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Counter Attack #5: Should Everyone Else Just Copy Nintendo’s Direct?

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Counter Attack is a weekly feature here on Goomba Stomp in which John Cal McCormick casts a bemused eye over the gaming news, the niggling issues plaguing the industry, important moments from gaming’s past, or whatever it is that’s annoying him this week. Today we’ll be asking whether everyone should just give up on conferences and rip-off the Nintendo Direct formula?

Nintendo is often described as a company that specialises in innovation, and they’ve certainly earned at least some measure of that reputation. Unquestionably, there’s some innovation going on there at Nintendo HQ, and we owe many of today’s standards in gaming to them and their ideas, but I think people often go a little too far in their readiness to champion Nintendo as gaming’s masters of creation. Quickly perusing some forums and online hide-outs and reading what people have to say about the big N, one could be forgiven for thinking that Nintendo invented, well, pretty much everything.

While to an extent their reputation is earned, true invention has never been one of Nintendo’s strongest suits as far as I’m concerned. As a company, their greatest trait has always been the ability to make fantastic games first and foremost, and then their next most valuable commodity, in my humble opinion, is the ability to take an idea that somebody else has already had and transform it into something that’s more palatable for the masses. While I’m sure that many Nintendo fans would cry foul at the assertion that one of their beloved console manufacturers most desirable traits is similar to that of a scavenger, I don’t think the comparison is an insult at all.

Nintendo’s great achievement with the Wii was never the technology, but in repackaging the technology into a product for mass consumption.

Originality, I think, is an overrated concept. Does it really matter who came up with an idea first? Sure, Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and that’s impressive and all, but if the 400th person on the moon is building a Krispy Kreme up there then frankly, that’s more use to me than a dusty old footprint. Many wonderful products and pieces of art were built on the backs of other creations or feats of originality. I see nothing wrong with celebrating Nintendo’s ability to recognise a hit and then run with it with their own little twists, and it doesn’t matter that it was somebody else’s original thought that got them part of the way there.

Take the Wii, for example. Going by the way that some people talk about the Wii, you’d think that Nintendo invented motion controls. They didn’t. In fact, they didn’t even invent the tech that went into the Wii Remote. They didn’t even have the idea to build a motion controller and then look for tech companies who could build one for them. The concept was invented by some dude named Tom Quinn, who attempted to sell his idea to both Microsoft and Sony who weren’t interested, before ultimately pitching it to Nintendo who took him up on the offer seeing it as a novel design that could revitalise their image after the failed GameCube. Nintendo bought his idea, built a console around it, and then came up with a game – Wii Sports – that was so simple to understand that even your granny could play it – and win. It was ingenious, and it matters not one whit that they didn’t actually do a lot of the legwork in the beginning. They were astute enough to recognise how to improve someone else’s design where other companies, foolishly, were not.

Similarly, where would we be today if Sony hadn’t taken the analogue stick from Nintendo’s N64 controller – which, by the way, Nintendo didn’t invent either – only to add a second one to their pad for camera control? We’d still be controlling our cameras with shoulder buttons, that’s where. And anybody who has gone back and played early PS2 games recently only to discover that they haven’t aged like fine wines can attest to just how important a step forward that second analogue stick being assigned to camera control was, so much so that all three major console manufacturers now offer controllers with a two stick set-up. It’s become the standard for a reason.

The N64 controller sucked, quite frankly, and is mostly useful as a reminder that it’s better to do something properly than to do something first.

If you’re the sort of person that watches press conferences at trade shows like E3 or Gamescom, you’ll have noticed that there’s a sort of accepted standard that each publisher or console manufacturer adheres to, and over recent years, each has made efforts to up their game, refine their act, and make their pressers as entertaining as possible. A corporate suit comes out, dispenses some pleasantries, and then they show a bunch of game trailers, occasionally stopping to talk to a developer or bring a celebrity out for no reason. Rinse and repeat, for an hour or so. Most gaming conferences follow the same basic pattern, and how well the conference goes is generally judged on how interesting the announcements are that they have to make, and how they manage to balance the dev-talk with the explosive trailers.

