Dungeons & Dragons: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

I’ve been waiting a couple of months before posting a discussion of this book so that I could fully digest its contents. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is not your everyday D&D release. Aside from a few optional races/subraces, there’s not much here for players to enjoy. Instead, it is a book that is aimed mainly at Dungeon Masters. If I had to describe this tome in a nutshell, I guess I’d say that it is mostly a lore book filled with campaign-building material. However, the last section of the book is filled with stats for new monsters  (many of which are found in the outer planes).

Yes, I said the outer planes! One of my favorite pieces of D&D lore. Long have I waited for a 5th Edition Manual of Planes. Well, this book is NOT that, but it’s the closest we’ve seen so far. This books is broken into six chapters. The first chapter focuses heavily on outer planes lore, namely 5th edition details for the Blood War. Fiendish lore has long been a favorite subject mine when it comes to D&D. Ever since the old days of 1E, I’ve been fascinated with the war between the Demons and Devils of the lower planes. This section of the book provides plenty of details regarding the current state of the war, and it does not disappoint.

The second thru fifth chapters focus on lore and background information for some of the various races in the game. These chapters also include optional rules for playing some of the the more obscure, but long requested subraces. For example, Eladrin, Deep Gnomes, Duergar Dwarves, and even a whole chapter dedicated to Gith. These subraces can certainly add color to any campaign, but playing characters of these heritages can often prove troublesome. That being said, it is great to finally have some official rules and stats.

The sixth and final chapter is a bestiary. It is comprised mostly of monsters related to the first five chapters of the book. That means there’s plenty of outer planes baddies as well as a number of subrace specific monsters. This chapter alone makes the book worth getting for nearly any DM.

All in all, I was extremely pleased with this book. It is refreshing to see WotC ramping up their D&D release schedule. They’ve already announced a pair of upcoming adventures for this fall, and I can’t wait to see what supplements they provide in the future.

 

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition Products:

Starter Set

Core Books:  

Player’s Handbook   –   Dungeon Master’s Guide   –   Monster Manual

Supplements:

Volo’s Guide to Monsters    –   Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide  – Xanthar’s Guide to Everything – Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes

Adventures:

Hoard of the Dragon Queen   –  Rise of Tiamat    – Princes of the Apocalypse  –  Out of the Abyss   – Curse of Strahd   –   Storm King’s Thunder  –  Tales from the Yawning Portal  – Tomb of Annihilation  –  Waterdeep: Dragon Heist   –   Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage

Record Shop: Nirvana – Bleach

Today is my 40th birthday. Taking that leap from your thirties to the big “Four-O” is a bit daunting. I mean, I’m officially a “middle-aged man” (depending on who you ask). While my body certainly feels the effects of my age, my mind functions just like it did twenty or thirty years ago. When I started the Record Shop posts on this site, my goal was to share the music that I loved with the world. The first entry in that series was for Nirvana’s Nevermind album – a record that literally changed my life. Despite the fact that I’m now many years older, I remember my introduction to Nirvana like it was yesterday. For many, myself included, Nevermind was the album that introduced the world to Nirvana. But in reality, it was not their first release. Nirvana’s debut album, Bleach, dropped two years earlier. After having fully consumed every lyric and note that Nevermind had to offer, I found myself hungry for more. Once I learned about Bleach’s existence, I made it my goal in life to find a copy.

At the time, none of my local record shops had a copy of Bleach in stock. I actually had to drive nearly an hour away to the city of Atlanta to find a copy of this rare gem. I remember holding the jewel case in my hands, seemingly hypnotized by the negative image/monochrome color of the album art. I knew that the CD I held was going to represent a band I have come to love, but a version of them that was less polished, and perhaps a little rougher. I couldn’t wait to get home and dive into it. So, without further ado, let’s do just that.

