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Author Topic: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Castlestalgia. You may now enter the castle.  (Read 6566 times)

nenjin

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I've put in about 10 hours with the game at this point.

It's good. Stability wise I've only had one cause to hard crash the game because it seemed to get caught up in a loading loop when going in to my inventory menu.

RotN is the synthesis of all the Castlevania games to date, pretty much. You can find features and ideas from every single one of the games here. If you've played SotN, the 3dS or GBA games, you've played this, and it's just as good if not better than all of those as a game.

What's good:

-Visuals are pretty damn nice. They did soften things up a little bit, and a brightness slider went a long way toward smoothing over some of the more glaring looks. Some things still come off as a little plasticy looking as before, but in general all the textures and backgrounds look great. The use of 3d effects feels somewhat dated (you reeaaallllyyy notice in the "skyboxes") but in general produces some nice effects when they're used.

-Lots of variety in armor, weapons, accessories, and general gameplay features. That glosses over a lot but taken as a whole, there is a lot. Dagger, sword, greatsword, mace, axe, spear, whip, kungfu, gun weapon classes with their own respectable lists of items inside them. Heavy armor vs. light armor types in chest armor. Helmets, two accessory slots, a scarf slot. 5 different kinds of slots for shards. Special attacks for some weapons. "Free aiming" type attacks for shards. Plenty there on the gameplay front.

-The castle feels pretty big. After 10 hours, some of which was grinding for shards, I've gotten through like 30% of the castle.

-Way more customization for Miriam than I thought we'd get. Hats, scarves and accessories, while giving stat benefits, also all show up on your character. Beyond that you can change her hair style, hair color, eye color and skin color. You can't change how her dress looks, but you can recolor it. It feels like it strikes a good balance between maintaining an iconic character look and letting you customize. It's a total step up frrom SotN on this front.

-Lots of returning classic mechanics like familiars and secret weapon arts. There's a ton of special moves attached to weapons that you can either discover for yourself, or find lore bits scattered over the castle that tell you what they are. From SotN there's HP and Mana upgrades scattered around the castle, as well as Ammo capacity upgrades if you fancy using guns.

-Plenty of secrets hidden behind breakable walls, less-than-obvious doorways or passage ways and the like. I've found more than a couple easter eggs, and there's references galore to other indie games, pop culture and anime stuff.

-Crafting. If you like crafting, this game has your back. You can craft pretty much all the gear that you'd use. You can craft all the food and consumables you'd use. You can craft to upgrade your ability shards to make them better. They're so serious about crafting in this game that chests which provide crafting materials respawn either after you leave the room or a short while after leaving and returning. It doesn't feel necessary at all but if it's the kind of thing you're in to, there's plenty of it.

-Because of all the crafting, money really feels like it's got some outlets in this game. Unlike other Castlevania games where you basically don't need money except to buy that super special, incredibly expensive end game item like the Soul Ring from Dawn of Sorrow, here you can buy new gear, materials for crafting, actual items to use in crafting, ingredients for cooking (which are way easier to buy than farm for), etc...It's nice to actually care about money.

-The Shard system is kind of interesting. Shards do more based on how many of the same type you're carrying (in addition to stat multipliers.) Then you can actually upgrade the shard's level using crafting materials as well. Some aspect of a shard ability gets better as you improve it, like generating more projectiles, better range, better duration, etc.....the game makes some noise about carrying too many shards being bad but so far I don't see any indication of that. Maybe it comes out later in the story. They want you to constantly sell your excess shards for cash, which is supposed to be your primary way of making money. Doing that I suppose I'd have fewer money issues...but I so far haven't found the cap on carrying shards after which carrying more doesn't help. So that's kept money relevant in my game.

-Gameplay and handling feels pretty tight. It's smooth enough and offers enough options in your moveset (which is the classic Castlevania backstep/slide/doublejump stuff) and ways to use different kinds of shards that it's enjoyable to play and feels flexible and adaptable to play styles. I wish Miriam moved a little faster but that's a small complaint.

