Castlevania’s first entry into current gen was a wonderful way to conquer the night.
Ah, Castlevania. The series holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, and was among one of the most heralded in the realm of 2D games.
Making the transition to 3D has been… less than kind, shall we say. Many rank Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness for the Nintendo 64 as among the worst in the series. While Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness for PlayStation 2 were a step in the right direction, neither of them really brought in much fanfare. In fact, people were calling Lament of Innocence, “Castle May Cry” because they felt it was trying too hard to be like Capcom’s Devil May Cry (which is funny since Castlevania was one of the influences of Devil May Cry).
In an age where everything old becomes new again, Spanish developer Mercury Steam received Konami’s blessing to develop a new game of the Castlevania series. The big thing about this instalment is that it’s a reboot to the entire series; re-inventing the origins of many of the things we know and love. How does it pan out? Let’s find out!
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Developer: Mercury Steam
Platform: PlayStation 3 Also on: Xbox 360; PC
Original Release Date: October 5, 2010
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Reason for Rating: Blood and Gore; Nudity; Violence
It is the year 1094. The world is plunged in darkness and chaos; monsters and fiends roam about the European landscape feasting upon the innocent. The people cry out to God, but many fear they have been cut off from His Holy Providence.
The Brotherhood of Light, an Order of pious Knights fighting in God’s name, believed that they have received a message from Him; that one of their Order, Gabriel Belmont, can save them all from the impending doom, and so they send him out to discover what is required.
Gabriel soon learns that by defeating the three Lords of Shadow and uniting the pieces of an ancient Relic called the Mask of God, he can not only achieve peace, but he will also be able to resurrect his wife, Marie, who was killed shortly before his journey.
Will Gabriel be able to defeat the three Lords, get the Mask of God, and find out the reason why mankind has been cut off from God?
Oh… My… God… That FOREST!
Gabriel’s journey will take him across many a European landscape, from villages infested with werewolves, to forests, to the end of the world… and it’s all beautiful.
Each area has an intricate amount of detail; the lighting and shading effects help to further breathe life into each locale. The lush forest areas are full of vibrant colours and have a general sense of serenity; swamps are murky and gross; once-great castles reduced to dark shells of their former glory and filled with vile creatures. You also have to battle the elements, as heavy winds and precipitation pound furiously on battlefields, with droplets hitting the screen for added affect.
All this exploration is accented by the majestic soundtrack by the Bratislawa Symphony Orchestra, whose music make serene sections and creepy sections more so, with interactive music that swells menacingly when enemies appear on screen, and triumphantly when you find a hidden item.
Crack That Whip… Er, Combat Cross
Gabriel is armed with a retractable morning star known as the Combat Cross. This versatile weapon not only helps you smite evil, but by finding the upgrades hidden in Brotherhood mausoleums scattered throughout the countryside, you can do more with it. For example, you can use it as a grappling hook to traverse large crevasses and scale walls, or use it like a crank to open sealed doors.
Speaking of grappling and opening doors, there’s a lot of exploring you have to do! Like in previous games, you can go back to previous areas after gaining some abilities to find the things that you didn’t access to previously. You’ll also be putting your platforming skills to the test with lots of parkour action. You’ll be leaping off the sides of buildings, balancing on wooden beams high above the ground, using the Combat Cross to swing across bottomless pits… oh my! Fortunately, the parts that you can grab onto are usually glowing, or Gabriel will look towards another ledge, so you’re not entirely stuck. That said, you have to be quick — some ledges might crumble and you’ll fall into the crevasse below (just saying…).
Fighting is quite a messy affair, but someone’s gotta do it. You start off with a basic moveset, and the game pipes up every now and again when a new ability is introduced. Beating foes earns you some Experience Points which can be exchanged to upgrade your skills and abilities.
As is Castlevania tradition, you have sub weapons that you collect, however you only have three and they behave like consumables. You can usually find refills in breakable objects throughout the area, but you can only hold a certain amount until you find upgrades to increase your maximum amount. You also have a Crystal which, when used, will summon a demon that will do heavy damage to all foes in the area, and may do damage to some bosses. Once used, you’ll have to collect pieces of Crystals to reconstruct a new one.
You’ll eventually have access to Light and Shadow magic. You can activate either one whenever you want, and both bring an extra bit of oomph to your attacks; with the Light magic having the added effect of replenishing your health with each successful hit. Combining your magic with sub weapons will give them special effects. For example, combining Light magic with Holy Water not only blasts nearby enemies, it creates a protective barrier around you that lasts a few moments. You can replenish your magic metres by harvesting Neutral Elemental Orbs that are occasionally dropped by enemies, or by using Orb Fountains that you find in certain areas.
