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Hugh Likes Fiction: Vampire Hunter D

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Vampire Hunter D
Written by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano
Translated by Kevin Leahy
Published by DH Books

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The Skinny: Kikuchi blends Horror, Sci-FI, and Western tropes into an exciting novel, but the penny dreadful style keeps it a guilty pleasure.

It’s Dracula Season once again! The time of year when I turn my blog over to all manner of spooky content. And today we’re looking at Hideyuki Kikuchi’s original novel, Vampire Hunter D.
In the year 12,090 A.D, post-nuclear war humanity rises from the ashes, only to be enslaved by ancient horrors, the vampires. But even their immortal reign is not absolute, and as their empire crumbles, a single vampire hunter, half-human and half-vampire, rides the frontier. When he meets a teenage girl on the side of the road, a victim of her local vampire lord, he becomes embroiled in saving her from the count, his daughter, and the fearful townsfolk.
Vampire Hunter D is a whole-hearted embrace of genre. It mixes Western, Horror, and Science Fictions aesthetics to create something both iconic and familiar. Kikuchi’s love for black-and-white horror movies is evident, and the book is sprinkled with cameos and references, beginning with the villainous Count Lee. The sci-fi tropes stand up surprisingly well alongside the horror aspects. The world of the frontier is grim, and humanity lives mostly in the ruins, first of the modern world, then of the fantastic one created by the vampire civilization. But as powerless and preyed upon as they are, Kikuchi’s vision of humanity is still resilient and relentless, ready to conquer the challenges in front of them no matter how long it takes. D, the mysterious rider in black, takes up most of the oxygen in the story, but the world building is constantly surprising and delightful.
Unfortunately, not all of the tropes Kikuchi takes stock in are as amusing. His female characters in particular come up short. Doris is at turns shown as strong, smart, and capable, but she is constantly in need of rescue, and is almost totally valued as an object. In this short novel, she’s stark naked at least twice, and is threatened with rape more than once. These tropes also go back to the tone and trappings of the Western and Horror genres that Kikuchi revels in, but the sexism in this book leaves a bitter aftertaste to the more engaging parts.
The book is also illustrated by powerhouse artist Yoshitaka Amano, and he brings a heavier pen and ink style to these illustrations that are a stark contrast to the watercolors he is more generally known for, such as his character designs.
Vampire Hunter D is a thrilling adventure novel with genre trappings, over the top prose, and some problematic choices on the part of the author. You can find it in ebook and print from your favorite retailer.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Super Castlevania IV

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Super Castlevania IV
Konami
Played on New 3DS

Super_Castlevania_IV_North_American_SNES_box_art

We’re hunting Draculas out of season! A classic from the early days of the Super Nintendo, I picked up Super Castlevania IV from the New 3DS eshop! And it’s just as thumb-breakingly difficult as I remember.
This game is hard, which is not to say that it is UNFAIR. For the most part, the game’s traps and enemies can be out-thought. This is a true old-school pattern memorization platformer, and it doesn’t mess around. But although I found myself dying over and over at the hands of Dracula’s minions and spikes of the castle’s many traps, it never feels like the game is cheating. Obstacles can be overcome with patience and reflexes, rather than luck. And this game throws a ton at you. The castle feels more malevolent in ways than later iterations of the game. The sprawling 2-D puzzle maps of Symphony of the Night and its ilk, generally referred to as “Metroid-vaia” style games, are all puzzles to be solved. You can go anywhere, and frequently, backtracking is require to uncover all of Castlevania’s juiciest secrets. Super Castlevania’s tightly designed levels are just the opposite. There is no going back. Every step feels like an unreconcilable choice. Drawbridges slam behind you, spike traps dog your heels, and platforms constantly shatter under your boots. Each jump feels like a commitment, creating a tension that builds through the entire game until you are whip-to-fang with Count Dracula himself.
Super Castlevania IV looks and sounds great on the New 3DS screen. The big sprites and sampled music were outstanding for the time, and they are perfectly preserved emulated on the handheld screen. The analog stick works well for the most part, although attacking and moving at angles is somewhat unreliable. You lose your momentum if the stick isn’t at just the right angle, which can be a problem when trying to climb collapsing staircases and clearing flying enemies in later stages.
Super Castlevania IV is a great pick up if you’re looking for some retro platforming on your New 3DS, or just want to kill time until the new Castlevania series drops on Netflix next month. You can find it in the New 3DS, Wii, and Wii U Virtual Console.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

