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Kanji? Gasp!

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is one of the games I've had since I was a kid. The NES cart is actually in a box behind our TV right now, lacking only the means to actually play it. I managed to get pretty far through diligent practice, but I was never able to get to Dracula. I think the furthest I got was Frankenstein before I ran out of lives and continues. In the years since, though, I learned that I was going about it all wrong (about which more below) and came back to the game in my 20s and finally managed to beat it. So when I sat down today wanting to play some Castlevania, I figured I wouldn't play the game of my childhood since I'd already beaten it and moved on. But I wanted to play Castlevania III. How, then, to thread the needle?

Well:


8-bit kanji...  photo emot-sweatdrop.gif

Let's see if I can render that more intelligible for you:
しかし、そのあまりにも人間ばなれした能力のために、人々からはおそれられ、うとんじられてきた。そのため、いつしか人々のまえからすがたをけし、ひさしい間かれらをみた者はいなかった。

教育はあらゆる手をつくしついに、ベルモンドの血をうけついだ人間にめぐりあうことができた。その若者のなは、ラルフ・ベルモンドであった。

Translation: However, separated from the people because of their abilities, [the Belmonts] were shunned and feared by everyone. Due to this, they vanished from the sight of the people, until there were none who had ever seen one.

When the people finally needed aid, they luckily found a person who inherited the blood of Belmondo. The name of this young man was Ralph Belmondo...
That's right. In America we got Trevor Belmont, scourge of Dracula, and in Japan they got...Ralph C. Belmondo. I think this is one case where we got the better deal.

In most other ways, though, 悪魔城伝説 is pretty unambiguously superior to Dracula's Curse. The one just about everyone knows about, and the main reason I wanted to play the original version of the game, is the music. 悪魔城伝説 is one of the few Famicom games to come with a VRC6 chip that offloaded some of the sound processing work from the system to the cartridge itself, allowing the game to use two extra sound channels and making the music sound a lot more like the creepy soundtracks to the Hammer Horror movies that Castlevania's designers were explicitly pulling their material from.

Take "Aquarius," one of my favorite early Castelvania tracks. Here's the version in the American release, and here's the Japanese version with the VRC6. You can easily hear the extra sound channels, but the timbre of the sound is different too. More, if I can say it, gothic. I wanted to hear the 悪魔城伝説 soundtrack in context, or at least as much as I could pay attention to it amidst all the dying.


Living that low-health lifestyle.

I never managed to get to Dracula as a kid because I was Doing It Wrong. There are two main paths to the castle: the overland path across the lake, and the underground path through the catacombs and aqueducts. Each of them offers the choice of a different character to accompany you on your mission. The lake path lets RalphTrevor free Syfa Vernandes, a witch who is slow and has terrible offensive capability but amazing magical subweapons like freezing everyone on the screen or shooting homing ball lightning; and the underground path has Adrian F. Ţepeş (yes, really), known as Alucard, who can turn into a bat and shoot crappy fireballs. Originally I always went for Alucard, because he could fly! And had a natural ranged weapon! That's amazing, right?

Well, it's pretty cool, but it turns out that flying is only really necessary in the part of the castle that you only have to go to if you take the underground route and the fireballs are useful because they fire diagonally and Trevor's main attack is only left or right, but he's pretty situational and I wasn't good enough to take advantage of the situations where he'd be useful. It wasn't until I came back and tried Syfa's route that I realized how amazing having a sorceress with you was and managed to murder my way through and beat Dracula. So this time, armed with the power of save states, I figured I'd go through with Alucard.


This is before he loses half his height.

I barely ever used him. There were a few times that I'd turn into a bat and sneak around a tricky platforming section, but I could have just as easily done that with the third optional character, Grant Danasty (De Nasty in the American version. How's that for a family name?), a pirate who can climb walls and control his jump arc. The other characters all have a specifically-defined jump arc that's executed when you press the button. It's a commitment every time and one of the main things that will kill if you aren't paying very close attention. Grant has a Mario jump--he jumps much higher and can change direction in mid-air--and can cling to walls, which is basically G-d mode.

In another difference that 悪魔城伝説 offers, Grant has a ranged attack. In Dracula's Curse he just has a tiny dagger that'll almost certainly get you damaged if you try to stab anyone with it, and in 悪魔城伝説 he throws daggers that are basically the same as the the dagger subweapon that Trevor gets. Add in Grant's ability to climb on walls and jump like Mario and he rivals Syfa for being the best companion with Mr. Ţepeş as a distant third for me. But hey, save states ho!


Owls--the vampire hunting pirate's natural enemy.

When I play older games, I try to exercise a bit of save state discipline, giving me more flexibility than the lives and continues built into the game but not saving after every good hit. Here I saved when I went through a loading door and before bosses, though I relaxed that a bit for Dracula's castle. That meant that I had to beat Death and Dracula all in one go. Death at least took me probably 50 attempts between sprite flickering issues from imperfect emulation and just the innate difficulty in dodging homing scythes when Trevor has a slow walking speed, a fixed jump arc, and can only attack left and right. Grant would have helped here, too. I tried Alucard, but using the boomerang subweapon so I could hit the scythes and Death at the same time was better than the fireballs.

I did notice I seemed to have more health and take longer to die than I remembered, and checking the internet, it seems like in 悪魔城伝説 some enemies do less damage than they do in Dracula's Curse. I'm used to the practice being that stupid 外人 get easy mode--compare Super Mario Brothers 2 JP and USA--but I guess that Castlevania is one of those series that has always been more popular outside of Japan, so maybe they were trying to pump up its mystique? I'm still playing it ~25 years later, so obviously it worked.


Fuck this guy in hell forever.

I wish we had gotten 悪魔城伝説 instead of Dracula's Curse, because it seems better in pretty much every way that matters. Grant's throwing dagger means that he's not just a terrain traversal character and, since he can only have one knife on the screen at a time, a missed knife leaves you at the mercy of your enemies, making an attack something you have to commit to the way that the other characters have to commit to their jumps. I'm not good enough at the game for the difficulty changes to matter, and the music is an obvious plus.

Another childhood gaming goal down. Maybe one of these days I'll actually be able to beat Air Fortress!

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