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Vergil Must Die! How ‘Devil May Cry 3’ Refined A Genre

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Devil May Cry 3 Review

Following Devil May Cry 2’s disastrous, to say the least, release, Capcom needed Devil May Cry 3 to be more than just a good follow-up; it needed to rekindle a fire that had been put out. Devil May Cry 2 felt more like a copycat than it did a proper sequel to the original Devil May Cry. For the franchise to regain any semblance of good will, Devil May Cry 3 would not only have to clean up the second game’s mess, it would need to remind fans why the original was so beloved in the first place. While it would have been easy to take Devil May Cry 2’s criticisms to heart and build off the foundation Devil May Cry left behind in a safe, but respectable manner, DMC3 took a more ambitious approach to remedy past mistakes. Instead of simply making an acceptable sequel to the original Devil May Cry, Hideaki Itsuno and his team outright refined the hack ‘n’ slash genre.

For as impressive as the original Devil May Cry still is, it’s nonetheless quite obvious it wouldn’t have been able to lead into a sustainable franchise without a few changes moving forward. Devil May Cry 2 was a bad sequel because it misunderstood what made the first game so good. Devil May Cry 3 just as similarly would have been a bad sequel had it simply placed DMC1 in a new setting. A good sequel can be similar to its predecessor, many are, but Devil May Cry had effectively already done everything it could as best as possible in a format that it had, more or less, created. Any sequel that didn’t play with the foundation Hideki Kamiya left behind would run the risk of being considered a pale imitation. Considering the circumstances the franchise was put under thanks to Devil May Cry 2, a straight up sequel might actually have worked, buying back some of the series’ lost goodwill, but at the expense of taking a chance to genuinely push Devil May Cry forward.

Taking into account Devil May Cry 3’s legacy, it perhaps goes without saying that Itsuno was right not to take the easy way out. DMC3 is often considered one of the greatest games of all time and the gold standard within the hack ‘n’ slash genre, but why? What is it exactly that propels DMC3 above its predecessors, contemporaries, and successors? Refinement. Devil May Cry 3 is elegant in every facet of its design, not unlike the original Devil May Cry. Where the original simply refined where it needed to, DMC3 goes above and beyond to ensure every detail and mechanic is thoroughly polished. The inclusion of Styles give Dante six different base play styles to fool around with; Dante now has ten weapons to choose from and can have four equipped at all times; the level design takes after the first DMC with arcade-esque missions; Dante’s brother Vergil is a playable character with an arguably just as in-depth play style; and the story actually works in benefit of the gameplay.

Devil May Cry 3Of all the methods Itsuno and his team used to evolve Devil May Cry’s gameplay, Styles stand out as the most overt and important. In the original DMC, Dante effectively only had two base play styles: Alastor and Ifrit. Alastor was a faster, more versatile weapon that shared most of its moveset with Force Edge, Spara, and Yamato when playing as the Legendary Dark Knight, while Ifrit was a slower, close ranged set of gauntlets that gave Dante access to heavier combos. While there were multiple guns to equip Dante with, none of them could lead the gameplay in the same way Alastor and Ifrit could. Styles serve as a way of varying and enhancing Dante’s abilities at their most basic. In the original Devil May Cry, every player was essentially forced to take the same approach to the first mission due to Dante’s early game limitations. This isn’t inherently bad for DMC1, and actually works in its favor, but it’s simply not a sustainable approach for a growing series. Just from the outset, DMC3’s Styles allow players to take four varied approaches to the main game.

Even though Dante only has Rebellion and Ebony & Ivory starting out, the Styles add enough variety to his moveset to keep the first mission from devolving into uniformity. As it’s equipped to Dante by default, most players will tackle the first mission with Trickster as their initial Style. A carryover from DMC2, Trickster gives Dante far more maneuverability by allowing him to dash and run up walls during gameplay. Devil May Cry 2 handled Dante’s acrobatics rather poorly by constantly placing him in far too large environments with far too easy enemies. Devil May Cry 3 remedies the issue by implementing far tighter spaces for combat and considerably more aggressive enemy AI. A dedicated dash that flows in and out of combat does a lot for Dante’s play style, as does Wall Hiking since it can serve as a quick, stylish way of dodging enemies when pinned up against a wall. Although it doesn’t add directly to Dante’s core combat, it does enhance it by giving him an additional controlled method of movement, one where he can dodge an attack and immediately dash back into the action.

