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E3 May Never Die, Only Get Bigger with Time

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E3 2019 is now officially in the books. The annual Electronic Entertainment Expo unofficially kicked off Thursday, June 6th and ended Thursday, June 13th. The next year leading up to E3 2020, and all prospective conferences, should prove very interesting. I’m going to make an easy prediction. Change is coming to the conference. Somewhere down the line, maybe even by 2020, a Thursday start (or even earlier) will no longer be an unofficial beginning to the conference.

Around April of every year, people start foaming at the mouth knowing that plenty of big news is about to hit once June rolls around. For many, it starts even earlier since, surprises, and the official unveiling of previously announced and unannounced games, rule this time of year. During those months before the annual event, gamers start doubling down on their internet gaming news in search of every bit of info they can find about the individual keynotes. It’s safe to say that most of us have been doing this for longer than we care to remember, and will continue to do so for years to come.

E3

This year Electronic Arts once again hosted their own version of the E3 demo floor with EA Play 2019 at the Hollywood Palladium. We, of course, watched every second of their unconventional keynote (if it can be called that) led by Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller. Why? Because that’s exactly what we all do when it comes to video games. We watch, we wait, we dream, we salivate, and sometimes we complain. Ok, that’s a lie, MANY TIMES we complain. EA continued to take things further this year, regarding their Pre-E3 plans. Just like they did for the first time a few years ago, they opened their EA Play Fan Fest event for free to the public immediately following their new style 3-hour keynote/presentation/interview show. This all happened because EA once again made the decision not to have physical floor space at the actual conference this year. But it was still E3, even if it was not within the confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 11th to June 13th.

E3 2019

If you kept score, then you know that between Thursday, June 6th, and Tuesday, June 11th, there were 12 presentations/keynotes/showcases that took place away from E3 this year. That, of course, included only two of the big 3: Microsoft and Nintendo. It also included the other three usual suspects: EA, Bethesda, and Ubisoft. Now sprinkle in Google, Bungie, Devolver Digital, Limited Run Games, and Square Enix. Throw in two showcases with the PC Gaming Show and the Kinda Funny Showcase, and you have yourself the makings of a full E3 slate before E3 even dreamed of starting. Microsoft continued with their traditional press conference while Nintendo once again took the non-traditional approach of using their Nintendo Direct to make their big announcements. In some small way, Nintendo was the first company to boldly step outside the normal confines of the E3 conference to share their message.

Sadly, Sony skipped E3 entirely this year, but personally (and I could be wrong) I don’t believe this will be a yearly occurrence. They were sorely missed, and PR wise it may not have been the best decision considering all the E3 hype was focused on Microsoft’s official unveiling of their latest console, Project Scarlett. Throw in Google’s new Stadia platform arriving in November of 2019, and it clearly makes it a questionable decision not to attend. In gaming, the phrase “No news is good news” never applies. With Sony’s absence aside, this brings me to the main reason for writing this article. Is this growth, and apparent defection involving many in the industry getting away from E3 for a short time (or maybe permanently), hurting the conference itself?

E3 2019

I read a lot about gaming and over the last two years, I’ve seen a few comments here and there about more companies stepping outside the confines of the Los Angeles Convention Center to share their upcoming release schedule. Developers are starting to put their focus on using E3 as more of a backdrop, than as their primary vessel for delivering their forecast for the coming year. These actions can often paint the separation from E3 as having adverse effects on the conference and video gaming itself. But I see it differently; I see it as the participants of this conference laying a larger foundation to build upon. In fact, I have no issue with this practice. I fully understand the idea that some messages can get muddled when they’re all placed together under one umbrella that is no longer large enough for the behemoth that the video game industry has become. I can even understand – although I’m not in complete agreement with – why Sony (or others) may want to take a step back from time to time due to the current structure.

The Unofficial New Normal for E3

With things kicking off early every year, it should be obvious to gamers that this is no longer just a trend. This is now officially the new unofficial normal for E3. In previous years you’d see the big names doing their showcases on the Monday prior to everything starting on Tuesday. We’ve watched as that moved up to Sunday recently, and for the past 3 years, we have EA Play starting on Saturday. Now this year we had Google’s Stadia Connect, and Bungie’s presentation take place on Thursday, June 6th. If you do the math, that’s a full 5 days before the official start of E3. But what you’re witnessing isn’t an implosion of gaming’s premier event. It’s a great sign of a much-needed expansion being driven by the participants themselves. Although this isn’t a scientific discussion the words that would best describe what’s occurring would be a paradigm shift. The question that could easily arise about the conference hype machine as we move on towards the 2020 show, and all subsequent shows, will be: Is it ever too early to start E3?

