The X Button
Castle Quest

by Todd Ciolek, May 7th 2014

It's time for another contest, and a big one at that. Drakengard 3 comes out later this month, and Square Enix was nice enough to send over this Drakengard 10th Anniversary Box Set!

The grand prize is a Japanese copy of Drakengard 3 (or Drag-on Dragoon 3, as it's known over there) and a huge box with a handsome Kimihiko Fujisaka illustration on the front and a whole lot of Drakengard memorabilia inside.

Within that box you'll find a Drakengard World Inside artbook, a Drakengard Chips Music album with 8-bit-style remixes, a Blu-Ray collection of cutscenes and commercials, a postcard book, the original Drakengard's script and scenario guide, an anthology of the Intoner stories for Drakengard 3, and a download code for a costume that dresses up Drakengard 3's heroine Zero like Nier's Kaine. All of this is in Japanese, of course, and it's an amazing package for anyone fond of (or morbidly fascinated by) the Drakengard games and Nier.

Even if you don't walk away with the grand prize, I have a few things for the runners-up. Second place gets Drakengard 2, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, and Lair. Drakengard 2 is the least talked-about entry in the series, but I revisited it recently and found it a lot more enjoyable than most people would claim. So you'll be an iconoclast if you like it! There's less debate about Dragon Quarter's merits; it's a magnificently unorthodox RPG and the best of the Breath of Fire series. Lair is…well, UK Resistance had fun with it. And it has dragons, so how bad could it be?

Two people will share third place, and each of them will get a bundle of Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter and Lair.

How do you enter? Well, Square Enix promoted Drakengard 3 with various short stories about the Intoner goddesses, their Disciples, and main character Zero's pet dragon. So I want you to write your own goofy little original Drakengard 3 short story. Just keep a few rules in mind.

Your entry should be 500 words or less.I won't throw it out if you go over a little, but please don't send your 3,781-page draft of the Great Drakengardian Novel.

Your entry should be about the Drakengard 3 cast. Avoid original characters and crossovers with Final Fantasy, Game of Thrones, Hagar the Horrible, or other properties.

Keep it relatively lighthearted and humorous. I say “relatively” because Drakengard 3 has rather twisted ideas about what constitutes humor.

It sounds like a bit more work than usual, doesn't it? That's because this big box of Drakengard is the most elaborate thing I've ever given away here, and I want to make sure it goes to someone who knows and likes Drakengard 3 well enough to appreciate a huge brick of it. If you're wondering just what Drakengard 3 is about, you can read the officially translated short stories for the Intoners at the website, and fan translations of the other tales can be found here. You can even see the bonus DLC side-quests subtitled on YouTube, though some of them contain spoilers. So study up and have some fun with it.

Entries must reach me ( toddciolek at gmail.com) by midnight on Thursday, May 22. The contest is open to anyone in the United States and Canada (or worldwide if you're willing to pay postage, as discussed below), with the exception of game-industry professionals and ANN employees.

Additional Rules
After fielding a few questions, I've decided to thrown in some clarifications:

You can enter if you live outside of North America, but only if you're willing to pay for the shipping on the grand prize, should you win. The box weighs about 14 pounds, so factor that in before you enter.

This should be an original story written for the contest. Nothing recycled from another weirdly specific Drakengard 3 fan-fiction melee.

One entry per person. This sorta goes without saying, but I'll mention it just to be sure.

SPECIAL BONUS CONTEST
Don't think you have to write well to win something! I also have a prize for the worst possible entry. If you send in the most ridiculous, horrifying, or otherwise unbearable story, you'll get Pryzm Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn.

Why Pryzm? Because it's the polar opposite of Drakengard 3, that's why. Drakengard 3 is about a svelte goddess riding a dragon. Pryzm is about a fat dwarf riding a unicorn.

There are no rules for this bonus contest, apart from the 500-word limit. Anyone can enter, regardless of location or employer. All you have to do is put “Worst Entry” in the subject line. That way I won't hurt anyone's feelings by picking a winner.

NEWS

MEGA MAN'S GAME BOY RELICS COME TO THE 3DS
Remember Mega Man Mania? It was to be a Game Boy Advance collection of the five Mega Man titles from the original Game Boy, complete with color, artwork, and a history section. CAPCOM announced it in 2003 and quietly canceled it later, even though screenshots showed the revamped games up and running in an emulator with actual VisualBoyAdvance frames (yes, everyone uses emulators, but it's rare to see a company openly admit it). But now there is some solace for those still pining after the lost love of Mega Man Mania, as CAPCOM's set down a release schedule for Mega Man II through V on the 3DS Virtual Console, with the Game Boy Color's Mega Man Xtreme games along for the ride.

