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Concerning Continuations: Disappointing Game Sequels

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Most Disappointing Video Game Sequels

In film, it’s a cliche that a sequel is almost never as good as the original. In the game industry, it’s almost the opposite. Sequels routinely build upon the paths laid by developers in their original entries, making modifications to the engine, the game’s design, or its story that usually fix issues that the first entry had. However, as with every rule, there are exceptions. Just like some film sequels equal or surpass their predecessors, some game sequels — while occasionally succeeding as standalone entries — fail utterly to capture what made their predecessors so great,

We recently invited our writers to talk about some of their most personally disappointing sequels, and we received what are certainly some interesting answers.

Red Dead Redemption II

Red Dead Redemption II is by no means a bad game. Both visually and mechanically, there is exquisite attention of detail that I have only ever seen once before (in The Witcher 3). The amount of polish placed on simple things — like how the game’s protagonist, Arthur, gets off his horse — led me, as a novice developer, to feel daunted because the entire world is treated with similar attention to detail. The dialogue is well written, and there is an abundance of activities and missions to explore. Why then is this game disappointing?

The original Red Dead Redemption is still, to this day, my favorite game of all time. It’s a complete package, blessed with one of the best stories in gaming, some of the best visuals of the time, and gameplay that I couldn’t force myself to tire of. Every aspect feels perfect and well balanced. In many ways, Red Dead Redemption II is the sequel you would expect.

However, it feels like there’s too much of it.

While the first game took around thirty or forty-five hours to see everything, its sequel can range from seventy to one hundred fifty hours. Compared to the first game, where there was always enough to discover (but not enough to feel overwhelmed), Red Dead Redemption II feels overfull, and Rockstar’s choice of game design sometimes evidences this fact.

In Red Dead Redemption II, I’ve died in gunfights because when I tried to aim my pistol, I opened the dialogue tree by mistake. Similarly, I’ve spent hours collecting pelts, just to find out they were of poor quality or had them stolen mere meters from the nearest town. I’ve desperately tried to lose myself in the story, only for Rockstar to drag me away from it time and time again with a world so real and beautiful
that it dilutes the quality of the experience.

I’m enjoying my time with Red Dead Redemption II, but the magic of the original has not been replicated. Indeed, it reminds me of many Oscar nominees — a remarkable achievement and detail
within the industry, but not that enjoyable to experience as a game. (Chris Bowring)

Mass Effect: Andromeda

When BioWare announced the fourth installment in their acclaimed Mass Effect series, fans of the game were excited to venture back into the world that we had grown to love over the course of five years. Although the ending of Mass Effect 3 faced its own share of criticism, the trilogy was widely praised, and a new game was highly anticipated.

Unfortunately for BioWare and Mass Effect fans, Mass Effect: Andromeda was a disappointing entry in the franchise which failed to live up to its predecessors’ legacies.

You can’t discuss Mass Effect: Andromeda without mentioning the controversy around the
animations and various other technical issues upon release. The painfully bad and often laughable
glitches and facial animations were noticeable almost immediately, and it didn’t take long before the
worst offenses were posted all over YouTube and social media. Characters would emote woodenly on their robotic faces, and game breaking bugs would force you to load a previous save. For a AAA game from a well-known company and developer, these sorts of mistakes were unforgivable.

Inevitably, comparisons were made between Andromeda and Mass Effect 3, and before long, many fans began to think that the third game had better animations despite being released five years earlier — and on vastly inferior hardware. BioWare later released patches to fix some of the worst cases, but it was too little, too late, and fans couldn’t forgive that we were given a broken and unfinished mess.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was not an entirely bad game. For instance, the combat had some updated
features that made for fun gameplay, and it was enjoyable to venture back into the Mass Effect universe once again. However, there are far too many issues to ignore. I loved the missions in the original trilogy, but I found them not half as engaging in Andromeda, as a fair amount were boring fetch quests across empty worlds. This, along with the multiple technical issues and lackluster narrative, made for a game that was just plain disappointing. (Toni Haynes)

Super Mario Sunshine

The 3D Super Mario games are some of the most acclaimed, yet surprisingly divisive, titles in Nintendo’s history. While some are considered masterpieces (the groundbreaking Super Mario 64, Galaxy 1 and 2, and some would argue the recent Super Mario Odyssey), others aren’t so unanimously loved.

Coming off of the incredible Super Mario 64, I was thrilled when the second-ever 3D Mario game was announced for the GameCube. Unfortunately, that excitement rapidly turned to disappointment as I quickly realized just how painfully samey and unintuitive Super Mario Sunshine is.

Super Mario 64‘s core platforming mechanics are some of the most naturally designed and rock solid platforming mechanics I’ve ever experienced. Those are largely still intact in Sunshine, but with one major wrinkle that was tied to Sunshine’s gameplay hook: F.L.U.D.D. While it’s fun to mess around with at first (particularly its ability to make Mario hover), controlling it and switching between its different modes feels significantly clunkier than the Super Mario series’ core gameplay. F.L.U.D.D.’s forced utilization throughout (save for only a few areas) makes it wear out its welcome that much more quickly.

