Marto's Castlevania Judgment Review
his is a time rift. The answers you seek are at the end of this place, and to get out you must complete a series of trials," or so Aeon, the new character to be added to the roster of Castlevania gents says to whomever he greets in story mode of Castlevania Judgment for the Nintendo Wii. Yet, are the trials of the fans beatable, or will Aeon's debut be frowned upon?
I, for one, felt like his thirteen-hour clock struck the coolest of hours, at just the time that it needed to – a time when Castlevania suffers from signs of stagnation that needs stirring up. It came in the form of this game, and it did it well, despite the hind-sight bias that was embedded before hand.
The game opens up with a dramatic, very well animated opening that sadly suffers from horrible music, which was a very unimpressive start. Things just felt mismatched, and that wasn't really something to brag about. The corny "TUH DUUUN!!" when you click start on the 'menu' window wasn't worth more than the furrowing of my brow, yet after that, I found comfort in being greeted by a multitude of menus. Arcade, Story, Versus, Castle, WiFi Arena, Tutorial, Practice, Accessories, Gallery, and Options.
The Gallery mode was interesting, since it not only let you look at the art of each character (which is unlockable by beating Castle mode), but also lets you listen to music tracks that you collect through various modes and achievements in combat through the modes.
Only the WiFi seems to suffer from what is a common issue in most fighting games' online modes – the presence of lag. Yet, it doesn't interfere all too badly. Besides, how fun is it to know that you can fight people from around the world with your favourite Castlevania characters? The addition of that feature is much appreciated, even with its little kinks.
The Story Mode offers exactly what it should – a play-through of the game, offering you an interesting back-story to the character that you've selected, and their journey through the time rift. Beat it with everyone the first time around, and who knows what you might unlock!
Arcade mode offers a clean play-through as a character of your choice, and is the fastest way to acquire items with which to deck out your characters. These items are easily viewed in an exhibition-style window in the:
Accessories menu, where you can either view your collection, or simply go right into customizing your characters. Items vary from shoulder-resting faeries, to dog noses, and fox tails.
Castle Mode lets you progress through a series of 'skill challenges' through a Castle format reminiscent of the original Castlevania, with only a few branching paths. Tasks can vary from "destroy X number of Candelabrum" to "Destroy all opponents" with various handicaps to impair you along the way.
Tutorial teaches you the basics of combat, and should be the first thing you click on when you turn on the game – it's very short, and very helpful.
Practice lets you do just that, and is a great place in which to develop new combos and think of new strategies, or a way to get a feel for how your character should act in certain distances.
Speaking of the characters, they're executed well in some areas, and quite disappointingly in others. The faces of characters are stagnant rocks. The only time you'll see any expression whatsoever in their marble faces is when you're performing Sypha's ultra attack. A disappointingly small cast, 14 characters total, seems alright considering the wide variety of fighting styles and designs that were present. Obata, of Death Note fame, came to assist with the designs for this game, and his designs vary from intriguing, to incredibly risky and ballsy, and somewhat even disregarding to the fans of the series.
The characters are: Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, Alucard, Dracula, Carmilla, Sypha Belnades, Grant Danasty, Cornell, Death, Golem, Eric Lecarde, Maria Renard, Shanoa, and Aeon. Oh yeah, then there's Time Ripper.
Simon Belmont sports an outfit that could be considered homage to Ayami Kojima's 2001 design for the Castlevania Chronicles game of our favourite Belmont. It has red hair, black leather, yet oddly misplaced bondage and metal plating all over his body. His personality is strong, determined, yet displays his insecurities in story mode in regard to whether it is him that is strong, or just his trinket – the whip. Yet, he doesn't seem to know anything about the curse that's afflicted on him, leading us to think that he comes from a time before Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, but after Castlevania. He's a great starting character, rather agile, even balance in damage intake, and his attack's power, he's one of the easier to pick up and play characters.
Trevor Belmont, Castlevania III's hero, manages to be the egomaniacal one of the game, sporting quotes such as, "You think you can defeat me?" Honestly, I didn't harbor too much love for his funnily rendered mouth, or his cocky attitude since I felt that it lacked a sense of edge that was more-so present in Curse of Darkness' retelling of Trevor's persona. His story's about his quest to get out of the Time Rift, not much else. He sports an eye-patch, short, ruffled hair, and a brown rehash of Simon's Design which only leads me to believe that Obata did indeed create him at the end of his creative spree.
The actual art piece seems far superior to the design's 3-D rendering, if only due to the strange curvature of his ever-present smile. Much like Simon, Trevor has great range, yet he opts for slower speed, and much more powerful attacks, and a reduction in combo availability. The time period he came from seems to be only a year after the events of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse.
