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‘A Link to the Past’s’ Mythological Structure



Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past

It says quite a lot about the quality of the game that A Link to the Past’s contributions to The Legend of Zelda franchise are still, more or less, relevant to this day. While both A Link Between Worlds and Breath of the Wild took steps in pushing the series forward, denying A Link to the Past’s influence on the games that came before would be foolish. This was the entry that gave dungeons proper puzzles, started (but not yet solidified) the trend of dungeon items being used against bosses, and established the “Zelda Formula,” a structure which saw the majority of games being split into two key sections. Along with the many gameplay additions, A Link to the Past brought with it a more focused narrative that worked to expand the lore and mythology of the series.

While both The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link had a clear mythological identity, the first two installments’ faith felt more analogous to Christianity than the wholly unique religion found in the rest of the franchise. The Triforce clearly always played a divine role in the series, in both it how it was utilized in the first two games along with its appearance, but it wouldn’t be until A Link to the Past where the Triforce would be fully fleshed out into more than just a godly symbol. A Link to the Past establishes the Triforce as a tangible object rooted in divinity, coveted by all. It’s through the Triforce’s expanded role that the series gains adequate context for the conflict between Link and Ganon while also making A Link to the Past feel classically epic in nature.

More than anything, it’s A Link to the Past’s narrative structure which allows the game to properly establish a more focused mythos for the franchise. While Link is already on his adventure by the time players take control of him in The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past opens with a literal call to adventure, the first step in the Hero’s Journey. In the middle of the night, through telepathy, Princess Zelda calls for Link to come rescue her in Hyrule Castle’s dungeon. Upon being told by their uncle to stay inside, the player is then given control of Link and tasked with disobeying his mentor figure to rescue Zelda. Through spiritual aid, Zelda leads the player to the castle’s secret entrance where Link meets his now dying uncle who bestows upon him his sword.

A Link to the Past

Although Link’s Uncle is really no more than just a means of giving Link a sword as far as the gameplay is concerned, that doesn’t mean his minimal role isn’t impactful or devoid of thematic relevance. While there’s no emotional attachment in his death for the player, the act of passing his sword onto Link is quite ceremonial given the context. Despite not being in any true danger, Link proves himself by avoiding the guards, braving the storm, and finding a hidden passageway into the castle. The entire opening works in service of Link “earning” his sword. In The Legend of Zelda, he’s simply given it inside a cave while he begins with it in The Adventure of Link. A Link to the Past uses its introduction to establish a scenario where Link proves his worth and takes up his Uncle’s sword as his last will and testament.

From there, Link rescues Princess Zelda, escorts her out of the castle, and leads her to a Sanctuary where she takes refuge for the game’s first act. Now having rescued the Princess and inherited his uncle’s blade, Link is properly set out on his adventure to retrieve the three Pendants of Virtue so that he can wield the Master Sword and defeat Agahnim. It’s in leaving the Sanctuary to go about their quest that the player crosses the first threshold in the Hero’s Journey, properly beginning their adventure.

It should be explicitly stated that this threshold is for the player and not Link since the key difference signifying A Link to the Past opening up is the storm’s clearing. Realistically, Link would be familiar with a clear-skied Hyrule whereas someone playing the game for the first time wouldn’t. Worth noting, however, is that Link is still very much a blank state at this point in the series so, in a way, this first threshold still counts as far as Link’s arc is concerned since he’s less of a character and more of a vessel.

A Link to the Past

The order in which the three Pendants of Virtue are attained are also worth making note of as they lend themselves to a subtle arc of sorts for Link/the player. The first pendant Link is tasked in finding is that of Courage. Courage is a theme that will go on to play a large role as far as future iterations of Link are concerned so it’s only natural A Link to the Past kick off with Link proving his bravery. Although the Eastern Palace lacks elements that would traditionally test one’s bravery, it housing the Pendant of Courage still works as an extension of the opening.

