Let’s start from an assumption: I’m a big fan of two-dimensional metrodvania. Let’s expand on this assumption: my passion for 2D metroidvanias was born in 2017, thanks to Hollow Knight. This means that the number of Castlevania titles I have under my belt is woefully small.
The introduction was necessary not so much because I felt the need to free my soul from the weight of alleged sins, but to better explain the context in which what I am about to tell you takes place. A few months ago, new owner of Steam Deck, I wandered thoughtfully through my Steam library, reflecting on which title could be the most suitable for exploiting the potential of the portable console. Naturally, the first choice could only fall back on Vampire Survivors; but, some time later, during one of the many sales with which Valve decides to bless us, I saw the Castlevania Advance Collection appear discounted. Sign of destiny? Perhaps, the fact is that I gladly shelled out those ten or so euros and I prepared to enjoy three twenty-year-old titles from the comfort of my bed.
CASTLEVANIA: ADVANCED WARFARE
The Castlevania Advance Collection includes the three titles of the historic series released on the Game Boy Advance, namely Circle of the Moon (2001), Harmony of Dissonance (2002) e Aria of Sorrow (2003). In theory there is as well Dracula X, born in 1993, but that tastes a little too old and I haven’t started it yet (sorry, retrogaming fans). Now, if you want the opinion of someone who is a great expert on the saga, and more generally on the history of video games, I can only refer you to the review that Dan Hero made of it; here instead you will find the experience of someone who is the exact opposite, that is, who does not have much experience with the series.
twenty years may have passed, but these three Castlevanias carry them much better than many of their peers
I leave, so as to shield myself in advance from furious arrows, saying that I liked the three titles overall, but let’s go in order. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, 91 on Metacritic so for the time it must have been a good bomb, is the one that convinced me the least of the three. The Dual Set-Up System is cool (the cards, to be clear), the miserable drop rates are a little less cool, but the real suffering was navigating the map: between Nathan, who is certainly not the most snappy protagonist in the story, and a level design that for some reason loves these very tall columns of rooms that you have to ascend in zigzags (those who have played with them will understand) and making you make absurd turns to get to where you need to go, every time I opened the map to figure out which one would be mine next destination the divinities disconsolately prepared to put on their soundproof headphones. I also have some notes to make to the difficultyin some cases more annoying than interesting, but otherwise I got to the end so the experience must not have been too bad.
The speech for Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow is different, and much more positive. I had heard some criticism of the first for the question of the double castle, but, frankly, it didn’t particularly matter to me: sure, here too the argument of having to redo a lot of road is valid, but the difference is that thanks to the slip Just Belmont flew like a missile and therefore even backtracking has never been a great pain; and I’m a big fan of alternate timelines/dimensions, so jumping from one version of the castle to another and seeing what had changed I always liked it a lot (like when you go back to the initial area and you find the Clear Bones, which look like the basic skeletons and then you say “ah I slide on them and explode them” and instead you take a lot of damage). Beautiful then Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, with its spectacular pixel art and with the variety brought both by the equipable weapons (because the Belmont whip has its undoubted charm, but do you want to find yourself using broadswords worthy of the protagonist of a JRPG?) and by the system of souls, a partial reference to the DSS of Circle of the Moon.
But this article does not (only) want to be a non-review of three titles that certainly need no introduction from me. What amazed me the most, playing them, is that all in all if they came out today with just a few quality of life tweaks all three would be worthy metroidvanias. Let me explain for a moment through an example what I mean when I talk about adjustments: in Harmony of Dissonance I have never used magic because activating or deactivating it involves going through the appropriate submenu, and activating it replaces the special attack (cross, holy water, ax, those things there). Not exactly the best of comfort, and if at the time it was justified by the few keys of the GBA today such a thing would be unthinkable! But back to the games, perhaps Circle of the Moon would struggle a bit nowadays as it is certainly the rawest of the trio, Harmony of Dissonance should overcome some misgivings for its visual style, but I have no doubt that Aria of Sorrow , released in 2023, would shoot straight to the top of the best metroidvania charts.
This absolutely does not want to go to the demerit of modern 2D metroidvaniason the contrary: in recent years, beyond obviously the impossible to ignore Hollow Knight, a lot of very worthy exponents have come out (a few names like this by heart: Ender Lilies, Astalon: Tears of the Earth, Steamworld Dig 2, The Knight Witch) and also the future for fans of the genre seems very promising, including Silksong, Afterimage, Momodora Moonlit Farewell, Nine Sols, The Last Faith and many others.
It’s a real shame as in recent years the only sign of life of Castlevania has been the (very valuable) animated series
However, it can only make us even more sorry to think of how the Castlevania series, after having reached such high peaks as to still be able to have their say two decades later, she is simply lost, with a transition to 3D that has never managed to convince as decisively as the chapters in two dimensions had done. And beyond Konami’s responsibilities in all of this, it must also be said that Koji Igarashi, creator of many of the most beloved titles in the saga, failed to quite convince with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a game that despite the abundant quantity did not shine in quality, certainly remaining impressed – in terms of mechanics and ideas – much less than productions with much less excellent names behind them. Such a pity. Let’s hope that the future will be able to give the Belmonts the luster their name deserves.
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