Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Game Translation: Castlevania 64

Castlevania 64 was very evocative to me and I think its inspired a lot of my love of gothic fantasy.  You play either Carrie Fernandez, a young orphan girl who throws magic seeking balls of energy, or Reinhardt Schneider, whip-wielding heir to the Belmont clan.  The character arrives outside of Dracula's grand estate in order to defeat him and destroy his horde.  Its an action-adventure platforming game with a lot of epic moments that really played the monsters up for all they were worth.  I still remember the statue that cried tears of blood that became an enemy, the Cerberus hounds in the garden and the vampire that attacks you in the mirror room quite clearly.

The hedge maze, style of manor house, and the devil that sells you items have all appeared in a number of my stories and role playing campaigns.  The whole thing just oozed 'cool factor' that was doubtless only increased by the fact that it was early in my gaming history and therefore it all felt new and exciting.  So take a moment to think about what sort of style you're trying to evoke and what might be the best props to do it in.

A lot of the actual encounters also work quite well for Pathfinder dungeon creation.  Spend some time thinking up the most interesting method of introducing the monster to the players the first time.  Introduce the odd NPC in a revealing manner that shows off an eccentricity that matches the atmosphere you're looking for such as a strange woman watering white roses with a 'red water' that turns the roses red.

Mix up the narrative devices with some interesting set piece battles.  Caged matches where portcullis drop down to trap you there or where the garden gates lock makes things interesting.  Throw in a descending ceiling that will kill them (or cripple before dropping them into a floor below) if they don't defeat the enemy in a certain number of rounds - and be sure to describe it's slow descent each turn and cumulative penalties when it's most of the way down.

You could also throw in a moment where they have to chase an NPC while avoiding enemies that seriously out-rank them to throw in the odd sense of hi-octane vulnerability.

This game style also works with Pathfinder and D&D as you can introduce a touch of horror with monsters that can 'infect' the player characters with their supernatural disease.  If they don't track down or purchase a Remove Curse and/or Remove Disease potion, the game will get significantly harder for them and they may even need to be taken out of it.  Castlevania does this by throwing you up against vampires who can infect you if you don't shake them off in time.

While the game is linear, it does have a real sense of exploration about it with some Easter Eggs that provide additional items if you manage to find the hidden platforms or other such places to go.  This is pretty easy to include when you're starting to work on the map.  These Easter Eggs don't have to be extra equipment.  Some players might prefer a letter, a diary or a chance to eavesdrop or spy on an interesting NPC or enemy.

Some games throw a boss battle at you at the very start.
One cool thing that Castlevania 64 did is that it doesn't rely on throwing the Big Bad at you at the end of the level and instead might place it at the beginning (such as the giant skeleton towards the start) or in the middle.  This gives the whole thing a greater sense of tension and joy because you can't just know when it's coming AND it means you can place the Big Bad where it's cooler and not where it's most 'appropriate'.

The game also provides an in-game clock with certain NPCs available or unwilling to talk at the wrong side of the solar cycle.  There were also doors that are marked with a Sun or a Moon door that only unlock during certain times of the day or night.  Vampires in the game are also more powerful during the night than the day and that's something else you could do - perhaps providing a +2 or a -2 to certain attributes depending  on the time.

A campaign based around Castlevania 64, or including elements of it, should appeal to Action Heroes and  Explorers because there's a real effort to ensure a lot of interesting battles and some cool set pieces worth taking a look around.  The locations themselves need to be well-evoked but they should also be blended into combat to help bring out the most in the enemies.  Investigators will find the odd mysteries to explore compelling if you really make an effort to, again, evoke intriguing NPCs and strange events surrounding the various monster entries.

Communicators will get something out of the odd NPC encounter but might not find enough to go with unless their co-players are quite keen with rich characterisation and interesting development.  If so, they may be able to sink into the action and exploration well enough.  If not, they may be bored witless.

Tacticians will be neither here nor there in this one.  There'll be chances for combat but not much of a chance to pre-prepare.  Having a chance to use day and night cycles to their advantages may pique their interest however.

I couldn't find a good trailer but here's a clip that shows Reinhardt have to deal with his reconciliation with his darling Rosa. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Castlevania 64 used, you can find a very short list here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, In Cold Blood, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or In Cold Blood. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be In Cold Blood.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

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