Connect with us


Top 10 Games with Managing Games Editor, Mike Worby



Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree. 

About Mike: 

I’ve been a gamer since some parental figure, or other, put an NES controller in my hand around the age of 5, (and man, what a mistake that was!) I graduated to my true love, the SNES, after that, and I haven’t looked back since. Below, you’ll find 10 of my most treasured experiences among the hundreds of games I’ve played throughout my life. I hope you like them as much as I do!


I’ve always been an easy sell for horror, and Gothic horror, in particular, is right up my alley. Drawing heavily from the cosmic terror and shapeless monstrosities of HP Lovecraft, Bloodborne suits those interests to a tee. Also, as anyone who knows me will undoubtedly tell you, I almost never shut up about Dark SoulsBloodborne is basically the perfect storm for someone like me in that regard.

It’s as engaging as it is horrifying, as challenging as it is frustrating, and as rewarding as it is obtuse. There are very few games that I would willingly endure 6 hours of the same boss fight for, but this is one of them.

Dripping with atmosphere, and endlessly esoteric, Bloodborne is the kind of game you could play through a dozen times over and still have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the plot department, and there’s something very ingratiating about that to me, because it makes me want to know what it all means.

Bloodborne is such a brilliant game, and such an engrossing experience, that it hurt me to put it down for good after the release of The Old Hunters DLC, and the brutal fight for that platinum trophy. Honestly, masochist that I am, I’m still hoping for a Bloodborne 2 to come along and kick my ass all over again.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night

As mentioned above, you have to really shit the bed to not sell me on a Gothic horror game, and while Castlevania: Symphony of the Night utterly shits the bed, to glorious effect, in its voice acting, the rest of the game is so astutely designed that even the silly dialogue and laughable delivery, that occasionally creeps through the addictive gameplay, has become fun and memorable via simple proxy and association.

Jabs and jibes aside, SOTN is the Castlevania game that every single entry in the series (before and since) has desperately wished that it was. The game just feels so damn good that there is no question as to which “vania” people are talking about when they bandy about the term “metroidvania”.

I mean, come on, let’s get real for just a second: this game lets you turn into a fucking bat to fly over obstacles, or a cloud of mist to pass through obstructions. In fact, the game is almost broken it gives you so much power by the end. However, having earned every inch of your progress through Dracula’s (two!) castles, you don’t even blink when you reach your 18th power-up or so. By then, the game has its fangs so bloody deep in your neck that you wouldn’t see a flaw in all the world, even if its a stupid gargoyle talking to you in a silly voice!

Come along you goofy bastard, let’s find another switch for you to press, shall we!?

Chrono Cross

Look, I know what everyone is thinking, and ya know, it’s pretty odd to me that this game is on here instead of Chrono Trigger too. Chrono Trigger was my first RPG and, for all intents and purposes, it should absolutely be on this list. Yet, for some reason, Chrono Cross edges it out for me, just barely.

Is it the incomprehensibly complicated inter-dimensional plot line? The all-over-the-map music that you can’t help but notice in almost every moment of the game? Maybe it’s the fact that your party consists of something like 4o different, interchangeable members, or the realization that the battle system is unlike anything before it, or since.

Whatever it is, Chrono Cross just happens to have that certain something that makes it an unforgettable experience from start to finish. On paper, this sequel is sort of like the 2017 Twin Peaks revival that’s baffling the world even today. It has very little of what we wanted from a sequel to Chrono Trigger, and yet remains totally infatuating on its own terms. There are very few games that could put me on a team with a fluffy talking dog and a cut-throat murderer without breaking my sense of immersion, but then, Chrono Cross isn’t like any other game out there. It’s uncompromisingly its own thing, and I kind of love it for that.

Dark Souls

If I had to unequivocally choose only a single game from this list to be my all-time, untouchable favorite, it would have to be Dark Souls. No game has ever caused me to have that obsessive itch to just keep playing, to just earn one more inch forward, to just level up one more time, to just keep fighting a little while longer, like Dark Souls has.

Though I’ve always been generally fine with trophies and achievements, it wasn’t until Dark Souls came along that I grabbed my first Platinum. While I’ve never been against DLC on its own merits, it wasn’t until Dark Souls that I was motivated to scoop up my first expansion. Don’t get me wrong, I played, and loved, Demon’s Souls, but Dark Souls made it look like a prototype by comparison. This game was the real deal, and it was unlike anything I had ever played in my life when I first picked it up in October of 2011.

Maybe this sounds like crazy talk, but the game still holds a sort of magical reverence for me. Looking at how the gaming landscape has changed since its release though, I can’t help but think I’m far from the only one. This year alone has seen half a dozen “Souls-alikes” emerge into the ether in various forms, and in some ways, Dark Souls has succeeded from the very fact that a term like Souls-alike exists.