They're the original games, of course, so you'll have to make do with black-and-white graphics for the original Game Boy entries. Mega Man Xtreme came out on the first of the month, Mega Man II and III are out this week, and the remainder of May sees Mega Man IV, V, and Xtreme 2 in that weekly order. As for Mega Man: Dr. Wily's Revenge, the first Game Boy outing, it's been on the 3DS Virtual Console since 2011. But what of Mega Man games for the Game Boy Advance? Well, the Battle Network series is headed for the Wii U's Virtual Console, alongside other GBA games that by all reason would be better fit to the 3DS. But the Wii U needs all the help it can get, I suppose.

EIYUU SENKI'S ALTERNATE HISTORY COMING TO PLAYSTATION3
This week in the Unlikely Localization Files, we find Fruitbat Factory's announcement of Eiyuu Senki – The World Conquest, a hybrid of strategy-RPG and visual novel originally from 5pb. and Tenco. It's the tale of an amnesiac swordsman dropped into a world not quite our own, where the country of Britannia is at war with the European Union while the nation of Zipang is gripped by social upheavals. It's another alternate-history deal, and Eiyuu Senki fills the stage with scantily clad female versions of historical figures. You'll see a schoolgirl Lancelot, a Hot Topic mallrat Galileo, a bikini-wearing Kublai Khan, and a version of Montezuma dressed up like Samurai Shodown's beast-girl Cham Cham. It's hardly the first RPG to reimagine textbook celebrities, of course. Below we can see, what, the fourth or fifth anime-heroine rendition of Lu Bu?

Eiyuu Senki goes through the usual visual-novel conversations wherein players build relationships with their army of parallel-dimension historic heroines, but it also includes strategic battles where Geronimo, Hammurabi, and the rest of the team line up on grids and use their powers to decimate rival forces. Fruitbat Factory aims to have it out on the PlayStation 3 in both North America and Europe. There's no word yet on whether the game will be edited—the adults-only content of the PC version is absent in the PS3 port, but some of the character artwork shoots past ridiculous and lands right in creep-out country.

SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI: NOCTURNE GLOOMS UP THE PLAYSTATION NETWORK
You may have noticed that, contrary to my prediction last week, Atlus did not announce a sequel to Jack Bros. But this week indeed brings a classic from the series that spawned it. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne can now be found on the PLAYSTATION Network. It's a gripping RPG that drops the player's high-schooler avatar and his friends into the Vortex World, a bleak realm intended to destroy the current world and usher in a new one.

Nocturne is a difficult little game, but it should appeal to fans of the recent Persona titles, seeing as how the broader Megami Tensei series included Persona before Persona got all famous and stopped returning Megami Tensei's calls. Besides, it's only ten bucks.

THE CURSE OF CASTLEVANIA

Castlevania was a different sort of series back in 1997. The monumental Symphony of the Night had revitalized Konami's recurring tales of vampire slayers facing down Dracula's monstrous hordes, but no one knew it quite yet. All they knew was that Castlevania would survive in new forms on both the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. This prompted Casey “Takuhi” Loe to pontificate on Castlevania's future in the November 1997 issue of GameFan.

Loe jested, of course, but his ramble underscores just how simple Castlevania was at that point. It was a cornerstone of action games and nothing if not reliable: Dracula came back, a member of the Belmont clan put him down, and there were many nasty jumps, arduous boss battles, and fiendishly positioned skeletons along the way. Castlevania's running backstory of 100-year intervals was just a dim outline, and numerous off-shoots contradicted it, Bloodlines best among them. But that was all right. No one played Castlevania for the internally faithful lore.

Symphony of the Night changed things. For one thing, it mixed the whole side-scrolling ethos of Castlevania with the unfolding maze of a Metroid, and that influenced just about every subsequent Castlevania. For another, it introduced Koji Igarashi to the games. In the years that followed, Igarashi became more than Symphony's co-writer and assistant director. He was the main producer for the series, the architect of its evolution from old-school action games to “Metroidvania” outings. He declared some games non-canonical, including Castlevania Legends (the “Dark Night Prelude” mentioned in Loe's article), and laid down a new origin with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. Igarashi ruled Castlevania for most of the decade, but 2008 saw things go sour.