Link proved his bravery earlier by entering Hyrule Castle swordless and then helping Princess Zelda escape at the expense of being labeled a criminal by Hyrule. Now, in a worse situation than he’s ever been in, he still agrees to help Zelda, braving a dungeon so that he can obtain the Master Sword and defeat a wizard terrorizing an entire country. The narrative doesn’t need to make a note of Link proving his bravery since the context of the adventure up to that point already does so.

Tucked away in the Desert Palace, the Pendant of Power actually does have some synchronicity with the actual gameplay. As the Pendant of Power, it’s natural to associate it with swordplay. Even though the dungeon itself doesn’t emphasize action any more so than usual, it is the third major dungeon in the game, (counting Hyrule Castle,) so players should be expected to have a better grasp of the combat by this point. Whether intentional or not, the Pendant of Power’s placement makes sense within A Link to the Past’s overall structure simply due to the fact that it gives players enough time to adjust to the combat and understand how to properly fend for themselves.

A Link to the Past

Of all the pendants, the Pendant of Wisdom at the top of the Tower of Hera feels the most appropriately placed in regards to context and dungeon. By this point in the game, players have taken on more than a few puzzles and should have a grasp of what A Link to the Past expects from them. This is reflected in the Tower of Hera’s main puzzle: obtaining the Moon Pearl. It is incredibly easy to miss the Moon Pearl and simply head to the Boss fight, but previous dungeons will have bestowed upon the player the wisdom to know and understand that Boss Keys serve dual functions. Not only do they open the door to the boss, they also open the dungeon’s biggest chest, giving Link access to a new item.

Once Link retrieves all three Pendants of Virtue, and ideally the Moon Pearl, he can then head into the Lost Woods to pull the Master Sword out of its pedestal. Scenery wise, the Master Sword could not be placed in a better location. Traversing a fogged, labyrinthine forest only to be greeted with a serene grove filled with animals is the perfect place for a legendary sword to sleep. It’s mystical in nature, surrounded by nature. The scenario is only made better by Link needing to transcribe the text on the Master Sword’s pedestal with the Book of Mudora before he can actually wield it. As the Japanese script reads:

“When the ‘Great Catastrophe’ befalleth, the ‘Hero’ carrying three crests shall come, and by those hands shall be drive out the sword. That person will be one who doth carry the blood of the Knight Family.”

The inscription itself adds a considerable amount of weight to the story up to that point. The Japanese text implies that the Great Catastrophe has begun in earnest and time has effectively run out, or is running out, to stop Agahnim. Should Link return to the Sanctuary after obtaining the Master Sword, the priest who was taking care of Zelda will reveal that he failed in keeping her safe before dying. As the Sanctuary was also one of Link’s spawn points when booting up the game, along with serving as a quick way to regain health, there is a substantial feeling of loss in the priest’s death, at the very least eliciting some sort of emotional reaction from the player if only one out of convenience.

A Link to the Past

Link storming Hyrule Castle to rescue Princess Zelda effectively signals the beginning of the end for A Link to the Past. Even with the Master Sword in hand, Link fails in rescuing the Princess, fails in stopping Agahnim, and fails in saving Hyrule. At the end of the boss fight with Agahnim, Link and the player find themselves at the lowest point of the Hero’s Journey. Not only have they failed, but they’ve also been transported to a separate world entirely: the Dark World.

A perversion of the lush and full of life Hyrule, the Dark World is a land rampant with monsters and desolation. It is a completely warped version of the overworld players have gotten used to for hours. In many ways, the Dark World is analogous to a journey through the Underworld for Link, a staple of classic storytelling. To make matters worse, should Link not have the Moon Pearl, he’ll take the form of a defenseless rabbit in the Dark World, preventing him from attacking and requiring him to use the Magic Mirror to go back to the Light World in order to grab the Moon Pearl from Hera’s Tower.

