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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 05:44:05     -    Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA)

    GAMEPLAY

    So, I didn't talk about the bosses last time. I've beaten this game already, but showing off this one part of the game is always fun. Once you have beaten the game, you unlock the "Boss Rush" mode, which basically takes you through all of the bosses in order. You're timed while doing this and if you do it fast enough, there's a reward waiting at the end. I think that this is a VERY nice addition to the game and I'm surprised that many other games don't have it. I mean, isn't a lot of the fun of a game in the boss battles? Bosses present the hardest challenge to the player, and it's kind of a drag to have to play through the game again in order to fight the bosses again, which is especially true in Castlevania because the bosses are usually pretty difficult.

    Also, when one beats the game, they unlock the "Julius" mode, where they can play as the character Julius Belmont who is more like the traditional Castlevania hero because he uses the signature whip and sub-weapons. This mode, however, is extremely limited. There's no dialog and no items -- not even healing potions! What you see is what you get! Of course, you do start out with 800 health, which never changes, but certainly gets you by. The only way to make Julius stronger is by defeating the bosses in the game.

    One of the things that I like about this game is the multiple endings. There are some weird books one can find hidden away in the castle. They refer to three different powers one should use when fighting the final boss. If you don't use these three specific soul powers, or even change out of them, you spoil the ending. The story goes that there is a man, Graham, who thinks he is Dracula. He goes about the castle collecting power, and you must fight him in the end. When you defeat him, his body emits a kind of darkness that your character, Soma, is either possessed by (when you use the proper three souls) or just passes over. The "bad ending" is where you've defeated Graham, but there is very little closure as to how your character came to possess the unusual power of soul stealing (or whatever it's called). The "good ending" is where you are possessed by the power of the castle and you realize that you ARE Dracula! It was kind of obvious, what with the demonic power and all, but you still want to be surprised. This way, you unlock the final area - the chaos realm - where you fight the chaos that binds the castle together, then you get to watch the cliche scene of the castle falling apart. Altogether, it's a really cool storyline, and I consider it to be a bit better than, "you are a Belmont, a Vampire Hunter! Banish Dracula! GO!"

    DESIGN

    BOSSES: The bosses of this game aren't as hard as the other Castlevania games I've played, namely Circle of the Moon, but they still have their challenges. Death, in particular, was really hard. Although Graham was pretty anti-climactic, he's not exactly the last boss. There's also Julius and Chaos. Julius Belmont is a very tricky one to beat because he's so darned fast. Chaos is pretty hard to predict, but then again, it's in the things nature... But by the end of the game, you've learned your lesson and stocked up on health potions, so there's not much risk involved.

    ITEMS: In this game, you can at least buy some potions so that you don't have to farm zombies like other games. They're essential to beating some bosses for the first time, as there are many attack patterns that are just painfully difficult to dodge. The best items in the game come from completing challenges and finding the secret entrance to the forbidden area, which is, yet again, much better than having to farm zombies. Also, there's a bit of pride one can take from having one of every item in the game.

    COMBAT: Enemies have set health, experience, weaknesses, and resistances that you can look up once you've collected their soul. When you attack, the damage you cause is expressed by a number that rises from your enemies' feet. The only suggestion I would make here is to have some sort of health bar for enemies, but that might just muddy up the scene. Your character has the typical Strength, Constitution, and Luck attributes that go up when levels are gained. It's a pretty basic RPG, but that's what makes it so beautiful. There's nothing weird like "Charisma" or "Spirit" to deal with. Your health is represented by a bar at the top left corner of the screen as well as by a number just to the left of that. This is useful because there isn't often a variance in the damage monsters deal to you, so you know exactly what you can take. Of course, there's no such number that represents the magic meter, which is annoying when you want to cast a spell one last time and find you can't. Overall, however, this doesn't affect gameplay very much.

