Reinvention can sometimes work out well, and sometimes it falls flat on its face. Both of the franchises I’ve been chatting about lately, Tomb Raider and Castlevania, have seen their fair share of redos to their gameplay concepts. For the ‘Vanias, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is the most famous, although one could argue that CVII: Simon’s Quest did it way back in the NES days as well. As for Tomb Raider, Core tried to recast Lara with their last effort, Angel of Darkness, and Crystal Dynamics has certainly played around with the mechanics of their entries in the TR universe. So they’re both no strangers to the wheel. However, both are currently undergoing significant alterations with their latest games, and I have indeed praised one and chastised the other. I’d like to explain why.
Let’s begin with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. It is distancing itself from its past in ways I’d prefer it didn’t. It resembles God of War, and while I have enjoyed the first two GoW games, I don’t want it in my Castlevania. The reason I adore Castlevania, especially the Symphony-styled ones, is the style. It has a look, a sound, and a feel unique to it that I really, really relish. This latest 3DS effort may have a couple of its key characters and some homages to the enemies, but it seemingly ditches everything else I have ever loved about the franchise. I don’t know if what Castlevania was doing prior to MercurySteam’s involvement warranted such drastic remolding. Sure, it had repetitive environments, enemy recycling and occasionally unpolished level design, but damned if they didn’t give me a lot of memorable experiences. I could have fun with this. It does appear to have some fun buried within, but I don’t think it would match up to the standards I expect from a ‘Vania.
As for Tomb Raider, the reason I am interested in it is that I never have been. I’ve loathed Lara Croft’s sex symbol status for years. I never thought she was a great design or a good character. She was merely a fantastically proportioned woman, with gigantic breasts and a nice butt, purposefully put into the first game because she was pretty to look at. That bothered me enough that I never gave the series any attention. When Tomb Raider sunk Core Design and Crystal Dynamics stepped in, they made some strides to mellow out Lara’s unrealistic body, but didn’t quite commit to revolutionizing her…until now. This Lara is, and I know I’ve said it a lot, normal looking. She has lost the inhuman body, the massive breasts, the huge lips, the sexist design. Here we have a believable Lara Croft. A young, realistic woman, not some polygonal wet dream. This attempt at redoing a franchise is taking something that drastically needed fixing and is working miracles, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere.
Does that mean I’m not behind revisions to games I have a strong bond to? Not necessarily. I think one could look at my favorite games list and see several games that took a franchise in a drastic new direction from the pre-established. Super Mario 64, Dragon Quest IX, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Elevator Action Returns took radical shifts from their predecessors, but I love them all. I had prior exposure to each of those franchises before trying those games, but I felt that the new mechanics were wonderful, appropriate departures that also maintained key elements of what made that series great to begin with. With the latest ‘Vania, I feel that all of the key elements are gone. My enthusiasm is waning. I can’t quite say that about Tomb Raider, but I can state that I wasn’t interested in that series because of ye olde Lara Croft. With this prequel, Lara Croft is becoming someone I want to play as. The sexism, the unrealism, the disgust I once felt for her is fading. I’m rooting for this Lara. I feel genuinely excited about this character, a potentially wonderful addition to the heroine canon it so desperately needs. One could say she’s always been there, but I can’t forgive her design’s ugly past. I can look forward to its hopefully bright future, though. I feel we need this Lara in this industry. And that’s the difference. I can’t say we need this Castlevania. It may as well be God of War. The franchise feels like a sacrificial lamb for what Konami believes is necessary for it to survive. Generic remolding into a clone of something else, destroying its storied legacy in the process. This Tomb Raider, though, is reworking her entire history in order to atone. This is a required step for Lara to matter. She could reach heights she never could before, truly become a role model for the gaming community, and a showcase for a powerful woman avatar. In short, one of these franchises needed to reinvent itself, while the other…really didn’t but is getting it anyway.