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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #32—The Red Strings Club

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OnlySP Favorite Games 32 - The Red Strings Club

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s games is a quieter, independent title, and one of our favourite of yesteryear.

Red Strings Club

#32. THE RED STRINGS CLUB, by Damien Lawardorn

Imagine a world without hate, without anger, without fear or sadness. What a world it could be if negativity and the emotions that tear us apart were no more.

Imagine no longer. When Supercontinent Ltd releases Social Psyche Welfare, society will become the fair and open utopia that it has been striving to be for millennia.

But this is cyberpunk. Where a corporation sees opportunity, individuals see indoctrination. The Red Strings Club is that story. The propaganda of industry meets with the spark and spirit of people, fizzling into a small, quiet rebellion.

The architect of the fight back is Donovan, bartender of The Red Strings Club. He stumbles into awareness of Supercontinent’s plans and immediately begins the process of undoing them. Donovan’s pub is a haunt for all manner of people, and he can manipulate a cross-section of society thanks to his unique ability to mix drinks that alter emotions. Simply by talking to people, he may be able to change the fate of the entire world. Red strings indeed.

The Red Strings Club

However, Donovan is not alone in his quest. His first partner is Akara, a Supercontinent android gone rogue as a result of being hacked. In fact, Akara is the first playable character, forging bionic implants with a kind of digital pottery to change the opinions and attitudes of people who want to be better.

Akara is far more interesting than just being a slave to their programming, though. At points, they converse with Donovan, challenging his opinions—as well as the player’s—on a range of topics pertinent in the modern world. These discussions make for some of the most intriguing in the entire game, exploring ideas of philosophy and social justice in ways that most titles simply refuse to.

The third playable character is the hacker Brandeis. While Akara and Donovan work from the shadows, Brandeis is the warrior, putting himself on the frontlines of the cause. His gameplay segment emphasises this trait, forcing him to interact with Supercontinent staff in his attempt to sabotage their plans.

The developers at Deconstructeam embarked on the creation of The Red Strings Club with the intention of telling a story. However, the team is also clearly aware of the opportunities provided by the ludic medium, even if they are not taken full advantage of.

Each of the three core gameplay loops provides alternative paths and options that may unlock different information or storylines. These mechanics also draw on the ideas of free will and determinism that dominate the game. Even while Donovan, Akara, and Brandeis do battle in the name of individuality, they undercut their mission through influence and manipulation. The characters may not realise the hypocrisy, but the player does, further muddying the moral waters in which the game so daringly swims.

For all that, though, The Red Strings Club largely eschews a branching narrative. Background details and storylines may change slightly, but the actions of the three protagonists lead to a single, preordained conclusion. This trait makes the game more of a 2D walking simulator than forward-thinking visual novel, but also contributes to thematic conversation it invites. If free will is all-important and these characters have exercised theirs to its fullest to reach this ending, then what does that say about their beliefs?

At that point, the discussion ceases to be didactic, instead inviting the player inward to critically engage with the ideas, and the conclusions drawn will be those of the individual.

This trait is emphasised by the anonymity of the characters. With the game rendered in pixel art and absent of voice acting, the player becomes free to embody the character that most aligns with their perspective. Donovan, Akara, and Brandeis may be the ‘heroes’ of the piece, but not everyone in the game subscribes to their antiauthoritarian perspectives.

That aspect is, perhaps, one of The Red Strings Club’s greatest strengths. While Deconstructeam invites players to agree with the protagonists, the issue is never forced. Your free will is never rejected.

Where many of the titles that comprise OnlySP’s 50 Favourite Games are loved for their gameplay or stories, The Red Strings Club is different; its strength lies in its ideas.

Thanks for joining us again for a look at our favourite games. Next week, we’ll take a look back at one of the most influential franchises of the last decade, so make sure to come back. As always, you can keep locked to OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #17—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s game is a classic—a founding title in a genre loved by many to this day.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 4

#17. CASTLEVANIA: SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT, by Daniel Pereira

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is truly a special game. Few titles within the industry can be labeled as a work of art, and Konami’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is, without a doubt, one of them. Being born of an ideology that a new direction could be what was best for the series after three iterations  of the same style, Symphony of the Night took a leap of faith for the franchise, and looking back on its success, players will have no question that the leap paid off.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place five years after the events of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, where Richter Belmont traversed Castle Dracula to take down the main man himself and once again reset the Castle’s reappearance cycle .

What is interesting about Symphony of the Night was that  the game begins as Rondo of Blood ends: with the climactic battle of Richter and Dracula in the throne room. Once the battle is complete the game transitions and players are now reintroduced to Alucard, Dracula’s half-vampire son with a human woman. This game is the first time players had seen Alucard since Castlevania III (1989), and this time he is the primary playable character.

Castlevania Symphony of the Night gameplay screenshot 2

Alucard’s introduction within Symphony of the Night as the playable character created a whole new dynamic for the player to wrap their head around. Since Alucard is not a vampire hunter nor a member of the Belmont family, he does not use a whip to slay monsters. Instead he uses a variety of weaponry that players can discover throughout their journey into the castle. Interestingly, the game starts the player off at what is essentially Alucard’s peak performance, as he is able to slice and dice his way through any enemy before him—that is, until Alucard is reunited with Death, who strips him of his abilities and gear forcing the player to start their adventure empty-handed.

The developer ’s choice to start the player completely fresh and weak contributes nicely to the game’s new direction. Unlike previous playable characters, Alucard can equip different armor, weapons, and abilities to further aid him while traversing the castle. Ultimately, Alucard’s goals are to figure out why the castle has reappeared only five years after being destroyed, and locate the missing Richter Belmont. Despite a narrative that captures player attention  immediately, Symphony of the Night proves that its new gameplay direction is what will ultimately steal the show.

As a revolutionary new direction for the Castlevania series at the time, Symphony of the Night was the first entry that did not end after a stage completion or boss fight . Instead, Symphony of the Night surprised players by simply continuing forward. In previous games, after completing a stage, the player would be taken to a map screen to select the next area of play; however, in Symphony of the Night, the map can be toggled with the press of a button and only indicated areas that were visited by the player, with everything else nonexistent until discovered. This promoted exploration and returning ventures to familiar areas, allowing the game to really showcase its roots  and establish a formula that would usher it into the history books.

In addition to the new approach to level design for Symphony of the Night, what is most surprising about the game, and perhaps what solidified it in most gamer’s memory, is the fact that after what would seem to be the final boss fight, the castle would then invert and could be played entirely upside down. For this event to conspire, the player would have to complete specific tasks before and during the boss encounter, and whether or not those tasks were done would determine if the game ended there or continued with the Inverted Castle. As a truly remarkable feature, Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was designed to look just as beautiful upside down as it was during the normal playthrough. Not only was the aesthetic of the castle perfectly preserved in its inverted state, but it also played just as seamless as it did right-side up.

As a testament to the wonderful art and craftsmanship by the developer for this title, the gothic horror atmosphere combined with the excellent sound design of the game only attributed to how incredible Symphony of the Night‘s Castle Dracula was. That the artistic integrity of Symphony of the Night has withstood the test of time is truly astonishing. At a time when the industry was shifting to 3D models, the team behind Symphony of the Night chose to go against the grain and create what feels like a swan song for the 2D gaming genre.

Recently, director Koji Igarashi released the long-anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. OnlySP had the privilege of reviewing the new game, and although it exceeded our expectations and presents itself as a worthy successor, it cannot replace or recreate the zeitgeist that was Symphony of the Night. The 2.5D graphics of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are outclassed by the 2D pixel art  of its predecessor. A style decision, yes, however one cannot help but wonder what the final product would have looked like with a 2D template.

Of course, Symphony of the Night cannot be truly praised without mention of its greatest contribution to the industry. Without this game, players would have never known that man is a miserable pile of secrets. Thanks to Symphony of the Night’s original intro battle, the industry will always remember the significance surrounding Dracula’s rhetorical question of “What is a man?”

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is a stylish love letter to fans of the series. More importantly, however, is the game’s contribution to the industry and the Metroidvania genre as a whole. To this day, Symphony of the Night is recognized and referenced as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Metroidvania game of its generation.

From the outset, players might question how this game could come with such accolades, but the easiest answer is more often than not the simplest one. For one to understand what makes Castlevania: Symphony of the Night so great and worthy of a spot on OnlySP’s 50 Favorite Games, all they need to do is play it.

Thanks for joining us as we take a look at one of the founders of the Metroidvania genre. Join us next week as we look at a very different game from a different genre—but one that has remained inspirational for years nonetheless.

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