Classic Video Games and the Use (and Abuse) of Save States

Plus, Curse of the Moon 2 is Coming!

Simon Belmont on some stairs.

We’ve gone retro this week as the gang reflects on the Castlevania series, and it’s modern homage Bloodstained. Plus, we talk about the upcoming Curse of the Moon 2 in this week’s We’re Just Playing…

Sean Coughlan

This week (inspired by my Circle of the Moon playthrough last week) I decided to take on the iconic origin of the series: Castlevania. And when I say take on, I mean take on. No save states, no cheating, no guides. Just me and the game—mano et… carto…?

I’m a dab hand at Castlevania the Adventure, having completed that game many times over the years, and foolishly I thought the NES original would be similarly difficult. How wrong I was.

The first stage lures you into a false sense of security, throwing hordes of easy to dispatch enemies in your path—it makes you feel great. Truth be told, the game carries on this way for quite a while—the first half of the game is honestly thoroughly enjoyable to play. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of deaths along the way, but it always felt doable. With every death, I could always see what I should have done instead.

Enter stage 13. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. Castlevania is ‘technically’ quite forgiving with its checkpoint system—at least it was for the time. Many games would give you a few lives, a few continues and then it’s ‘game over and back to the start for you.’ In this game you have infinite continues and there are checkpoints after every boss.

Stage 13 is where you start to wish it was a lot more forgiving. At this point, your next checkpoint lies beyond the grim reaper himself—Death—who sits at the end of Stage 15. In between the two of you lies every type of annoying and difficult-to-avoid enemy you can imagine. Skeletons chucking bones, dragon heads spitting fire, hunchbacks leaping at random, knights throwing boomerang-like axes, and the infamous medusa heads who weave their way up and down across the screen. The last two decide to team up in the most unhelpful way in the final section of stage 15. Any hope you had of reaching Death unscathed goes completely out the window here—and that’s a problem.

Fighting Death involves him teleporting around the room whilst summoning three large sickles which bounce around the screen. It’s like trying to litter pick on a busy motorway. It doesn’t matter where you stand, sooner or later, you’re getting hit. And back to stage 13 it is! (I said ‘no cheats and no guides’ but I must confess, after a couple of hours of trying, I caved. It turns out you can lock him in place with holy water and slowly burn him to death. Thanks random YouTube video!)

I may be giving you a hint as to how to approach this difficult boss (From Mainlining the Castlevania Series: Castlevania (NES)). I tried to warn you, Sean!

That was the first of two brick walls I hit in this game. The second was the big man himself: Dracula. I can’t remember how many times I died to this boss, nor how many hours I spent trying to slowly learn how to defeat him. In any case, it was a lot. Eventually I did though. Fittingly, it was about midnight (which is late for a man in his mid-thirties with a 3-year-old daughter). My eyelids were heavy and I was well and truly at the end of my tether. The feeling was one of relief rather than victory. So, was it worth it?

For me, yes. I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a gaming historian. I have two CRT’s in my house with a dozen consoles hooked up to them. I like to play retro games as they were intended. I could have downloaded the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and played with the luxury of save states and rewinds but it wouldn’t have satisfied me. I needed that feather in my cap.

Would I recommend it? F*** no.  Oh, and as promised, I have started Symphony of the Night.

Johnny Malloy

Congrats to defeating the big man in Castlevania, Sean, not an easy task. When I was doing my deep-dive Mainlining series of article on the Castlevania series, I purchased the Castlevania Anniversary Collection for the PS4 in order to grab screenshots and collect those sweet sweet trophies.

I can honestly say I beat the original game without abusing save states, and—just so you know, Sean—there is no rewind feature, and you are only afforded one save state per title. Still, I recommend the Castlevania Anniversary Collection highly, and people should pick it up as it’s regularly on sale these days for $9.99. That’s a great deal for 8 games, even if two are old GameBoy ports.

Once I completed my run of articles, stopping after Symphony of the Night, I stepped away from Castlevania, as it was my gaming life for a while there. I filled notebooks with little tidbits, and quirky things I noticed during my run of the series, and it’s amazing the little details you miss. As a kid, I always thought games played fast and loose with continuity, but those games have callbacks and references to previous games hiding in the background animation upon closer inspection.