Alucard, who at first glance seems like the Time Rift ripped his straight out of Organization XIII from Kingdom Hearts, silver straight hair, white futuristic armor and all, shows an incredible honesty to his Symphony of the Night, and even Aria of Sorrow attitude – resolute, ever disobedient little juvenile, he comes from a time after the Demon Castle War has concluded, so he's been pulled after 1999's events. His story's simply about his desire to defeat his father. I love the execution of his character, since he's the same Sorrowful Prince that we've grown to love, or be sick of. Alucard's the game's second starter character, yielding a long-sword, and Tetra Spirit attacks, as well as the Sword Familiar, and other awesome moves that honestly make you feel like you're playing with the King of Darkness' woeful offspring. He has a quick teleport, and is great for people that try to lean toward a trickier fighting style.
Dracula's a strange case – golden ornamentation, and mercury-like veins encase his face in delicate, yet interesting design, while cannon-like protrusions bulge from his chest. Aside from Austin Powers jokes, his boob-cannon's don't subtract much from his marvelous design! A grand cape enshrouds him, and his collar is a massive array of black colors, sharp twisting design, and vibrant reds. The long nails are present as always, and his story's simply his desire to get out of the Time-Rift while dealing with interruptions by people that he displeasingly recognizes, or has never met. He's been pulled out of time around the events of Symphony of the Night's conclusion, but pre-Order of Ecclesia. Dracula fights very akin to his video game battle tactics: Stand stagnant, take damage, dish out damage, teleport, rinse, repeat. He can be better played, but only if you're seriously dedicated to the cause of learning him properly.
Carmilla's exactly the kind of character we'd expect: Sexy, dominating, blood-thirsty, and loyal to her Count. It is unclear what time period she was pulled out of, but her omnipotent nature about everyone she faces suggests a later time period, perhaps one around the Demon Castle Wars. She's also wielding what seems to be a strange visor on her arm, yet her predominant battle tactic is an array of powerful kicks that fly at you with impressive speed. Her short hair, curvaceous body, and long legs are barely garbed in a red corset, with intricate silver decoration, and a collar-head gear reminiscent of Dracula's, as if though she were his queen. I found her to be one of the bolder designs that Obata opted out for. Her story's the simple desire to help her Lord Dracula rise to power in the filthy world around her.
Sypha Belnades, on the other hand, seemed near-unrecognizable. Dressed in a steam-punk rendition of a Clergy's outfit, she wields elemental magic that emits itself from a cross-laden staff. She isn't familiar with Grant, Alucard, or Trevor as of yet, so it's from about the time when she was about to be sent into Dracula's Castle (pre-CVIII). She annoys me, quite frankly, due to an obstinate, unbelievable, and stagnant attitude, and a story that seems all to uncompelling and uninteresting. She is, however, fairly fun to use, giving way to speed, a good variety of attacks, and a decent damage output.
Grant Danasty on the other hand, is a blast. And a surprising one at that! Possessing both unbelievable speed, and also sporting the best voice work of the game, his design, which at first seems both shockingly different and extremely inappropriate from the expected, becomes very easily likeable, and appropriate for his attitude. Down-to-earth dialogue, cynical remarks, and a very human attitude make him very different from the rest of the cast. He is covered in bandages, and wields two blades that could best be described as Ninja Stars. His body's long and slanky, and very contorted on occasion. He's been pulled straight out of the same time period as Holier-than-Thou Trevor, so his story's strongly related to his quarrel with Trevor in regards to Sypha. He's the fastest character to use, and has an amazing variety of combos to be done, as well as a multitude of battle tactics that can be used with him. A personal favourite!
A surprising inclusion, Cornell, of the Gaiden game Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, has also bared his fangs in this interesting game! He was perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises, and has what is arguably the coolest redesign of Obata's. Cornell has a very dignified character, and his story's surprisingly, despite the retcon, one of the more interesting and appealing of the bunch. Cornell himself is large, and permanently stuck in the Man-Beast (werewolf) form, only due to Iga's desire to have a beast in the game. It is justified story-wise, so don't fret! Cornell's the second fastest character, and also dishes out some massive damage, placing him at the top of the tier bracket in the game.
Death is interesting. His design is questionable, and I'll leave it at that – a hook for a hand, no cloak, and spikes for legs. I can't comment, since it can be seen as both a refreshing look for this bag-o-bones, and as a gutsy disrespect to the iconical visage of this baddie. His story's much like Carmilla's, and his fighting style feels very fluid. He has a very ranged style, with quick decisive blows, and a variety of neat combos that are easily executed. Not much to say about him – fun to use, and…interesting to look at.