-Pacing. I'm 10 hours in and still haven't found double jump. And as anyone knows, the game doesn't really open up until you get double jump. While some of it is perhaps a bit too obvious (the game has dangled at least 3 dozen "Sorry you can't get to this yet" items and passageways in front of me since the start of the game), it's kept itself from overplaying its hand too fast. Meanwhile it's let me tour the 'ground floor' of many game areas while promising more to find. It's been a slow burn so far and I appreciate that, rather than just throwing you straight in to all the options and exploration. So it's on par with SotN in that regard.

-The music is quality. By and large though, many many tracks almost sound like updated versions of classic Castlevania tracks, changed just enough to avoid a possible lawsuit. The original compositions are all great, and I almost wish there were more of those than all the blatantly Castlevania tracks.

-The quality of life stuff. The game wants to really help you hit 100% on everything, so its got a breakdown of everything you'd expect. % of the map, items found, enemies fought, shards acquired, quests completed. It marks what foods you've consumed for their initial bonus so there's no guesswork there. You can mark up the map with points of interest to know to return to, chests and items that you can't yet get to are shown on the castle map to help you backtrack, areas with monsters related to quests you're on are also marked. While it does take away a little of the game's mystique to note all this stuff, what it really does is save you HOURS of going back over the entire game map to remember what you have and haven't found.

-The voice acting is pretty good all around. Sometimes it's hammy like you'd expect, but other times it flows very naturally and conversationally. They hired quality people who know how to deliver their lines with feeling.

What's maybe not so good:

-Many of their action cutscenes are not good. They're awkward in the way only first time 3d cinematic cutscenes can feel awkward. The timing is way off, the animations are questionable. We live in a world where we're exposed to thousands of these things as gamers, so when you're dealing with a somewhat amateurish execution of them you really feel it.

-Actual shard abilities are a little meh, IMO. About half of the "active attack" shard abilities amount to "summon a copy of the creature to run out and attack things." From ghosts to bats to rats to this that and the other thing, these abilities aren't terribly interesting although some may be effective. There's other categories of shard abilities that I hardly ever use. (Like the 'Manipulate' category.) Either their cost is inefficient for what they do, or they're just straight up seemingly there for their kitsch value. (There's one ability that turns you in to the classic anime Bunny Ear lady, with like one kick move you can perform.) There's a lot of different shard abilities but when you get down to brass tax, many of them don't feel like they're worth using. Which was been true for many Castlevania games but it really shows here.

-Quests also feel very, very low effort. They're essentially fetch quests which earn you stuff you can already pretty easily craft for yourself. There's a lady who basically wants you to give her one every food item in the game you can make. A lady who who wants you to bring specific equippable items in return for other equippable items. A lady who wants you to slay a certain # of monsters scattered across the castle. These quests aren't super important because the rewards they give, again, are things you can usually craft yourself.

-Because there's so much crafting in the game, and so many different ways to increase your Health and Mana besides just leveling up and finding the Health/Mana upgrades....much of the stuff you find (or rewards you get from quests) don't actually feel like rewards. They feel pretty redundant, and maybe also like you're grinding a bit too much. Food in particular. Every enemy usually drops something related to the food system but it's not the kind of thing I'd personally spend time grinding for. There's so far very few things I've discovered where I've been like "Fuck yeah." More it's like "Welp, just add that to the pile of crap I already have." Maybe all the late game goodies feel a little more rewarding.

-There's a series of items in the game that I think came from backers. You can craft them by finding 8, 16 and 32 bit coin items. They're pretty flash looking, have some interesting special abilities, and can be upgraded by finding better coins, which are one of the few hard to find/secret items that actually feel worthwhile. Yet I'm a little down on basically having a great weapon that you upgrade multiple times throughout your playthrough, as it seems to steal the thunder from all the rest of the weapons in the game. I haven't found more than one coin yet, but after upgrading I can see that quickly just invalidating the need or the desire to use other things.