Nintendo, however, is doing something entirely different to the rest of the pack, and has been for a few years now. The Nintendo Direct is essentially a prerecorded press conference that Nintendo streams at a predetermined date, and people around the world can tune in to watch it. It’s basically a forty minute long infomercial for their upcoming wares, a press conference condensed into just the most salient information. It’s not that they invented the format that is now known as a Direct – other companies have been doing similar things for an age. But they took an idea, made it their own, and it’s gotten to the point where I was watching the conferences at E3 2018 and wondering, “Why isn’t everyone else just ripping off the Nintendo Direct?”

Nintendo’s E3 2018 Direct wasn’t anything particularly special. It wasn’t an especially strong advertisement for the Switch, and there wasn’t an abundance of exciting game reveals or brand new information aside from the twenty minutes or so spent talking about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It lacked the razzmatazz of the best E3 conferences, and was actually one of the weakest pressers of E3 2018. But as a format, it was leagues ahead of the competition. It was swift, there was very little down time, there was no awkwardness because it was prerecorded and so they could have as many takes as they wanted to get it right. They had time to tailor their message, and whether you enjoyed it or not, the point is that the delivery method, regardless of how well utilised it was in this case, has a lot of positives over a traditional press conference.

Sony’s E3 conference in 2018 went from musical intro, to gameplay, to intermission, to musical intro, to gameplay, all within the space of twenty badly organised minutes.

Take Sony’s E3 conference, for example. It undoubtedly had more exciting gameplay on show than Nintendo’s Direct, and undoubtedly there’s more high profile games coming to PS4 than to Switch based on what we saw. What we saw, of course, isn’t the whole story as there’s games in development that weren’t shown off, but for the purposes of this point we’ll run with it. They had the content nailed, but unquestionably, the worst thing about Sony’s E3 2018 conference was the conference itself. It was a muddled, badly organised, badly paced, logistical nightmare, that included two musical numbers, an intermission, and a mid-conference venue change that benefited absolutely nobody, from the attendees being herded from one room to another, to the thousands upon thousands watching around the world waiting for Sony to just get on with it and announce some games.

Even if we look at the best conference of E3 2018, which was unequivocally Microsoft’s, we can come to a similar conclusion. There was little awkwardness on stage and hardly any wasted time, but there was also nothing to be gained from performing the presser in front of a live audience. In fact, if we really think about it, barring a handful of crowd pleasing moments like the Final Fantasy VII Remake announcement from 2015, or Sony’s destruction of the original Xbox One DRM policies on stage in 2013, little has ever been improved during gaming conferences by having an audience there, and in fact, the unpredictability of a live show only increases the probability of everything going disastrously wrong.

Microsoft’s 2018 E3 conference succeeded because it was an almost beat for beat recreation of Sony’s 2016 conference, which was one of the greatest of all time. Both pressers shared almost perfect pacing precisely because they cut down on cumbersome moments involving on stage chats with developers ill-prepared to speak in front of large audiences, and were essentially just trailer after trailer after trailer, book-ended by appearances from executives thanking everyone for watching. Comparatively, Nintendo is essentially doing the same thing with their Directs, only they’re sacrificing their ability to conjure rapturous applause from a live crowd in favour of being able to master the pacing, the delivery, the tone, the background music, the entire production of their messaging, without any potential for embarrassing mishaps. Surely, that’s more than a fair trade.

Microsoft’s conference was by far the best of E3 2018, but it wouldn’t have lost a thing by being pre-recorded.

In the age of Netflix and YouTube, a live conference seems in many ways like an outdated concept, a hangover from the days of pre-widely available broadband Internet, and when E3 was reported not live, but in the weeks that followed the event in gaming magazines printed on glossy paper. Those days are long since over, and the general public no longer waits to hear what happened at E3 in print. Today, the general public watch E3 conferences at the same time as games journalists, only instead of being cramped into a hot and sweaty auditorium in LA, they’re sat at home in their pyjamas, enjoying the show in comfort thanks to the power of high speed Internet.