    DIFFICULTIES: There's a hard difficulty setting, but I found it to be...easier. The items and souls (thank GOD) one collects throughout the game carry over, which actually makes beating the game a breeze. There's a ring you really need to get in order to find all the souls -- the soul eater ring -- but it costs $300,000, which isn't that hard to get once you play the game a second time around because you don't need two super duper awesome swords that cost $50,000 each. Also, the hard difficulty allows access to certain silly items, like the silver handgun and Death's Scythe. It's an okay bonus, but there's really not much of a difference. I found that once you collect all the souls, do the Boss Rush in under two minutes, and get all the items, there's no point in ever playing the game again. You've probably run the game into the ground by beating every single monster twenty times to get their soul, not to mention you've also done the Boss Rush enough times that it's easy, but that's another reason why I like this game. When you're done, you're done! The game cuts back a lot on busy work, even though you spend a good deal of time farming some really tough monsters for their souls, but it sure beats the hell out of collecting them all twice or something.

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    Mar 6th, 2008 at 04:37:53     -    Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA)

    SUMMARY

    Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is a 2D platformer action/adventure role playing game that takes place entirely within Dracula's castle (dubbed Castlevania). You fight your way through hordes of demons, gain levels, and test your skill against some pretty tough bosses.

    GAMEPLAY

    At first, this game is kind of creepy, and not just because you're inside of Dracula's castle being attacked by some freaky looking monsters. I mean that if you haven't looked up the gameplay instructions beforehand, you might not understand how or where to save the game. It's not like you can do it through the start menu, you have to get to certain save points. This is kind of annoying because there are going to be lots of moments where you run out of health potions, don't want to turn back, and don't know just how far away the next save point is. Save points completely restore health and are dispersed throughout the castle is a semi-even fashion. The problem comes when you take a wrong turn and accidentally skip a save point, which is annoying because whenever you move a screen over, the monsters reset themselves, even if they're really hard monsters you don't want to deal with. So, my point is that because the saves are hard to get to, or not exactly made obvious by some marking from the outside, one can easily find themselves in a pickle, which makes the game kind of claustrophobic.

    One of the first things one notices about this game is its artwork. It's amazing. Honestly, I haven't seen many 2D games that look this good. The dialog comes complete with portraits of who's talking, which is a lot better than just having their featureless counter-parts bob their heads like in Zelda. The castle itself is quite remarkable. There are some areas that are very cool, with scrolling background of dragon statues and fire. The whole thing is pretty epic.

    One also notices the combat system. I've played other Castlevania games before, and I find I like this one the best. You get a really cool magic system that's based upon the souls you collect throughout the castle. When you kill a monster, you have a chance of getting their soul and its associated power. One of the challenges of the game is collecting all the souls, which has the reward of the chaos ring that allows the player to use any soul without paying the magic cost, which feels a lot like cheating, but I guess the player earned it. The effects are pretty standard; bullet spells, over time spells(like channeling), and passive effects. Also, one gets to collect many different items including armor, weapons, accessories(rings, charms, etc), and typical healing/mana potions. There's a certain fun in collecting all the items in the game, and it's really not all that hard, although some items are rewards for beating harder difficulties.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 00:33:25     -    Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

    GAMEPLAY
    I wanted to skip around the levels or something for this second session, but I realized that I can’t actually do that. It’s either the endgame, where all there is to do is fight Ganondorf, or you just play through it again. This game doesn’t have all that much replay value, though. It’s not like I enjoy re-doing a puzzle that took me five hours the first time I tried. I mean, there are some spots that I forgot about, and it made me happy to see those places. Actually, come to think of it, I think that’s why Zelda is a good game. It’s all in the discovery of the game, unlocking everything and finding the secrets that makes it fun to play, but I went ahead and fought Ganondorf for this session anyways.

    Yeah, Ganondorf isn’t hard. At all. I mean, he’s the guy with the most health, but it’s not like you don’t have a bunch of hearts just sitting in some pots waiting for you to scoop them up. I remembered a few fairy bottles, too, so there’s just no way I could screw up enough to die. Even if I fell off the tower, I think I would just reappear with one less heart. Now, although the boss is easy, I still like doing it because of the cinematic quality it has. It’s a pretty epic battle. I don’t know how the entire castle folded in on itself to make a battlefield, but I’m not complaining because it’s awesome. Also, the ending cinematic is really cool, although the story itself makes little sense. I watched a video that explained the Zelda series and how they all connected, and I must say that it sounded bogus, but I’m not complaining.

