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Recently, I've gotten fed up with the prices of Super Nintendo games. I've instead have been trying to buy Japanese imports instead, so long as it's easy to play without knowing Japanese. They're usually a fraction of the price, and usually not much more to get them complete with the box and manual. I've been getting a few of the more expensive SNES games on SFC, like Castlevania: Dracula X, but I'm always trying to find a few games that never saw a release here in the west. While looking for good Super Famicom beat 'em ups, I've stumbled upon The Great Battle series. A crossover beat 'em up with Kamen Rider, Ultraman, Gundam and an original character that actually looks cool, all in super deformed style? Yeah, I'm sold.
While researching The Great Battle games, I found that it's a part of a pretty expansive Banpresto-developed series, called the Campati Hero Series, which ranges in different genres, to RPGs, sports, and of course, beat 'em ups. I couldn't find a lot on the games themselves, other than a few gameplay videos here and there. I ended up buying one of the cheaper games on ebay on a whim. I was pretty excited to get it, but I wasn't expecting much in the way of quality when it came to this game. Banpresto is a huge hit or miss in my opinion, especially with their licensed crossovers, but at the same time, they're mixing three of my favorite shows together!
When I popped the game in I was kind of surprised by what I was playing. The game can be played with either one player, or two players. I've only had a chance to play in one player mode so far, and well... it's pretty different than what I was expecting. In most beat 'em ups, there's a weak attack, a strong attack that usually damages you when you use it, a jump button and a limited number of screen-clearing super special attack. In this game, there's a punch button, a kick button and a jump button. The placement of the buttons is a little different. A is punch, B is kick, and Y is the jump button. That takes a bit to get used to, but after that, it works pretty well. In one player mode, you can change through the four characters with the select button, but quite unexpectedly, all four share the same health, so there's no strategy to changing characters, especially since they are just as strong and fast as each other. It's just an asthetic opinion.
The game is actually quite difficult, which I mostly blame on the fact that your character is short and squat, having not much of a reach. While the enemies are the same way, a few have projectile weapons and can be really fast, so some can be annoying. Speaking of enemies, it seems that most, if not all are from Gundam, Kamen Rider and Ultraman, which is pretty cool. Most of the basic enemies are well, basic enemies in the shows, like Vagans and Shocker Grunts. Bosses in the game look really great, with their huge, animated sprites, but the actual fights are pretty lacklucter. Every single boss that I got to, I beat with just smashing the punch button. I've actually got hurt way more by single Shocker Grunts than I have by any boss in the game so far, but I haven't beaten the game so that might be why. Graphically, the game is alright. The sprites are AWESOME. They all have a lot of personality, but the backgrounds are pretty lackluster. I guess the sprite work makes up for it.
The music is pretty bland, nothing really stands out, but that's alright. I kind of wish they used music from the shows, but oh well. Banpresto doesn't really seem to like doing that. All in all, it's a petty fun game, minus some complaints. If you're looking for an amazing, groundbreaking Japanese exclusive game, this isn't it, but if you want a fun beat 'em up that's pretty cheap and you like Tokusatsu and Gundam, it's worth getting.
Now, I did not play this game when it first came out. In fact, I didn't even know it existed until a few years after it was released and I never owned a Playstation 1. I first heard of it early in my 9th grade year. My best friend was obsessed with the anime Hellsing, which he kind of pushed me into liking as well. It wasn't hard to do that, but it's definitely nothing that I would consider a favorite ever, but it was certainly enjoyable. His long-distance girlfriend at the time had Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and told me about how awesome it was. The last time I played a Castlevania game was Super Castlevania IV through emulation on the probably not completely unused ZSNES. So, now that I had something that could play PS1 games, I just had to get this game. The main character of the game had the same name as the main character in Hellsing and I got to play as the half-vampire son of Dracula and I get to kill Dracula? It was everything that this fourteen year old anime-obsessed goth kid wanted in life. Although, back then I was really fickle with money. I basically wanted to spend every cent of my pretty limited money on anime, anime conventions, and PS2 RPGs. I would see the game at places like Funco Land and at booths at anime conventions, but I had no interest in paying a whole 35 dollars or more for an old game! Who in their right mind would do that? IT'S OLD! Nobody wants old games anymore. except for me, obviously.
Finally, two years later in 2003, I was in a Costco's with my dad and was looking in their video game... aisle, if you could even call it that. I saw a bin of greatest hits PS1 games, and while I was sifting through the numerous copies of Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX, and Tactics, I found one lonely copy of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Brand new. For $17.99. I couldn't help it anymore. I had to have it. I bought it without a second thought. I couldn't wait to get home to play this game. Two years of waiting came down to this fifteen minute car ride. It was probably the longest fifteen minutes of my life. It felt like a year, I feel like I could count the blades of grass as we drove home.
Now, for those of you who do not know anything about Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, it's an action platformer set in 18th century Transylvania (currently called Romania) where you play as Alucard, the son of Dracula who woke up to save Richter Belmont, the current generation of the long-living Belmont clan who have the job of trying to kill Dracula whenever his castle, Castlevania appears. This time when Castlevania appeared, Richter is nowhere to be found. This game is a huge departure from the series, which was known for being a high-quality, yet difficult straight-forward action platforming series. This game adds in a lot of exploration, inspired by Super Metroid, as well as RPG elements with leveling up, hit points and changing equipment. Instead of using a whip like in almost every other Castlevania game before it, you had a variety of weapons to choose from, as well as having the option to use a shield at the same time to help protect you as well.
Now, back to my first time playing the game: As soon as I got home, I ran into the living room, ignoring my father's yells to help him with the groceries, ripped off the plasic around the game so quickly, I thought I broke the case at first and popped the game into my PS2. I didn't even sit down at all. I just stood there, mear inches from the screen as I listened to the haunting vocals that is the start screen music. It didn't even confuse me one bit that the game's save file started at the very bottom first. I just selected the first square, selected my name as Alucard, and started playing. The first thing that I really noticed about the game was the music. It completely blew me away. The mix of classical music with elements on modern electronic and metal music reminded me of a band that I was obsessed with at the time (and still am, honestly) Malice Mizer.
The gameplay, and the game overall felt so familiar, but completely new at the same time. The game can be fast-paced and very action-oriented, yet at the same time it requires some calculation, from strategies to beat bosses to what type of weapon to use against which type of enemy. I was completely hooked. I played for a while, beat the first boss, found a save point and then... I realized that you can't use PS2 memory cards to save PS1 games. I didn't care. I was going to try to go as far as I could until I died. I did this daily for about a week until I could get a PS1 memory card. Since then, I have beaten the game numerous times. I own it on every platform except for Sega Saturn, and I try my hardest to play it at least once a year. At this point, I can get basically run through the game and get to Dracula in a few hours, and every time it brings me back to my awkward, gothy anime-obsessed teenage years, reminding me that not much of my character has really changed. I just grew up a bit.