Sunshine also suffers from a distinct lack of varied environments. Super Mario 64 quite literally transports players to different worlds with every painting they enter. Years later, Galaxy allows the player to visit a stunningly diverse array of planets and galaxies. Sunshine, on the other hand, is very firmly rooted in its tropical aesthetic. Whereas other 3D Super Mario games had blown my mind and pleasantly surprised me with new and interesting locales, Sunshine just felt lackluster and visually uninteresting. At its release, it was a decent game, but I can’t help but feel disappointed whenever I play it. (Brent Middleton)

Silent Hill 4: The Room

The initial trilogy of Silent Hill games is rightfully looked upon as the holy trinity of survival horror. The original Silent Hill utilizes its limitations as strengths, focusing on ambiance and atmosphere to make players feel tense, rather than employing cheap jump scares. Silent Hill 2 furthers this approach by diving deep into the psyche of the characters and the players, forcing both to take a long, hard look at the horrors of the real world through a funhouse mirror. Silent Hill 3 returns to the themes of the first game, but focuses them through a maternal lens rather than a paternal one. It also re-structures the gameplay to put some of the power back into the hands of the player.

Then came Silent Hill 4: The Room. Saddled with the legacy of being a Silent Hill game, The Room loses much of its original charm when players leave the sinister apartment they are trapped in to visit random parts of the titular town, with the switch from first to third-person making these exchanges all the more jarring.

Meanwhile, The Room continuously pulls you in and out of the nightmarish world of the preceding games, destroying the creeping sense of fear and dread that pervaded each of them. In essence, Silent Hill 4: The Room is the worst of both worlds. Teeming with indestructible enemies, frustrating puzzles, and a disastrous clash of artistic visions, this game is rightfully looked upon as the beginning of Silent Hill’s downfall as a franchise. (Mike Worby)

 Resident Evil 5

“How do you fuck this up!? How!?!?”

These are the words of William Hurt in A History of Violence, and they have become a constant reference point when I see slam dunks like this that someone, somehow, managed to bungle up. Case in point: Resident Evil 5.

Capcom had just saved this meandering franchise from falling into oblivion with its previous entry; Resident Evil 4 is one of the best-designed, most utterly fun survival horror games of all time. It masterfully re-balances the gameplay of Resident Evil so that the player can deliver the carnage unto their enemies, rather than just fearing the eventual onslaught. Yes, Leon occasionally gets violently dispatched with a chainsaw or pitchfork, but he also gets to blow up hordes of enemies with TNT, and crush them to bits with boulders and catapults.

Resident Evil 5 squanders this reinvention by making hasty, needless changes to the new formula. First, Capcom forced in a campaign-long co-op angle, making the game anti-fun unless you could find a friend to play with. Next, they threw the dark Gothic atmosphere and encroaching darkness of the previous game out the window. Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, RE5 returns players to the out-dated inventory system they had been straddled with for the five games that preceded the fantastic, empowering advent of the attache case system. Suddenly, one game later, we could only carry 6 to 8 items at a time, and had to stumble our way through pointless item exchanges with another character who we were probably controlling ourselves.

Finally,  Resident Evil 4 at least had the good graces to imitate Metal Gear Solid with tongue firmly planted in cheek. By doubling down on the worst elements in the most ridiculous game in the entire series, Resident Evil 5 boulder-punched itself into the volcano of the worst sequels ever put to plastic.

7 minutes. 7 minutes is all the time I have to deal with this game. (Mike Worby)

Xenoblade Chronicles X

There are few Nintendo games that I actively do not like. Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of those.

Flashback to 2015. It had been three years since Nintendo had released Xenoblade Chronicles on the Wii in North America, and for the past two years, they had been marketing its sequel. Revealed first at a Nintendo Direct in 2013 — and further introduced in marquee appearances at E3 in 2014 and 2015 — Xenoblade Chronicles X seemed poised for the same sort of greatness that its predecessor had found in America.

In great anticipation for what I thought would be, without a doubt, my game of the year, I went on media blackout for X, refusing to look at the details of scores or read many impressions of any sort. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so naive. However, the hype has a way of numbing one’s logical capabilities, and as a result, I went into the game almost completely blind.

I knew (from what I couldn’t blackout) that the game had a lesser story than its predecessor, but I figured “Hey, I loved the combat in Xenoblade, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Needless to say, I was completely wrong.

Xenoblade Chronicles X completely obliterated the original Xenoblade’s most valuable asset — it’s incredible story — and replaced it with one of the most snooze-worthy, poor excuses of a story that I’ve ever played in a game. Whereas from its initiation, Xenoblade Chronicles’ story hits the player fast and hard, pushing them rapidly through a tale whose scale rapidly accelerated, X’s is a slog — a poorly-localized, poorly written, ham-fisted tale that takes the worst parts of the last two decades of JRPGs, sews them together, and calls it a day.

Whereas Xenoblade compliments its story with characters that, while embodying the typical cliches found in JRPGs, nonetheless represents some of the best examples of Japanese storytelling this side of Chrono Trigger, X assembles a cast whose pure blandness is nearly overwhelming. From the player-created protagonist to the main cast, the entire game is filled with the worst elements of Japanese anime cliches. With too-young girls, macho guys, and other anime cliches for which the medium and its fans are routinely lampooned in the West, X feels like it got lost on the way to the darker side of CrunchyRoll. Atrociously wooden voice acting that called to remembrance the oaken tones of early 2000s shows like Transformers Armada was the final straw. I sold it within a week of release and haven’t looked back.

But, hey, that’s just my opinion. (Izsak Barnette)

***

So what are some of your most disappointing game sequels? Tell us in the comments section below!

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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: Gordy Haab and Stephen Barton and the London Symphony Orchestra (and London Voices at Abbey Road)
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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