Speaking of older games I can not beat without abusing the Rewind feature, I recently beat Mega Man. The original game in the series was always a thorn in my side. Just like all games in the series, you have to learn and accept that the challenge will be high, and that you will suffer one frustrating fate after another. I’m OK with that. I grew up in the 80s and 90s when games didn’t care about your suffering.

However, the Yellow Devil in Mega Man can go to hell. I have defeated him fair and square once in my life. All the other times, I was rewinding and breaking the rules like I was in Funny Games.

Mega Man vs the Yellow Devil
Even with a practice mode, I couldn’t avoid his random moves. Rewind!

I don’t like to cheat in games, but sometimes you’re stuck and the game is being needlessly obtuse about how to progress (Castlevania II) and you simply need to watch someone on YouTube show you the way. It’s OK to get stuck in a game and spend some time trying to sort it out, but once it becomes frustrating and no longer fun, I go to the internet.

Oddly enough, back in the late 80s, when there was no YouTube, the kids in my class would call me for help with games. It was cheaper than calling the Tip Lines and they didn’t need their parent’s permission.

Speaking of Castlevania, I noticed that the trailer for Curse of the Moon 2 dropped this week, and I am a big fan of the original game, which was released as a non-canonical prequel to the crowdfunded Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Heavily inspired by Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, the game was a somewhat-easier homage to excellent third entry in the series. From what I’ve seen the game looks like a faithful follow up to a game I didn’t expect much from initially (it was a stretch goal addition, and could have easily been phoned in). After playing Ritual of the Night, I went back and played Curse again and appreciated it even more, recognizing 8 bit versions of enemies and environments both games shared. There’s even a super-hard 8 bit section in Ritual of the Night, linking the two games even more.

Bloodstained Ritual of the Night: 8 Bit Nightmare
This secret area is know as 8 Bit Nightmare, and puts your Ritual of the Night character in the world of Curse of the Moon.

I’ve beaten Curse of the Moon on all difficulties, and I’ve seen all the endings (one is extremely clever and calls back to the Mega Man series), so there is no doubt that I will be grabbing this game when it comes out.

Collin Henderson

I’m also extremely excited for Curse of the Moon 2 and honestly, I’m hoping that it’s a precursor to a possible follow up to Ritual of the Night, which, by all accounts, seems to have sold pretty well. Both entries in this, the Bloodstained franchise, so far have been excellent in their own ways, and it looks like there are even gonna be some new characters in Curse of the Moon 2, including a robot, which is something that I’m 100% on board with.

Something that seems odd, especially for those of you that have gotten the true ending to Ritual of the Night, is that Zangetsu is the recurring character and not Miriam. Miriam to me always struck me as the series protagonist, but hey, the game looks great either way. I might go back and replay the original soon.

Sean, I would highly recommend getting your hands on the Nintendo handheld entries if you have a way of doing so. You’ve already beaten Circle of the Moon, which is followed by Harmony of Dissonance, which is a mixed bag, but mostly worth a look, and Aria of Sorrow, which is my favorite in the franchise. The DS trilogy is incredible, too, with far more consistency in my opinion. Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia are all top notch games.

Soma Cruz from Aria of Sorrow confronts the game's big bad near a statue crying bloody tears
Aria of Sorrow. It’s the name of the next Castlevania title Sean should check out.

Three paragraphs in and I haven’t even mentioned what I’ve been playing! It’s Persona 5 Royal. Because of course it is. I’m near the end though. The last thing I have to do, to the best of my knowledge, is just gear up for the final fight against the True final boss in order to reach the revised version’s new True ending. It’s been a hell of a ride, and although I have mixed feelings about where the new story arc fits into the game’s main storyline, I’m withholding my final judgement until I see the end.

I fully plan on playing a whole host of shorter titles when I’m done with this. This is, without a doubt, the longest it’s ever taken me to get through the main storyline of an RPG, and it is because of the game’s gigantic script and long story scenes. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is (mostly) top notch, and I adore the story and characters. It’s just…been a long, long playthrough. One I don’t regret taking in the slightest, but it’ll also be nice to go back to games with slightly more time friendly lengths.

Johnny Malloy

Lastly, I just want to chime in and agree with you, Collin, that Miriam is undoubtedly the protagonist of the Bloodstained series. Those who have played the previous two games will have a deeper understanding, and the backstory that goes with it.

Also, I too long for a game that doesn’t require such a massive time investment. However, I have a few Final Fantasy reviews to work on, so…that ain’t happening anytime soon.

Written by TV Obsessive

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