1: Blew – The record starts of with a rather raunchy-sounding bass line. It is immediately followed by a beep of feedback and Cobain’s buzzy guitar. Kurt Cobain sings his melody in tandem with the guitar riff until the chorus hits. The chorus features his now-famous guttural growl. After the second chorus we are treated to a classic sloppy-Cobain style guitar solo… Everything about this track screams “Nirvana”. This opening song actually ends up being the perfect blueprint for the sound that ultimately makes the band famous.

2: Floyd the Barber – This is one strange song. The riff is catchy and grungy. The lyrics paint the picture of a twisted scenario in the world of Andy Griffith. This song is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but personally it is one of my favorites from the record.

3: About a Girl – This is arguably the most famous song from Bleach. It was introduced to the world as part of Nirvana’s Unplugged concert. It’s a sappy pop-song featuring Cobain’s classic clean-twang guitar sound for the verses and the fuzzy distorted chorus. A fan favorite.

4: School – Another fan favorite. Also, a favorite of the band’s. “School” is a song that stuck through Nirvana’s concert set list all the way until the very end. This track is one of the rare occasions that actually gives listeners a glimpse into the mind of Kurt Cobain. In it, he depicts his disdain for his high school years, among other things. It is a Nirvana classic.

5: Love Buzz – This track is actually a cover. Originally performed by Shocking Blue, Nirvana takes this track and makes it their own in a way that only they can. Another fan favorite.

6: Paper Cuts – Here’s where things start to get weird. “Paper Cuts” is a funky, drumbeat-driven noise jam. The lyrics are obscure, yet nonetheless disturbing. The pounding rhythmic verses are littered with feedback and random noise only to break into a strange hypnotic pre-chorus. On the choruses themselves, Cobain wails and grunts like a constipated banshee. The end result is a very odd, but unforgettable song.

7: Negative Creep – Here we have a driving grunge jam with a catchy chorus. The vocals alternate between Cobain’s raspy scream to more banshee-like shrieking. This track was another staple at live shows for many years.

8: Scoff – This track is another drum-heavy grunge jam, not unlike “Floyd the Barber” or “Paper Cuts”. Catchy, but weird enough to be ignored by casual fans.

9: Swap Meet –  This track is considered by many to be one of the weaker tracks on the album. But personally, I’ve always found it to be one of my favorites. Many of the tracks on Bleach have a very unique sound, this is a perfect example of that sound.

10: Mr. Moustache – Another “throwaway” track in the minds of many. But again, one of my personal favorites. This is a grungy, groovy rock song and a favorite riff of mine to play for warm-ups.

11: Sifting – Here we have another mellow-but-heavy groove song. It is another perfect example of the “Bleach” sound.

12: Big Cheese – This is another fan favorite track. “Big Cheese” is infamous for being a stab at the personalities behind Nirvana’s record label, or so the legend goes. This was a song that I used to jam on with my garage band back in the early days.

13: Downer – This song is technically a bonus track, but I include it here because it’s featured on nearly every release of Bleach you can purchase today. This is probably my least favorite track on the record, but one of the more fast paced.

Personally, this is one of my favorite Nirvana records. But it’s not one that most casual fans are going to enjoy. The production is not nearly as polished as Nevermind and the songs are much less radio-friendly. Despite that, it is a record that every serious Nirvana fan should own and cherish.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. The original release of Bleach sounds just fine in my opinion. But some listeners might be tempted with the more modern “Deluxe Edition”. This remaster cranks up the volume to a point that, to me, makes the album nearly un-listenable. So, buyer beware. As is often the case, the “remaster” actually ends up being the inferior product.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Bleach is a prime example of this. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

Review: Deus Ex

This is a review that has been a long time coming. In reality, I should have discussed this game quite some time ago. Deus Ex was released in 2000, before some of the other titles I’ve already featured on this site. But, as I wrap up my turn-of-the-century playthroughs, I find myself filling in some of the gaps in my backlog that I missed the first time around. This game is a fine example of that. Deus Ex is one of those PC titles that always appears on the “greatest games of all time” lists, and with good reason. This game is so good it’s ridiculous. On the surface, it appears to be just another first-person shooter, but in reality it is so much more than that. While presented in the first-person, Deus Ex also incorporates RPG and stealth elements. It manages to successfully merge these different styles in a way that’s rarely done successfully. For this reason, it cemented itself as a classic in hearts and minds of many gamers, myself included.

