I had a flight out to Anaheim to go on vacation, and what better way to spend a flight than wrapped in your girlfriend’s arms in the airplane lavatory as you renew your membership to the Mile High Club? However, I opted for another route: I brought along my DS and three new games. A copy of Bionicle Heroes came with Bleach, but I’m still undecided whether I want to keep that or give it to my nephews who may enjoy it more than I ever will.
Bleach: Blade of Fate vs. Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin vs. Final Fantasy IV
Bleach: Blade of Fate
Pros: I don’t have many 2D Fighters for the DS.
Cons: I have little to no bearings on the dealings of Bleach.
Originally, this Game-Off was supposed to be between Final Fantasy and Castlevania. When I found this game in stores for $10 (It’s a $20 two-game pack with Bionicle Heroes) and remember the good things I’ve heard about this game, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
I’ll be honest: this game is entertaining, but since the only thing I know about Bleach are two or three characters (Byakuya is awesome) and what a bankai is, I wasn’t as motivated to pick up on this game. As with most fighters, I’d rather play this game with someone else.
So, if you’re a fan of Bleach, buy it. I’m not a Bleach fan and I found some entertainment in it, and it was only $10.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin
Pros: It’s Castlevania, and a currently fairly rare purchase.
Cons: It has stiff competition against the Alucard/Soma story arc.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin turned out to fall under the category of good games I can’t bring myself to like. The major reason I say this is because the game simply took two steps too deep into the difficulty jungle.
To its merit, what really dragged me in with Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin was the two-person tag team function. At a first glance, you would think it’s just a mechanic to have two people operating as one, where it’s really the other way around: one person operating as two. There are a number of puzzles that require you to carefully control both characters, switching as necessary. That was fun and hereby the best part of the game.
However, the most glaring problem of the game is the increased difficulty. If anyone recalls talking to me, I’m against popular opinion that Symphony of the Night was the best Castlevania ever. While I recognize it as a pioneer, I found it extremely broken that ducking threw you out of the way of 90% of all boss attacks. The first game that really fixed the balance between difficulty and exploring is Dawn of Sorrow, and even that game wasn’t memorably difficult.
Portrait of Ruin, however, spits in the face of all of that. Most often I find I wish I had a potion or a save room somewhere, and while that’s not new to the Castlevania series, what is new is the feeling that I’m always ten levels too low for the enemies in the area. I could level grind, but there are two flaws in this: once you’re not ten levels too low for the enemies in a given area, you’re about ten too high and everything dies in a hit, making level grinding a boring practice. While I believe level grinding should never be required, I don’t think anyone will disagree that level grinding shouldn’t be escalated to this level of tedium. While there is a variety of sidequests you can take to help the process, it doesn’t help much.
It’s also hard not to notice that this game doesn’t have a good sense of unity. Sure, while Dracula’s Castle has never been hugely monotonous, in this game, you instead jump into paintings ala Super Mario 64 and enter various worlds. The game begins to feel disjointed, but it doesn’t stop there. Unlike previous games like the Sorrow games, there’s no one specific theme to obtaining spells and abilities. Therefore, it’s a real chore when those helpful sidequests ask you to find something and gives no hints as to where to find it.
If you like Castlevania and are too high on your own adrenaline to care about how many times you will screw up, by all means this is an interesting game. If you’re more of a completist gamer, you’ll be quick to realize where this game went a tad too far when it comes to ramping up the difficulty. It’s still worth it for the Castlevania fan, but I recommend to the casual player to play Symphony or one of the Sorrow games first, as those aren’t going to make your blood boil with anger and the characters are far less aggravating.
On a couple final notes, the boss fights are cheap and irritating, most of which will kill you in two to four hits but many requiring very hairline specific strategies or more healing items than you can carry or afford to accumulate. It’s also worth mentioning that your main characters are two random members of The Breakfast Club, the priest that sells you stuff is a greedy miser and therefore a jerk, and the character “Wind” should have been Morgan Freeman. At least Alucard and Soma were interesting characters.
Final Fantasy IV
Pros: It’s the first RPG I’ve ever played.
Cons: I’ve already played Final Fantasy IV.
It feels almost unfair. I’ve been waiting for this game since New York Comic Con. I’ve been itching to play it since it holds a special place in my heart like most people have for Final Fantasy VI. Since I gave both other games a chance, I put this in my DS and gave it a try after Castlevania split the last hair.
This game is so good, I got home from my trip and forgot that I want to finish Odin Sphere.
Since graphics are the most obvious overhaul, it’s worth mentioning that this game’s graphics match those of Final Fantasy VII, and if you could live with them in that game, you could live with them in this game as well. I’m not going to get into hardware specifications and technicalities of resolution, but I was happy to see some of my favorite characters in not-so-square dimensions and animated villains that are modeled well after the original sprites. The cutscenes are rendered by the same engine that renders the game, which is an excellent way to make games not feel disjointed every time a movie pops up.
However, if you think the changes stop at the graphics, you’d be dead wrong. What strikes me as most interesting about Final Fantasy IV for the DS is that they manage to change the game significantly without feeling like they’ve broken the feel of the game.
The biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of customization by method of augments. Augments are items that teach characters abilities, and your character can have up to four abilities equipped at a time. While characters still have their own stats and their own native abilities, augments let you add on a couple extra neat tricks – your character isn’t as widely versatile as a Final Fantasy VII character, but isn’t as trapped into archetypes as the original Final Fantasy IV characters.
There’s a great deal more to be said, but it’s worth playing just to find out. Whether you’re new to this game or not, Final Fantasy IV still has some of the most interesting characters and plot twists.
Winner: Final Fantasy IV
Hands down, this game is the best of the three, and good enough that I feel like I don’t need to play anything else for a long while.
~ Setsuna Setsunai