Swordmaster is the most conventional of Dante’s Styles as it’s the one that directly enhances his core combat. In the original Devil May Cry, all of Dante’s combos were done with pause presses and directional inputs associated around one button. In equipping Swordmaster, Dante gains access to new, weapon-specific moves, associated around a separate button. It seems like a relatively simple addition, giving Dante access to another button for combat, but it’s one that greatly opens up the combat. DMC1 proved what could be done with one button so there was no need for DMC3 to rigidly follow that philosophy. Swordmaster adds another layer of complexity to the combat, rewarding players who take the time to learn all the new techniques the Style brings with it for each of Dante’s five main weapons. Using Swordmaster makes playing as Dante feel like the natural evolution of DMC1’s combat. At the same time, making Swordmaster optional allows players to forgo it in favor of single button-based combat, keeping the spirit of DMC1’s gameplay alive. It’s a best of both worlds situation.

Devil May Cry 3On that same note, Gunslinger does to Dante’s guns what Swordmaster does to his Devil Arms. While far from useless, guns weren’t exactly Dante’s best call to action in the original. They worked great for crowd control, filling up the Devil Trigger, and keeping combos going from long range, but damage needed to be done with either Alastor or Ifrit most of the time. Gunslingers not only gives Dante more leeway with how he uses his guns, the Style makes them a viable alternative. Like with Swordmaster, Gunslinger is a logical next step for how combat should work in Devil May Cry. Keeping a combo stylish is far more manageable with guns now, and Dante’s long-range versatility goes a long way in varying up the combat. Gunslinger encourages a different approach to action, but one that feels completely in-line with Devil May Cry’s groundwork.

Of Dante’s four default Styles, Royalguard is easily the most unique as it’s the only one without a basis in the rest of the series. Swordmaster and Gunslinger are evolutions of DMC’s combat while Trickster comes straight from DMC2. Royalguard is a Style that was designed specifically for Devil May Cry 3 in mind. A dedicated block, Royalguard adds defense into the mix of combat. While this may seem like a cheap way of circumventing the series’ inherent difficulty, Royalguard avoids that dilemma by also turning it into a counter of sorts where blocking at just the right time stores up energy that can be released in order to do damage against enemies. This keeps Royalguard from devolving into a mindless block button, instead encouraging players to parry properly in order to do as much damage as possible. While Royalguard has no base in the series, its risk versus reward style of gameplay feels right at home with Devil May Cry’s gameplay.

In addition to his four main Styles, Dante also gains access to Quicksilver and Doppelganger over the course of the game, two Styles using Devil Trigger for far more leeway in combat. The former outright stops time for Dante to quickly experiment with combos he wouldn’t be able to use in an active environment while the latter spawns another Dante that’ll attack in unison with the player. Both can conceptually break the game in the right context, but they’re controlled by the use of Devil Trigger, making them another risk versus reward situation. Players can use the Styles for quick bursts of success, but at the expense of being able to heal and do extra damage with their Devil Trigger. As different as Quicksilver and Doppelganger are compared to Dante’s four default Styles, they still fit into the overarching theme of moving the combat forward.

Devil May Cry 3The six Styles exist not only to keep gameplay fresh, but to genuinely build off DMC1’s foundation. They’re not just cool ideas implemented for the sake of it, they have a deliberate purpose within the game design and each Style is polished to the point where they feel totally natural in the gameplay without superseding the others as some sort of intended play style. In that sense, while the Styles are certainly impressive and well thought out additions, it’s the game design that allows them to work as well as they do. Stages and enemies are clearly designed with each of the six Styles in mind, meaning that Dante never comes off over or underpowered depending on what Style he’s repping. More importantly, there’s nothing locked behind a single Style. Dante can still reach far away heights with careful platforming without Trickster, and reach SSS rank in combat without Swordmaster or Gunslinger. Styles are simply a way of varying up the gameplay without replacing legitimate game design.

Devil May Cry 3’s 20 missions are easily the best set of levels in the series. Pacing wise alone, they’re brilliant thanks to how frequently Dante fights new bosses and gains new weapons. There’s a continuous feeling of progression and each mission feels designed with a purpose in mind ala Devil May Cry 1. Good level design is tremendously important for the hack ‘n’ slash genre as it serves as the grounds where battles take place. An empty arena certainly works in special occasions, allowing players to go all out, but it’s necessary for pacing to throw in hallways, cramped rooms, libraries that limit visibility, areas with spike traps, and enemies that take advantage of verticality to best bring out a player’s skill. DMC3’s stages are varied and dynamic with unique setpieces often dedicated to building up to a boss fight. Just getting to a boss on the higher difficulties can feel like a genuine endurance match due to how deliberately designed the stages and enemies are.