Before I get into the meat of the game, I want to take a moment to discuss some technical details. Deus Ex is built with a modified version of the original Unreal-Engine. This means that it is generally compatible with today’s PCs, but lacks some of the modern conveniences such as widescreen support and higher resolutions. To resolve this, players have a couple of options. (All unofficial fixes) First, for purists, there’s “Kentie’s Launcher“. This is a replacement executable that offers higher resolutions and FOV fixes without changing any of the original textures or artwork. (This is what I used for my playthrough/screenshots). The second option is “GMDX” which is actually more of a total-conversion mod than a simple fix. This mod upgrades the game’s graphics and mechanics resulting in a much more modern and polished experience, without detracting from the intended feel of the game’s developers. In all honestly, the GMDX mod is probably what I would recommend to most players who are just trying Deus Ex for the first time, as long as they don’t mind playing the game with fan-sourced textures.

The story of Deus Ex is an interesting mixture of both political intrigue and science fiction. The game takes place in a futuristic setting where society is on a downward spiral fueled by terrorist attacks, a world-wide plague, and political turmoil. As a result, most of the world is now under the control of a division of the United Nations called UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition). In Deus Ex, players control the character of JC Denton, a recent UNATCO recruit. Denton is an experimental agent who has been physically enhanced with various cybernetic implants. For his first mission, Denton is tasked with resolving a terrorist occupation at New York’s Liberty Island. It is there that he learns the true motive behind the terrorist’s activities, and it starts him down a path that will ultimately force him to decide where his loyalties lie.

The creators of Deus Ex mix some of the best late-90’s sci-fi concepts with nearly every crypto/conspiracy theory you can think of, resulting in a compelling and thrilling story. Throughout the course of the game, players will be taken from the streets of Hell’s Kitchen NYC and the Hong Kong underworld to the catacombs of Paris and beyond. At several points in the game, players will be faced with various decisions that will impact the storyline of the game itself. This adds a level of replayability that makes Deus Ex a game that players can enjoy over and over again.

Excellent story aside, the big secret to Deus Ex‘s success is in the game design itself. Despite looking like just another shooter, players can determine exactly how they want to control their character. Yes, Denton can end up blowing through his enemies like a guns blazing “Rambo”, but more often it’s better to be more subtle. Players can sneak around in shadows and try to avoid enemies entirely. Instead of obtaining keys from the bodies of slain soldiers, they can instead pick locks and hack computer terminals, allowing them to infiltrate enemy territory and continue with their mission. As you progress through the game and complete objectives, you are awarded skill points than can be spent on increasing certain abilities. For example, when it comes to combat, you can choose to master light weapons or explosives as opposed to rifles and hand guns. This system allows players to create a character that matches with the style of play they want to experience.

While the main focus of Deus Ex is the single player story, multiplayer capabilities were added to the game shortly after its release. However, these days, players who wish to experience online play will have quite a bit of work cut out for them. Initially, the multiplayer browser found in the game served as a front-end for the now defunct Gamespy service. Since Gamespy no longer exists, players will need to either enjoy multiplayer on a LAN or edit the game’s configuration files to allow for play using other third-party services (such as Master Server), but even then active matches can be hard to come by.

In the end, the Deus Ex experience is truly a work of art. It is a title that every PC gamer should have in their library. It was released at a time in the industry when the focus was shifting from single player to online experiences. In a way, its release marks the end of a era in PC gaming.

