'm really not sure what drew me to the game. I actually still hate vampires (with some exceptions), and I still don't like the whole Dracula thing, but for whatever reason Castlevania was a game I wanted to play. As a kid I would see Dracula on the cover, and I'd get excited when I set foot in his castle and started killing ghosts. Maybe it's because it was the only game like that I owned, or maybe it was because it was like an adventure, but whatever the case I did like it... Sort of.

Although I was young, I could play through most of the games I owned. I'd run through Super Mario Bros almost every day, I'd get pretty far in Punch Out each time I played, I was pretty good at standing across the room and shooting ducks in Duck Hunt, I played a lot of Gotcha, I could pretty easily make it to the end of Super Mario Bros 3, and I'd spend hours playing Rampage until I beat it. From the get go I was pretty good (at least for a three year old) at everything I played, but I could never land that darn plane in Top Gun. It was the only game that gave me much trouble, up until Castlevania.

Although I had fun killing ghosts, Castlevania was a nightmare for me, and not because of the monsters. The character moved slow, his whip was sometimes tricky to use, when you jumped there seemed to be a lack of control, some platforms required pixel perfect timing, and then there's the whole getting hit thing. For anyone who hadn't played an entry in the series before, well, it works something like this. Basically, when you get hit by an enemy, you go flying backwards, and if you're standing next to a pit (which you almost always are), you die. End of story. This games the game extremely challenging, and the crazy enemy attack patterns don't help. Most of the time you would try to hit some flying bat thing after you lost control of your character from jumping, and most of the time it would turn out badly. You'd either miss with your whip, land and get hit, or you'd get hit in mid air and most likely fall down a cliff--it never failed. Because of this, I never made it too far in the game. Maybe level two or three, but never any farther. This is how things went until the game was taken away from me.

When I was around four years old, my uncle took the game away from me. You see I suffered from extreme nightmares as a kid. Each night I was close my eyes and wake up in what you might call hell. These dreams would occur night after night, and were frightening that I still remember them to this day. How could a little kid think of such twisted things? I really don't know, but the dreams just kept getting worse and worse as time went on. As time went on it became a huge problem for me, and my parents had to make up lies to get me to go to sleep. "Oh don't worry, your bad dreams are captured so they will never return!" Lies such as these got me to sleep, but of course they didn't actually change what I saw. I still remember to this day I would lay there thinking over an over to myself the words "have a good dream, have a good dream, have a good dream, have a good dream" as if to trick my brain into not scaring me, but even that didn't help. So, what did my uncle do? He took away Castlevania.

I'm not sure what brought him to the conclusion that this game may have been behind my nightmares, but one day he came over and just took it, and hid it somewhere at our grandparent's house. He told me that the game was filled with evil creatures and that it was what was causing me to have nightmares (although, monsters never actually showed up in them). Yeah, he was wrong. The game isn't what caused my nightmares, in fact, I don't know what caused them. I still have them to this day, and taking away that game from me changed absolutely nothing.

Although I did get the game back when I was 5 or so, it wasn't something I cared to play anymore. I would put it in, die, turn it off and call it quits. I just didn't care about the thing, and I never did go back for the others. New Castlevania game is coming out? Guess what? I didn't care! I'd see things about the series, and hear kids talk about it still, but it wasn't something I was interested in. Like I said, I never did care for the whole monster thing, and after struggling to beat the original, I had lost all will to even attempt another. Until now.

Roughly 20 years after I first really got into the original Castlevania, I finally picked up another title--one which many consider to be one of the greatest games of all time: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Even though I have never played SotN, or any other Castlevania after the original, that doesn't mean I don't know anything about the series. In reality I've followed a lot of the game's releases, friends of mine have shown me the games before, and I know a lot about the series' history. The release SotN is generally regarded as one of the biggest moments in gaming history, and it is also the game which really set the standards for future installment. It is a game filled with secrets (one so great no one discovered it for YEARS), it introduced true RPG element into the series, and many games still to this day look at it for inspiration. It is a game which perfected the "Metroidvania" style of play, and that is something I can respect. Now, here I am, finally playing it for myself.

So, what do I think about it? Well I'm not going to get too much into that. The point of all of this was to discuss my memories of Castlevania, but I can say that I am enjoying SotN. Still not a huge fan of monsters (I prefer monsters you see in your standard JRPG or something), but that doesn't mean the game isn't fun. In some ways the game brings back a lot of memories, but it is also so very different (and refined) that it seems nothing like what I remember. Now Rondo of Blood (which came with this) is Castlevania as I remember, and I'm not a huge fan of it, but SotN is shaping up to be quite the enjoyable experience for me. Now I'm kind of regretting avoiding it for all these years, but maybe it was for the best.

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