This Week’s Releases (April 10-14, 2006)

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Week thirty-five of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation. Two of the sections are expanded into full articles, posted later in the week.

Game of the Week:

Tomb Raider: Legend
Crystal Dynamics/Eidos Interactive
Xbox/Xbox 360/PlayStation 2/PC
Tuesday

Something that people keep bringing up, yet probably don’t bring up enough, is that the first Tomb Raider was a damned good game. And what it seems Crystal Dynamics has done is go back to the framework of Tomb Raider 2 and to break it down, analytically. What they chose to do is bring the focus back to exploration – in part by introducing some new gizmos, in part by making the environments more fun to navigate. Reviews nitpick a few fair issues; still, the overall response seems to be a huge sigh of relief. Maybe it’s not the best game in the world, or all it ever could be. Still – it’s not terrible! The theme that keeps coming up is one of nostalgia – that, for the first time, someone has managed to recapture what makes Tomb Raider interesting. And that sentiment is itself interesting. Continue reading “This Week’s Releases (April 10-14, 2006)”

Let’s kill Timothy!

Without Orson Welles, we would have no Touch of Evil. Without Touch of Evil, we would have no Peter Gunn. And, relatedly, no Blake Edwards, as he came to be. We wouldn’t exactly have Henry Mancini, in the form we know. Without them, we’d have no Cowboy Bebop.

Another big piece comes from Peter Max (and The Yellow Sumbarine).

Another big piece comes from Saul Bass.

So. Philip K. Dick and William Gibson took late ’70s/early ’80s punk culture and other then-current societal trends and newish technologies (such as Arpanet), projected them a few decades into the future, and came up with the Cyberpunk genre.

Shinichiro Watanabe took early ’60s post-beat jazz and mod culture, and detective and kung-fu films of the era, and projected them a few decades into the future to create The Work, Which Becomes a New Genre Itself.

So. We’ve done punk. We’ve done ’60s cool jazz/bebop/mod culture. Perhaps next we can project the mid-1800s romantic classical music scene a few decades into the future. That might have some possibilities.

No, hold on. The Victorian thing is starting to get overdone. How about the turn-of-the-century ragtime era? The clash between classical and blues; between performance and recording; between vaudeville and cinema.

What other archetypical, musically-related period cultures can we tap into? This is important. We’re creating a NEW CLASSIC here.

Not too well balanced in my telling, but.

An interesting epic anime series could be made of Castlevania, I think, if one were serious enough.

First could be the story of Sonia and her romance with Alucard, and her eventual battle against Dracula although Alucard tried to hold her back and protect her. And thus everything gets set up. After this, the Belmonts are kicked out of Romania by a fearful public. She defeated Dracula, so she’s obviously got some dreadful power. And — this is just speculation — her associating with Alucard probably doesn’t help much.

Next comes her son, Trevor — who might be Alucard’s, or maybe not. Around the time he comes of age, Dracula is brought back to life prematurely. Someone is sent to find Sonia, considering that she was the only person able to stand up to Dracula the last time. But I guess she’s not around by now, because Trevor is the one who ends up receiving the pleas. I get the impression that this wasn’t something he really intended to do, but I guess eventually he realizes it’s his duty of sorts and he finds the confidence to make the trek back to Romania.

Something which always confused me a bit is that short intro to Dracula’s Curse, where Trevor is kneeling by the huge cross. I’m wondering if this is in tribute to his mother, who has gone. A sort of channeling of her energy, as well.

Along the way he runs into Grant, and then Sypha, and then Alucard again. Grant seems like he’d wind up as a sidekick or partner of sorts. Sypha — well, considering how she plays in the game and how she’s found to start with (frozen as a statue), she seems like she’d be a little fragile. I guess I can see how her introduction to Trevor would be a good one, with his rescuing her from an oblivion of sorts. And as with Sonia, Alucard chooses to fight against Trevor to make sure that he’s strong enough. He doesn’t want Trevor to go rushing in where he’s going to be destroyed, all things considered. Alucard can, after all, take care of his father on his own, if he really needs to. But Trevor seems to have spirit and some ability by this point, so Alucard falls back and decides to tag along — probably out of curiosity and amusement as much as anything. Besides, it makes it easier to keep an eye on everyone.

