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What NOT To Do When Turning a Game Into a Movie

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For a long time, many game companies have tried to get their games turned into movies, often unsuccessfully. Despite the dubious results, the idea is still a popular one. Rainmaker had been planning on making a Ratchet and Clank movie for a long time, and it seemed like a pretty solid setup too. While some games have very little that could be used to make a film, the Ratchet and Clank series has a whole load of advantages: unique weapons, interstellar space travel, robots, diabolical villains and a crime-fighting duo composed of a talking cat/fox-like creature named Ratchet and his clever robotic sidekick Clank. This sci-fi action adventure game could work incredibly well as a film, seeming practically foolproof with its built-in kids-to-early-teens demographic, thanks to the games. They had the funding, the resources, and an entire series rich in humor to work off of, with more than enough creativity and action to pack into a film. Unfortunately, it all went horribly wrong. Ratchet and Clank flopped hard at the box office, having a $20 million budget, yet barely making back over half of that. To explore why this happened, I’m going to pick out what not to do when making a game into a movie, using Ratchet and Clank as my prime example.

1) Don’t Sand Your Characters Down Around the Edges

When turning a game into a film certain changes must be made now and then, which is understandable. At the same time not all changes made are necessary or even good. An example of this is the characters’ personalities. In an attempt to try and make the movie more appealing Rainmaker made the terrible mistake of dumbing down their characters. I’ll use Ratchet as a primary example of this. Ratchet’s personality has developed over the course of the series significantly. He’s been shown to be brave and selfless in combat and is not only relatable but also very likable due to his sarcastic nature and ability to dish out insults to villains he faces. He is also flawed, having a tendency to take things personally and get mad, but usually comes out on top and does the right thing. That’s the Ratchet the fans know of from the games. The Ratchet we see in the movie, however, doesn’t feel like Ratchet. He acts like an adoring fanboy of the Galactic rangers and has the dreamer type of personality, the one where a person constantly dreams about being something bigger and better and never shuts up about it. He doesn’t have the same spark of attitude that made him as entertaining or relatable to the audience and that really harms the connection the audience has with the main character.

In fact, there’s also a strong lack of character development for all the characters. As the story goes on we’re introduced to the Galactic Rangers, a group of space rangers led by Captain Quark consisting of Cora Verlux, Brax Lectrus and Elaris (Elaris is a tech builder, the rest are field operatives). These people protect the galaxy from villains and whatever catastrophe may occur. A man named Drek is planning to tear apart several planets using a weapon called ‘The Deplanetizer’ to build his own and the Galactic rangers need to up their numbers from four rangers to five. Now, the movie centers around Ratchet and Clank going on missions with the galactic rangers but despite this we know very little about them asides from one or two character traits. I understand Ratchet is the main focus but side characters should feel like more than just props in the movie. In fact, the character who seems to get the most development is captain Quark. He’s not the most likable character and its odd seeing him going through a character arch as opposed to someone like oh, I don’t know, the main protagonist?

Anyway, the Galactic rangers don’t want to take Ratchet on due to his many misadventures listed in his bio such as almost destroying the space-time continuum or being in possession of an illegal gravity booster. After being rejected he soon meets Clank, a warbot defect who escaped from the lab of Doctor Nefarious, a mad scientist who is supplying Drek with warbots to help him with his scheme to create the ultimate planet. He explains Drek’s plan to Ratchet and also that the warbots are scheduled to ambush and annihilate the rangers soon. They then save the rangers from the warbots and Quark gives them a position with the rangers, much to his own irritation since Ratchet is unintentionally getting the attention from the media that Quark usually does.

2) If the Joke Doesn’t Make You Laugh, Don’t Put It In

In this movie, there are a few good jokes pegged at the audience but very few of them actually make us laugh. In a previous game, there was a scene where Captain Quark was thought to have died. In this scene, Ratchet had to host a type of memorial with his crew and talk about how great Quark was. Ratchet clearly struggled to do this and instead of being able to complement Quark on any good features he instead ended up saying he was tall and had a butt shaped chin before awkwardly scampering away from the podium. This is an example of humor that actually works. It’s funny because Ratchet is trying to be nice but can’t find anything good to say and fails so miserably at the speech that he just quits and walks off. These jokes are genuinely funny and kids would be able to get them but the jokes in the movie feel rushed and lazy, like the writers don’t think we’ll notice they’re not trying. I’m sorry but making your guard loudly scream out whatever command he’s given or having your villains laugh like idiots isn’t funny enough to make me want to buy a ticket for your movie. I think I’ll just stay at home and play the game without the awkward cringe jokes, thanks.