Difficulty: Variable –  Deus Ex offers several difficulty options. However, even at the easiest setting, the game can be brutal at times. Players would be wise to save their game often and try to “out-think” the problem in front them. Often times when confronted with what seems like a hopeless scenario, players can find a solution by approaching their goal from a completely different angle. This is just one of the many things that makes this game shine.

Story: You’d be hard pressed to find a better and more in-depth storyline in a PC title at the time Deus Ex was released. This game ranks right up there with Fallout and Max Payne in terms of compelling storytelling. The plot is certainly one of the best aspects of this game.

Originality: In a time when first-person shooters were a dime a dozen, Deus Ex flipped the script by adding stealth mechanics and RPG elements. Sure, stealth-based first-person games like Thief has already seen the light of day, but Deus Ex allowed players to choose what style of play was suited for them. This brought a dynamic that had never really been seen before.

Soundtrack: Filled with futuristic tunes and funky Asian-flaired hip-hop, Deus Ex features a catchy soundtrack that fits the game perfectly. The game also boasts voice acting that was above-average at the time.

Fun: At first, this game can seems a bit overwhelming. But once I managed to sink my teeth into it, I found myself having a complete blast. This is a game that I enjoyed immensely at the time it was released. Playing through it now, I found that it still managed to capture my attention just like it did back in the day.

Graphics: By today’s standards, Deus Ex will appear a bit dated. Of course, at the time it was released it was top-of-the-line. Modern players can improve the visuals using third party mods and patches.

Playcontrol: Fairly standard first person PC controls. Deus Ex uses the common WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games. No major issues.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES. Language, violence.

Value:  At the time of this writing, the Game of the Year edition of Deus Ex tends to sell for around $7.00. At this price, the game is certainly worth every penny. It is not uncommon to see the game for sale as low as $1.00 during Steam sales.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Deus Ex stands as a high watermark for classic PC gaming. It’s difficult to fully describe just how great this game is without sounding like a fanboy. But it really is that good. This is one of those rare games that reaches across multiple genres and appeals to nearly everyone. If you consider yourself to be a PC gamer, you owe it yourself to experience this game at least once.

Available on: Steam and GOG

Other Games in this Series:

Deus Ex     –    Invisible War    –    Human Revolution    –    The Fall    –    Mankind Divided

Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderaan – Claudia Gray

Finally catching back up on my Star Wars book reviews, I want to share my thoughts on Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray. This is a novel that really took me by surprise. I went into this book with low expectations. But ended up with a page turner that captured my attention from start to finish. From my experience, novels that feature Leia as the lead character have always felt slightly subpar. One recent exception to this was Bloodline, a book that was also penned by Claudia Gray. Claudia Gray really seems to understand what makes the character of Leia Organa interesting and has no problem whatsoever getting that to translate to paper. In fact, she does such a wonderful job that I find myself hoping she remains the de facto “Leia” author for some time.

This book focuses on Leia as a young girl, several years before events of Episode IV. It provides a lot of background information on her days growing on Alderaan, her introduction into galactic politics, and even how she came to be a member of the rebellion. This novel also does a masterful job of entwining characters and lore from both the original trilogy and prequel era in a relevant and cohesive way. Often times, when authors try to blend these two eras of Star Wars together, the result ends up feeling forced or gimmicky. Not this time.  If that wasn’t enough, this book also introduces the character of Amilyn Holdo and the planet of Crait – both featured in The Last Jedi.  This helps to further cement them into the ongoing narrative. Again, this is handled expertly in a way that only Claudia Gray could manage.

The Last Jedi was a film that was very divisive for many Star Wars fans, myself included. For many, the character of Admiral Holdo seemed injected into the movie with no backstory or real purpose. It is books like this one that just might be able to change the minds of those fans who have a hard time understanding just who that character is and why she so important to Leia. (Still, this should have been covered to some extent in the film itself, but I digress.) Fans who find themselves on the fence about the direction Disney is taking Star Wars would do themselves a favor by cracking open this book. It’s novels like this that keep that classic EU feel that so many fans love, but still manage to stay within the confines of the official canon.

