Last time on LiveJournal in the Year of Our Lord 2019, I was complaining copiously about the first hour of Bloodstained
, in which the game threw a whole bunch of ill-considered systems at me. I played a few more hours yesterday, during which it threw out several more systems. Despite this, I think I'm coming around on the game. It's getting out of its own way.
The problems with the controls, I have mostly sorted. After that first "tutorial" level, the incessant "look at our newfangled, Not Castlevania
button combinations!" instructions abate a bit, thankfully. As mentioned, the game still is tossing a bunch of new material your way, but it starts being rooted in menus instead of button combos (albeit perhaps only because they ran out of buttons). This gave me a chance to catch up and acclimate to some
of the new controls - I can pull off that strange right stick + right trigger
(not bumper) subweapon attack reliably now and am actually finding it quite useful in certain situations. To an extent, though, you do have to consign yourself to the fact that you're going to have to look some stuff up on the internet because the game made some weird choices that it either doesn't explain or explains only in files that are stuffed in sections of the game's extraordinarily voluminous and compartmentalized compendium where you'd never think to look ("Notes" or "Characters" instead of the "Controls" section). Right now, the controls are, for the most part, no longer getting in my way.
The other big problem I had was with the blatant knockoff feel, how the game was trying to be Castlevania
but was aping a kind of second-hand idea of the mannerisms of that series in a hokey, stagey way that only called attention to the fact that it wasn't Castlevania
. The storytelling gets a bit more natural once the game stops trying to establish itself as a legitimate successor and starts just trying to tell its own story. Several new characters have shown up, and the game is too busy juggling them to concern itself with its previous adolescent posturing. It's all still very obviously off-brand Ecclesia 2
, but at least now it's making an earnest effort to tell a story, knockoff or not, instead of posing and worrying about how it's going to be perceived and trying to copy an inaccurate image of its predecessor.
(There was actually a character bit that I found downright endearing, when the group is exchanging intel on a monster attack with a contact they found at the scene. The contact has found a little girl, who eventually pipes up in fear after the grownups talk about violence at length; everyone takes the time to apologize to her earnestly - "we didn't mean to ignore you!" - and ask her her name, reassure her, and guide her to safety. It's unusual for a game to make the time for this sort of consideration for a civilian character, much less in a wholly non-ironic manner.)
On to somewhat new stuff. I mentioned that this session introduced a variety of systems:
- Crafting: There is a WHOLE bunch of equipment you can craft - upwards of 50 items right off the bat. Again, ignoring the game's excess will work to your advantage: I just crafted the highest-damage weapon available of a type I found manageable, plus a few accessories.
- You can also craft ingredients and food, like the dishes Alucard can eat in Symphony
. The first time you eat a food, you get a permanent stat bonus, which is neat.
- A bunch of standard "kill x enemies"/get me x item" quest lines, again partially borrowed from Ecclesia
. (The villagers are survivors of an attack from this game's castle of evil; I wonder if this would have been in store for Wygol Village in the Ecclesia sequel.)
- A farming
system, which is a "get me x item" quest line variant, except your rewards (cooking ingredients) are on a timer.
- The special attacks from Symphony
that you trigger via fighting-game commands, except here tied to the type of weapon you're wielding. I couldn't pull these off in Symphony
and I couldn't here, despite the game telling me I was doing it correctly.
There's also a haircut- and costume-change system, brought to you by a rogue demonic barber, and the first alternate hairdo you get is just straight-up Shanoa's. There are a couple stray braids added as a paper-thin cover, but it's clearly her, particularly given Miriam's black hair and navy dress.
I do love that the sprites reflect your armor choices. My Miriam was rocking a pirate hat for a good amount of time.
Forgive the mundane small talk in the image for this post, by the way. One of the biggest frustrations is how the game won't take screenshots, Steam Overlay or not. Even Ctrl + Print Screen doesn't work reliably. Some things I missed screenshotting:
- The Good Albus analogue interrupting the Not Vampire hunting proceedings to give PSAs about "proper nutrition" in introducing the meal system
- I entered one room, glimpsed part of a huge set of devil horns at the edge of the screen, and girded myself for a big battle; it turned out to be a giant screen-high photorealistic demon cat that hissed when summoning pillars of hellfire
- That goddamn guy with the red hair in glasses who keeps getting his image into Kickstarter games like Nightcry
, Cosmic Star Heroine
, and Mighty No. 9
as a backer bonus. Oh, wait, I did get a picture of him:
WHO IS THIS MAN OF MYSTERY?
Areas are OK. I've traveled on a ship to the traditional castle entrance, and then to a garden (of which I explored only like half) and then a chapel. Presentation is largely fine though rather subdued (the "garden," for example, could do with a bit more than greenery growing out of the walls). I hope it gets more original soon; a Getsufuumaden
-style Japonesque area has been promised, and since that was one of the strongest in the promo game Curse of the Moon
, I hope it delivers here. Some of the more vibrant color from that game would also not go amiss. Go on; capitalize on that freedom no longer being tied to the Castlevania
aesthetic or its Eastern European milieu permits you.
Speaking of Curse of the Moon
, the protagonist of that game, Zangetsu, showed up. I had a boss battle with him. Despite remembering to bring an actual sword to the castle this time instead of the stubby butter knife he had in his starring title, he proved a big pushover, stubbornly continuing to charge at me as I ran back and forth across the arena and blithely sailed over his head after striking. Never once did a change in strategy enter his mind. Oh, Zangetsu. You're a big dork
no matter who game you're in, and I love you for it.
(The other boss I fought was a big stained glass hand. That was kind of dumb-looking. It actually moved
in a neat manner that crossed up arachnid and manual movements, but the concept of a grasping tool made out of a notoriously fragile substance is distractiingly nonworkable.)
The translation mystery continues as more isolated nonnative mistakes keep appearing in an otherwise fluid translation. Yesterday's weird word choice was an insistence on using "casted" as the past tense of "cast."
Not Dracula's Castle is called the Hellhold. I'm trying to figure out whether that's a good name or not. Top-tier list of names for final video game levels: the Grindery, Black Omen, Nowhere.