Side content is also used as a way of expanding stages and increasing replay value this time around compared to DMC1’s permanently missable per playthrough approach. DMC2’s returning Mission Select feature helps with this quite a bit, but it’s the Combat Adjudicators that specifically encourage revisiting stages. Throughout the course of the game, Dante will stumble upon ten Combat Adjudicators that can only be damaged with a specific weapon, and broken with a specific ranked combo. Along with nudging players back into previously cleared stages, they serve as a way of training a player through side content. Since the hardest Adjudicators all require varying levels of S-ranks to break, they force players to fully understand every weapon in Dante’s arsenal. For as noteworthy as the Styles are, it’s the weapons that are the star of the show here. DMC1 was great with just two static main weapons for Dante, but DMC3’s five core Devil Arms open up the combat considerably, especially since two can be equipped at all times.

Devil May Cry 3

Returning from DMC2, weapon switching allows Dante to juggle between his two Devil Arms and two guns at any given time during combat. This is easily Devil May Cry 3’s best addition and the one that benefits the core gameplay the most. Weapon switching is seamless, keeping Dante’s combo intact and allowing him to transition into new techniques at the quick press of a button. Battles became far more engaging when using both of Dante’s weapons to their fullest. Devil May Cry 1 allowed Dante to switch between Alastor and Ifrit, but chaining combos in and out of the switch was virtually impossible. DMC3 makes it not only possible but almost required for just how hectic and hands-on the combat becomes on higher difficulties. It’s yet another useful tool for Dante, but it never trivializes the game. This is a recurring element in Devil May Cry 3’s design. Dante is at his absolute peak in terms of what he can accomplish, but these aren’t just mechanics that have been tossed onto him for the sake of some faux-variety. Enemies have weaknesses and strengths this time around, and weapon switching plays off that, giving players a chance to outfit Dante for any type of combat scenario.

With how seamless all of Dante’s Styles and weapons work in the context of Devil May Cry 3’s level design, it almost seems impossible that Vergil, another playable character altogether, would be able to work alongside his twin brother. Taking cues from Lucia and Trish from Devil May Cry 2, the addition of another playable character seems like a no-brainer, but Vergil doesn’t have his own set of levels this time around, in large part due to only being added in DMC3’s rerelease. Developed independent of the rest of the game and simply taking place within stages meant for Dante, Vergil truly should not work as a playable character. Of course, that’s assuming he’s implemented like Lucia and Trish were where they were only slight reskins of what Dante was capable of. Vergil is his own beast entirely with his own weapons and a unique Style designed to keep him feeling like his boss counterpart found in the main game while also adhering to the same game design rules as Dante.

Whether it’s a testament to Devil May Cry 3’s level design of gameplay, the fact Vergil works as well as he does without feeling derivative of Dante is downright incredible. Removing all context of Dante from the picture, it can be easy to believe that Vergil’s mode was always designed with him in mind. There is nothing that Dante can accomplish that Vergil ultimately can’t. Some feats are significantly harder, especially when verticality is involved, as Vergil does not have a double jump, but combat feels natural and clearing his mode up to Vergil Must Die is more than doable. His mere inclusion opens up the gameplay all the more, offering an acceptable alternative to Dante, and one who’s is arguably far more complicated to control and master. It also helps that Vergil is a pre-established character in the franchise, introduced as Nelo Angelo in DMC1, and plays an active role in DMC3’s plot. By the time players unlock him, they have an intimate understanding of the character which makes playing as him fare more appealing than playing as someone like Lucia.

Devil May Cry 3While the original Devil May Cry wasn’t poorly written, it also wasn’t exactly impressive. It was mostly carried by its B-movie charm and goofy dialogue for Dante. It was likable, but not exactly worthy of analysis. Where its story shined was in how the gameplay reflected character beats for Dante with each boss, Nero Angelo in particular, creating an almost three act structure where Dante faced a challenge, learned the skills he needed to succeed through gameplay, and then ultimately overcame adversity. Devil May Cry 3 pulls something similar although on a much larger scale with each fight against Vergil serving as the end of an act giving DMC3 a clear, identifiable three-act structure. More importantly, while the cheesy dialogue from the original makes a return, it’s embedded with much more heart this time around. Devil May Cry 3 is a story about family and, as goofy as Dante can be, it really works to the game’s benefit.