Story: Very well written. Claudia Gray is a wonderful author and a boon to the Star Wars literary world. Great info on Leia Organa and the early days of the rebellion. Fans curious about Alderaan will find many of their questions answered here.

Recommended:  For all fans. Especially those that might take issue with some of the story decisions in The Last Jedi.

 

 

Empire of Imagination – Michael Witwer

 

I love to read. When it comes to books I consume everything I can get my hands on. Most of the time I read fiction, but occasionally I enjoy non-fiction as well – especially biographies. A while back I posted a review of Richard Garriott’s autobiography Explore/Create. Being a fan of RPG games, it was just the type of non-fiction I enjoy. A few months later, I found myself itching to read something similar. That’s when I found Empire of Imagination, a biography about the the Dungeons & Dragons founder, Gary Gygax.

That’s right. For those that might not be familiar with Mr. Gygax, he is the original inventor of Dungeons & Dragons. A game that he created out of love rather than for profit.  This book covers Gygax’s life from his early youth all the way until his final days, with of course, the main focus being his time as CEO of TSR. Gary, while beloved by many gamers and grognards, was infamous for his temper and over-indulgent behavior. This book takes a very unabashed look at every aspect of his life. Nothing is off the table here.

Each chapter starts with a mock D&D session that ties-in with the overall theme of the upcoming content. This is an interesting presentation that starts off strong, but eventually ends up feeling a bit weak after a few chapters. Despite being a biography, the book is written in a strange mixture of both historical narration and dramatization. I found this to be a bit odd. Writing out real-life events in a fictional-style narrative tends to cast doubt on the authenticity of the story being told. I have no doubt that the author took a number of liberties when discussing Gary’s life in this regard. However, in the end, I feel like this was nothing more than an artistic decision.

Having been a fan of D&D for many years, I thought I knew nearly everything there was to know about Gary Gygax. This book opened my eyes to a number of details about his life I was unfamiliar with. Namely, how his youth and his deep-rooted love to his hometown inspired his artistic vision. For this alone, I found it to be an excellent read.

If you’re a fan of D&D and you’re interested in learning some of what went on behind the scenes in the glory days of the game, this might be a book for you.

Story: Despite the odd presentation, this book is well written and interesting. Gary Gygax is an interesting case-study. When it comes to running a business Gary seemed to have his heart in the right place, but ultimately made a number of bad decisions that he ended up paying for until the end of his days.

Recommended:  This is a book that’s likely to only be appreciated by hardcore D&D grognards or those with a working interest in tabletop role playing. I personally found the book to be insightful and interesting, but admittedly it’s only going to appeal to a specific audience.

FFXIV: Version 4.3 Update

Real life got me again! It’s been almost a month since patch 4.3 for Final Fantasy XIV was released. I’ve finally found enough time to dive into the new content and I’m ready to share my thoughts.  First, I’m pleased to say that this update is actually quite substantial! There’s a good bit of new content to explore along with the usual enhancements. There’s a little something for everyone this time around.

First off, players who were hoping to wrap up the “Yotsuyu storyline” in the main scenario will be very happy to see this chapter come to a very satisfying close. This plot took a direction I was not expecting, but rest assured it was concluded in a way that you’ll only find in a Final Fantasy game. There’s also a number of little new sidequests peppered into this update as well. This means there’s plenty of stuff for lore-nuts to enjoy in 4.3. Taking a closer look at all of the additions to the game in this patch, we have the list below:

  • New main scenario and sidequests
  • New Dungeons
  • New raids
  • New Beast Tribe quests
  • “Doman Enclave Construction” activity
  • “Message Book” for housing
  • New Treasure Hunt content
  • Various refinements, balancing changes, items, and Q.O.L tweaks

Sadly, there are a number of features that have been delayed until patch 4.35 and 4.36. This includes new Eureka content (something I have yet to fully experience), and the new Deep Dungeon content. Now that I’m finally caught up with all of the new main scenario and quest storyline, I expect to have the time to fully explore Eureka in time for the new updates to that system. Despite my own delay in checking out all of the new activities available in game, SE has really been on a roll with all these new additions. They finally seem to have the update schedule down to a perfect science.