Rather than approve a full-blown Castlevania adventure for the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360, Konami stuck with Castlevania Judgment, a 3-D fighting game detested by many Castlevania fans and ignored by just about everyone else. Igarashi did less and less with Castlevania after that. Konami went in a new direction with 2010's Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, a reboot of the series with grandiose cinematic trappings and God of War gameplay. Some liked the new direction, but Lords of Shadow sired a disappointing 3DS spin-off and an equally disdained Lords of Shadow 2.

Where does this leave Konami's chronicle of vampires and whip-cracking? Lords of Shadow is over. Igarashi left Konami recently, and whatever he makes next probably won't be Castlevania.

Will Konami return to the old Castlevania timeline, whether Igarashi contributes or not? While Igarashi went to many time periods for Dracula's rather frequent revivals, he left one piece undetailed: the Demon Castle War. In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, it's revealed that Julius Belmont defeated Dracula permanently in 1999—though this merely makes the vampire lord's reincarnation slightly more elaborate during the events of Aria, which is set in 2035. Igarashi alluded to the so-called Battle of 1999 during interviews, but it never materialized in an actual game. If Konami wants to play to long-running fan speculation, the Battle is a decent a place to start. And if Igarashi won't return to the series, Toru Hagihara might. The director of Symphony of the Night (the best Castlevania) and Rondo of Blood (the second-best), Hagihara now seems to be a high-placed Konami executive, but perhaps he could do the series proud one more time.

Might Konami revamp Castlevania yet again? Lords of Shadow was every bit a modern game in its rampant carnage, its quick-time events, and its morose attempts at drama. It's too soon for another contemporary remolding. Perhaps the series should return to the same thinking that brought about Symphony of the Night by refining existing Castlevania staples into something that sates long-term fans and initiates new ones. Perhaps it needs a side-story where some intrusive, Belmont-inspired vampire hunters raid the castle of a Dracula incarnation who just wants to be left alone. Perhaps it could spawn an action game where players design their own vampire-run castles, Deception-style. Perhaps a new Kid Dracula is in order, with Pokémon-style monster collecting! Eh, perhaps not. Is Castlevania better off retired? It seems to have run its course, from the days of movie-inspired NES games to the Metroidvania era to the current generation of big-budget spectacle. What remains for Castlevania to explore, apart from misguided spin-offs and pretty remakes? Castlevania could be just another relic that's best left in Konami's gallery, hauled out only for classic ports and Belmont cameos in other, fresher games.

Or perhaps we really are due for a Castlevania with laser whips and jetpacks.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

KERO BLASTER
Developer: Studio Pixel
Publisher: Playism Games
Platform: PC (Windows), iOS
Release Date: May 11
Pink Hour: Sounds Filthy
MSRP: $7.99 (Windows), $4.99 (iOS)

Cave Story was a wondrous throwback in 2004, and it remains a delight with its simple graphics, weirdly complex backstory, and a sprawling, secretive sense of design that outreaches many professional “Metroidvania” games. Publishers have ported and polished it up several times since the game's free-to-all debut, and many have wondered just when creator Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya would devise something along the same lines. Amaya's labored on an iOS game called Rockfish for a good while and reissued some of his older, simpler work (including the squid shooter Ikachan), but his Kero Blaster is by all appearances the true successor to Cave Story. It has the old-fashioned pixel graphics, the Nintendo-era soundtrack, the satisfying action-shooter layers, and a cute backdrop that might be a bit more elaborate than a frog's unforgiving day job.

Amaya's game originally went by Gero Blaster and found its green protagonist rescuing his cat girlfriend. Yet this apparently wasn't up to standards, so the project switched to Kero Blaster (both referring to the Japanese onomatopoeia for ribbit) and changed its frog hero's struggle to a hunt for the monsters infesting his irascible employer's teleportation project. Might this lead to intrigue and conspiracies and grim consequences, as Cave Story's adorable introduction did?

Whatever lies at the heart of Kero Blaster's story, it's carried along by varied side-scrolling levels that brim with tiny enemies and other pixelly details. Our frogman is armed with firearms that he can upgrade at a helpful shop, and his co-workers help out in other ways. You can control one of those co-workers, a pink blob in search of a lost document, in a free prelude called Pink Hour. It's…really tough, actually. So was Cave Story, if you went deep enough.


Todd Ciolek occasionally updates his website, and you can follow him on Twitter if you want.


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