Those watching E3 conferences at home are arguably getting a more enjoyable experience than those in the press who’ve been sent to cover the event, something that I was reminded about while reading about Goomba Stomp’s own attendees at E3 this year, and their disappointing experience at their first trip to the expo. For my part, I was sat at home watching the conferences at my leisure with a chilled beer, and it didn’t cost me a red cent. Other than the ability to play a handful of game demos in busy, noisy rooms, what’s to be gained by anyone actually travelling to E3? Couldn’t we just send out codes for these demos, and let people play the games in an environment that’s more conducive to actually having fun? And more importantly, couldn’t we all just take a leaf out of Nintendo’s playbook, sack off the live conferences, and just deliver a prerecorded broadcast to get the message across more efficiently?

Nintendo is often seen as a backward company when it comes to connectivity on their consoles and there’s a catalogue of good reasons for that, but when it comes to conferences they’re the most forward thinking of our current console manufacturers, having already shed the unnecessary skin of live, on stage pressers in favour of prerecorded announcements that allow them to control every facet of their messaging more deftly.

There isn’t a single press conference that went down at E3 2018 that wouldn’t have been improved by following the Nintendo Direct formula, even the ones that weren’t a train-wreck. Some of the conferences – particularly Sony’s – were nearly derailed because of the delivery method, rather than because of the message they were conveying, and that should never happen. The format of the on stage conference is dated, and in 2018 it feels more redundant than ever, a relic from a time before we all had mobile phones that could stream content in the blink of an eye. Nintendo is ahead of the curve on this, and it would surely make sense for Sony, Microsoft, and video game publishers across the globe to take heed. There’s nothing wrong with looking at something good that another company is doing and being inspired by it. There’s nothing wrong with taking that idea and doing it – or at least trying to do it – better. But there’s plenty wrong with stubbornly clinging to tradition and ignoring progress.

Feel free to leave a comment about this week’s Counter Attack in the comments section below. If you want more from Counter Attack then perhaps check out Ranking The E3 2018 Conferences, or The Rise and Fall of SEGA.

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he's drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

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1 Comment

  1. Izsak Barnette

    June 25, 2018 at 2:42 pm

    As much as I miss the days of Nintendo doing their live conferences, the Directs and the Treehouse have really have helped to get rid of the awkward moments that used to plague Nintendo’s presentations. After all, who else remembers the disastrous E3 2011 when they unveiled the Wii U? If they would have had a more focused message, who knows if we would have had to live through six years of “Is it a controller or a console?”

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‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still As Difficult, Demanding And Amazing To This Day

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Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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‘Aria of Sorrow’: The Symphony of the Night Sequel Castlevania Needed

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Castlevania’s run from 1986 to 1997 is downright legendary. While there are a few duds sprinkled throughout the series’ first decade (Simon’s Quest, The Adventure, Dracula X), this is the same franchise that produced Super Castlevania IV, Rondo of Blood, and Bloodlines over the course of three years– three of the greatest action platformers of all time. 1997 saw Castlevania reach what was arguably its highest point when, unprompted and with no real need to do so, Symphony of the Night pulled off such an expert reinvention that it ended up creating a new genre altogether. With 11 years of goodwill to bank on, Castlevania’s future would never look as bright again– and unfortunately for good reason. 

Following the revolutionary success of Symphony of the Night, Castlevania almost immediately fumbled as a franchise. 1997 closed out not with Symphony of the Night, but the ferociously underwhelming Legends, a Game Boy title that took a cleaver to the franchise’s lore and massacred it. The Nintendo 64 would see the release of Castlevania in 1999, arguably the worst transition from 2D to 3D on the N64, followed by a moderately improved but still mediocre re-release that same year, Legacy of Darkness. By 2000, Castlevania had entered the 21st Century at its lowest point, with Symphony of the Night silently in the background, untouched. 