It seems every time you turn around there’s some new system or activity being added to FFXIV. The one thing I’m looking most forward to is the upcoming FFXIV Companion mobile app that is scheduled for release at the end of next month. This app will finally bring some in-game functionality to players outside of the game. This is something that is LONG OVERDUE. I plan on posting a full review of this app once it is available.

In closing, 4.3 brings more welcome enhancements to an already thriving game. SE continues to do a wonderful job with the storytelling in this title. The new battle content is fresh and innovative. Players couldn’t ask for anything more than what we are seeing with these updates. Even the pacing of these patches seems pretty on-point with the needs of the community. They are spaced out just enough to hold players interest, while also giving players time to consume them at their own pace. There’s a little something for everyone in this update. Raiders will find a lot to enjoy here, as will fans who only play for the story content. Excellent stuff.

I give this patch a rating of:  A

 

Site Updates

I’m currently undertaking the task of trying to make the site a bit more uniform. The next week or two will be slow as I am pouring through the archive of posts and making formatting corrections, etc.

Many of the original posts on this site were migrated from my old blog and there were still some nagging layout problems that I’ve always wanting to correct. I’m finally taking the time to do it.

Once this is complete, I have a several reviews to post. The GameCube/PS2 era is just around the corner!

It Came From YouTube: Cobra Kai

For my second “It Came From…” entry, I’m going to change things up a bit. I’m jumping from Netflix to YouTube. That’s right, in case you weren’t aware, there actually is a paid version of YouTube called “YouTube Red”. Until recently, there was never a lot of discussion about it as a platform because… well, there was really nothing of value to talk about. Most people knew YouTube Red only as a paid option that allows you to skip those pesky YouTube advertisements. For me personally, it was included as a bonus with my Google Play Music subscription. I certainly enjoyed the ad-free experience of YouTube Red, but I never considered it of any real value by itself. It seems like I was not alone in that sentiment…  Very few people paid YouTube Red any real attention when compared to other streaming services like Netflix of Hulu.

Finally, the day came where Google took notice of this and decided to make a push for better and exciting content. They needed something that would be instantly recognizable and that could generate buzz. Well, They found it. On May 5th, YouTube Red became the home to Cobra Kai. This ten episode continuation of the Karate Kid franchise took off like rocket and hasn’t stopped yet.

Who doesn’t love Karate Kid? As a child growing up in the 80’s, watching it was a rite of passage. I saw both the first and second movies on HBO back in the day and became an immediate fan. When my family moved to Okinawa in the late 80’s, the island was still booming from the sudden interest that Karate Kid 2 had brought to the local culture. Everywhere you looked street merchants were peddling headbands or daiko drums. So to me, the series holds a special place in my heart.

When I heard that a sequel series was coming to YouTube, I was cautiously optimistic. I loved the first two films, but the third film was a bit of a dud for me. So much so, that I never even bothered with the fourth movie. A big part of me was worried that any attempt to resurrect this series was sure to fall flat on its face. Karate Kid is a period piece. As such, trying to emulate the vibe of that film in a modern setting is likely to fail. Thankfully, the creators of Cobra Kai recognized this and avoided the traps that most writers would easily fall prey to.

Cobra Kai takes place in modern times. It’s been 30-odd years since the events of the Karate Kid films. Daniel LaRusso is now the owner of a successful auto dealership. His childhood rival Johnny Lawrence has not been so lucky. In today’s world, Johnny finds himself barely scraping by. He floats from job to job and spends most of his money on booze and child support. His life changes when he is inspired to begin teaching karate to a young man who lives next door. When Daniel discovers the Cobra Kai school of karate has been reopened, it sparks a new rivalry with Johnny.