So they reach Castlevania. They beat Dracula again, and much more thoroughly than before. Grant goes his own way, Alucard decides for various reasons that it’s time to put himself to sleep, and that leaves Trevor and Sypha, neither of whom, I get the impression, have much of anyone left.

End of the first book.

Finally, a hundred years passes. The first proper sleep and regeneration.

I’m really not sure what to do about Christopher, as he’s something of a doofus. He’s slow, he can barely jump, he at first doesn’t even know how to use even any of the standard secondary weapons, and to top it off, in the game his whip gets downgraded every time he gets hit — no matter how small the injury. Gah.

Christopher is the Dan Hibiki of the Belmont Clan.

Well, I guess by this time the adventures of his ancestors must have seemed like legends. Heck, it was a hundred years since the last time anyone had to worry about Dracula — and the entire thing does sound sort of far-fetched, after all. The Belmonts were back in Romania. Things were fine again for decades. I can see how a couple of generations down the line people might forget a bit.

It seems that Dracula assumed his troubles were behind him as well. He went on another general rampage, knowing that Sonia and her son were long gone and that his own son wasn’t around to bother him.

“Oh no, we need a savior! Where’s a Belmont when you need one!”
“Hey, wait! We do have a Belmont; he’s right over there!”
“… We’re doomed.”

I can see the townspeople, once they realized what was happening, gathering around Christopher’s house. In my mind, Christopher has gotten kind of lazy and boorish and arrogant because of the high status his clan has had ever since Trevor defeated Dracula again. It’s doubtful he has much respect for or gives much credence to the legends about his ancestors, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t take advantage of the fame he has just by being a Belmont. It’s akin to a mild nobility among the peasants. Imagine his flustered surprise when everyone suddenly comes to his door, asking for help. Heh.

Even though he had no idea what the hell he was doing, Christopher managed to be convinced (perhaps largely by mass opinion) that this task was within his ability. I imagine his arrogance probably helped a bit.

In the end, Christopher managed to feebly jump up and down for a while and chase Dracula away for a few years — and he called that a success, as did everyone else.

“Ha-ha, Dracula! As a Belmont it is my duty to see your death!”
“Ack! Not another one! I thought I was rid of them by now!”
“Prepare for pain, bathead! Ha-ha!”
“… I don’t want to deal with this. Let me take some time to think about things.”
“Wait! Come back here! Coward!”

Okay, so Christopher remained a doofus. But still, he was a Belmont — and that was a real threat. So Dracula needed a plan. After a few Years he returned and kidnapped Christopher’s son, Solieyu. On the one hand, he could easily end the Belmont line right there if he needed to. On the other, Christopher was dense enough that he’d undoubtedly fall for the trap. I think it’s safe to say that Dracula was pretty confident that he didn’t have much to worry about anymore.

The thing is, someone must’ve gotten to Christopher in the intervening years — as he got better. A lot better. He must’ve begun exercising, as he became a lot more mobile. He learned how to use secondary weapons, and even how to use his whip effectively. I guess the Belmont thing really went to his head, as it seems like he must’ve gone through a lot of training. Perhaps it was made clear to him that Dracula wasn’t gone; he was still around someplace, and he had to get ready, because all Christopher did by chasing him away the last time was make trouble. Now there’s no telling what Dracula might do.

So when Solieyu (where did Chris get this name? Jeez) was taken, Christopher was ready. And he managed to actually defeat Dracula this time, probably much to Dracula’s shock.

By doing this, Christopher probably settled the entire Belmont line as vampire hunters, rather than it just being those couple of ancestors from long ago. So the Belmonts were established as a constant force, and I guess after this point it was made pretty darned sure that the legacy was kept up.

End of book two.

Another hundred years passes.