Much of the narrative is spent building up to the inevitable showdown between Dante and Vergil. The first game established that Vergil had been missing for years and fallen under Mundus’ control, and DMC3’s nature as a prequel means that the finale could only go one way. Even then, the build-up to a climactic battle between brothers is handled superbly with Vergil nearly killing Dante in their first fight, reaching a stalemate in their second, and ultimately teaming up in what seems to be a replacement for their third. Once they take over the other overarching villain, however, the two brothers are thrust into a final mission where Dante simply has to defeat Vergil in a one-on-one fight. No tricks, no gimmicks, just pure skill built over the course of the game. Vergil 3 is the quintessential hack ‘n’ slash final boss, not just because it genuinely tests everything the player has learned up to that point, but because the story has made players care about Dante and Vergil.

They’re likable, and they clearly love one another, so seeing them tear at each other despite putting aside their differences moments earlier is a classically tragic moment. It’s made all the more impactful due to the fact that Dante actually grows throughout the course of the plot. He had a reasonable character arc in the first game, but it was rather subdued and took a backseat to the rest of the plot. Dante’s arc is the driving force of Devil May Cry 3 and watching him mature over the course of the narrative is a satisfying sight to see. It’s not the world’s most creative or dynamic arc, but it’s well executed and depicts a more vulnerable Dante, one lost within the idea of his heritage without succumbing to melodrama. There have been better stories told in the genre, but Devil May Cry 3’s thematic cohesion and refined simplicity nonetheless add another welcome layer to the entire experience. Just as the gameplay evolved, so did the story.

It’s easy to take for granted just how much of a risk Itsuno was taking with Devil May Cry 3. Fans wanted Devil May Cry and the ones that stuck around after DMC2 might have been completely satisfied with a sequel derivative of the original, but that would have locked the series into an awkward position where the first game all but invented a genre, the second ignored everything the first introduced, and the third simply reiterated everything the original established. For the benefit of the franchise, Devil May Cry 3 needed to be a risk. It needed to look at what made DMC1 such a masterpiece and expand upon it in every way imaginable. Were Devil May Cry 3 just another sequel, it wouldn’t be discussed today. It needed to remind audiences that Devil May Cry wasn’t just another hack ‘n’ slash, it was the hack ‘n’ slash. Devil May Cry 3 is everything a sequel should be. It is a culmination of Devil May Cry’s strengths, Devil May Cry 2’s faults, and Devil May Cry 3’s desire to innovate and evolve. It is the direct result of refining a genre.

An avid-lover of all things Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, and The Legend of Zelda, Renan spends most of his time passionately raving about Dragon Ball and thinking about how to apply Marxist theory to whatever video game he's currently playing.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. SwinnyUK

    June 10, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Awesome article, thanks!
    I think Gunslinger in DMC3 makes Dante play like the original Dante from DMC1. You are vastly underestimating the guns from DMC1. You also said that DMC1’s story isn’t exactly worthy of analysis. I beg to differ. You SHOULD analyse it. It has equal or greater depth than DMC3. A lot more thought has gone in to the tiny details in DMC1. Enemies exist in the enviroment(whereas they spawn-in in DMC3), for example, and all have a reason for being where they found. They all have a reason for acting the way that they do, and a reason for why they look the way they do(and often the way they look can be cross-examined to reveal further details, like the similarities between Nightmare and Phantom). The environment itself also stands up to this kind of analysis and it’s this aspect which is sorely lacking in every DMC game after DMC1. You’re expected to think and dig deep to get the most out of it, although it won’t give you any concrete answers. You’re supposed to interpret it for yourself. This is Hideki Kamiya’s approach to fantasy settings; he confirms this in Future Press’s awesome Bayonetta guide, in an interview right at the back of the book. And, and while we’re at it, you should analyse Bayonetta, too! This is what Kamiya does.

    I think DMC3 has more story depth on the surface level. It’s a totally different approach to the understated one taken by DMC1, and one that I wish DMCV includes alongside the DMC3 style of storytelling.

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Games

‘Oracle of Seasons’: A Game Boy Color Classic

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Oracle of Seasons

“It is an endless cycle of life… the changing seasons!”

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages & Oracle of Seasons are very much two halves of the same grand adventure, but they’re both worth examining on their own merits. Seasons in particular brings with it quite an interesting history. The game that would eventually become Oracle of Seasons began life as a remake of the original Legend of Zelda. This remake would be accompanied by five other games– a remake of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and four original titles– all developed for the Game Boy Color. These games would not be developed by Nintendo themselves, but by Flagship– a subsidiary of Capcom that was also funded in part by Nintendo and Sega.