It is easy to imagine that this series would end up doing nothing but paying homage to the original films. But the great thing about this show isn’t really the nostalgia trips (and there are some), but it is actually the quality of the story being told. Daniel is not the star of Cobra Kai, but then again neither is Johnny.  There are a number of powerful compelling characters in this show. These characters and their stories are what make Cobra Kai such a pleasure to watch. It’s like you’re watching a brand new television show, but you already know the last few decades of backstory.

Again, I can’t stress this enough, the attention to the various characters is the best thing about this series. You get to know the character of Johnny Lawrence in a whole new light. You get to experience the story of Karate Kid from his perspective. You find out that he’s not just the “bad seed” portrayed in the original film. In fact, nearly every main character in the show gets this treatment. By the time you’re halfway through the series you have no idea who’s side you’re on anymore. But you can’t wait see what happens next. All of this makes Cobra Kai some of the best television I’ve seen in a long time. It’s funny, inspiring, and worthy of your attention.

Target Audience: This is a show that actually aimed for general audiences. It’s a must-watch for fans of the original Karate Kid films, but anyone who enjoys a good story will find something to like about Cobra Kai. 80’s nerds and retro-fans will be in for the ride of their lives with this.

Mature Content: YES – Language, mature humor, sexual references, contact violence.

Number of Episodes: 10

YouTube Red Exclusive?:  YES

Score (1 out of 4): 4

 

Review: Bloodstained – Curse of the Moon

It’s been three years since Koji Igarashi (or IGA, as he tends to be called) unveiled his plans for “Sword or Whip?” – the spiritual successor for the Castlevania franchise. Since that time, the game has been given a proper name; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The game itself is still in development with a release date scheduled for later this year. So, to hold players over, IGA has released a small spin-off title called Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.  

As many know, Bloodstained is a game born from the ashes of the Castlevania series. For many years, IGA was in charge of the franchise while he was employed at Konami.  Ritual of the Night is viewed by many to be the modern continuation of the gothic-horror/platformer genre.  So if RotN is the future, what is CotM? This amazing little game is essentially a retro-clone. It’s presented in the classic 8-bit style that so many Castlevania fans will be familiar with. And yes, it serves as a prequel to the upcoming Ritual of the Night. As such, it is a delightful nod to the old-school roots that serve as the foundation for what IGA is about unveil.

The storyline for this title is surprisingly well done and it sets up the events leading into Ritual of the Night.  In a nutshell, the story goes like this: In the 18th century, science is on the verge of overtaking the long-practiced arts of magic and alchemy. In attempt to maintain their grip in the modern world, a group of alchemists conduct experiments on innocent people, implanting dark crystals into their bodies in hopes of summoning a demon. The experiment is successful, but instead of controlling the entity, the demon breaks free of the alchemists’ control and opens a portal to hell itself. Monsters and demons pour from the portal and overtake the countryside. Enter hero: Zangetsu – a blade-wielding demon-hunter. His only goal is to hunt down and destroy the source of the demonic infestation. During his journey he encounters the following other adventurers:

Miriam: A young girl who was taken as a child by a mad alchemist. Subject to the experiments mentioned above, her body was fused with cursed crystals – giving her demonic powers. Freed by Zangetsu, she seeks to hunt down the demonic entities with her enchanted whip.

Alfred: One of the alchemists responsible for unleashing the demonic threat. Fueled by his search for an ancient text, he will let nothing stand his way, be it human or demon.

Gebel:  Also a victim of the alchemist’s experiments, Gebel somehow managed to survive the ritual. However, his body continues to slowly be consumed by demonic energy. He seeks revenge against humanity by embracing the darkness that now consumes him.