Golem! The most lovable, easily sympathized with character in the whole game. His story's completely heart breaking, especially once you find out what happens to him in the end. He's Carmilla's creation (aptly called "Momma" by him), and he is in the rift with dedication to find out how to become human. He's honestly good natured, and hates fighting, and only does it since he wants to keep on living. His design is interesting, and seems very steam-punk in its half mechanical, half organic composition. He towers over everyone, even Dracula! At first glance, you'd imagine him to be very slow, yet he can be played as a quick dodge-and-counter character, thanks to his (sorry for the Pokemon reverence) Rollout dodge. I find him very interesting, his story on par with Cornell's.
Eric Lecarde is the character who's gotten the biggest grief due to his redesign, despite the impeccable accuracy in regard to the time period he was taken from. He is just a child, which annoyed many Castlevania fans, yet it seems to work perfectly with his elegant clothes. His spear is a very delicate design with much detail, and it suits his small size perfectly, due to the nature of his combat. It's amazing to see this young child of mere twelve wield a lance with such strength and speed! His attitude is irritating – a snotty rich brat, entrusted with the Alucard spear (which we find out was given to the Lecardes before Eric was even born), who possesses an extreme jealously of the importance that the Belmont's whip carries in comparison to his holy weapon. His story is a quest to prove the Alucard Spear's strength. Overall, great design, very agile poking character, but an irritating brat to use.
Maria Renard happened to be the most shocking, and disappointing of the cast in my eyes. Fifteen years old, let us all consider her attitude in Symphony of the Night – a lady, far more mature than what we'd imagine from a seventeen year old, and very elegant – truly a woman. Maria at age fifteen in Castlevania Judgment happens to be everything but those things – She's loud, obnoxious, says things such as "I'm gonna beat the STUFFIN' out of 'em!" and "I may be cute as a button, but I'm tough as nails." Atrocious pink outfit with garters, ugly skirt, swirls on her under-developed chest and all, her character wasn't cute, nor funny. Her story did manage to make eyebrows raise, yet the humor was less than appreciated by the masses. What did it consist of? Maria's obsession with large breasts – primarily Sypha's and Carmilla's. The only thing I'd consider her saving grace is how much fun she is to use with all her spells, outlandish super attack, ridiculously well done variety of moves, and funky movements.
Shanoa was a special treat. Her design was easily described as a rather attractive army-nun. Her habit on, her tattoos and bare shoulders exposed, her slim legs well rendered, she was a beauty. I miss her long hair, yet the design works beautifully. Her story is simple – get back to her objective in Ecclesia, since she was pulled mid-way into her search for Albus (the starting antagonist of Order of Ecclesia). She has some of the most beautifully animated motions in the game, and many of her glyphs are done with such surreal intricacy, that even if you aren't fighting for competition, it is fun to watch her parade around with her beautiful magic glyph attacks, and weapons forming out of thin air as her soft, elegant arms gracefully swing your way, only to conclude with a jab of a spear, swing of a sword, and so on. I love fighting with Shanoa, since she offers something to the table that isn't too often seen in fighting games – a fast style that lends itself to deceivingly slow-looking motions to entrance the opponent.
Aeon, the original design of Obata as a contribution to the cast of characters in Judgment, was a complete success. Stoic, elegant, dressed in the same steam-punk fashion of many of the characters, he wields a giant clock-blade weapon, which has the nifty detail of thirteen hours on it. He has a soft voice, a leering stare that seems confident and lively, yet his face sadly suffers from under-expression due to the brick nature of the facial animation (or lack thereof) in the game. His outfit is pure white, and amazingly well detailed. His story seems to be somehow related to that of St. Germain, from Curse of Darkness – a time traveler that can only physically affect anything (in other words, fight) when a time rift is present. He even works for an organization, one most likely composed of other time travelers. His goal is to end the time rift by finding a warrior capable of defeating the Time Reaper (the one responsible for the time rift), who happens to be serving Galamoth, a monster which wishes to destroy Dracula in order to take his place as supreme evil. Aeon fights very strangely. He isn't easy to figure out, and even harder to master. He's fun to look at, but approach him with caution. He isn't the easiest character out there, and he's perhaps second hardest to "get" after Dracula.
A disappointing final battle awaits those who play through Story Mode in Judgment. That battle comes in the hands of Time Reaper – not only is he just a slightly remodeled version of Curse of Darkness' Death, but he also had what was easily the most "original name" in a Castlevania game – Time Reaper? Honestly, I would have preferred even Salvador Dali over that one! Hell, Bertha would have surmised just fine, yet no! Time Ripper. What the boss doesn't offer in originality of design, he plenty compensates for in one fun and true to Castlevania boss battle.
