Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Castlevania is most probably my favourite game series of all time – EVER.

I am particularly found of the 2D ‘exploratory’ entries to the series - the ones classified as ‘Metroidvania’ by fans due to their Metroid-esque exploration of the environment. Among these are the multiple entries on the GBA and DS, as well as the seminal Symphony of the Night on PSX.

So when they announced Castlevania: Harmony of Despair as a downloadable title on Xbox360 back in 2010, naturally I got excited for it - hoping for a PSN release. This was a Metroidvania styled Castlevania release starring multiple protagonists from previous Castlevania games, played as a multiplayer game online – and in glorious HD! A fan boy’s dream!

When the PSN version was finally released at the tail end of last year, I didn’t have too much time to play it, but now, having played it for the past few weeks, I have been pretty obsessed with it.

At first, I wasn't sure whether or not I liked it. The fact that you could see the whole map from the start of each level, including all the enemies, bosses and chest locations pretty much took out the ‘exploration’ aspect. The other thing that appealed to me about the original games was that you could level up with EXP from defeating enemies and therefore grow stronger over time. That was gone as well. No EXP from enemies now.

It didn't take too long to finish all the levels and beat all the bosses, both on normal and hard mode. Gaining new weapons and equipment through both regular and boss chests meant that you could raise your stats without EXP - and also having other people play with you online to show you tactics and provide assistance in tougher boss battles made things easier. In fact you could probably get through it all in a couple of hours.

If you only played the game for the sake of clearing all the levels you would probably feel a little let down – after all, nearly all the enemies, abilities and graphics are recycled from previous games. The real game lies in the farming and the desire to collect. In the same vein as say, Pokémon, the addictive quality of the game (that exists to a degree in all Metroidvanias) is the irresistible urge to be a completist - whether its simply to get the best stats and equipment for just one character, to max out all characters, to collect all enemy souls and spells or even to go as far as to get everything possible in the game.

Now this isn’t as easy as it sounds as chance plays a big part in getting a hold of certain items – the best items usually only obtainable through rare boss chest drops on hard mode – so even if you do manage to kill the boss it's still quite a low probability that you will get the exact item you want. It’s kind of like gambling or playing the lottery - but without money being involved.

With the rarest items we are talking really low drop rates – only a few percent sometimes – which makes them even more coveted, the hunt more exciting and the reward more thrilling when you do finally manage to obtain that which you seek.

Here is an example of one player's reaction when he manages to snag a certain rare item.

So that's pretty much what I have been doing recently - trying to get all the best equipment for certain characters. Beating bosses repeatedly just to have another roll of the dice to see if the chest holds a rare item that I just plain need to further power up my character.

So for now, I’m addicted. There are a few more items I need to get and the urge to do just a couple more runs is ever present.

13 Feb 2012

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