    DESIGN

    So, the levels themselves are actually pretty big for an N64 game. I like how each level forces you to think in a different way. Each level also provides you with a different tool, like the hookshot, that you have to use in order to access other parts of the level. This is why Zelda is really cool. Every level is like playing a new level. Every boss is different. You practically never just swing your sword around. Instead, you have to use your tools in combination with good timing and accuracy in order to win.

    I live for the secrets of these games. When I find a piece of heart, it’s like putting a piece into my own. But seriously, not really. My point is that this game is one big mystery. It does an excellent job hiding stuff from you, but that’s where the game is kind of lost. I mean, if you’ve already beaten the game, there’s no point in finding the rest of the secret hearts other than to have the “perfect character”. Also, going back to dungeons is a real drag. It’s kind of eerie, too, because you’ve probably gutted the place already anyway.

    Now, I have a few complaints about the Zelda games, although this game in particular isn’t quite as bad as some of the others. If you’ve played a lot of Zelda, you already know what the entire game is going to be like. You’re the courageous hero who is destined to overthrow the evil king of darkness. There’s always something like eight levels, and at the end of each level, you get some holy relic that’s supposed to help you win the fight against evil. Of course, many games are like that, but Zelda in particular is very formulaic. Boss fights are a disappointment in most Zelda games because once you’ve figured out the thing’s weakness, it’s all over. It’s not that hard. If you’re an experienced player, you might die only once or twice throughout the whole game, and the only reason you died was because you were doing something silly like looking for pieces of heart where there are none.

    Now, some people say that this is the best game ever made. I can’t say it’s the BEST game, but at the time of its release, it was definitely my favorite game, and as far as video games go, I had more fun with that game than I have had with many others. Looking back on the game from a 20th century perspective, I would say that this game set the bar for 3D RPG’s. I mean, it was just that good. The 3D environment totally changed the game. Of course 2D Zelda games are just as good, but the mechanics are really different. I think the 3D environment draws the gamer into the world better than a 2D one.

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    Feb 21st, 2008 at 00:12:26     -    Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

    SUMMARY

    The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a fantasy RPG. Basically, you fight through dungeons, defeat monsters, and solve puzzles. What makes this game unique is that it was the first Zelda in 3D. Also, it is rated as one of the greatest games ever made.

    GAMEPLAY

    I forgot how slow things start out in this game. It’s so weird not having a sword at first, or anything for that matter. Actually, I’ve forgotten a lot of things since the last time I played. I can’t really remember how I got all those pieces of heart and all those secrets. They’re actually pretty hard to get to.

    Anyways, I like how the game starts. You’re nobody in particular, just a forest elf minding his own business, then you slowly realize your destiny as you pick up a sword, a shield, and make your way into the first dungeon. Do I remember the graphics being better than this? Well, I guess that would be because when this came out it actually had pretty good graphics for a video game.

    It seems all you really do in these Zelda games is solve puzzles. Actual fighting is secondary. The puzzles can take a while, but you get it eventually. Hell, most dungeons are just one giant puzzle where you have to solve smaller puzzles to solve the big one. The game itself isn’t actually that challenging, but you stay interested for a number of reasons. Personally, the story line keeps me interested. You have to get the master sword, travel into the future, and defeat the evil king Ganondorf. It’s pretty awesome.

    So, I got through the first level and it was kind of disappointing. I mean, I’ve done it before, but back when I was a little kid playing it for the first time, the boss was actually kind of hard for me. Now that I know how to Z-target, it’s a piece of cake. Just shoot the spider in the eye, and somehow you kill it. It seems with Zelda that you only do things three times, though. Later bosses might have three different sets of three hits you have to perform, but it’s kind of obvious what you have to do.

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