-Lots of gimmicks. I kind of mentioned this with some of the weird shard abilities, but there's a lot gimmicky stuff in this game. Like entirely one off puzzle or progression blockers that no doubt tie to a very specific shard ability that you'd only use for that one thing. This is not wholly uncommon in Castlevania games, but it does sort of beg the question why effort was spent on these things. There's a specific shard you get from a boss that does one thing only: move stone pillars that block progression. I've run in to other progression blockers that just scream "you will get a shard to deal with this." I'm not wild about this stuff personally, it kind of feels like a waste of time. At least like the Mist Cloud from SotN had other uses besides just getting through those barred and gated progression blockers. There's several different ways to open doors or move objects using the right stick on a controller or mouse on the keyboard that, and the end of the day, feel completely non-essential. "Oh look, here's a glowing wall you have to hold right stick to move, or a gear you hold right stick to move, or a block you hold right stick to move." None of the "puzzles" I've seen so far has been more than a demonstration of the gimmick and a chance to show off some 3d tech. I hope it gets more play later on in the game, but right now I'm doubtful.

-Being obvious. While this an attempt to make the game more approachable and have it waste less of your time (which I appreciate), occasionally the game goes out of its way to tell you in character what to do. Story characters have multiple times given advice about where to go and the answer usually revolving around some new shard I need to get some ability to progress. Hence, a literal conversation about double jumping and why an NPC can do it but I still can't yet. It's tapping pretty hard on the 4th wall and is another kind of ding against the game's theme for me. Like, haha, I get it, you made a Kickstarter game and now you get to do that. I suppose it's wwwwaaaaaayyyyy subtler than what many indie games do, so at least RotN is a refined caliber of indie humor. But this sort of obviousness comes out in the dialog too, even when it's not trying to break the 4th wall and just doing its story. This is not a literal example but: "Why, oh yes Miriam, I suppose you do have to leap over that wall to get in to the castle." I don't know if it's trying to be funny, "period", user friendly, animu or all things at the same time, but I kind of feel like rolling my eyes.

-Some of the font and UI choices look boring and cheap. Or, perhaps more charitably, like they didn't know how to transition from handheld device display thinking to a PC/console display.

What probably comes down to personal taste:

-Quantity vs. Quality. For the things Castlevania games have always done this is par for the course and I think mostly good. For the things sort of new to the series, like quests, it feels a bit like filler.

-The original IP. I'm not yet sold on the story at all. It's basically Castlevania in its style and delivery, but with different characters, a different world setting and more dialog of the "naturalistic" variety. No "DIE MONSTER"s here. And I'm just not feeling the theme. Alchemy and a Castle Straight From Hell aren't convincingly delivered here, to me. You can make the castle look as gothic as you want, make the music as gothic as you want, make the backgrounds as Castlevania as you want, but if nothing sensibly ties these elements together then you really don't have a working theme. I'm sure someone objects to this far, far less than I do. But I loved Castlevania. I loved the idea of hunting Dracula in his own magical castle where anything is possible. RotN is trying to do the same thing but I feel like the overall connective tissue isn't there. It's also seriously hampered by....

-Way too much faffing around. This game is seriously, seriously self indulgent. What might have better a little reference or nod in an earlier SotN game is now blown up in proportion and in crisp, clear 3d detail. This game is deliberately, over the top silly at times and it sucks the life out of the tone when I see it. Every Castlevania game has had this going on but due to the technical limitations it was kept modest in scope. So when you have an enemy that is like a full size high resolution rendering of someone's internet cat but with devil horns....I dunno. It's why I can't take the theme or the IP very seriously. I always thought previous IGA Castlevania games struck a pretty good balance between theme and playfulness. In RotN, playfulness has won out over theme in most ways to me. Castlevania to me was always "spooky gothic medieval themed adventure with a liberal dose of cool anime." RotN so far has been "pretty gothic steampunk themed adventure with a liberal dose of cute."

-That said, I like Miriam. I like her attitude. Maybe her reason for being as a protagonist isn't very strong but I at least like what she seems about and her (maybe a bit too) confident attitude about the challenges she faces.

