On paper, I should really dig the Castlevania Games. Deep, exploration heavy psuedo-rpgs with gorgeous pixel art and a healthy supply of gothic horror beasties and tropes? Castlevania should have been my jam. However, it was never really on my radar until the advent of the recently released Netflix series, which got me interested in the characters and lore and in turn inspired some vintage game store excavation. The whole thing got me thinking about how my non-gaming media pursuits are in turn influencing my gaming preferences as of late and lo, an article is born.
New Blood: Castlevania Portrait of Ruin
So, following my completion of the aforementioned Nextflix original, I took to Wikipedia to learn a little more about Castlevania’s lore. Monster hunters, witches, evil priests, half vampire sons of Dracula turned heroic types - this was my kind of party. My interest suitably piqued, I got to researching which game in the series would be my best starting point. Naturally Symphony of the Night came highly recommended, but with access to only a portion of my collected gaming hardware at the minute, I narrowed my search to titles that I could play on my 3DS. The Nintendo Eshop offered pretty much every title available on the NES, SNES or Gameboy but I had something else in mind. Over the years I had heard a lot of good noise about the trio of games released for the pre-3D Nintendo DS beginning in 2005 with Dawn of Sorrow, followed closely by Portrait of Ruin and Order of Ecclesia. I had heard that they really hunkered down on the RPG elements in particular, which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. I had this vague notion that they had been re-released digitally, but, finding no proof of this I headed out into a humid Toronto early afternoon in search of vampiric-gaming treasure.
As it turned out, my campaign was equal parts short and fruitful. At my very first stop, 401 Games near Kensington Market, I unearthed all three games. Having really only expected to find one if even that, I was unprepared for the choice now facing me. In the end, I decided on the middle child, Portrait of Ruin. The period time setting of 1944, lack of reportedly gimmicky seal-drawing segments from Dawn of Sorrow and the more daunting difficulty of Order of Ecclesia swung it for me. I started my play-through later that day and so far so good (thought the first boss, the Dullahan, is a rage inducing nightmare man). I’m not in love with the game yet, but I am glad I’ve finally put some time into one of gaming’s most venerable franchises.
Returning to the depths: Bioshock Collection
I’ve loved the first two Bioshock games for a long time. I distinctly remember my first experience with the series - a copy of the sequel loaned to me by one of my best friends (I completed it, then went and found Bioshock 1). The game also attracted the attention of my father, who watched me play many a session and got as immersed in the underwater tragedies of Rapture as I did. I never really gave Bioshock Infintie much of a chance - trading the murky depths of Rapture for the airborne city of Arcadia didn’t quite do it for me - and a few years went by since my latest play-through of the original masterpiece. Then, in the Summer of 2017, I discovered the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Quick disclaimer - I’m not trying to claim that the writing of Lovecraft lines up with the story of Bioshock. The link I established between them is in relation to the common feelings of lurking dread they inspire in me, both typically centering on evils with unseen depths and expansive reach. Take the sprawling Necropolis featured in At the Mountains of Madness: massive, decaying and visited after it’s prime, when it is only a (mostly) empty shadow of its former glory. In these respects, this Lovecraftian locale shares many features with Rapture - one man’s dream for a utopia twisted into a nightmare, it is a rotting tomb, a mockery of its former glory.
More commonality can be claimed in their period time settings, as Bioshock takes place in the 1960s and much of Lovecraft’s fiction occurs in the early 20th century. Of course these associations are not ironclad and may indeed only apply to myself. All I know is that after about a hundred pages of Lovecraft, I had a palpable desire to dive headfirst back into Rapture. Thanks to the wonders of modern re-releases, I was able to get my hands on all three entries with the Bioshock Collection. Revisiting 1 and 2 has been like taking a trip home and I’m willing to give Infinite a second chance. As for Mr. Lovecraft, my interest is piqued for the planned release of developer Cyanide’s Call of Cthullu game slated for release later this year. The footage I’ve seen definitely evokes some Bioshock vibes, so maybe I’m not alone in the comparison department. To be honest, both Lovecraftian fiction and Bioshock have made me more interested in the ocean in general: I recently went to the Royal Ontario Museum primarily to check out their sea exhibits.
Re-opening the Crypt: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing
This article began with vampires and so in this way it shall end. My ongoing re-watch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel put me in a mind of a little Diablo-esque RPG that I tried years ago but never quite got into. That title is Neocore Games’ The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing, originally released on steam in 2013, now also available on consoles. My biggest issue with this game was more with its mechanics and less with its story or setting. It is in my opinion a very watered-down take on the Diablo formula, a bit more paint by numbers. At times this alone makes it a struggle to pick it up and play, but I’m trying to stick at if for the sake of its weird-yet-charming Gothic/steampunk world. The dialog is cheesy and the characters are very one note but it has a sort of b-movie quality that makes the whole package more entertaining. I’ve already made it further than I did way back in 2013 and I’m hoping to complete a play-through in the near future. I think my outside interest in vampire fiction is definitely driving my interest in the game more so than the game itself.
Speaking of the blood-sucking variety of the undead, I have every finger and toe I posses crossed in the hopes that Dontnod’s upcoming Vampyr is a decent jaunt through a blood-soaked, jolly old London town. I really enjoyed their previous work with Life is Strange and though I’m a bit concerned that the scope of Vampyr may prove too ambitious for them, I’m still very hopeful and earnestly looking forward to checking it out in November.
So there it is, one series I had never tried, one old favorite revisited and one game getting a second chance. As a whole, these titles and the non-gaming media that inspired my playing of them have shown me two things: I need to spend a little more time in the sunlight and I’m really, REALLY looking forward to Halloween.
Have you noticed any interesting or notable trends between your gaming and general media consumption as of late? Do you enjoy any of the games I’m playing or are you looking forward to any of the upcoming releases I mentioned? Do you have any recommendations based on what I’m playing, reading or watching? Please tell me all about it below!