Now, straight-up smacking fools with the Combat Cross and sub weapons may be enough for lesser guys, but some of the bigger brutes need more… persuasion to go down. Or, perhaps you’d want to do more to those smaller guys than just smack them with the Combat Cross. Enter Quick Time Events (or QTEs). It’s simple enough: when the QTE starts, you’ll see a small circle inside a large one. The large one will start shrinking, and when it’s shrunk down to where it fits inside the smaller one, press a button. You can grab smaller dudes to start a QTE, while bigger guys will start to glow if you’re able to nab them.
That Said… Does It Satisfy Your Inner Vampire Hunter?
Combat really is fun. Mercury Steam pretty much took their cues from all the modern action games out there and put them in. The action is fast paced, and the QTEs aren’t so bad. However, there are an awful lot of QTEs, and screwing up does have the unfortunate set back of having your enemy get some health back, or having to re-do the sequence over again. The combos are plentiful and fun to do, but as is the case with other action games with a lot of combos available, you only really end up using a couple of them. Or, you might just use the old “Smack ’em twice and retreat” method (nothin’ like the classics, eh?).
If you mess up royally and die, you’ll at least get a chance at the scum without going too far. The game autosaves when you reach certain points of the stage, and when you reach critical points during boss fights. This has its good points (no retracing of steps here!), but with regards to the boss fights… well… it might not be so great. Sure, you get to start at a critical point of the boss battle and you get a nice portion of your health back, but when you start at that point, you really are dropped back in… with the boss a couple of steps in front of you. As soon as you start again, the boss charges you and gets a good couple of heavy hits in before you can get your bearings about you.
… And Your Inner Story Buff?
As mentioned at the beginning, Lords of Shadow is the re-telling of the origins of the beloved Belmont clan and their struggle against evil. This is a pretty important entry, being a re-boot and all. I mean, you’re setting the stage anew for a new generation of folks, but you have to be careful not to turn off the long-time fans of the series.
I think that Mercury Steam did a good job doing their own thing while doing callbacks to previous Castlevania games, in particular Lament of Innocence, which was the first game story-wise in the original timeline. Gabriel (voiced by Robert Carlyle and his sexy Scottish brogue) is an interesting hero; setting off to do good, but have things go horribly wrong. You see his growing despair and doubts, and you can’t help but hope things get better; propelling you to see the game through to the end.
Speaking of characters, they were all voiced well, and there’s something about having a story being narrated by Patrick Stewart that gives it that extra level of awesome. The secondary characters help move the story along, but there are times where I wished we learned a bit more about them, as they just seem like fascinating characters. Take the Lords of Shadow, for example. We get to know them a little through Gabriel’s interactions with them and various other texts, but I still found myself wanting to know more about them.
Going There And Back Again
Each of the areas have their fair share of hidden upgrades for your sub weapon stash, or for your life, light, and shadow magic bars. Once you complete a stage, you get a report telling you what you found, what you missed, that sort of thing. You’ll also be presented with a Trial to complete, for example, “Defeat so-and-so without using Light magic” or, “Defeat 10 enemies while poisoned”. Once you do, and you complete the level, you’ll be rewarded with extra Experience Points.
The Reveries of Resurrection
Lords of Shadow has not one, but two pieces of DLC which take place immediately after the main game’s end. “Reverie” and “Resurrection” each add one extra chapter to Lords of Shadow‘s story; basically tying up a couple of loose ends with regards to Gabriel’s fate. “Reverie” has some puzzles, while “Resurrection” has probably the hardest boss in the entire game. Both DLC instalments have a heavy dose of platforming.
I didn’t quite enjoy the DLCs as much as I would’ve liked. The puzzles were okay, and the platforming drove me up the wall (outrunning impending death while jumping for dear life). Story-wise… well, I suppose they had to do that to do something to explain the ending of Lords of Shadow somehow, but it didn’t quite grab me the same way.
A Wonderful Night To Fight A Curse
As a whole, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has a lot of things going for it. It’s beautiful to watch, a joy to listen to, and pretty fun when I’m not pulling my hair out at some of the platforming stuff.
Seriously, though. Give it a try, especially if you’ve been itching for some whip-smacking Belmont action.
7.5/10 – This game has lots of potential. Not a bad experience at all
Conquering the Night
+ Beautiful presentation
+ Story is a good way to re-boot the series
+ Trials give you an extra reason to go back to previously cleared stages
Crying Bloody Tears
– QTEs left and right… give me some breathing space!
– Checkpoints in the middle of boss fights may do more harm than good