As if to signal a return to form, however, 2001 saw Konami release two fairly noteworthy titles: Circle of the Moon for the Game Boy Advance and Castlevania Chronicles for the PlayStation. Where the latter was a remake of the first game, Circle of the Moon marked the series’ first attempt at producing a mechanical sequel to Symphony of the Night. Utilizing the Metroidvania format SotN popularised, Circle of the Moon was met with near universal acclaim at release due to its difficulty curve, tight platforming, and a gameplay loop catered towards old school fans. 

aria of sorrow

Which alone is enough to make Circle of the Moon less a Symphony sequel, and more a Castlevania stuck between the Classicvania and Metroidvania model. It’s a good title for what it is, but Circle of the Moon is so fundamentally different from Symphony of the Night that series producer Koji Igarashi overcorrected when re-taking the reins for 2002’s Harmony of Dissonance, a game that– while good– shamelessly apes everything it can from SotN in an attempt to win over audiences. Juste Belmont looks like Alucard, there’s a variation of the Inverted Castle twist, and the game was designed with the explicit purpose of capitalizing on Symphony of the Night.

To Konami’s credit, the series had regained its legitimacy between both Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance, but neither game captured Symphony’s inventiveness. CotM deserves some slack for generally doing its own thing and remaining the most unique Metroidvania in the series to date, but Harmony of Dissonance plays itself too safe, ultimately just winding up a worse version of Symphony of the Night. Not just that, there was the matter of the series’ story. 19 games in and past the turn of the century, the story couldn’t stay in the background anymore. Legends, Legacy of Darkness, Circle of the Moon, and Harmony of Dissonance all tried to tell a compelling story and they all faltered along the way. 

Castlevania wasn’t in need of reinvention in 2003, but refinement. The series was good, not great, and every new release was only shining a spotlight on how good Symphony of the Night was, not on how its successors were following it up. It only makes sense, though. How is a franchise meant to follow-up a game like Symphony of the Night? How can Castlevania even be discussed anymore without mention of what is unquestionably one of the greatest video games of all time? It seemed as though the franchise was suffering for no reason at all, but there’s actually a fairly simple answer as to why the series struggled between 1997 and 2003: the lack of the dream team. 

Castlevania often shuffled around its development teams, but Symphony of the Night managed to land a team that in retrospect is on-par with the likes of Chrono Trigger’s legendary development team. Alongside Koji Igarashi– who at the time was assistant director, a programmer, and the scenario writer– Michiru Yamane composed her second soundtrack for the series following Bloodlines, and Ayami Kojima made her debut as a character designer, solidifying the franchise’s gothic aesthetic for good. Unfortunately, the three wouldn’t all intersect again for some time, leaving the Castlevania games to come without the essential players who made Symphony of the Night what it was. 

Igarashi and Kojima would work together again on both Chronicles & Harmony of Dissonance, but Yamane’s other work kept her from Castlevania between 1997 & 2003, and none of them would work on Legends, Legacy of Darkness, or Circle of the Moon. The nature of the industry meant there was no guarantee the three would work on the same project again, but now Castlevania’s lead producer, Koji Igarashi had pull to hire Yamane as the lead composer of his next Castlevania game. Ready to address Harmony of the Night’s criticisms, Koji Igarashi set the stage for the game that would breathe new life into CastlevaniaAria of Sorrow

Instead of calling attention to itself as a successor to Symphony of the Night– something the game admittedly could’ve gotten away with given its production team– Aria of Sorrow does everything it can to assert its individuality asap. Soma Cruz has seemingly no connection to the Belmonts or Dracula, Dracula’s Castle is now inside of an eclipse, and the timeline is no longer rooted in history with the story set in 2035. This is all information conveyed in the opening title crawl, but less than a full minute into gameplay and audiences are already introduced to the Soul mechanic, a system which allows Soma to absorb enemy Souls in order to use their techniques. From there, it’s on the onus of the player to explore. 