It’s only through that Moon Pearl that Link is able to retain his true form in the Dark World, allowing him to rescue the seven maidens Agahnim kidnapped so that he can finish his quest and save Hyrule. Depending on how the players takes Link’s loss to Agahnim in Hyrule Castle, the Dark World’s narrative can be seen as a prolonged atonement where Link makes up for his failure to prevent Zelda’s capture. As is to be expected from a metaphorical journey through Hell, the Dark World sees a difficulty spike all around. Enemies are more aggressive, puzzles aren’t as clear cut, and dungeons are substantially longer.

A Link to the Past

As Link rescues the maidens locked away in the Dark World, it’s revealed “the sacred land where the Triforce was placed” before Ganon took hold of the Triforce and corrupted the land into the Dark World. This context gives the Dark World an even more hellish personification since it’s confirmed, in text, to be a literal corruption of a sacred land. With this in mind, Link’s goal becomes more than just saving the maidens and stopping Agahnim. He’s now responsible for bringing balance back to the divine order of the world by stopping Ganon, retrieving the Triforce, and undoing his wish.

After rescuing all the Maidens, the road to the final step in Link’s Hero’s Journey takes him to Ganon’s Tower where he confronts Agahnim one last time only to learn that Agahnim and Ganon were one and the same the entire time. From a narrative perspective, this allows there to be a deeper bond between Link and Ganon before heading into the final fight. Ganon isn’t just a random villain showing up for the finale as he was actively working against Link the entire time, albeit disguised.

The actual final fight with Ganon is very mythological in nature since Link is required to use a mix of the Silver Arrows and the Master Sword to defeat Ganon. While also being a reference to the original Legend of Zelda, the silver arrows simply add another layer to the story’s structure. The Master Sword alone wasn’t enough to fell Ganon in Agahnim’s form so of course Link would require another mystical weapon to help finish the job. Link obtaining the Silver Arrows is even Arthurian in concept, requiring Link to toss his arrows into a Fairy’s pond within the Pyramid of Power.

A Link to the Past

Upon finally defeating Ganon, Link is welcomed into the Triforce’s chamber where it’s revealed that the Triforce “is the ‘Golden Power’ of the gods.” It can be taken for granted considering later games frequently make mention of the goddesses, but this is the first explicit in-game mention of Hyrule being a polytheistic world outside of A Link to the Path’s Japanese title, Triforce of the Gods. Not only that, it’s confirmation that multiple gods to in fact exist in The Legend of Zelda’s mythos. Fittingly, Link coming in contact with the Triforce fills the criteria for the Gift of the Goddess within the Hero’s Journey where the hero receives a reward for their actions. In this case, Link wishes for the world to return to the way it was before Ganon began terrorizing Hyrule, also fulfilling the criteria for the Hero’s return at the end of their Hero’s Journey.

Before the credits roll, the player is shown the result of Link’s wish. Characters who died come back to life, order is restored to Hyrule, and the Master Sword is returned to its pedestal, never to be touched again. While that last part is certainly debatable considering the chronology of the series and how future games link back to A Link to the Past, it doesn’t change the fact that A Link to the Past is mythological in structure from start to finish and that its structure contributed greatly to how future games would approach the series’ lore and narrative. It is a tale that is epic in its most traditional sense, giving players the chance to live out a Hero’s Journey all while establishing a mythological identity for The Legend of Zelda as a whole.

As Koji Kondo’s score plays over the credits, slowly easing into a rendition of the series’ main theme, it becomes abundantly clear that The Legend of Zelda’s mythos is more than just a few Christian references with mentions of a Triforce here and there. It’s a fleshed out, fully realized world with something meaningful to say. Whether it be about the nature of man or what it means to be a hero, A Link to the Past takes a serious attempt at expanding the Zelda lore and it does so spectacularly. A Link to the Past is a complete redefinition of The Legend of Zelda’s world, elevating the series to a new standard entirely. One rooted in myth.

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

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Game Reviews

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



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



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



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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