And then we have Simon. I guess it makes sense that he’s the most famous Belmont of all, and that the series started with him. After all, he’s the first clan hunter in the modern era; the first Belmont who was probably trained forever as a vampire hunter and who was entirely aware of his legacy and his duty. And heck, he was a pretty competent one. When duty called, he just went right in and marched straight through Castlevania to slay Dracula again. No messing around.

Maybe that was Dracula’s plan, though. Lure in the innocently righteous Belmont. Perhaps sacrifice this one regeneration in order to be rid of the clan forever. He had more of a scheme this time than ever before; during his battle with Simon, Dracula would put a curse upon him. And then following his defeat, Dracula’s followers would gather his remains and scatter them across the Transylvanian countryside until it was time for the next resurrection. There would be no way out for Simon, that way.

But Simon proved to be a credit to his lineage; he was probably the most resourceful of all of the Belmonts. His real adventure wasn’t his simple charge through Castlevania, but rather his own personal quest and race against time to save himself. He scoured all over the countryside, talking to people, searching keeps, and following clues until he gathered all of Dracula’s important pieces. He personally brought Dracula back to life prematurely, and (given how little time there was to regenerate) easily defeated him, settling his curse and ending his duty — as well as perhaps the most classic chapter in the entire timeline.

End of book three.

Another hundred years passes once again, although at the halfway mark there’s a bit of trouble. While Harmony of Dissonance seems more of a bit of necessary plot filler than a real arc on its own, Juste does help to tie up a few things between Simon’s and Richter’s eras.

Castlevania reappears, though Dracula isn’t due for his regeneration for another fifty years yet. Juste and his friend Maxim go exploring. I don’t really know the plot here, but it has to do with Dracula’s pieces left over from Simon’s Quest.

It seems Juste was more of a scholar than a warrior, and did a lot of research on his own history. He noticed the Belnades’ untapped blood in the Belmont line, and tried to take advantage of that for the first time. Using magic books, Juste managed to use some of his latent magical abilities to create what would become the “item crash” techniques that later Belmonts would find so useful. It seems to me that Juste was also taken a bit much with the mythology of Alucard being a possible ancestor, as Juste began to dress a lot like him and to learn to use a bit of his magical prowess to dart around like a vampire. Juste was maybe a little high on the pretense, but he was important in terms of realizing the full potential of his bloodline.

End of book three-point-five.

The hundred years completes its run, and we’re left with the last really interesting and important saga in the mythology as it is now.

I don’t know as much about the Dracula X games as I should; I don’t have a PC-Engine, so Rondo of Blood isn’t something I’ve played — and I don’t have a PSX, so I haven’t played a lot of Symphony of the Night. But seeing as how these are the first games in the series to have an obvious and compelling story within the context of the games themselves, I probably don’t have to elaborate much here. Dracula again tries to lure in the current Belmont; he creates his standard chaos, and this time he takes a bunch of hostages. It almost worked before with Christopher, although Dracula let his guard down too much. He took Richter’s girlfriend, her sister Maria, and a bunch of other townspeople — just to make it more difficult for Richter to juggle things along the way.

Richter did barely manage to save everyone and to defeat Dracula, but then there was a problem; he vanished. This was troublesome for more than one reason, as for the first time in centuries the area was without a Belmont to rely on. One wonders why the Belmont clan never had more kids than they did — you’d think there’d be strength in numbers — but without Richter to continue the line, the future was a nervous proposition at best.

Alucard sensed this imbalance, and figured it was time to wake and see what was up. And I’ve not played this game, so I can’t say much more.

This is basically the end of the saga (excepting a few loose ends here and there), and it does balance out pretty well — Alucard started things, and Alucard ends them. There’s also Bloodlines to take into account, and that does fit pretty well into the standard timeline. But it’s more of an epilogue than anything. The Belmonts might no longer exist in name in the twentieth century, but they’re still around. And Dracula will never truly die.

Again, I don’t understand why the team at Kobe are so uninterested in paying attention to the proper timeline; I think they’re operating in their own little universe. The N64 games and Circle of the Moon can take place in their own alternate world, along with Super Castlevania IV and the SNES Dracula XX.