These six games would eventually be trimmed into a trilogy slated to release in the summer, autumn, & winter of 2000, before settling as a duology that would launch simultaneously in 2001. Where Oracle of Ages was the sole survivor of the four original games, Oracle of Seasons was a brand new game morphed out of the Zelda 1 remake. Considering director Hidemaro Fujibayashi’s own reflection on Flagship’s Zelda proposal, much of what would define Seasons was always present;

 “The core of the game was pretty much decided. That is to say, the fact that it would be on the Game Boy Color, the use of the four seasons, and the decision to retain the feel of the 2D Zelda games. It was also decided that it would be a series.”

Not only was this remake never intended to be a standalone entry, it would kick start its own sub-series while featuring seasons at the forefront of the gameplay. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto likewise asked Fujibayashi to pen a new story for the original Legend of Zelda, suggesting a fairly comprehensive remake as the end goal. With so many inherent changes, however, The Hyrule Fantasy ended up leaving the region altogether. 

“I believe the Zelda series really only started to have scenarios after the hardware specifications improved. The original Zelda was a pure action-RPG and didn’t have much of a story to begin with. I wanted to combine both those aspects (action-RPG and an actual scenario) this time around. At first, we’d only planned on creating a game one-tenth the size of the final version. But it just kept growing as development progressed and gradually turned into an original game.” 
– Hidemaro Fujibayashi, Director/Planner/Scenario Writer

Oracle of Seasons takes after Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask by setting itself away from Hyrule– the kingdom only ever shown during the opening cinematic. Holodrum has one of the densest worlds in a 2D Zelda game, if not the densest after A Link to the Past & A Link Between Worlds. A kingdom geographically similar to Hyrule as seen in the original Legend of Zelda, Holodrum has its own northern mountainside, a final dungeon in the northwest corner, and dozens of old men hidden amongst the land. This all makes sense since Seasons is rooted in a remake of the first game, but it isn’t as if Holodrum is without its novelties. 

Holodrum is distinct from Hyrule where it counts. The kingdom itself is quite large, sprawling when compared directly to Koholint Island. Progression often feels like a puzzle, especially when working around roadblocks early on. Holodrum’s four seasons are out of order, with the weather changing on the fly between regions. Link has to work around snow banks, overgrown trees, flooded fields, and petrified flora to overcome Holodrum’s chaos. As easy as it is to get side tracked in the vast kingdom, it’s only because there always tends to be something around the corner. Getting lost isn’t a problem when the overworld is so secret heavy. 

Old men are frequently found hiding under trees, actually giving players a reason to burn them on sight now, but new systems are in place to make exploration even more rewarding. Link will come across patches of soft soil throughout Holodrum where he can plant Gasha Seeds. Owing their name to gashapon– Japanese capsule toys not too dissimilar to blind bag toys– Gasha Seeds grow into Gasha Trees which bear Gasha Nuts after Link has defeated 40 enemies. Gasha Nut contents are randomized, but they incentivize players to return to previously explored areas. 

Not everything a Gasha Nut drops is worth the effort of chopping down 40 enemies– the worst being five regular hearts and a sole fairy– but the best rewards make it all worthwhile. While the Heart Piece tied to the Nut is probably the best overall get, Gasha Seeds naturally feed into the Ring system. Rings add an inherent RPG layer to the Oracle duology’s gameplay, offering the earliest instance of genuine player customization in the Zelda franchise. Rings, like Gasha Nuts, are completely random. Link will find many in his travels, but he needs to appraise them at Vasu’s ring shop in Horon Village before they can be used. Except in a few rare instances, Vasu’s appraisals are randomized.

There are 64 rings altogether between Seasons and Ages, all with varying effects. Which rings Link obtains can influence how players go about their game. RNG also ensures that each new playthrough is unique from the last. While this poses an obvious frustration for any completionists, it’s a fantastic way of adding another layer of replay value to an already fairly replayable experience. The Expert’s Ring allows Link to punch enemies if he unequips his weapons, the Charge Ring speeds up the Spin Attack, and the Protection Ring makes it so Link always takes one Heart of damage when attacked.

With so many rings to choose from, the gameplay is kept in balance by Link’s Ring Box. Once appraised, Link can equip his rings into his box. While he can only equip one initially, players can find a Box upgrade on Goron Mountain. With RNG already influencing which rings Link has access to, it’s unlikely two players will have the exact same experience in Oracle of Seasons– rings offering more personalization than is still usual for Zelda. Besides Gasha Nuts, Rings can be found in the overworld and dropped by Maple, a young witch who makes further use of RNG. 