-Now that said....the game is a bit on the perverted side. There's more than a little attention paid to breasts and sexuality in this game. You know how you'd have one, maybe two sexualized enemies in SotN like the Succubi? There's multiple kinds of those kinds of enemies in RotN, and your own character fits in that category. You get multiple opportunities to appreciate Miriam's figure. In cutscenes, after you kill bosses, in the equipment menu. You can hold up on the controller and have Miram do some poses for you. In the Bestiary you can likewise get a nice long look at enemies that uh.....piqued your interest. None of it is grotesque the way the original tutorial boss design was grotesque.....but I feel like I'm getting a front row seat to what IGA actually likes and it makes me feel a little ewwwwww. Again this is why I have a hard time with the theme overall, this is just another element pulling the game in a direction I'd rather it not. This is what takes the piss out of the gothic theme. There's almost a Bayonetta-esqe sensibility to women in this game. Castlevania put the whole horror castle theme first and the rest of stuff like this second. RotN does not put itself under such similar constraints, and it's a detriment to me buying in to the story. I feel like this is stuff a publisher would have been like "IGA-san, do you really need that in the game?"

-Enemies still don't do it for me for the most part. There's a few cool ones, plenty of classic ones. But by and large the designs are kind of forgettable. Maybe it's easier to make iconic looking sprites than faux 3d models, but some just have a very poor visual read. The muddy design is IGA deliberately trying to have a weird take on an earlier design. Given what RotN is, the next Castlevania game IGA wanted to make that he couldn't, that makes plenty of sense. I just don't think it was executed well in many instances.

-And that's really a big theme of this game. The need to do something that is as close as possible to Castlevania without infringing. Enemies that do the exact same thing as their Castlevania counterparts but with a different name and look. Music that is so close to other Castlevania games that if you close your eyes you think you're playing one of them. A story and setting with all the trappings of Castlevania but that isn't Castlevania. Every area in the game you can recognize from all the previous Castlevania games, except with a twist. "Oh it's like the Library level except now they're the bookshelves are magnetized and it's like a "tech library." "Oh it's like the Cathedral but we're not going to call it that and there's no religious references." Except when it's an exact copy. "Oh hey it's THAT waterfall from the Underground Caverns level." Between all that and the tonal and stylistic differences, I'm just not really sure the final "IGAVania" re-imagining works for me. It's drifted too far from Castlevania in important ways for me, mostly because the way it decided to be different than Castlevania was to be sillier, more colorful, and weirder, when classic would have suited me just fine. Different for the sake of being different, I suppose, except when it just straight up does the exact same thing.

All in all it leaves me going "Konami, you should have just let him make another Castlevania game under the license, and it would have been great."

----

So, what do I think overall?

It's worth.

If you're like me and anime and its sensibilities aren't really a draw for you, then it still at least is a solid Metrodvania with plenty of playable hours and enjoyable exploration and gameplay. If tone is a deal breaker, this one may not work for you. I'm still on board right now and it's good enough I want to 100% it, upgrade my shiz and see what else is out there. I'm just not in love with it, even though I want to be. Maybe it needs more time to grow on me. I don't honestly think it's the bedrock of a new IP. Rather it feels like a lot of Kickstarters from famous game developers: a rough approximation of what made them famous in the past, unfettered by any oversight except their own. In RotN's case, the formula is so well trodden by IGA that it's a playable, recognizable game just by virtue of that. RotN doesn't tread any new ground, just plays with a few new technologies and tries to be Castlevania without getting sued, groping its way toward its own sense of identity. I harp on this for like 5th paragraph now I suppose because.....theme and tone are what really made Castlevania for me. The gameplay of course, but that always hung on the idea of the castle and things tied up in it. If the game was tonally closer what I enjoy, I would love this game the same way I love pretty much all the Castlevania games up until now.