When the game starts, players are in control of Zangetsu. As they continue to clear levels in the game, they will unlock the other playable characters. The player can switch between characters on the fly. Each character offers a slightly different style of play, with benefits and drawbacks of their own.

The game itself is VERY reminiscent of the NES-era Castlevania games, Castlevania III especially. The graphics, sound, level design, and overall presentation make this feel like a long-lost entry in that series. Everything that there was to love in those games can be found here, but with some more modern concepts thrown in as well. This makes Curse of the Moon feel like an evolution of those retro games instead of just a carbon-copy clone.

The game itself offers two difficulty levels from the start. Casual Mode offers unlimited lives and disables the knock-back that is experienced when a player takes damage. The Veteran Mode provides a more retro experience. Lives are finite and losing them all will result in players having to redo the entire level over again. Regardless of the mode selected, the game is not quite as difficult as the original Castlevania titles it is based on.

Upon completion of the game, Nightmare Mode is unlocked. This allows players to replay the game from the beginning with the additional characters already available. There’s also a Boss Rush mode that can be unlocked as well.

In the end, Curse of the Moon is both an excellent tip-of-the-hat to the games of yesteryear, as well as a clever set up for things to come. Everything about the game from the graphics to the enemy design is there to remind you of those classic Castlevania titles. But other aspects such as the depth of the storytelling to the well-designed boss battles, give players a hint that Bloodstained is going to be so much more.

I was blown away by this game. My level of excitement for Bloodstained has increased tenfold. This is a game worth a look.

Difficulty: Medium –  When stacked against the platformers of the past, Curse of the Moon is considerably easier. Even in Veteran Mode, this game is nowhere near as difficult as say, Castlevania or Castlevania III. The boss fights are probably the hardest part of the game, but the battles all contain patterns that are easy enough to learn and master. This is true even for the secret hidden boss available in the game’s alternate mode.

Story: The backstory for this game is surprisingly well done. It is presented at the start of the game and through readable in-game dialogue. This whole title actually seems to serve as a set up for the upcoming Ritual of the Night. I’m glad to see there’s actually some interesting lore for this new franchise. I’d hate for RotN to end up as nothing more than a poorly constructed style-clone.

Originality: Despite paying homage to retro Castlevania titles, Curse of the Moon manages to somehow feel fresh and exciting.  Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything like this. I’m not sure. But I do know that playing this game didn’t feel like a tired slog through memory lane. Instead, it felt like the start of something new and exciting.

Soundtrack: Classic retro bit-tunes. The soundtrack really took me back to the days of my youth. Most of the music was catchy and appropriate, but it honestly doesn’t hold a candle to some of the great jams we were treated with in the old Castlevania games.

Fun: This game took me by surprise. I was expecting to simply get a nostalgic smile or two out of it. But, instead I was floored by how good it was. The intricacies of the characters and the polish of the game design are simply brilliant. This little downloadable title is way better than it has any right to be.

Graphics: This game was designed to mimic the classic 8-bit NES era. With that in mind, it does a perfect job. By today’s standards it is not going to blow anyone away. But then again, it isn’t supposed to.

Playcontrol: If there’s any major improvement over the original Castlevania titles, it is this. The controls are responsive and accurate. No sluggish movement, no lag, No complaints whatsoever.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: YES – Religious and paranormal themes.

Value:  Backers of the Bloodstained Kickstarter can download this game for free on the platform of their choice. All others can purchase it for $9.99. In my opinion, this is a more than fair price for a game of this quality.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite being a retro-inspired game, Curse of the Moon is a quality product. I love the way the developers used the 8-bit era to create a prequel for their upcoming title. It let’s the players know the source of the developer’s inspiration, while setting the stage for the next era. This title is a love letter to older gamers like myself, but I really feel that even younger players who grew up with their PS3’s and Xbox 360’s will find enjoyment in this title.

Available on: Steam, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS