Between this horrible thing and Jerrmy Parish’s love letter to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night I felt inspired to tackle the game again. I chose the unlockable version in Dracula X Chronicles so I could play on the toilet. I have to say, the game looks great on the PSP. I don’t know why, but I prefer my 2D gaming small. I’d rather play these types of games on a handheld than on TV. Maybe it’s just my imagination but the details seem crisper and clear when they’re tiny.
These details are at the focus of Parish’s article (which can be read in the latest issue of Gamespite Quarterly). He praises the game for the little things like the secret boots that increase Alucard’s hight by one pixel or that you can enjoy a quiet meal with Count Olrox before fighting him. My favorite detail is the practice of literary allusions in the game, which includes a reference to one of my favorite novels.
Nearly every weapon, armor, or item in the game is a reference to some literary work. There are generic weapons, of course. Short Sword, Morning Star, Flachion, etc. But beyond this very little of the game’s items are entirely original creations. For example, Tyrfing is the first dark elemental sword that is found in the game. It’s description claims that it is cursed and equipping it will drop Alucard’s strength by 30 points. At the time you find it this drop in power is enough to make the sword completely harmless; it will simply pass through any enemy you attack. Why does it have this particular quality? Well, the Tyrfing comes from the Poetic Edda, a collection of poems from medieval Iceland. Forged by dwarves to be the perfect weapon, one that would never rust and could cut through steel like cloth. But the dwarves rebelled and cursed it so that it would cause three great evils and kill a man whenever it was used (most likely its wielder). It’s fitting that it’s in game proxy would be given dark status.
Unfortunately, a large marjority of these references call back to that ever pressent mainstay of fantasy: The Lord of the Rings. But there are more obscure references as well. The vorpal blade from Alice’s Adventures Through the looking-glass shows up. As does the twin of Elric of Melnibone’s Stormbringer (here called Mourneblade).
One of my favorite authors is Gene Wolfe. His books are relatively unknown but critically acclaimed. The fact that there’s a reference to his work in Symphony is a joy and a wonder. Terminus Est is a sword dropped by Nova Skeletons in the inverted castle. It was originally called Hrunting (which was Beowulf’s sword don’t you know) but there must have been a Wolfe fan on the translation team.
In Wolfe’s novel The Book of the New Sun Terminus Est is a broadsword with a square point. This means it ccan only be used for cutting, which serves it well, as it is an executioner’s sword. It’s purpose: to sever the heads of criminals. It has a hollow center filled with liguid mercury to give more strength to a swing (this last fact may explain why in Symphony the sword has a posion quality). The name Terminus Est is translated by several characters in the book as “the line of division,” “the place of parting,” or simply “the end.” It one of those weapons, like Anduril or Excalibur, that is a classic of its genre. The fact that it is in Symphony endears the game greatly to me. Someone at Konami has great taste.