If none of what I've talked about is an issue for you, then you'll probably really like this game and feel it's a complete upgrade to Castlevania, because in most ways it is. It's not evolved but it's learned damn near all its lessons from the previous game and put them to mostly good effect. It's mostly more of what you enjoyed before, polished and I'm totally down with that. I think my problem will always be that it's the next, best game in the true series but the juxtaposition between trying to be as much like Castlevania while having its own, very IGA identity stops me from embracing it entirely.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2019, 07:56:38 pm by nenjin »
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Quote from: Rumi
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, and so I am changing myself.
Quote from: Viktor Frankl
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Quote from: Sindain
Its kinda silly to complain that a friendly NPC isn't a well designed boss fight.
Quote from: Eric Blank
How will I cheese now assholes?

Retropunch

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Not played it, but watched a friend (who is really good at this kinda game) play it on twitch and I liked what I saw. I hate most anime/weeb rubbish, but whilst this is cringe it's cringe in such an OTT way that it sort of loops back to being funny and the gameplay is really solid (which is obviously all that really matters).

As nenjin mentioned though, a lot of the shard abilities feel a bit meh. It's not going to be like you can be a sort of 'mage' character or anything.

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With enough work and polish, it could have been a forgettable flash game on Kongregate.

nenjin

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I wouldn't say that per se. There's plenty of mage-like abilities in the mid-game that don't suck, and trinkets to back up using more shard abilities than not. (Items for both reducing MP cost and increasing damage for more MP costs.) There's the flame pillar from SotN as well as the "zap everything on the screen with lightning attack" from I believe Lament of Innocence, a lightning pillar attack that does crazy damage, a garden-variety fireball.

But there IS a lot of kruft that simply doesn't hold water compared to other abilities. Half the summon abilities are just laughably bad.
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Quote from: Rumi
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, and so I am changing myself.
Quote from: Viktor Frankl
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Quote from: Sindain
Its kinda silly to complain that a friendly NPC isn't a well designed boss fight.
Quote from: Eric Blank
How will I cheese now assholes?

Dostoevsky

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I'd like to mention that some of the shards that seem pretty 'meh' at base level can get better with upgrades... or at least different. Bunny girl can get some additional fighting moves, for example.

The 'fireball' move from the beginning of the game is crummy, but after upgrading it a bit (so it shoots a whole slew of fireballs instead of just one) and equipping the fire ring it turns into a devastating shotgun at a cheap MP cost.

The 'manipulate' move you mention gets decent power after upgrading, making it a decent point-blank attack if one's weapons and shard slots are less focused on that. Good for swatting pesky frogs or other tiny enemies, for example. Still pretty niche though, yeah, and a fair number of the abilities seem to be more for futzing around than optimizing things.

(Of the summons, at least, the 'summon stupid floaty pig' ability can actually be pretty devastating in certain situations mid-game. It works like a pong ball based on time instead of hits, meaning a single summon can hit a bunch of times. And you can summon a bunch at once. There's one boss in particular that was a lot easier using 'em.)

Normally accessory builds and the like is finicky, but the radial loadout options (which, unfortunately, are gradually unlocked as you explore) make switching builds on the fly quite easy.

I like it quite a lot. (Personally I wish there was an option to let Miriam dress a tad more practically, but at least fiddling with the skin & clothing sliders can mitigate that a bit.)
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nenjin

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Well I've hit that point I hit in every Castlevania game, where I've killed the nominal boss of the game but it's the bad ending. Time to crawl over the castle with a fine tooth comb to figure out what to do next. (Only explored 60% of the castle so there's plenty more I haven't yet seen.)

Right now I'm rolling with Welcome Company, Teps Oceus, Flying Sword and Healing. Welcome Company upgraded does frankly disgusting amounts of damage, you just walk in to guys and the paintings tear them apart. Teps Oceus, together with some MP cost reduction items, lets you strike the whole screen and kill almost anything in two to three hits. Flying Sword just adds to the blender action of Welcome Company. With so much DPS, I just run around with as much LUCK gear on as I can to maximize drops. Doesn't seem like much point to using anything else.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2019, 11:25:43 pm by nenjin »
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Quote from: Rumi
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, and so I am changing myself.
Quote from: Viktor Frankl
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Quote from: Sindain
Its kinda silly to complain that a friendly NPC isn't a well designed boss fight.
Quote from: Eric Blank
How will I cheese now assholes?

nenjin

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Finished the game at just shy of 40 hours, with 100% of the castle explored, 99% of the enemies discovered, and 98% of the shard abilities bound.