Totally uncompromising, brutally difficult, intensely atmospheric, and a true beast of a different shade, Dark Souls is easily the game that has had the most varying, awe-inspiring, and unceasing of effects on me, and how I see this hobby/obsession of mine. There’s nothing quite like it, even in its own series, and for that, it is owed a massive degree of tribute.

Final Fantasy VIII

Of all the entries on this list, this one might be the most shocking. I know Final Fantasy VIII isn’t up everyone’s alley — hell, some folks outright despise it — but, there’s always been something truly special about this game for me.

I remember in 8th grade, when I first saw the opening cut scene for this game. I wasn’t even a fan of RPGs at the time, but something about the operatic, cinematic prelude that set Final Fantasy VIII into motion really struck a chord with me. When I finally got a PlayStation of my own a couple of years later (I was an N64 kid, you see) it was one of the first games I played through, and man, did it make an impression.

I’ve since gone on to play through every numbered Final Fantasy game in the entire series (outside of the online efforts), and FFVIII still resonates with me more than any other entry. Like Chrono Cross, mentioned above, I tend to admire the fact that it was so different from its contemporaries, even if the system it introduced wasn’t exactly perfect.

I still get chills when I play this game nearly 20 years later, and it’s no surprise when I look back on it now. It taught me about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness in a way that managed to connect to my teenage mind, and yet, still resonates with me to this day.

Gone Home

Even today, there’s still a large portion of gamers that scoff and chortle when they hear the term “walking simulator.” With that in mind, Gone Home is the answer to the questions and criticisms that always seem to assail the walking simulator and its ilk.

Aside from being a trailblazer for the genre, what Gone Home nails so well is the eerie sense of being in a home that doesn’t belong to you. Despite the fact that the protagonist, Samantha, has come home from a year abroad, it’s not her home she’s come home to, and the game puts you in the exact same situation as her. It’s a marvel of storytelling and game design, and one of the things that makes Gone Home so memorable.

I think why this game really hits me so hard in the end, though, is because it’s just such an utterly human story. The organic way that the tale of Samantha’s family unfolds makes it feel vital but the delivery is never ham-fisted or overzealous in its message.

Seriously, if anyone ever gives me that whole song and dance about games never telling worthwhile stories, this is the first example I go to. Gone Home is an utter treat of a game, and a one-of-a-kind experience. There’s no bad guys, no weapons, and no master plans, just a simple coming-of-age story in all of its raw, unadulterated power.

If that sounds even remotely interesting to you, then I urge you to play this game. You won’t be disappointed.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Image credit: Billy B Saltzman

Though I’m sure I played good, and even great games, before I picked up The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time, this was the first time I can ever remember falling in love with a game.

Embarrassingly, I was so enamored with LTTP that I actually had my mom take pictures of the Agahnim boss fight on my second or third time through it. Of course, the pictures came out like shit, but hey, it was the thought that counted right?

In any case, Link to the Past was not my first Zelda game, and it was far from my last, but all these years later, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s still the best. I’m sure I’ve played through the game at least 30 times by now, probably a pile more than that to be honest, and it still never loses its luster. The pacing is perfect, the difficulty curve is right on the money, and the design is just so succinct that you never feel bored or antsy for even a second when you play it, even 25 years later.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is the absolute definition of a timeless game, and is the only entry standing in the way when Breath of the Wild comes calling for the moniker of “Best Zelda Game.”

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Looking back at Metal Gear Solid as a series, there are so many memorable moments in every single game that it’s very hard to pick just one as a series favorite. With that in mind, I doubt most fans would choose this one, and I have no doubt this pick could earn me a pile of shit. Either way, however, I have to be honest and say that I feel Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the best game in this titanic achievement of a series.

So what makes me put The Phantom Pain over games like Snake Eater or Guns of the Patriots? Well, first and foremost, its the succinct level of idiosyncratic perfection that Kojima put into this game. I mean, just stop and register for a second that this is an unfinished game. And bloody look at it! Jesus Christ, the level of detail and the thousands of hours of effort that must have gone into it, is staggering.

That’s just on the surface though. Underneath the insanely adept design of the game is something I can’t quite put my finger on. Lord knows there are some ridiculous moments in this game but for some reason, this morally murky tale of justice and vengeance has hammered itself into my psyche in a way that I just can’t let go of. To this day, I still find myself sometimes sitting at my computer watching the trailer, set to New Order’s “Elysium” and just soaking it up, or listening to Mike Oldfield’s “Nuclear” and thinking about the 120 hours I spent utterly obsessed with this game.

Metal Gear Solid V may not be a perfect game, and it may have a dirty history behind it, but man, every time I think of going back to it, I worry for the stability of my day-to-day life. Will the kids get fed? Will the dog get walked? Who’s to say with a game this special.

Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 
seems to have this odd history of reinventing itself every decade, once with Resident Evil 4, and again, more recently, with Resident Evil 7. The difference between the two, however, lies in the way that Resident Evil 4 didn’t just reinvent a franchise, it basically reinvented the action game in one fell swoop.