3) If There’s a Plot Point That Connects to a Side Character, Use It to Develop Them, Rather Than Push it Aside

There is a very important plot point not mentioned in the film: The next planet Drek plans to strike is Novalis, the home planet of Cora Verlux, one of the galactic rangers. It’s terribly ironic because in the game this is mentioned by Cora but in the film, she just states that the planet is heavily populated. You’d expect an important detail like this that adds more drama to the scene to be included in the cinematic release, not the game (There was a game made of this movie with the same plot). Whether it was lost during editing or cut out since they didn’t like this particular plot line I don’t know, but it seems like a poor decision. The fact that Novalis is Cora’s home planet means this planets safety is made more personal to the viewers since it is the home of one of the characters we know. Or it would be more emotional if we got more character development from Cora but whatever, I just think it’s a wasted opportunity and confusing for those who played the game and watched the movie because then we’re not sure which is canon.

4) Your Villain Can’t Be a Complete Idiot

Ok, so the rangers try to attack the deplanetizer but their weapons systems are disabled due to their captain sabotaging them since Drek convinced Quark it will get Ratchet out of the picture. Ratchet makes a gutsy move and despite his ship having no defense systems he guns it through a fleet of Drek’s ships to the deplanetizer and ejects himself. Ratchet manages to get his way smoothly to the deplanetizer’s control room, no hiccups or problems along the way. He actually gets to the control panel and is right about to deactivate the device when Drek shows up on his floating scooter. Yeah, he rides around on a floating space scooter and I don’t know why. Maybe its supposed to be scary? Man, imagine if more space villains did that. Hey, can we get Darth Vader on some roller blades? Or maybe Lord Zarkon on a skateboard? That’d be sick. Anyway, Drek just happens to show up and shoot Ratchet with a gun that creates a force field around him, immobilizing him just before he can turn on the deplanetizer. Drek then brags about how much of a fool Ratchet is.

Boi.

A SINGLE ranger managed to infiltrate your base, get through a barely guarded control room and almost shut down your machine and you’re BRAGGING? You could argue he was laying in wait for Ratchet to appear so he could blast him but seriously, why not put down a booby trap in the room? Why not have a group of blarg there with those guns ready to shoot Ratchet as soon as he came in? Drek isn’t the sort to get his own hands dirty or throw himself into the way of harm, so him showing up to shoot Ratchet seems very out of character and poor in regard to his plan.

5) Don’t Let Your Protagonist Take the Easy Way Out! Make Them Struggle to Overcome the Problem

If you think that’s bad planning, hold onto your hats babes because we’re about to go from stupid to agonizingly moronic. After capturing Ratchet, a galactic ranger, does Drek kill him? No. Does he put him in a cell? No. He decides he wants Ratchet to live to see his failure in stopping the deplanetizer, so he orders his soldiers to put Ratchet in a spacepod and fire him into space. Yeah. THAT’S his plan. It doesn’t even have a bomb attached to it or anything! Seriously, this could have been done so many different ways to work! If the writers needed Drek to not kill Ratchet then have him find a way to escape the forcefield! Maybe Drek would try to get Ratchet to join his side like how he did with Quark, but Ratchet would instead escape and try to stop the deplanetizer but be too late? I can’t even call this the sort of thing a dramatic cliché villain would do. Making grandiose speeches while the protagonist escapes a convoluted contraption made to kill him, or constantly stalling as you boast is one thing, but this? This is beyond idiotic. The kids who watch this film aren’t stupid and they will catch onto these flaws in the story. If your characters are being idiots to this extent then its going to harm the film, especially considering how lazy it is from a writing perspective. This is another factor that needs to be focused on when making films: Don’t dumb things down or take the easy way out. Your characters need to find a way to overcome their obstacles, not just slip around them! A movie isn’t exciting if they just conveniently get the easy way out.