Maple is Syrup’s apprentice, the recurring witch who runs the potion shop in A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. Riding in on her broomstick, Maple will appear after Link has killed 30 enemies. Should players bump into her, both Link & Maple will drop their treasures, prompting Maple to race the player for them. It’s almost always worthwhile to focus on what Maple’s dropped rather than what Link lost. Not only does Maple drop her own unique set of rings, she’s a convenient way of getting potions early on and will eventually drop a Heart Piece. Maple also gets progressively faster, upgrading her flying broomstick to a vacuum after enough altercations.

So much RNG can be off-putting, but Holodrum is such an extensive overworld that randomness isn’t much of an issue. Gasha Seeds drive exploration and Maple’s appearances reward it. These systems also encourage players to fight enemies head-on rather than avoid them when it’s convenient. If gameplay ever feels more involved in Oracle of Seasons than the average Zelda game, that’s because it is. This goes double when taking the very seasons into account. 

The four seasons influence overworld progression significantly and most non-dungeon puzzles center on Link using the Rod of Seasons to restore seasonal order to whatever region he’s in. Most of these puzzles solve themselves since seasons can only be changed on stumps, but concessions need to be made when an overworld features four unique versions of every region. Incredible use of the Game Boy Color’s hardware helps in this regard as well. The handheld was designed with making in-game colors pop and Oracle of Seasons– as an extremely late-life GBC game– stands out as one of the most vibrant titles in the system’s library. 

Each season has its own defining color palette– blue for winter, red for summer, green for spring, yellow for autumn– but there is always a wide range of colors on-screen. Winter matches its light blue with shades of white & gray; spring features an almost pastel color tone where gold & pink flowers bloom against soft shades of green; summer deepens most colors for a bolder effect; and autumn offsets its yellow with orange, red, and in some instances purple. Oracle of Seasons might very well have the best atmosphere on the Game Boy Color, each season stylized & recognizable with their own distinct tones. It’s a phenomenal presentation that outdoes OoS’ contemporaries. Seasons outright has better art direction than most early GBA games. 

The fact Oracle of Seasons commits to its premise in such a large overworld as strictly as it does is praiseworthy, but it’s even more impressive that there’s another world lurking underneath Holodrum. Subrosia is a bizarre underworld, easily the most eclectic setting in the franchise other than Termina (and in many respects more so.) Subrosians are culturally impolite, bathe in lava, and deal in Ore instead of Rupees. The Subrosian Market undersells a Heart Piece, volcanic eruptions are a welcome norm, and Link will be moving between Holodrum & Subrosia multiple times over the course of his journey. Players can even go on a date with a Subrosian girl, Rosa, that’s a clear play on his date with Marin from Link’s Awakening. Subrosia is so alien that it’s hard not to love every moment beneath Holodrum.

Beyond the four seasons and the dichotomy between Holodrum & Subrosia, what differentiates Oracle of Seasons most from Oracle of Ages is its focus on action. Seasons is a puzzle heavy game, but it lets combat drive the gameplay more often than not with a very action-centric tool kit. The Slingshot makes its 2D debut, replacing the Bow in the process, but its 250 seed capacity outdoes any of Link’s quivers. Its upgraded version, the Hyper Slingshot, even fires in three directions at once. The Roc’s Feather returns from Link’s Awakening to once again make jumping an important part of Link’s mobility. Not only is platforming far more frequent this time around– with the Ancient Ruins featuring quite a bit of jumping for a 2D dungeon– it upgrades into the Roc’s Cape which allows Link to glide.

The Boomerang now upgrades into a guided Magical Boomerang which players can control themselves; the Magnetic Gloves are ostensibly a better version of the Hookshot which can pull Link to & from magnetic sources, along with magnetizing certain baddies; and most enemies are designed with a combination of the sword & shield in mind. Oracle of Ages has its fair share of action as well, but not with quite the same focus as Oracle of Seasons.

In general, Seasons is a focused video game in the best ways possible. OoS always gives players a general direction to go in, but otherwise leaves Link to his own devices. There are little to no interruptions, and the gameplay loop emphasizes freedom in spite of the game’s linearity. There’s always something to do and you’re always making progress, whether that be narratively or checking in on some Gasha Nuts. The pace is perfectly suited for handheld gaming and quick burst play sessions. Only have a few minutes to play? Kill some enemies to trigger Maple. Got some time? Scope out the next dungeon and work towards saving Holodrum. 

