03.21.05 - I beat the last boss, got the best ending, of Castlevania: Aria of sorrow yesterday. I've spent part of today filling in map and collecting souls that I missed. This marks the 14th Castlevania series game that I've completed. I specify 'completed' only because I've played more.
The game is called Castlevania: Minuet of Dawn in Japan, which I think is a better title. It is closer to the lunar theme of other Castlevania titles, which is appropriate, considering this game takes place within an eclipse. Other lunarian titles in the Japanese branch of naming include Nocturne in the Moonlight, Dark Night Prelude and Concerto of the Midnight Sun. There is also Circle of the Moon, certainly lunar, but which also fractures another longtime tradition of musical names. There is the musical term "circle of fifths", but I don't think that's what they had in mind. Is it really important for a series to maintain these kinds of traditions? They certainly provide a sense of unity for fans. Why start the patterns and then not maintain them? What's the implied connection between those that fall within the pattern and those that don't? Story wise, probably nothing really. The most likely reason is purely logistical, that different producers helmed the series at different times and didn't see building on these foundational aspects as a priority. Something like this is almost guaranteed with a series that is almost 20 years old.
Another interesting break in tradition, or rather, continuance of a new tradition, is calling the Japanese version of the game Castlevania, rather than Demon Castle Dracula, by which almost all previous Japanese versions have been known. I don't think it's a bad thing, because "Castlevania" is in the extremely small club of American names that are as good or better than their Japanese counterparts. It's not a Tuff E Nuff or Street Combat. When I found out that the Japanese name for the original game was Demon Castle Dracula, I wasn't immediately overcome with the "why did they change it?!" feeling that so often accompanies such revelations. But, back to my point. It was 2001, with Castlevania Chronicle: Demon Castle Dracula that the bridge between the two names was first made. There was a brief return to the original naming scheme with Demon Castle Dracula: Circle of the Moon, which was handled by a different group than the other recent titles in the series, but other than that, it has been Castlevania on both sides of the Pacific. Is this just for simplicity? For the same reason that Final Fantasy III was followed by Final Fantasy VII in the US? Just to get everyone synched up for cleanliness' sake? Does it save them any money on localization? You couldn't very well suddenly start calling new titles in the US Demon Castle Dracula, or Akumajo Dracula, could you? Not only is the name unwieldy in English, but it would just confuse everyone. This seems to suggest that there was already an awareness of the Castlevania name in Japan. With one bridge title (Castlevania Chronicle) they were able to eschew 15 years of naming. Even the PS2 title is called Castlevania in Japan, so its not just a GBA idiosyncrasy.
The GBA Castlevania titles have really been an outlet for fans of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SotN). SotN was a complete departure from all previous Castlevania precedence and is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, Playstation games. But even when it was new, 2D gaming was quickly going out of style. As good as the game was, it didn't set any sales records because general population gamers were simply not interested in sprites anymore. The N64 and PS2 Castlevanias represent the new 3D direction of the series. Fortunately, you can still get away with 2D graphics on a handheld, where the market expects it (well, at least you could before… we'll see if the PSP changes all that), so the GBA became the natural home for any extension of SotN. None of the GBA titles have been as good as SotN, and in fact, I don't think it would be possible. The GBA can't match the Playstation graphically, aurally or in sheer amount of game content. Sound, in this case, is an especially large chasm between the systems because the music in SotN was so incredible and would require CD quality capability to challenge. In the end, the GBA titles all end up feeling slightly like inferior console ports of an arcade game. They are all good, but certainly not revolutionary or especially memorable.