While it has been a few weeks, I still suspect I am in the beginning. I did not resolve every thread of the disappearance of Bruna and the nature of the involvement of Gram and the Professor before those events get “missed” (little x’s appeared next to the quests I didn’t finish).
If I have missed some stuff, it’s because I went straight to the Catacombs after finding Bruna in her transformed state. I did make an effort to find other “dungeon-length” areas but could not find much outside of the cemetery. “Note” discoveries tell us that Daisy, the Professor and others were last seen near there, so it’s simply an obvious thing to check out at that point. Some networking with Maye village residents will connect enough dots for Leila to discover that the arches overhanging the Crimson Ocarina are probably what the Lantern Keeper is referring to when she says Porta Avernus.
The detective work of this part of the story was a welcome balance against the action-packed platforming and combat. I particularly like how Thurber Sungi was involved. He is an outsider and (I think…?) a member of a foreign and marginalized religious group. Unless the royal government that he works for is the same one that Maye and the Vigilant warriors are subjects under. In that case, when Thurber says the word “heretic”, he probably means the same thing that other Goddess-worshipping villagers mean when they say the word. In that case, the villagers Chris and Gram are the only characters so far who do not practice the common religion.
The Professor, meanwhile, discovered a phenomenon called Crimson that is almost always deadly to humans. Tissue-growth can be achieved with Crimson if an appendage from one being is attached to another of a separate species. Lastly, there is a method of introducing Crimson neurologically, which has the most gradual and most mysterious effects. This appeared to have been going on with both Gram and Bruna. Sure enough, I have an item in my inventory called a Crimson Ocarina and a likely location to play it.
At first this reminded me of Blasphemous. Then I noticed the more whimsical qualities, like the kaleidoscope city in the background and floating coffin platforms. Blasphemous is surreal and psychological, but those qualities are designed to accommodate a sense of religious dread. Lots of penance, self-flagellation, glorification of martyrdom, etc.
Blasphemous is set in a world where a scary, inhumane, autocratic religion is made effectively “real” by magic. Death’s Destination in Vigil, though, does not look like the creation of a control-seeker. The cityscapes kaleidoscoping in a spiral on the horizon, floating coffins and piñata fetuses are more chaotic than the dour, medieval, orderly nightmare in Blasphemous. In terms of atmosphere, Blasphemous has a nightmare of order and Vigil has a nightmare of chaos. Really, Death’s Destination looks almost like Earthworm Jim if it decided to go for horror instead of comedy.
The boss fight in this area is not particularly challenging but it does require a modest amount of patience and, for a few levels, always seemed to be just within reach of being beaten. I actually spent a few days on this fight and did a lot of grinding for it without realizing the amount of time and effort I was putting into it. Maybe that’s good design or just a happy coincidence, but either way the Lantern Keeper soon shows up to tell us we have “ended the timeless nightmare”. Is Leila’s trial finished now? What does that mean, exactly?
After some fun banter outdoors with two guards who don’t recognize you, you are taken back to Maye where a disease has taken hold and some time has gone by. Maybe? Leila soon finds her sister Daisy tending the afflicted in an asylum either built into a wrecked building or a wrecked ship.
Here, the game gives you the chance to pick up a smattering of quests, rather like our first glimpse of Maye. The loss of every owl statue checkpoint could also, arguably, support the possibility that a time jump has happened. There is no frank comment on how distant the era we came from really is.
We encounter various friendly faces, such as Daisy and the shopkeepers, who recognize us. Then there is August, at the library near the cemetery, who is clearly an adult (if not middle-aged) man who says he is a descendant of an ancient guard named Duran, whom we know from the start of the game. Both cannot be true and the plot must surely thicken. Maybe Leila could be an unreliable narrator after all?
Speaking of lost time, a new naming convention involving different times of the year has proliferated while we were gone. The waterfalls to the East of Maye also appear to have gone through some kind of seismic or oceanic event, as it is now a vast wasteland of bog and wrecked ships. Whether this is due to a time jump, Leila infiltrating another timeline, Leila’s own mind or something else is not yet clear.
The way this change was expressed in the structure of Maye was also welcome. How to even implement towns in a Metroidvania has suffered some confusion in the past. Hollow Knight makes it so you can add more bugs to Dirtmouth village and shortcuts without by finishing different quests. Salt and Sanctuary simply makes the checkpoints the only place to encounter specialized support NPCs. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia had places you could select on a menu-like world map that consist of static NPCs and non-horizontal doors and alleys you interact with by pressing ‘up’.
The original Castlevania: Simon’s Quest did a decent job by simply adding platforms and a nonstop day-night cycle to it. A town like Maye, with more platforming layers and accessible areas that are added over time, is a very welcome addition. What might be really neat later on is if the gradual downward progress of the town’s construction eventually leads to some important Norfair/Hallownest area.
The creature design continues to be on point. I particularly appreciated the bear near the waterfall cavern where Hilda is found for the second time and the shadow beings found further into the ship’s graveyard. There were also beings at that place that looked a little bit like the shark people from Bloodborne’s Fishing Hamlet but other than some occasional unoriginality, more hits than misses so far.