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Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow
Published by Konami
Nintendo DS, 2005
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The sequel to 2003’s “Aria of Sorrow,” Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow” was the first installment of the series for the Nintendo DS.  A savvy reader might point out that ‘Dawn’ isn’t the best name for a sequel, but since it appeared in the first year of the system, it was one of many games that glommed on to the ‘DS’ suffix.
The game once again follows teen reincarnation of the Lord of Darkness Soma Cruz to a maze-like castle in which he will again come to terms with and try to overcome his destiny.  When he is confronted by a cult leader searching for the Lord of Darkness, Soma’s power of Dominance unexpectedly returns, forcing him to confront his past life once again.
On the whole, “Dawn of Sorrow” doesn’t bring much new from its GBA predecessors.  The main game puts you back in the shoes of Soma, with the ability to Dominate and use the powers of various monsters to fight and to solve puzzles.  You can also collect extra souls to power up your abilities and weapons, which is nice, but mostly this game is more Aria of Sorrow with prettier graphics.  The game does have a ‘seal’ system, in which bosses have to be sealed away to be beaten.  This involves drawing a symbol on the touch screen after the fight.  It is a bit annoying, forcing players to keep a stylus tucked in their hand during the fight, but hardly the most egregious tacked on touch-screen gimmick of its day.
The game also features a return of the standard Castlevania extras such as unlockable characters and Boss Rush modes.  The extra mode is a real treat in this version, as it allows the player to switch between characters in a fan-service nod to Castlevania III.
The game still holds up relatively well, with well-designed, highly detailed sprites.  The castle feels nice and big, and it isn’t too hard to navigate with plenty of warp and save areas.  The game had a little trouble running in my New 3DS, however.  It would occasionally freeze or glitch, and the system wouldn’t be able to read the game card.  This wasn’t enough of an issue to prevent normal play, however.
“Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow” is an incremental but worthy installment in the Castlevania franchise, and is well worth your time if you’re looking to explore Dracula’s castle this Halloween.  It doesn’t break a lot of ground, but it is a fun and challenging adventure.  You should be able to find a used copy at your local game store.

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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania

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Castlevania
Konami
Nintendo Entertainment System
250px-Castlevania_NES_box_art
October is Dracula Season here in the Hugh Likes… HQ, and for my money there is no better modern representation of the character than the Castlevania franchise.  The original, produced by Konami in 1987, is a classic example of the old-school challenge of the NES.  Tough but never entirely unfair, the player controls Simon Belmont as he fights his way through Dracula’s castle to his showdown with the King of Vampire himself.
The original game has a fun, almost campy sense of atmosphere as Belmont fights his way through a laundry list of B-movie monsters.  Famously difficult, the game really conveys the feeling of the environment itself as an adversary.  This is a difficult balance to achieve, because it can more often feel like the player is fighting the programmers rather than the game.  Like Nintendo’s flagship Super Mario Bros, Castlevania is a sprawling environment that relies on careful exploration, precise timing, and sharp reflexes.  Belmont is armed with an upgradable whip and a variety of subweapons that he finds in the castle.  While blindly rushing ahead and collecting every subweapon as it drops can result in a series of deaths, a careful strategy, admittedly formed through trial and error, guides the player through each level.  A very generous continue system for the time lets the player keep trying for as long as they like.
With the sad news that Konami is scaling back its production to focus on the mobile phone market, we may not see anything new from the series for a while.  What better time to dust of a control pad and take your journey through Dracula’s Castle?
Castlevania was originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System as well as other 8-bit consoles and arcades.  It is also available digitally for the Nintendo Virtual Console on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS.

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