Connect with us

Games

Not so Final Fantasy – The Top 5 ‘FF’ Mini-Games

Published

on

Not so Final Fantasy is a tri-weekly column dedicated to all things Final Fantasy; from specific aspects of specific titles, to the universal features that set Square Enix’s inimitable JRPG series apart from the rest.

I recently finished what I would conservatively estimate was my 300th playthrough of Final Fantasy VII. As always, between dealing with the competing threats of a megalomaniacal conglomerate and a genetically enhanced warrior with delusions of Godhood, I spent some time at the Gold Saucer.

While I tend not to bother with the majority of the wondrous theme park’s myriad delights these days, I do still spend a few hours of each playthrough breeding and racing Chocobos. And that got me thinking about just how many hours of my life I’ve spent indulging in the series’ various mini-games over the years, and, more to the point, which of them I’ve enjoyed the most.

After careful deliberation, I’ve managed to compile this list ranking what are, in my humble opinion, Final Fantasy’s five best minigames.

5. Fishing – Final Fantasy XV

Although I enjoyed a few rounds of ‘Justice Monsters Five’ during my adventures through Eos with Noctis, Prompto, Gladiolus, and Ignis, Final Fantasy XV’s take on gaming’s most popular side-distraction – fishing – became an immediate favorite of mine.

It might have had something to do with the game as a whole failing to get its hooks into me like I hoped it would before release. Which isn’t to say I disliked Final Fantasy XV, I hasten to add. I enjoyed it, in the main; I was just a little disappointed with its inconsistent storytelling, complete shift toward hack ‘n’ slash-style combat, and lackluster quartet of protagonists. But that’s an article for another day.

To return to the subject at hand, the thing I enjoyed most about fishing in XV was its simplicity. There are no lengthy tutorials explaining the nuances of the game’s incongruously deep mechanics or 101 separate inputs to master; all the player has to do is mirror the fish’s movements whilst slowly reeling it in, making sure the line doesn’t snap during the process.

That’s not to say there’s a complete lack of challenge. As Noctis progresses through the story and new locations open up, the fish do become both larger in size and feistier, making it slightly more difficult to successfully land a catch. However, even then it’s rarely frustrating, instead tapping into that ‘just one more go’ mentality that makes these kinds of games so addictive.

Clearly, Square Enix understood that all players are looking for is a straightforward mini-game; a relaxing distraction that takes full advantage of XV’s undeniably gorgeous visuals to provide a few precious moments of calm in an otherwise hectic game. And it certainly succeeded in this aspect of the game. Many’s the hour I spent at the water’s edge, admiring the setting sun and the gentle lapping of the waves whilst attempting to finally land that elusive catch.

4. Chocobo Breeding – Final Fantasy VII

Ever since I first played Final Fantasy VII over twenty-one years ago (crikey that’s a long time), I’ve always spent the first couple of hours of disc three breeding Chocobos. Initially, it wasn’t something I looked forward to all that much, viewing it as a time-consuming and occasionally imprecise task that had to be completed in order to obtain a few, potent pieces of materia: Knights of the Round, Quadra Magic, and Mime. Not so much HP>MP – I’ve yet to come across a situation requiring that particular ability.

However, once I learned how to manipulate the background mechanics to suit my needs and read Mike Eyal’s comprehensive and extremely useful guide to Chocobo breeding, I began to really enjoy it.

Every aspect is perennially satisfying: catching those first two wild thoroughbreds, feeding them the right greens, collecting the nuts required to get them in the mood (as it turns out, nuts are a particularly potent aphrodisiac in Chocobo society), combining my new prize-winning birds to produce even better offspring, and finally, dominating the races.

It’s not just the material rewards on offer to those willing to spend some time in the stables that draws me in, however. As an animal lover, I love the process of nurturing this family of colourful, surprisingly characterful pedigree birds, especially once I’ve started racing them and I start to bond with my feathered companions. Learning which ones excel on the short track and which the long, for instance, or which of my flock possess the requisite speed and stamina to actually stand a chance of defeating Teioh – the only Chocobo capable of matching the player’s.

I only hope Square Enix retain the identity of this particular minigame in the upcoming remake. It can refine the snowboarding, submarine, and that bizarre rock-paper-scissors fighting game all it wants; it can even spend some time fine-tuning the racing mechanics, if need be. But the breeding mechanics are fine as they are. Well, apart from the potential for incestuous pairings, obviously… Yeah, that should probably be cut.

3. Chocobo Hot and Cold – Final Fantasy IX

Continuing the animal theme, my pick for 3rd is Final Fantasy IX’s Chocobo Hot and Cold; an item finding game that, using the Chocobo’s famous ‘Kweh’ sound as an indicator of proximity, tasks players with unearthing a bottomless treasure trove of valuables buried throughout a trio of small map screens.

Again, it’s a mini-game that’s simple mechanics make it easy to fall back on when the player is looking to take a break from the main story, but one that promises plenty of rare items for those willing to invest a disproportionate amount of hours to it over the course of the adventure. Particularly as a special type of treasure known as a ‘Chocograph’ provides clues as to the whereabouts of additional caches dotted around the overworld map itself, the best of which being filled with powerful weapons, such as Steiner’s Ragnarok, as well as a handful of rare cards; a desirable prize for anyone who enjoys Tetra Master: IX’s fun but slightly wonky CCG.

