Saturday, January 14, 2017

Dracula Reborn

It's been over a week since I updated. I was doing well for a while there! "Life's been busy" isn't exactly an excuse, so let's just say I've let neglect seep in and haven't been entirely responsible.

Castlevania isn't really known for its story, characters, or any of that jazz. Nevertheless, it's had its fair share of protagonists throughout its life (which is now likely over) that have had memorable designs and abilities.

I know Alucard gets a lot of love, but I have to give the position of "best lead" to Soma Cruz, the hero of Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow.

This is a series that had put us in the shoes of vampire hunters for nearly every entry. Alucard was one of the rare exceptions, being the renegade son of Dracula himself, but for the most part, you were always someone equipped for the job.

Enter Soma.

He's a Japanese high school student - or exchange student if you're playing the localized versions (eat your hamburgers, Apollo), which in and of itself would normally knock him down a peg on the ladder of good protagonists for me. After all, what's a student compared to a trained vampire killer, or the son of Dracula? But here's the thing: he's not just any old high school student. This guy is the reincarnation of Dracula, stripped of his memories and given a second chance at life as a good person. Even his gameplay differs from the usual Castlevania protag, and plays off of his role as the former Lord of Evil, with him absorbing the souls of monsters and using them to fight.

I mean, he can throw bones and axes and stuff too. I just chose a picture of angel wings and lightning to emphasize his newfound goodness.
This is a nice switchup after so many games with the Belmonts and their associates, and gives us a positive ending to Dracula's story that I don't think anybody expected. He also has the benefit of being the only protagonist in games that are set in the future, rather than in the past. There's thirty-eight Castlevania games, if you count spinoffs, and only Soma's two have the distinction of taking place in a futuristic time period. Rocket launchers, anyone?

Take THAT, Dracula! Oh, wait... he is Dracula. Take THAT, Dracula's successor!
I think what makes this character doubly interesting is that the series has also shown us Dracula before he turned evil. Mathias Cronqvist, from Lament of Innocence, was said to be a good man before he lost his faith in God and declared God his enemy. If you look at Mathias and Soma's designs, their attire is similar, but with the colors inverted. It's a nice touch, and a way that shows us that maybe Mathias is being given another shot at life.

Mathias lived in the year 1004, and was hailed as a brilliant tactitian. He was good friends with the knight, Leon Belmont. Mathias renounced God after his wife died, and then tricked his friend Leon into helping him to absorb the powers of Walter Bernhard, a powerful vampire. Mathias would then be known as Dracula, who continued to appear after numerous defeats until the year 1999... when he was finally slain for good by being sealed inside of a solar eclipse. 

Soma sports more modern clothing than Mathias, as he lives in the year 2035, over a thousand years later. The parallels to his old self, however, are very apparent. Why is he Japanese this time? Because the game was made in Japan, I guess.
Oh, and there's also a route where he goes insane, embraces his evil side, and serves as the final boss of each game he's in. Something about the "evil route" that I love is that it's the death of his loved one that sends him over the edge, just as it did for Mathias years and years before. If you save his lover, you save his soul, and he remains a good man. I always thought that was a nice nod to his previous self, and his potential to be either a hero or a terrible villain.

While Soma's games tell us how Dracula was defeated for good, we never got to see the actual battle. Koji Igarashi, the head honcho behind the franchise, seemed to be building up The Battle of 1999 as a future game. However, the last few games in the series rebooted the universe entirely, and Konami, who the Castlevania IP belongs to, has now renounced the video game business. It's a real shame, as the 1999 game was definitely something a lot of fans were looking forward to. While we'll never get to experience it for ourselves, there's a fan project attempting to tell its story that's worth checking out. It's not a game, but it's something.

Julius Belmont, the final successor of the Belmont clan, defeats Dracula for the last time in 1999 with the help of Alucard and his friends. This art is a fan rendition by PixelProspector on Twitter.

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