There are also a number of side quests to round off gameplay. The main trading sequence ends with Link finding the Noble Sword in Holodrum’s Lost Woods; players can forge an Iron Shield in Subrosia by smelting red and blue ore together & bringing the refined ore to the Subrosian smithy; and Golden Beasts roam Holodrum, each appearing during a different season & in a set region. Once all four are defeated, Link can find an old man north of Horon Village who will give him the Red Ring– a ring which doubles the Sword’s attack at no expense to the player. 

All these side quests are worthwhile, especially since Oracle of Seasons is a bit on the tougher side when it comes to difficulty. Dungeons are very fast-paced, full of puzzles that are often deceptively simple. Dungeon items are used in increasingly clever ways, from traversing over bottomless pits with strategic use of the Magnetic Gloves to using the Hyper Slingshot to activate three statues at once. Notably, most bosses in Seasons are actually remixes of boss fights from the first Legend of Zelda

Aquamentus, Dodongo, Gohma, Digdogger, Manhandla, and Gleeok all return with a vengeance. Gleeok in particular puts up a serious fight, forcing Link on the offensive. Not only do players need to be quick enough to slice off Gleeok’s two heads before they can attack themselves back on, the dragon will persist as a skeleton for round 2. Explorer’s Crypt is a difficult enough dungeon where getting to the boss room with full health isn’t a guarantee, so Gleeok offers a surprising but welcome challenge as a result. 

Oracle of Seasons deserves a bit of credit for having one of the harder final bosses in the series, as well. Onox doesn’t have much in the way of personality, but he’s a tough boss to put down. His second form requires Link to use the Spin Attack to deal damage while making sure he doesn’t hit Din in the process, and Onox’s dragon form is a gauntlet of dodging, jumping, & surviving long enough to finally kill the General of Darkness. Players are bound to die once or twice, but the final dungeon is short enough where getting back to Onox takes no time at all. 

If Oracle of Seasons has one glaring flaw, however, it’s the story. The script reads like a massive step back coming off the heels of Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and especially Majora’s Mask. Link is summoned to aid the Oracle Din, already a seasoned hero and implied to be the same Link from A Link to the Past, but very little time is spent fleshing out Din as a character & giving players a reason to care about her. Her role is more akin to Zelda in A Link to the Past than Marin in Link’s Awakening. Similarly, Onox is an undercooked villain who shows up to kidnap Din and does nothing for the rest of the story. Of course, this light story stems from Seasons’ origin as a remake of The Legend of Zelda

Early press of the game– when it was still going by the name Acorn of the Tree of Mystery– indicates that the story was originally set in Hyrule and the seasons went out of order when Ganon kidnapped Princess Zelda, the guardian of both the Triforce of Power & the four seasons. Hyrule was changed to Holodrum, Ganon became Onox, Zelda turned to Din, and the eight fragments of the Triforce presumably became the eight Essences of Nature. While underwhelming, the plot’s structure if nothing else makes sense. 

It’s worth pointing out that Oracle of Seasons seems to recognize that story is its weakness and lets the gameplay drive the experience. Unlike Oracle of Ages which takes its plot seriously and has a clear thematic arc, Seasons really is just a remix of Zelda 1’s plot. Which is perfect for the kind of game OoS ultimately is: a fast-paced, action-packed adventure through an ever-changing world. When played as a precursor to Ages instead of its ending, Seasons’ story comes off comparatively better. The stakes aren’t that high or defined, but that’s more than okay for the first half of an adventure that spans two full-length games. 

In a departure for the franchise, Oracle of Seasons actually features a proper post-game, marking the first time any Zelda acknowledges that the main threat is over. NPCs will comment on how they haven’t seen Link in a while, the weather has stabilized as spring has set in Holodrum, and you’re free to wrap up any side quests left unfinished. This is especially noteworthy because players can link their progress from Seasons over into Ages and transfer any rings they have on hand. 

An epilogue makes for a charming send-off to one of the most charming games on the Game Boy Color. Oracle of Seasons underwent a strange development, intended to be little more than a suped-up remake of the original Legend of Zelda. Instead, Flagship ended up developing one of the finest games on the GBC– a vibrant adventure filled with personality and some of the best action on the handheld. Oracle of Seasons isn’t just one half of a greater game; it’s a classic Zelda in its own right.

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Games

PAX Online: ’30XX’ and ‘Cris Tales’

Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.

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30XX and Cris Tales

Our coverage of PAX Online continues with a Mega Man-inspired roguelike and a charming, time-hopping RPG adventure.