All in all, it was a good Castlevania experience. If it's a game you've been wanting more of, this delivers.

That said, with it being a new IP, and much of the game being built off of previous CV titles, I can't say it feels like biggest, best Castlevania game ever.

The story and world

I've already talked a bit about this. I'll just finish it by saying, whether or not you like the story and setting compared to previous games is up to taste. The earlier games were plenty weeby, but maybe with a bit more serious tone and look. This tries to be pretty serious but in a way its own look kind of interferes with that. I never felt like I was watching an anime when playing the earlier games, merely that their story moments had the look. Here, I feel like there's a lot more talking without much being said. A chance to showcase voice acting. But it didn't do much for the story for me. And because there's no readily identifiable antagonist like "Dracula", it's harder to connect with everything going on, despite it being utterly familiar to a fan of the series. Depending on how much that actually mattered to your enjoyment of the previous game, RotN may feel a bit thin.

Graphics

RotN is a striking looking game, I'll give it that. It's bright and colorful and surprisingly detailed. There's a lot of clever tricks played with perspective in a 2d game which reminds me strongly of some much earlier SNES Castlevania games. Basically those tricks and effects supe'd up for 2019. So it's pretty. But I don't necessarily think it looks cohesive, compared to the previous sprite-based games. It's like, they got so good at making the most of their limited resources in previous games that everything had this very polished look. It all tied together the way it looked. Things tend to look a little stark and unnatural in RotN. The crispness of everything kind of prevents it from every settling down in to one visual. I feel this is particularly true of the monsters. With all the power and tech, and previous experiences, I expected to see a lot of really great monster designs. But I didn't. I saw a lot of rather awkward looking and hard to read monsters, whose often cartoony style further stole any reasons for me to spend a lot of time looking at them. A few monsters here and there have great animations, cool, readable profiles and they look cool. But some are just kind of a mushy mess, while others look pretty fugly. (The dragons in this game, oof.) So while a lot looks razor sharp and very crisp, other stuff just doesn't quite cut it. When I compare how the final game looks compared to their pre-release screenshots and concept art....I definitely like what they thought they were going to have much more. That's kind of a bummer because the sprite art is one of the best things about earlier CV games, and this is kind of like a fumbling attempt at the same stuff with a totally different set of technology.

Sound

Pretty good across the board. Music is great for the setting, some new enjoyable CV style tracks and some good vague remixes of original ones. The voice acting is quality from top to bottom, almost at odds with the somewhat amateurish cutscenes and animations. If I have one gripe is that there's no filter on Miriam's calls outs when she uses some abilities. You spam the ability, she spams her call outs. A minor complaint but after 40 hours of "Teps Oceus!" and "Riga Dohin!" and "Arise myself and my shadow!" I got a little sick of hearing it.

Gameplay

All in all, great.

But I have a few caveats I want to make here.

Overall: It's CV. There's just not much more to say than that. It's pretty much everything other CV games have been, minus or two specific systems.

Map: I sort of think that maybe the castle isn't as strong a feature as it was in other games. It connects in a very familiar pattern yet I could help but feel that many areas were smaller, and easier, than in previous games. And they were a little barren even though logically I know that other games had plenty of "dead end rooms with no monsters and one treasure and you'll never be back to it again" stuff. It's no less than previous games, but it's certainly no more either. For me, combined with the art style and what its priorities were, I found myself a lot less enthralled with the idea of the castle than in any other previous game. Some areas are all connected up in ways that don't quite make sense. (Why is there like an underground cave-like area directly attached to the soaring cathedral top of the castle?) There's a "Underground Sorcery Lab" a "Secret Sorcery Lab" which uses a very similar tileset, and an "Oriental Sorcery Lab." Each of these would have been distinct areas in previous games, but here they kind of feel like a *shrug* from a design perspective. In a way I found a lot of the places in the castle uninspired, or at least lacking in a critical sense of cool. There's nothing really spooky or dark or demony about anything in the castle. It's all just gothic and pretty and colorful. So in a way I think the castle severely lacks character compared to previous games despite trying its damnedest to have some. Maybe it's just me and my take on it, but there's certainly nothing as cool or characterful like the "Catacombs" from SotN in the this game. Most of it is just like "here's some caves. Some with ice, some with fire, some with sand and some vaguely minimalist Egyptian stylings and tons with water." It's like they were trying to hard to not be a straight up CV game in style but somehow managed to waterdown the whole remainder with that decision rather than replace it with something truly cool.