Anyway, Novalis is destroyed by the deplanetizer and the mission has been failed. We have a brief moment where we get to see the rangers reactions as they realize they failed their mission. Even Quark, being the traitor, is transfixed by the sight of Novalis being shattered. Ratchet curls up inside the ejected space pod as if floats through space, clearly upset by what has just occurred. Now, this scene is important but what could potentially come after it even more so. Unfortunately, the writers can’t seem to stop throwing good opportunities out the window. It’s a shame because this is a perfect set up. Instead of showing Ratchet having to return to the Galactic Rangers and see their reactions to being betrayed by Quark as well as Ratchet’s failure, the film decides to just show Ratchet back on his home planet Veldin moping around. This is a HUGE missed opportunity that could really help enrich the storytelling and character development of the Galactic rangers all at once.

6) Don’t Leave Out Facts That Make Us Interested in the Supporting Cast

Novalis is Cora’s home planet so the failure of this mission would be all the more devastating to her. Despite spending so much time around the Galactic rangers they’ve been given very little character development. This would be a perfect chance to show more of who Cora Verlux is in a time of crisis. Her home planet has just been destroyed, the mission has been a complete catastrophe, her captain betrayed her team and now the person who was just seconds away from stopping the total annihilation of her planet before being caught is now standing right in front of her. There was so much that could have been done with this scene. How would Cora have reacted? Would a part of her blame Ratchet and blow up at him? Would she just carry on with a grim sense of acceptance? Would she instead offer support to him and show maturity? How would the other rangers react to this? Unfortunately, we have no idea because this concept was never explored. It’s really quite disappointing because Ratchet and Clank is a series full of rich possibilities for a film but all of them are being squandered in the writer’s attempts to pander to kids by dumbing everything down from the plot to the characters.

7) Dumbing Down the Story is a Bad Idea

Some may argue that this is supposed to be a kids film and doesn’t need a moment like that to hammer in the consequences. At the same time though there are some sections in certain Ratchet and Clank games where something was lost or a mission was failed. In these segments it wasn’t just brushed over either, it was fully addressed. If you want a good example of this you could look at Ratchet and Clank: a Crack in Time. This was a Ratchet and Clank game in particular that reveals a lot of important backstory for Ratchet and also had a stronger emphasis on the emotional bond between Ratchet and Clank. If the games were like that, why would the movie need to be any different? It’s a tragic case of trying to make the movie more appealing but instead having the total opposite effect.

When Ratchet returns home to Veldin to work at his previous job as a mechanic and Clank goes after Ratchet to try to convince him to join up with the rangers again. Ratchet argues he messed up the mission and needs to take the blame for not stopping Drek. Clank, on the other hand, points out that if Ratchet wants to really hold himself accountable he should try to fix the problem, not run away from it. The story does actually make a very good point: Ratchet needs to confront these problems and take responsibility for what happened, not just sit around and let blame hold him back from doing anything even though it was mostly Quark’s fault but hey, whatever.

The Galactic rangers show up and talk about another planet that is going to be destroyed, this time not by Drek but by Doctor Nefarious, who was working with Drek but then turned him into a sheep and shot him into space so he could take over the plan (yeah, I said sheep) and blow up a planet causing a chain reaction due to that planets particular atmosphere that would blow up an entire solar system. Nefarious doesn’t actually have a reason for doing this aside from being a mad scientist but it’s kind of an anticlimactic finale. Like, that’s it? He’s just doing it for laughs? Okay.

Anyway, the story ends the way we think it will. Ratchet and Clank save the day, Quark apologizes for his actions and faces the consequences, Dr.Nefarious is stopped and the deplanetizer incinerates Drek. Ratchet goes back to Veldin to work as a mechanic with Clank as his friend, and the duo swear that next time trouble rears its ugly head they’ll drop the omni-wrench, pick up a blaster and take down some diabolical villains. I could give you more details on the ending but there isn’t anything much of interest to even discuss. I personally felt pretty disappointed in this film. Rainmaker had a great set up but squandered it on trying to pander to kids and focusing too much on moving the plot to let us enjoy the film. I personally love Ratchet and Clank. It’s a great series with incredible potential for a film but now I doubt it’ll have another hit in the cinema. While I may not have enjoyed how Ratchet and Clank performed on the big screen, I know that with the right script and right crew they could easily be a blockbuster film.

Katie Soden is a games design student/author who has a tendency to cry over cartoon characters and watch cat videos as opposed to doing important things, like eating or sleeping or keeping on track with assignments. Despite her tendency to forget how to function as a human being and general laziness she still occasionally updates her blog and makes an attempt at having an online presence.

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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: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra
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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