30XX

30XX

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam
Release: TBA

I’ve already given some of my thoughts on 30XX back when I took it for a spin at PAX East. To catch those who didn’t see that report up to speed, 30XX is a 2D side-scrolling roguelike with a hi-bit art style and gameplay reminiscent of many Mega Man games. It’s generally more forgiving than Mega Man in the sense that there’s a distinct lack of instant-death spikes and pits, but the tradeoff is that when you do die that’s the end and you have to start the whole game over from the start. Classic roguelike rules for ya.

This PAX Online demo was very similar to the one I played at East. I chose between the blaster Nina or swordsman Ace then I went on my merry way throughout the two levels. One key difference is that I did not start out with any specials this time around and my maximum health was much lower. This is probably in-line with what it would be like to start a new game completely fresh as opposed to some upgrades as the East demo had. As a result, I actually failed my first attempt at this demo.

That’s where the first additional aspect of this build came into play, though, in the form of global character progression. Beating bosses in 30XX not only grants you a new weapon ability but also a currency called Memoria. Memoria can be spent at a shop in-between playthroughs to obtain permanent upgrades for Nina and Ace for every subsequent attempt. The pickings were rather slim for the demo, such as increased health and energy, but a wider variety is promised for the full release, and if anything it’s exceptionally clear how useful they’ll be to fully clear the game’s ten planned stages in one go. I also await the inevitable “no upgrade” runs that will assuredly come out of this, though.

30XX

The other neat addition to this demo is Entropy conditions, which are essentially modifiers. You can make it to where shop items cost more Nut currency to purchase per run, impose a time limit, and/or increase the amount of HP enemies have. Enabling these options also increases rewards gained from runs, adding a nice risk vs. reward factor that will probably keep things engaging even after you master the game’s earlier stages. More Entropy conditions are promised to be added into the full game that will allow you to fine-tune your experience even further.

The one concern I have for 30XX at this point is the number of dead ends I encountered with no reward to show for it. This is probably a result of the procedurally generated nature of the game, but the number of times I thought I was so clever for platforming up to a hard-to-reach area only to be greeted by a wall was more than I cared for. This is the “30XX Very Pre-Alpha Demo”, though, so it’s a flaw that can still be fixed in future development and with everything else that is being done right so far — the tight platforming, varied progression, and delightful aesthetics — it’s not hard to be hopeful for 30XX‘s future.

Cris Tales

Cris Tales

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam, and Stadia
Release: Nov 17th, 2020

I went into the Cris Tales demo after hearing nothing but its name in passing here and there. After finishing the demo, I’d recommend you do the same. If you’re a fan of turn-based RPG’s just download the demo and see it for yourself.

Cris Tales managed to constantly surprise and delight me throughout the entirety of its 45-minute long demo, firstly being the visuals. Playing through the game is like watching stained-glass art come to life with its hyper-stylized character designs that emphasize general shapes rather than specific details and environments chock-full of geometrical sharp edges. I was in awe from the word “Go”.

The story follows Crisbell, a chipper young orphan girl who spends her time happily doing chores for the orphanage and her dearest Mother Superior. After chasing a dapper young frog to a church, Crisbell inadvertently awakens the powers of Time Crystals hosed there and gains the power to see both the past and future at the same time. This manifests as the screen fractures into thirds with the left side showing the past, the middle the present, and the right the future at all times.

It was a trick that took a minute or two to register with me, but once it did I immediately set about traipsing all about the town I had just chased the frog through in order to see how it has and will change. It was a positively fascinating experience that put a big stupid grin on my face the entire time.

Crisbell can use this knowledge of that past and future to make decisions in the present such as locating a missing potion label or creating a concoction that will prevent wood from rotting and leading to dilapidated houses. Choosing which house to restore is also an irreversible choice that will lead to different outcomes depending.

Cris Tales

Time manipulation also plays a major part in Cris Tales‘ turn-based combat in extremely novel and creative ways. Enemies attack Crisbell and co from both the left and the right, and you can attack them with your standard RPG basic attacks and skills. Enemies on the left side, however, can be forcibly sent to the past while enemies on the right to the future by expending Crystal Points. This means reverting a big brawny goblin into a harmless little child or aging it into an elder that can barely move.

That’s not all, though. Douse an armored enemy in water then send them to the future to cause it to rust and shatter their defense. Poison an enemy that has already been sent to the past then brings them back to the present to force them to take all that poison damage at once. Plant a damaging mandragora that would normally take a few turns to sprout then send it to the future to cause it to sprout instantly. These are the examples demonstrated in the demo but it’s abundantly clear that this is only the tip of the creative iceberg. It’s genuinely thrilling to imagine all the possibilities such a system is capable of. The best part is that we won’t have to wait long to find out as Cris Tales launches on all major platforms in just two months.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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