Now, never mind for a moment that Resident Evil was never meant to be an action franchise, because the way RE4 mixes up action with its more well-established horror elements, is essentially the chocolate and peanut butter of gaming.

I can actually remember re-watching the trailer again and again in anticipation of this game (on Gametrailers… because there was no such thing as YouTube in 2004) and yet it still delivered on the lofty expectations I had built up for it.

Today, franchises like Gears of War and Uncharted still owe a huge debt to Resident Evil 4. To boot, the game is still a blast to play, campy dialogue and all, even 12 years later.

In a sea of amazing survival horror titles, this is still the first one I’d pick up and play in a heartbeat, Mordor cave trolls and all, and that’s saying something in a world where Silent Hill 2 and Amnesia exist.

Super Metroid

Image credit:

It’s a pretty weird thing when your fiancèe, who is not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, can easily recognize a game from 1994, anytime you happen to be playing it. This is the case with a game like Super Metroid.

If The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was my first love in gaming, then Super Metroid was the first time I ever cheated on it. This game was truly something else for 9 year old Mike, back when he rented it from the local video store. I mean, who could imagine a game that would give you X-ray vision or super speed as a controllable power-up? Hell, by the time you’re done with Super Metroid, even gravity has become an after thought for you.

Very few games succeed at empowering players the way that Super Metroid did, and, as much as credit must be given to the aforementioned Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the emergence of the “metroidvania” genre, it was only adopting what Super Metroid had already done, and adapting it to a different setting.

Super Metroid is one of the most important trail-blazers in gaming history. and, more than that, it’s an unforgettable gaming experience that still holds up over 20 years later, and after over 50 playthroughs. Trust me on that. I’m not a speedrunner by any stretch of the imagination, and I can still crush this game in less than an hour and forty minutes these days.

This is the game that made my childhood, and the game that broke my childhood (anyone who has seen the ending will understand what I mean by that.) Super Metroid is a triumph of rule-breaking game development, wordless storytelling, and the idea of growth and understanding in a hostile world. It was my favorite game for a lot of years, and, in some ways, it always will be my favorite.

Cutting games from this list was like deciding which of my children would eat tonight. Some I removed so there wouldn’t be any franchise repeats, while others were simply edged out by the competition. Either way, you’ll find 10 more of my absolute favorites below.

10 Honorable Mentions: Bioshock Infinite, Chrono Trigger, Half-Life 2, Kingdom Hearts 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metroid Prime, Mass Effect 2, Rayman Legends, Super Mario Galaxy, Xenoblade Chronicles.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.



  1. Izsak “Khane” Barnette

    July 23, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Final Fantasy VIII was one of my favorite games in the series. I had a lot of fun with the Draw system, despite how broken it was. The story was confusing, even by the series’ standards, but it was a really good game.

    • Mike Worby

      July 24, 2017 at 1:47 am

      I love it, broken Junction system and all. FFVIII is crazy as hell, but that’s part of what I love about it. *Selphie singing about trains*

      • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

        July 24, 2017 at 10:01 am

        Yeah, I remember that. Disc One was pretty normal until the very end. The rest of the game just got crazier, lol.

  2. Ricky D

    July 25, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I’m really surprised to see the last Metal Gear Solid on this list. This makes me want to finally finish the game.

    • Mike Worby

      July 26, 2017 at 11:42 pm

      I’m a huge proponent of it, obviously. John and I often debate its merits, or lack there of, on Random Encounters. I feel objectively that it’s the best game in the series, and I have a lot of love for it, wacky ass plot beats and all.

      • John Cal McCormick

        August 1, 2017 at 4:54 am

        The more I think about it the worse it is. I don’t even know how you could say it’s objectively the best game in the series. Objectively, there’s a lot of bad things you can say about it, but very little good. Objectively, there’s a tonne of copy-pasted content, for example. And objectively, the game blatantly isn’t finished. Objectively, there’s hardly any bosses, the characters bare little resemblance to who they were in previous entries, the story doesn’t make sense, most characters have no discernible story arcs, it fundamentally fails to do the one job it was billed as doing in bridging the gap between the Big Boss and Solid Snake games, and objectively, it was reviewed under conditions specifically designed to boost Metacritic scores that is widely derided within the industry as a nefarious practise.

        Subjectively, you can ignore all that and think it’s great because the gameplay is rad. Or subjectively, maybe you can ignore the dubious aspects of the plot or how the characters are portrayed for whatever reason. But objectively, factually, other than in raw moment to moment gameplay, it’s hard to make a case for Metal Gear Solid V doing anything better than any of the other games in the series.

        • Mike Worby

          August 1, 2017 at 8:54 am

          Haters gonna hate :p

    • John Cal McCormick

      August 1, 2017 at 4:41 am

      Don’t bother.

Leave a Reply

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


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

Continue Reading


‘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 that 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. 

Aria of Sorrow goes beyond wanting to replicate the greats and instead chooses to be great in its own right.

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. 

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. 

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 offers 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 in between. 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


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

Continue Reading