For such an all encompassing opening, Aria actually kicks off with little fanfare. Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon, and Harmony of Dissonance all open with spectacle, but Aria of Sorrow keeps itself subdued, understanding that while Symphony’s spectacle was indeed an important part of its identity, it’s the gameplay that ultimately won audiences over. Aria of Sorrow wastes no time in presenting its defining Soul mechanic, making it the very first concept players will fully understand: kill enemies to get Souls, use Souls to kill enemies. It’s a simple gameplay loop, but it keeps Aria of Sorrow’s blood pumping long after the credits roll. 

With Soul drops determined by RNG, no two playthroughs will be the same. Such an approach might bother those looking to 100% the game, but it’s exactly this reason why Aria of Sorrow remains so enjoyable to replay. With over 100 Souls available for use, Soma can accomplish far more than any other Castlevania protagonist. Soma can equip three Souls in total at any given moment: one Bullet Soul, Aria’s sub-weapons; one Guardian Soul, skills that can be triggered with R; and one Enchanted Soul, passive abilities that don’t need to be activated. Soma also has access to Ability Souls, inherent techniques that he can activate & deactivate ala Alucard’s skills from Symphony

While the Soul system is more than enough to freshen up the series’ core combat, Aria of Sorrow ditches whips and goes back to the Alucard method of collecting multiple different weapons. Between Souls and Soma’s generous arsenal of weaponry, all play styles are accommodated. Normal Mode is also more forgiving than usual, with Hard Mode better designed for series veterans. This isn’t ideal since most will play Normal and miss out on Hard Mode altogether, but it’s an approach that– in theory– does accommodate fans old and new alike. Aria of Sorrow has an almost overwhelming amount of content, but that’s exactly why it’s so accessible. There’s a weapon, Soul, or difficulty for everyone. 

aria of sorrow

Engaging combat mechanics mean very little without the proper level design, however. Where Harmony of Dissonance comfortably followed a “bigger is better” mentality to its castle’s design, Aria of Sorrow shows a considerable amount of restraint. There is no second castle to unlock– what you see is what you get. Areas are more interconnected than usual, ensuring that fewer areas end up in dead ends, and the castle’s settings are visually grounded for the most part. Aria indulges in chaotic visuals and level design for the final area, but the castle leading up to the finale is unusually comprehensible. As far as navigation goes, this is the best castle in the series. 

Of course, the high quality castle only makes sense when one remembers that it’s Ayami Kojima’s art style that serves as Aria of Sorrow’s base. Moody and gothic, Kojima’s self-taught style has an earthy quality that easily tips into the fantastical, an aesthetic that fits Castlevania perfectly. Michiru Yamane’s score seemingly builds off of Kojima’s art, following the lead with less catchy and more atmospheric tracks on a whole. This doesn’t mean Aria of Sorrow isn’t bursting with amazing songs– one only needs to listen to Heart of Fire to understand that– rather, it’s Aria’s way of keeping a mature, sorrowful tone throughout. 

And Aria of Sorrow is indeed more mature than previous Castlevania titles when it comes to story. Where both Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance played their stories straight, Aria of Sorrow features a decent amount of subtext to bolster its already incredibly intriguing plot. Aria doesn’t just take place in the future, it takes place in a future where Dracula has been killed for good. No Dracula means that a new villain can rise up in the form of Graham Jones, and while he’s not that compelling, he ends up representing everything Dracula claims to despise in humanity. Graham is a hateful coward who thinks too highly of himself, and too little of others. A miserable little pile of secrets. 

That said, while it’s always beneficial to keep characters who fill similar roles antithetical to one another, Graham’s personality is more layered than that. He may be the main antagonist, but he’s no Dracula. Literally. The main plot of Aria of Sorrow concerns itself with who Dracula has reincarnated into. It’s obviously Soma, a fact the series no longer tries to hide, but Aria of Sorrow very cleverly gets around this by doubling down on Graham’s evilness. He’s blatantly evil from his first interaction with Soma, but that’s exactly what keeps players from guessing the Dracula twist their first playthrough.