So the first chapter of sorts would be the setup. It would be somewhat romantic (in the classical sense) and emotionally complex; the beginning of a fate which would stretch for centuries.

The second chapter would be where the repercussions of the first chapter finally start to show; a second beginning, of sorts. It would probably be more lighthearted in a sense, compared to the emotional nature of the first chapter, given what a doofus its lead would be. But it also would exist to set up what would follow, and stabilize the Belmonts as a force.

The third chapter would be where things would really kick into gear. It seems at first like the focus on Simon alone could be a detriment — but the fact is that Simon’s the only character in the series who has gone on a wholly personal mission. Simon’s chapter would be less broad in scope, and would center around him; through this, it would exemplify any number of other elements about what’s going on at the time and what it means to be a Belmont. Simon is the typical Belmont, after all. I’m envisioning this chapter as largely playing out something like a mystery in terms of construction.

I think Juste’s chapter would work best as a side-story; an OAV to plug in between sections three and four.

The final part would be much like the first in its way. The cast of characters would be larger again, and Alucard makes his reappearance to finish what he started.

Perhaps Christopher’s and Simon’s stories could be mooshed together, as compared to the first and final sections they’re both a little empty. Or maybe each of the first and final bits could be separated into two units. It’s all flexible.

But there it is, anyway.

Otakon, part one (of who-knows-how-many):

I somehow managed not to forget much of anything. It was probably the list that saved me; I get antsier than I care to describe whenever I feel I need to remember something, as I know how awful my memory is. Even my daily personal activities are threaded with a continuous charge of stress, as I become afraid that I’ll forget what I intended to do as soon as I walk downstairs or that something else will pop into my head or grab my attention, forcing out everything else I’m intricately trying to keep in balance and carry to its conclusion.

But I had the foresight to write a list for myself, before I assembled my materials to pack. It went from such necessary detail as the clothes and personal belongings and supplies I intended to bring with me, all the way into suggestions about what, and when, I might want to eat up until the time I left and reminders to shower and brush my teeth. Honestly, I need this kind of detail or else things simply aren’t going to get done.

At approximately the last minute, Shepard decided to get in touch with me (and subsequently everyone else) about his plans; he was going to arrive, and leave, by train; these were the times, these were the places to be. Once I packed, there was nothing left to do or weigh on my mind until Mike arrived to give me a lift.

The journey to Lan’s place in Troy didn’t seem as long as I imagined. I’ve gone all up and down the east coast with one or both of my parents, all through my youth, and it always seemed to take forever to get anywhere. It was only a matter of a few hours, and I don’t recall getting bored or even resorting to much in terms of amusement on the way down.

When it got down to the last several directions, the Mapquest directions that Mike printed were pretty glaringly inaccurate. It seems small quantities are a problem with the service, as it was impossible to judge distance by the numbers provvided. Three yards translated as a third of a mile, and two to three miles could be listed as two hundred feet.

Still, it only took limited wandering and experimentation before we found Lan’s address. Almost immediately upon moving our gear into his place, we all sauntered to the “other” apartment to meet Erin and Pat. While waiting for the party to arrange itself to go out, I played some of the Spy Hunter remake and — later — GunValkyrie, on Pat’s Xbox. The former isn’t too bad, and somehow reminds me a bit of Jet Set Radio. (Don’t ask me to explain why.) The latter, Pat claimed that no one likes. It is true that the controls are a little weird — the reviews certainly got that right — but after some experimentation I began to dig them pretty well. I’ll have to play more to offer any good impression, but what I saw was positive to my sensors.

We (I believe) then went to see Men in Black 2. (It was a sequel; that’s all there is I have to say on the matter.) We returned and watched a taped Eddie Izzard performance. And then Mike and I returned to Lan’s place, where I proceded to forget to either sleep or eat for the remainder of the night and until we left early the next morning.

I say Mike and I, although Lan did, I seem to remember, return for a short while. I think after a certain hour Lan has come to become a pumpkin as of late if he stays in his own apartment. Perhaps it’s cursed. Some things man is not meant to know.

End of prologue.