Where this game truly wowed me obviously wasn't the character designs, or personalities. Instead, the true achievement of Judgment stays with the reason why most people frowned upon it – the fighting game itself. This "3-D action versus game" (as Iga's dubbed it), managed to be very instinctive to handle. Free, non-stagnant character controls make you feel like you're flying around the screen with your favourite Castlevania character, collecting sub-weapons, or sub-spells dropped from Candelabrum, Cave Crystals, or Barrels across the beautifully rendered 3-D environments. And the stages really are gorgeous! Dracula's Throne Room, Underground Crystal Aqueduct, Shipwreck, Cathedral, Time Rift, Clock Tower, Torture Chamber, or Village Ruins, the game takes you through familiar looking locales, accompanied by fan-favourite tunes with amazingly good new remixes! You find yourself also dodging the fun, or entertainingly frustrating stage hazards, yet none of them are ill-placed, or interfering in the actual combat. Torture Chamber, respectively, takes the winner of the one stages that gets close to the "too much" line of stage hazards with its giant swinging pendulum, and spikes…and acid water……and spinning spike wheels…the point's made. Some other stages also feature stage ring-outs, yet the most fun in that department are ones that incorporate the ring-outs only through stage hazards – Clock tower requires you to break the axis of the cog in order for you to plummet to your death with it as it rips off of its balance, and in the Cathedral all it takes is a good whack to the stained glass and you can send your opponent through it. Some stages also have giant Krakens that will terrorize you while you combat your opponent, or mermen to annoy you, or vomiting zombies. In Castle mode we also get Minotaurs, and giant Destructors to come right at you as mini-boss battles. I found great irony in the well done stages – Iga's managed to make his best 3-D stages in a genre where stage interactivity is nothing more than a nice after-thought and good bonus. Yet, despite the sick, sad humor of it, the stages truly are very well done, both visually, and interactively. They aid the combat well, and the music doesn't slack to help out the mood either!
Everyone moves with certain smoothness that I appreciate and haven't seen before in any fighting game. The 3-D models work very well with the speed of the game, and the designs carry themselves appropriately. I couldn't imagine bulky characters moving like this, since it would seem ill fit, so Obata's slender designs work just fine. Shanoa's perhaps the best example of this, even though she's the most trouble to get, especially for those without a DS.
The controls, which were supposed to be problematic according to most reviewers, I found to be very easy, and responsive – Iga was smart about taking into consideration that the sensor-bar of the Wii isn't going to catch the smallest twitch you make, therefore simple waggling can be enough, rather than intricately timed movements. I do still tend to use the Game Cube controller, which I think was smart of him to add, since some people like me just don't get along very well with Wiimotes. Both work very well, and expect very little learning time. One quick sit through the Tutorial Mode and you'll learn everything you need to know.
The biggest things that I've heard most people complain about is that the game breaks away from every fighting game convention, has a bad camera, and horrible character designs. I think that breaking away from convention is nothing bad – it offers something unique, doesn't do something that not only has been done before, but it would have been outdone in – King of Fighters and Street Fighters hold the crown of 2-D, and in 3-D we already have Tekken and Soul Calibur. Iga's approach to a versus game was a very smart move, that managed to be executed well, and offered a fresh new way to interact, and see our heroes and villains. The game's camera, admittedly, could use improvements, yet only on a few occasions has it interfered with my enjoyment of the game – the only instance, actually, that I can recall was when I was playing with our favourite sharp-toothed Gorilla (yes, Lord Dracula), and for some reason the camera decided that the smartest thing it could do was hide behind his back, while ERIC of all people frantically ran in front of me (Eric being played by a friend who was at the moment swearing uncontrollably), and my fireballs were obliterating, I think, the poor boy in front of me since he had no clue what to do, or that he was supposed to defend. The art of the game is something I think is relative to the eye of the beholder, but I thought it interesting, and refreshing. Sure, there was a lot wrong with the reinvented images of the characters, but for a gaiden game of this scale, a gaiden style fit more than appropriately.
Castlevania Judgment isn't the best Castlevania game; it has enough faults to keep it from that title, and far too many quirks. It isn't the worst game either, and is also far from it. To be honest, I think it is one of the freshest entries in the series since quite a while, and I'm looking forward to seeing another of its kind in the not-so-distant future. I enjoyed the stories, the premise, the music, the stages, and the combat itself was enjoyable and either could be taken light-hearted, or competitively. That in itself was great, and in my eyes a clean success for Iga and his team. And that's my Judgment.