Soma being Dracula is the cherry on top of Aria of Sorrow, that last little detail that makes everything just right– not just in the game, but in the context of the series. Fast-forwarding far into the future, Aria of Sorrow establishes Dracula’s demise, a grand battle that took place in 1999, and the last Belmont– Julius– the man who killed Dracula for good, but lost his memory in the process. Aria doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to Soma either, making him succumb before the end of the game and even featuring an alternate ending where he embraces his demonic powers, leaving Julius to kill Dracula yet again. 

Although Soma has a clear love interest in Mina Hakuba, it’s the relationship between Soma and Julius that ties the story together. Aria is just as much a character study of Dracula through Soma as it is a celebration of the ultimate struggle between the Belmont clan and the Count. The roles have been flipped this time around, with Julius serving as the penultimate battle in one of the best (& hardest) boss fights in the franchise. As he’s not the main character, Julius is also allowed greater depth than the average Belmont. When he appears, it’s because the story calls for it and his scenes are never wasted. 

They’re always used as a means to either flesh out the game’s backstory, or build up to the confrontation between Soma and Julius. The two build a slight bond over the course of the game, one that turns into genuine respect by the time the two men are fighting to the death. It’s easy to overlook the substance in Julius’ interactions since he’s only in six scenes (including the bad ending), but they all slowly chip away at the man underneath– his history, his connection to Dracula, and what it means to be a Belmont. Which in itself is important, as it gives audiences an opportunity to see a Belmont in his element from not only an outsider’s perspective, but Dracula’s. 

Soma’s relationship with Julius may be what best contextualizes Aria of Sorrow’s role in the franchise, but this isn’t to say that the supporting players don’t contribute. Hammer and Yoko Belnades are both on the flat side, but Mina and Genya Arikado do some heavy narrative lifting. Mina evokes images of Dracula’s wife, Lisa, who was first introduced in Symphony of the Night. Their dialogue shows how deeply they care for one another, and Soma’s Dracula-related insecurities end up tainting their dynamic at the end of the game, cutting Soma off from his only source of genuine affection and love. Not just that, Mina proves that Dracula could have adjusted to a normal life had mankind not killed Lisa. 

Then there’s Genya Arikado, a man so blatantly Alucard that the word “Alucard” doesn’t need to appear in the script a single time for fans to make the connection– which it doesn’t. Aria of Sorrow features the main character from Symphony of the Night in an incredibly important and relevant capacity, and he neither looks like he did in Symphony of the Night or directly acknowledges his identity. Frankly, it’s the only tasteful way to use Alucard in a post-Symphony of the Night context. His character has evolved with time, and seeing him in a supportive capacity only makes sense given the events of his own game. His presence helps draw in a sense of finality alongside Mina and Julius. 

aria of sorrow

These three characters thematically represent the main fixtures of Dracula’s life: Mina, the love that ties Dracula to humanity; Genya, the son who in spite of his father’s evil, loves him enough to ensure he can truly rest; and Julius, the final descendant of the Belmont clan and perhaps the strongest man alive. At the center of it all is Soma Cruz, the reincarnation of Dracula. Aria of Sorrow feels like the end of everything Castlevania represents. More games would follow, and Aria would even see a direct sequel in Dawn, but what makes Aria such a worthy successor to Symphony of the Night is that it wasn’t afraid to do something new and bold with Castlevania. Most of this boldness stems from the gameplay, but the story presents itself as a thematic end for Castlevania if nothing else. Dracula and the Belmonts may finally put their feud to rest. 