Pacing: This game almost feels like it overstays it's welcome. It's basically SotN in size, except stored all in one castle. So where there was this definite middle point to SotN where you knew, "Ok, this is where we're at and this is what I have left" RotN kind of leaves you guessing on that pretty much the whole game, only having your "map completion %" to go off of. There was more than one occasion where when I walked in to a new area my reaction wasn't surprise or delight, but more a sense of "ho hum." It doesn't help that the last 15 to 20% of the game kind of feels like they checked out. There's several areas and themes that get reused during your tour of the castle. I definitely felt some fatigue with the game around the 30 hour mark as I hunted and struggled to find the way forward.

Abilities and gimmicks: As I've said before, a lot of the shard abilities are kind of ho-hum, and there feels like a ton of redundancy in form and function. Which isn't too off the mark for previous CV so I don't consider this a big one. One thing that did kind of get me though is how many gimmick abilities there are. So many. So many limited uses for them. Also toward the end of the game RotN starts handing out powers that basically render most of the game trivial. You spend the whole game waiting for double jump, only by the end of the game be able to:

Spoiler (click to show/hide)

Most of these abilities are earned after the 70% completion mark. And I felt like right at the end someone said 'just give them unlimited power. No we really don't have time to build any gameplay around these things." These are in addition to all the other Manipulation and passive powers that came earlier and got you through the first half of the game. Maybe there was a section or two of the game that had puzzles based around them. Maybe that puzzle shows up in one doorway later on in game. Maybe they have some vague combat application if you REALLY like the power. But by and large and I felt like I had a bunch of abilities that did fruity things that I rarely had to use for long, and that the end of the game powers were completely over the top for what the game had been up to that point and served no other purpose than to give people the shit they wished they'd had 20 hours ago. Previous CV games would have had revisit secrets built around all these powers, gameplay that accounted for them and made their gifts worthwhile. They come in a day late and a dollar short in RotN IMO. Other than that, RotN definitely feels like it has some heavy-hitting abilities that completely overshadow half the stuff you might use, so a lot of the shards in game feel useless. MAYBE if your mana regen didn't get so good that you can spam the most costly abilities like they cost nothing, MAYBE if it wasn't so easy to farm for stuff, MAYBE I'd have been force to use other things and have some variety. But none of those things are true. This cuts to balance below.

Secrets: It honestly feels more straightforward about this stuff than most CV games. The big "aha" secret is spelled out for you as long as you manage to find all the areas in the castle. But finding all areas of the castle, which in SotN hinged on this one obscure secret, here is not really formalized in any way. You just have to "figure it out."


Other than that I feel like RotN does a lot more to help the player get what they want out of the game. There's Shards to detect secret walls, so I found all those pretty handily and they make up a big chunk of your upgrades. There's plenty of rings and charms to help you out in farming items, cash and shards. There are no insanely esoteric secrets in the game. Mostly some direct throwback secrets to early CV, some "revisit this area" secrets and a series of locked doors scattered around the castle, with the keys *mostly* easy to find. There were only two things I had to ask the internet about, and one of those came after beating the game. So does RotN have secrets? An assload of them. Are you really going to struggle to find any of them? Probably not.

