maanantai 24. tammikuuta 2011

Good vs. Evil - Simon Belmont & Vlad Tepes Dracula

Simon as he appears
in Castlevania. The
way we'd like to
remember the guy.
Voice actor(s): Keith Silverstein
First game: Castlevania (1986)
Latest game: Castlevania Judgment (2008)

No great lead character has been botched over the years quite like Simon Belmont. We who grew up during the great times of the NES and SNES learned to know Simon as a He-Man lookalike who wore crimson armour and a super-effective whip meant to crack bone, and who had an absolutely wicked soundtrack to back up his vampire killin' ways. Simon Belmont was the first real horror game hero. All the Belmonts who followed him couldn't tally up to Simon's greatness. Simon is by far the only true Belmont. Well sure, there's his ancestor Trevor, but Simon appeared as the main character in more great games than just one.

Well, enter the modern times. It doesn't matter whether or not a Castlevania game was made in Japan or the U.S., each new model of Simon is even more horrible than the last. No one wants to see or hear a red-headed, feminine, leather-clad pansy calling himself (or herself...) Simon Belmont and disgracing the fine reputation of the Vampire Killer whip practically _dancing_ to some classic, but totally butchered tunes that hardly ever needed a remix. I even liked the retarded Simon in Captain N: The Game Master more.

Whatever he might've looked like since Castlevania Chronicles on the PlayStation, no one can forget the best moments spent in the boots of Simon Belmont, when he was still a character that could be taken seriously. The first Castlevania game is one of the true classics of the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the franchise's first 16-bit installment Super Castlevania IV is still one of the best games ever made. Not only did an ancient tome (probably a book on 16-bit technology) teach Simon how to whip the Vampire Killer in eight different directions, he could also use it as a shield to deflect impromptu attacks from the worst scourge of the Castlevania franchise that I usually dub "flying bastards", 'cause that's exactly what they are. He could also walk while crouching, which makes him one of the most agile Castlevania protagonists in history. He single-handedly slaughtered Dracula's foul ass to the best collection of music the series has ever had in a single game; including his very own theme song, surprisingly called "Theme of Simon Belmont".

I didn't want to show this, but this
is what Simon looks like in the Wii
exclusive Castlevania Judgment.
Jumped the shark?
I think I got a little carried away there - Super Castlevania IV is indeed the game which had Simon jumping the shark stage after stage, block after block. Who could possibly forget that seemingly endless and frustrating climb up the Clock Tower? Or the fabulous collective of music and boss fights that game had? Aww, I have to dig the game up again! Can't help it!

Hit rock bottom?
I think every game Simon has been a part of in the last 12 years hit rock bottom. When he was still THE Simon Belmont I once knew, he definitely hit rock bottom in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. The box art portrays Simon sporting his most vintage look (I love NES box art), the music of the game is awesome - it's not where "Bloody Tears" originated, but it made the song famous - and, it was the first Castlevania game I ever played. That being said, it was also the last Castlevania game I played in over ten years. Who knows, I might take it on again some day, just for the novelty of it, but it is horrible, no doubt about it in my mind.


Count Dracula as he appears
in Castlevania: Dracula X.
a.k.a. Matthias Cronqvist, Count Dracula, The Lord of Darkness, Nosferatu, Gabriel Belmont, Dracul etc.
Voice actor(s): Michael Gough, Steven Jay Blum, Patrick Seitz, Robert Carlyle
First game: Dracula (1983)
Latest game: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (2010)

If there ever was a good measure for being a bad-ass, how about being the king of vampires or existing as long as there is evil in the world? We're not only talking about the Dracula that was made one of the greatest (and definitely most persistent) video game villains of all time by the Castlevania franchise, we're talking about the universal scum of the earth that was made popular by novelist Bram Stoker's milestone in gothic literature, Dracula, in 1897. It is debatable what was the first game featuring this creature of the night, but King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985) was chronologically the first game I remember having a "fight" against Dracula. Intellivision's Dracula from 1983 would be my best guess for the first game that featured Drac himself, and not just some vampiric nobody. Kain and Raziel, you know I didn't mean anything by that, and your turn will come soon in this very same feature.

Castlevania was the game which made kicking Dracula's ass an annual thing. To date, Dracula has appeared in some form in every single Castlevania game I've played, even through loopholes after loopholes. Whether it's him in his human form, present the whole time and waiting to reveal himself in the end, or the driving force of the story from the very beginning, he has been there and there has been no doubt about it. He has actually BEEN the lead character at least twice, according to some quite crazy script. Soma Cruz, the protagonist in both Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, was revealed to be some sort of a Dracula reincarnate - though a very pleasant one - and the story of Gabriel Belmont, the protagonist of the much-spoken Castlevania reboot Lords of Shadow, is the "new Castlevania's" version of Dracula's origin - which was revealed by the surprise ending of the game. So, Dracula is truly immortal... as long as Konami rakes in the cash.

Dracula's latest form in Castlevania:
Lords of Shadow
. Pretty cool.
Jumped the shark?
In Dracula's case, I'm not really sure what jumping the shark means. He has never been too entertaining in a fight in any game, and he has never really made an impression with something other than his already established charisma. I liked the ending of Lords of Shadow very much, but then again, it had Dracula at his most vulnerable state. I think I'll go with the final boss fight in Super Castlevania IV with this one - he wasn't a fun guy to clash with, but just getting to him resulted in an adrenaline surge for the ages.

Hit rock bottom?
Well, Dracula is such a commonly utilized character that there are many shitty games that he's been in, and when it comes to the Castlevania series, I can think of at least three different moments from three different games that I've wanted to quit being his fan. In Simon's Quest, he was the most pathetic and anti-climactic final boss ever - I've not fought him, but I've seen the videos. In Dracula X, he was so God damn, frustratingly difficult that he had you trying to bite your own balls off. In Symphony of the Night, he sported his coolest look ever, but then botched his own awesome aura with one of the worst lines in video game history ("WHAT IS A MAN!?" and so on). But, to spare the Castlevania series from total degradation, I have to say Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the worst games I've ever played, on every platform it was released on. ...And guess what? I'm reviewing at least two versions of it, very soon.

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