E3 2019

When it comes to video games, and this love we all share for the medium, I don’t care how early E3 starts. It could begin in May and I’d be just fine with that. I also don’t care how many different venues and settings are used to better share the message. Why? Because seeing new game trailers stirs something inside all of us. It feeds our anticipation of finding the next great game. This ever-growing love we share of gaming affords us the wonderful opportunity to watch the world of video games grow. So, if E3 wants to spill into the preceding week or even the week before that, then I say let it be! Especially since it continues to be expanded by developers and publishers, to add new locations around the Los Angeles area. This type of much-needed expansion is coming soon, mark my word, and I believe it will now be hastened due to Sony not participating in E3 2019.

Speaking of Sony, their departure from E3 this year isn’t solely because they want to find better ways to share their message and connect better with gamers, as they’ve claimed. I believe Sony knows that they will always be in direct competition with Microsoft (And now maybe Google too). But the current big 3 already understand that they each have their own loyal and diehard fan base. Some gamers choose one, some choose two, and some choose all three consoles. Those three core groups will never change. This makes me wonder if Sony was trying harder to appeal to the casual gamer with not attending? Because we all know what will definitely change from generation to generation. It’s the casual gamer. If that’s the actual case, then they should be smart enough to understand that even though the casual gamer is not at E3 or spending this week poring over all the news and announcements. They aren’t doing that at any time of year. To think otherwise would be bordering on the absurd.

E3 2019

It makes you wonder if the real reason for their absence this year, is that these three days of E3 have become too much to bear, even for companies as large as Sony. Knowing they will ultimately face backlash for some perceived slight to their fans while investing exorbitant amounts of money to cater to those same fans. Call it burn out, or just call it what it probably is, the Tower of Babel. Having only three official days of E3 means there are way too many voices screaming unintelligible information at the same moment. All in an effort to simply have their message stand out in a crowd. So what is the real reasoning? Reaching casual gamers? Facing backlash? Their message getting lost? Maybe it’s a little of everything, and they’re the first company to openly admit that E3 needs an overhaul by not attending.

This is exactly why I think it’s time for E3 to officially be expanded to 2 weeks. Not the playable demos on the conference room floor, that should still be only 3 or 4 days. I think the scope of the conference needs to be expanded so every big developer, and small indie, gets the right amount of time and space to share their story. Allowing them to get a better return on their investment in the conference. Of course, this will ultimately create fighting on who goes first, who goes last, and who gets stuck in the middle. To me the spot wouldn’t matter, it never has. What this would do, is it would be like a cup of tea that finally gets the perfect amount of time to steep. As it exists now, we are barely processing news, before the next piece of major information breaks. I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue for game fans. But this may be a major issue for developers and the outlets that send people to cover all the gaming news. Either way, it’s clear that times are changing, and something must be done to assist this expansion, and not fight it. Just look to the Olympics for a little inspiration. Think of how many venues across the host city and country that are utilized. Los Angeles can easily handle multiple sites over this proposed 2 week expansion.

E3 2019

E3 2020 and beyond will be interesting. Until then, our focus is on the fact that E3 2019 has now ended and we’re once again excited beyond all reason to comb through every piece of news. The end of each E3 always brings some disappointment over not hearing about certain games we know are currently in development. Thankfully there’s always plenty of pleasant surprises that ease that disappointment throughout the remainder of the year.

E3 is every hardcore gamer’s favorite unofficial holiday. A time of year that never seems to lose its magic. Sure, some years have less marquee game announcements than others, especially the year prior to new consoles launching when the key players tend to hold their cards a little closer to their chests. Even then, we know the industry we all love, and support, is doing everything it can to keep producing the content that feeds our passion. The conference that provides the platform for delivering all this news is evolving, and at the end of the day it may turn out to be a forced evolution. But change doesn’t always have to be bad. The idea of change may scare some people. I’m here to tell everyone who might be concerned, don’t be. Evolution is what will always save gaming from going the way of the dinosaurs. It always has. Which brings me to something said in jest during the conference, that sums up this whole need for change. If you happened to watch Kinda Funny’s Independent Games Showcase, there was a brief moment at the very beginning when the announcer prophetically joked. He said, “Filmed on location in Los Angeles, California. Home of E3 and a bunch of smaller events that don’t want to pay to be in the Los Angeles Convention Center. E3 isn’t a place, E3 is a state of mind.” Joke or not, this hits the nail directly on the head.

The month of June means many things. School is out for the year. Summer begins. Families take a much needed vacation. Sun, beaches, barbecues, and swimming reign supreme. As I’ve gotten older, June has taken on another meaning in my world. It signals one of the most anticipated weeks in video gaming. I once thought I’d reach a point where gaming no longer interested me, but today I know that my passion lives on, and it continues to grow. E3 continues to remain a part of that passion I have for gaming. This is why I will always say this with complete confidence, and all the optimism I can muster. Even if the conference we all know and love is currently in a state of flux.

Long Live E3.

  • Tony Strothers

Tony Strothers is currently trapped in Oklahoma City, while not understanding he’s free to leave. In the meantime, he keeps himself busy writing, drawing, and dreaming nightly of new video games in the hopes he survives until their scheduled release dates.

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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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