Gear, Gearing, Crafting, all that hoopla:

RotN is kind of weird in that how you get gear is very.....up to you. Probably half of the items in game can be found in the castle, or gotten from defeated enemies and completed quests. The other half though are crafted, or sold by the vendor. So unlike previous CV games where I feel like what you found really mattered in terms of gear, here it's a matter of:

-Did you find the blueprints for the stuff you wanted to make? (Roughly broken up by tiers of gear. "Fine Gear" "Very Fine Gear" "Silver Gear" "Gold Gear", etc...)
-Did you find enough materials from monsters and chests to make said gear?
-Do you have enough money to buy the materials and base items you don't already have or can't craft yourself?"

For me, I ended up sticking with largely the same gear throughout most of the game. I've played a CV game or two enough to know myself, so I always play CV games with a mind toward LUCK based gear. Because CV is all about finding stuff, like gear and shard or soul abilities, always having high LCK means you miss a lot less. In RotN it pays double and triple dividends to have high LCK because you get more gear, more materials for crafting and making food, and more shards. So with the exception of boss fights, I played the entire game wearing farming gear. As a result there was just a lot of stuff I never used or only crafted for completion's sake because I didn't actually need to use any of it. So while RotN is great for a completionist who wants to make and try everything, I think it undercuts the joy of discover quite a bit. It also leads in to the discussion of....

Difficulty

I played through on Normal. And by and large I'll say this: most of RotN is not a tough game. With the right combination of fast, multi-hitting weapons and shard abilities, most rooms of trash are your's for the farming. BOSSES, on the other hand, can be challenging for some builds because they attack often and fill the screen with garbo and do a considerable amount of damage. For me, my basic setup was: Flying Blade for the first half of the game, Oracle Blade for the second half. Welcome Company for my attack shard, Riga Dohin for my directional shard, Healing for my Manipulation Shard, and whatever Familiar shard I happened to be trying to level at the time. (Dantilion seems like probably the best familiar due to his buffing capabilities.) With this setup, and the best LCK gear I could find, I just vaporized most rooms of enemies immediately which made farming pretty easy. Only rarely did I need to "get serious" about gear to deal with a problem. Likewise, with bosses the same setup but geared for damage and defense, basically meant I smoked most bosses just by standing next to them and firing off my crap. There were probably 5 bosses in the game where I needed to actually use the mountains of health consumable foods I'd acquired, and they were bosses intended to be end game challenges. Most other bosses simply had no response to taking 200 to 500 damage a second from the combination of all my stuff. So while RotN seems to be getting a reputation as a tough game I don't know if I agree, for normal difficulty. The biggest limiting factors for the player are their HP pool and magic regen speed, and food and leveling both make those very easy to get up to the level where you can spam your abilities non-stop and take hits without even worrying about either. I feel like, with so many ways to get powerful, RotN should have angled for a harder version of normal difficulty. Because by 50% of the way through the game I didn't feel challenged by hardly anything. Playing the game was more a question of how to farm the most efficiently, not how to survive it.

So....

I gotta remind myself that after all, it is a Castlevania game, it's not Dark Souls or something. But maybe that's an illustrative example. Sekrio felt like a Samurai Dark Souls game. They did a different aesthetic, world, whatever but managed to hold on to the essence of what makes their games recognizable and interesting. I feel like maybe, in the effort to both be different but be exactly what people remember and like about Castlevania, IGA maybe missed a little here. It's still a great game that delivered a bunch of stuff that I love. It's just in totality I don't love the game like I can say I do with earlier CV games. Themes, visuals, execution, some of these things felt a little like duds. They don't besmirch the whole project, but if someone were to ask me "Does RotN live up to the the hype" my response would have be 'mostly' rather than "FUCK YEA!"

There's _13!_ free DLCs coming. I don't know what that means for the game or a future title in this same series. If they are ever going to make a sequel I'm probably going to wait and see based on what this offering turned out like. If the game was simply more to my taste aesthetically and visually I'd be on board. But if it's going to be more of this at this level of execution.....might just wait for a sale instead.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2019, 10:37:09 pm by nenjin »
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