Castlebrainia

My recent and inexplicable Castlevania addiction has not subsided in recent days. I’m nearly finished with Symphony of the Night, having a full relic list and all bosses dead, so as soon as I finish mapping the last few stray screens I’ll go win.

I went ahead and spent an hour or so grinding for a Crissaegrim today. The Crissaegrim, if you don’t know, is the ultimate sword in SotN, not just because of its attack power, but because it doesn’t actually have an attack animation. Instead of swinging the weapon, as Alucard does with every other weapon in the game, pressing the button just causes slashes to appear in front of him. (The idea being that Alucard is swinging the sword so fast that it cannot be seen.) This means that Alucard can move around freely while still attacking with an endgame-caliber weapon, instead of having to pick his moments.

I knew that the Crissaegrim would make the rest of the game easy, but I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much. Not only does SotN cease to be difficult once you have a Crissaegrim, it ceases to be interesting. You can plow through even the most difficult minor foes without even having to slow down, and bosses are lucky if they last ten seconds against the whirling blades. I didn’t even get to see any of Death’s attack pattern because I murdered him so quickly. I don’t mind game-breaking tactics that suck the challenge out of a game — really, I find I enjoy myself more when I know there’s nothing I can’t handle — but putting the game essentially on autopilot is too much even for me. I’ll have to remember that the next time I play the game.

For some reason, I also dug out my old copy of Circle of the Moon in lieu of finishing Radiant Historia last night. SotN’s a classic, as everyone knows, and CotM is… uh, not. The game actually left a sour taste in my mouth regarding Metroidvanias for years afterwards. I’m playing on a DS Lite, so the game’s infamous dim graphics are not a problem, but that’s hardly the only graphical issue with this game… it’s a GBA launch title, so perhaps I’m being too harsh, but this game is ugly. Character sprites are too small and the castle too large, and more importantly, both lack character. One of the big appeals to SotN is simply drinking in the beautifully baroque castle, and CotM lacks that; it’s all corridors and caves.

I went ahead and started a Magician Mode file. Magician Mode starts you off with tons of MP and intelligence, as well as a complete arsenal of magic cards, but slashes your other stats. I did this because the thought of grinding for the  magic cards, as I’d have to do on a normal file, made me quiver with dread. I’m not even entirely sure that I remember what enemies dropped which cards, and damned if I’m going to GameFAQs to look up information about this game, of all things.

The magic system in Circle is actually pretty interesting. Over the course of the game, the hero (Nathan or whatever? I can’t be bothered) can collect twenty magic cards, in the form of ten elemental cards and ten attribute cards. Once he has them, he can combine one elemental card with one attribute card to generate a unique effect. For example, the Salamander card is fire elemental, and the Mercury card affects your whip. If you equip those two cards and activate your spell, you get a fire whip. There are 100 effects in all, which would seem to give Nathan (or whoever) versatility that no other hero in the series could match, but… Konami’s reach exceeded their grasp here. Many of the spells are either useless or so narrow that there’s no reason to pull them off the shelf, and even some of the good ones are redundant. Take the aforementioned fire whip, for example — it increases your attack power by 5%. Later in the game, though, you’ll pick up the Mandragora card, which, when combined with Mercury, creates a rose whip that increases your attack power by 10% and has the same MP cost. Once you’ve got it, you need never turn back to the fire whip again. There’s no reason to use Serpent once you pick up Cockatrice, etc. Add that to the fact that every last one of the cards is acquired by farming for drops, including some enemies that are dangerous to farm, and you’ve got a system that, while good in concept, is deeply flawed in execution.

I will say this, though: The Neptune card, which nullifies elemental damage, is borderline broken when you have it and the full array of elemental cards to combine it with for the entire game. It took me forever to kill the Necromancer, but I didn’t even have to bother dodging because all its attacks are dark-elemental, and the Black Dog/Neptune combination rendered me completely immune to them. I’ll have to see if this works on other bosses as well, because if so, the notoriously difficult boss encounters just got a whole lot easier.

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