“Vamo’ Alla Flamenco”, meanwhile, Hot and Cold’s accompanying soundtrack, is one of the best pieces in the entire game. A catchy tune that, with its upbeat tempo and just a dash of Spanish flair, doesn’t get old, no matter how many times you hear it. Yet more proof, if any was needed at this point, of composer Nobuo Uematsu’s sheer versatility and prodigious musical skill.

And, although they’re quite limited in scope and look somewhat dated by 2018 standards, spoiled as we are by the graphical fidelity and artistic brilliance of modern titles, there’s something ineffably charming about the three arenas in which the game takes place: the Chocobo Forest, Lagoon, and Air Garden. Like the rest of Final Fantasy IX, it hearkens back to the high fantasy/fairy tale aesthetic of the series’ early days.

2. Blitzball – Final Fantasy X

Of all the minigames mentioned on this list, the one I’ve probably spent the most time with over the years is Blitzball. As a matter of fact, the day I got Final Fantasy X, I played for five hours non-stop, just so I could reach Luca and try out this strangely compelling mix of football and water polo for myself.

The initial tournament, the one I spent so long trying to reach, isn’t just fun, however, it serves as an excellent tutorial for the game, teaching players the basics in a largely pressure-free situation that ties in neatly with the wider narrative – in as much as it signals Wakka’s (supposedly) final game before retiring and committing himself fully to Yuna’s selfless quest.

Moreover, it perfectly encapsulates exactly what the player’s team, the Besaid Aurochs, represent; a lovable sporting underdog similar in spirit to the likes of The Mighty Ducks or the Cool Runnings gang. Giving the player a reason, if the enjoyable mechanics and rich supporting systems weren’t enough, to try their best to lead the hapless islanders to victory and, eventually, dominance over the rest of the Blitzballing world.

There are a few things that hold it back, however, preventing it from taking top spot on my list. Aside from the inexplicable decision of every Blitzball player in the world to stick rigidly to the equatorial regions of the arena, moving in a strictly horizontal direction and completing failing to make use of the three-dimensional space available to them, my primary issue with the game is the ever-declining difficulty. Once the player’s squad of players have learned a couple of overpowered abilities like the Jecht Shot’s 1 and 2, Invisible Shot, and Nap Tackle 3, losing is such a rare occurrence it becomes almost unheard of. I mean, I guess I could just eschew those particular techniques… But that might produce the opposite effect. Maybe next time.

1. Triple Triad – Final Fantasy VIII

Keeping Blitzball from the top spot is triple triad; Final Fantasy VIII’s modest, yet addictive and ridiculously fun collectible card game.

The basic form of triple triad is fairly straightforward. Using a deck of five cards (comprised of VIII’s numerous monsters, guardian forces, and a handful of its most important human characters), the player and their NPC opponent compete to occupy the majority of the game’s 3×3 square board with cards of their own color: blue for the player, pink for the computer. To do this, the player must try to capture as many of the opponent’s cards as possible, whilst protecting their own from retaliatory strikes, which is in turn accomplished by placing cards of a higher rank next to a weaker opponent – each card having an innate strength value corresponding to each of its four sides, indicated by a number located in the top left corner. If that sounds a little confusing, this video tutorial (created by YouTuber ladygilwen) provides a clear and concise explanation.

Things start to get slightly more complex once Squall and company have ventured slightly further afield during the course of their adventure, each town and city the party visit adding their own unique rules upon arrival. For example, one introduces a mathematical element to proceedings, while a second adds elemental tiles to the board which enhance any cards played on them that share the corresponding attribute; a third even randomizes the player’s starting deck, which can be particularly tricky to cope with if you have a large collection.

Yet, despite these modifications, the game remains highly entertaining throughout (especially if players make regular trips back to Balamb Town to reset the rules whenever a particularly complicated one is introduced), requiring a mixture of strategic placement and effective card combinations to succeed, and possessing a level of depth that’s really quite surprising for such an unassuming game.

The greatest testament to its success, however, has to be the release of a stand-alone mobile version in 2015 which, to date, has an estimated install base of 500,000. It’s very much a ‘freemium’ game, unfortunately, using pay walls to restrict players unwilling to spend money on microtransactions to a limited number of games per day. Still, with a raft of new cards representing various Final Fantasy characters past and present, and plenty of crisp new illustrations, it’s not bad if you’re only looking for a casual game every now and then.


Given the nature of this article I’m sure there are more than a few conflicting opinions. For one thing, I’d imagine there are those who’d contest that Final Fantasy XII’s hunting mini-game deserves a spot on this list. Indeed, it would almost certainly have made it into the top two if, at the last minute, I hadn’t decided it was closer to a series of side-quests than a bona fide mini-game. Regardless, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

Other than that, all that’s left to say is be sure to return in a couple of weeks’ time when the topic will be Final Fantasy XI: the series’ first foray into MMO territory.

Counting Final Fantasy VII, The Last of Us, the original Mass Effect trilogy, and The Witcher 3 amongst his favourite games, John enjoys anything that promises to take up an absurdly large amount of his free time. When he’s not gaming, chances are you’ll find him engrossed in a science fiction or fantasy novel; basically, John’s happiest when his attention is as far from the real world as possible.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

Game Reviews

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

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Games

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

Published

on

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. 

Continue Reading

Games

Awesome Mixtape: Best Video Game Soundtracks 2019

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Trending