Or not. As previously mentioned, Aria of Sorrow features an ending where Soma goes full-Dracula. It’s morbid and cuts off right before Julius begins his fight with the dark lord, but it only makes sense. Aria doesn’t shy away from Dracula’s nastier aspects, and that means allowing Soma to be corrupted. Castlevania was always about the eternal struggle between Dracula and the Belmonts, so it’s only fair an ending offer a scenario where the cycle simply repeats. Regardless of which ending players find most appropriate, Michiru Yamane’s use of Bloody Tears in the track Epilogue makes one thing clear: Aria marks a new chapter for Castlevania

When all is said and done, Aria of Sorrow doesn’t even feel like a sequel to Symphony of the Night. Aria goes beyond wanting to replicate the greats and instead chooses to be great in its own right. The end product is the end result of the series living in Symphony’s shadow for years. Koji Igarashi went beyond parroting himself, and instead entered production prepared to take Castlevania to the next level with a tried and true team. But even in sharing the same core members as Symphony, Aria never feels like anything but its own distinct game– a mature goodbye to Count Dracula, the Belmont legacy, and everything that happened inbetween. Aria of Sorrow might not have had the same cultural impact of Symphony of the Night, but it’s exemplary of Castlevania at its best. 

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Awesome Mixtape: Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

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Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Best-Video-Game-Soundtracks-2019Awesome Mixtape Vol. 5

It’s that time once again in which I bring to you my awesome mixtape featuring the best tracks from the best video game soundtracks of the year. Last year, my mixtape featured tracks from Triple-A titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and indie darlings like Celeste. In 2017, my picks for best soundtracks included tracks from some of my favorite games including Cuphead, Breath of the Wild and Into the Woods, to name just a few. Well, 2019 has been another banner year for the industry and as always, the games were blessed with an astounding selection of musical scores— some would argue the soundtracks were even better than the actual games at times. As always, it wasn’t easy deciding which songs to include and what to leave out— and as always, I’ve also mixed in some audio clips from various cut scenes while trying to keep it spoiler-free. Feel free to share this link and let me know if you think I’ve missed any great soundtracks in the comments below.

Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019 Playlist

Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding
: Low Roar – “I’ll Keep Coming”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Life is Strange 2: Seyr – “Colour To Colour”
Life is Strange 2: Jonathan Morali – “Into the Woods”
Life Is Strange 2 clip
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Sayonara Wild Heart”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Wild Hearts Never Die”
Death Stranding: CHVRCHES – “Death Stranding”
Afterparty clip
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “Title and Credits”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Hades Gonna Hate”
Afterparty: scntfc – “Schoolyard Strangler”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Main Theme
Octopath Traveler: Yasunori Nishiki – Cyrus the Scholar
Kingdom Hearts 3 clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses clip
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Main Theme”
Fire Emblem Three Houses: Yuka Tsujiyoko, Hirokazu Tanaka – “Blue Skies and a Battle”
Devil May Cry 5 clip
Devil May Cry 5: Kota Suzuki – “Urizen Boss Battle Music”
Untitled Goose Game – Dan Golding – “The Garden”
FAR: Lone Sails: Joel Schoch – “Colored Engine”
Days Gone: Nathan Whitehead— “Soldier’s Eye”
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Death Stranding clip
Death Stranding: Low Roar – “Easy Way Out”
Metro Exodus: Alexey Omelchuk – “Main Theme”
Resident Evil 2 Remake clip
Resident Evil 2 Remake: Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, Shun Nishigaki – “Mr.X Theme Music (T-103)”
Sayonara Wild Hearts: Daniel Olsen – “Begin Again”
Life is Strange 2: Lincoln Grounds, Pat Reyford – “Morning Good Morning”
Life is Strange 2: Sufjan Stevens – “Death With Dignity”
Luigi’s Mansion 3 clip
Luigi’s Mansion 3: Koji Kondo – “Main Theme”
Ape Out: Matt Boch – “Intro”
Deltarune: Toby Fox – “Field of Hopes and Dreams”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “Loose Cargo”
“Star Wars: Imperial March” Hip Hop Remix
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
Death Stranding: Silent Poets – “Asylum for The Feeling”
Catherine: Full Body: Shoji Meguro – “Tomorrow”
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening: Koji Kondo – “Marin’s Ballad of the Windfish”
Metro Exodus – Alexey Omelchuk: “Teardrops”
Sekiro: Yuka Kitamura – “Ashina Reservoir”
Return of the Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope – “The Doom”
Medley: Eye of Death / Wild Hearts Never Die / Dragon Heart / Clair De Lune

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