Castlevania – In Name Only

Posted: October 24, 2010 by LunarDiaries in REVIEWS

The latest incarnation of Castlevania from Konami and developer MercurySteam feels more like a generic action-adventure title that was born from borrowing great pieces of titles that have done very well in the genre, but really not implementing them as well. It has heart and guts, but no soul . . .

Castlevania – Lords of Shadow feels like an amalgam of different action games cooked into one game, given a medieval European theme (the game is supposed to be taking place around 1060AD), and a story that feels like a custom salad bar of Castlevania folklore mixed in with a side of Patrick Stewart.

The problem with Castlevania is that it feels like none of the parts that make it up (combat reminiscent of God of War, a magic system deftly borrowed from Dante’s Inferno, climbing basically a watered down, below average copy of Uncharted 2’s excellent climbing and park-our mechanics) feels cohesive or well tested out to make them feel like they’re part of same character’s bag of tricks. Climbing with Gabriel Belmont doesn’t feel like bashing the crap out of monsters with Gabriel Belmont.

Speaking of Gabriel Belmont, he  is our main character now (apparently in an attempt to reboot the franchise, start everything off with a brand new character). He is tasked with finding and destroying the three Lords of Shadow, who hold the key to a relic known as “God’s Mask”, which is said to hold the power of God. With it one can defy death itself and bring the dead back to life. Gabriel is hell bent on getting this relic since his beloved wife, Marie, was brutally murdered. Gee, Marie doesn’t sound like Beatrice (Dante’s wife) or Lysandra (Kratos’ wife), but circumstances are pretty similar . . . . you see where I’m going with this one, right? Anyway. as you get deeper and deeper into the story and characters that make up this new Castlevania universe, things get very interesting. There was some good writing chops involved, because all the story elements felt very cohesive and everything builds up the the ending. Unfortunately, I was a bit confused at the end and the aftermath of everything, but up until then I was interested pretty much 100% of what was the outcome of Gabriel’s journey.

Gabriel proceeds to whip/bash the crap out of werewolves, Vampires, Ghouls, and anything else the Dark Lords can throw at him throughout the story. Some of the combat is satisfying, and some of the quicktime events where the fighting ends is also well done. But the moments are few and far between, feeling very inconsistent in their level of quality. Even more clunky is some of the in-game combat controls which feel a bit slow and unresponsive. Blocking with Gabriel is a chore, feeling almost as if you have to count frames of animation on your enemy to hit block in time to account for the delay. For a game that accepts precision clicks in QT events and platforming judgement prowess, it fails to deliver on tight combat controls the player would expect. The platforming also suffers from the most inconsistent hit detection I’ve ever seen in this current generation of games. Every near miss of a ledge or a whip grapple point is followed up by success in a follow-up attempt even without changing your tactics at all! Meaning, if you simply try pretty much EXACTLY what you did that killed you on platforming will likely work on another attempt. This creates some super frustrating moments and pulls the player out of the gameplay moment for the utter fouls this game creates in its platforming.

 

Castlevania: LoS - Platforming

Castlevania: LoS - Platforming

The magic/relic system for this title does shine. The use of secondary weapons is pretty cool, with holy water by far being the most “pure win” secondary weapon in the game. Everything you have (daggers, fairies, crystals, and holy water) is useful somewhere. Even though I didn’t use fairies much at all, they do add a combat strategy that is well planned out, so they are in fact very useful to the right player. Even though I stated that holy water is the best secondary (IMHO), many would say in a pinch, nothing beats the dark crystal, and I couldn’t disagree with them. The demon power you unleash with that thing is so powerful it is the literal ultimate “save-my-ass-in-a-pinch” secondary weapon in your arsenal. My preference for holy water is based on its raw power as a weapon and its awesome defensive potential (throw it down when using light magic and its da bomb)! Light / Shadow magic are also very useful and add a very good gameplay mechanic and strategy with proper use. Either one can totally save you from a bad situation, ones that cannot be won by simply blocking, rolling, and spamming attacks.

 

Gabriel vs. Cornell - Lycan Lord of Shadow

Gabriel vs. Cornell - Lycan Lord of Shadow

Visually, the game’s environments are absolutely stunning. I can’t begin to explain how good some of the far off distant backdrops look so awesome and especially as you close in on them and they become the level. There’s alot to be said about great draw distance and well done environments, and I think this is an area where LoS shines! Also, its got some great music. Borrowing some epic sound and feel from Lord of the Rings, that type of orchestral vibrancy never gets old, it keeps the battles interesting and your exploration in solitude from becoming boring.

Castlevania: LoS - Indoor Environment

Castlevania: LoS - Indoor Environment

There is alot going on for fans of action games to be amused with and plow on with this title for the 10 hours of fights and story it will give you, but to old school or even Symphony of The Night (SoTN) fans, this game will feel disappointing on many levels.

First of all, no map. You read that right, there is no map in this game. None. Let that soak in . . . ok. Maps were quintessential to Castlevania after SoTN because of the game’s excellent exploration elements which borrowed heavily from the Metroid series. Even if you ignore that legacy, the game’s exploration is sorely lacking because of the fixed camera, annoying obstacle platforming, and really no idea to know where you need to go, where you have been, or what to do. On occasion, the game will pop up hints, sometimes in the most frustratingly slow manner that makes you look at the object/door that you should interact with before letting you move again. Whoever decided the timing for these events needs to get slapped, because I swear at least 5% of my total gameplay was wasted waiting for control to come back into my hands from these hint moments. And then they are literally wasted on items that CLEARLY are in front of Gabriel or near him that the context of how you came about them is so obvious you’d have to have been playing the game blind-folded not to realize their importance. So it makes it worse when a non-obvious but important point in a level comes up, you’re on your own and completely in the dark, backtracking all over the place to find out where’s the next place to go. Gee, if only Gabriel had a map . . . . and the irony is, the stage selection screen is a WORLD MAP!! What a load of total bulls**t!

All those points taken in, Castlevania – Lords of Shadow is not a bad game, it is a somewhat good game , but definitely not a great game or the game I was hoping it was going to be. If MercurySteam had completely copied God of War 3, given me Simon again and a map feature, that probably would have been enough for this game to be pure win for many players. As such, alot of changes went into this and with their so-so implementation, makes this title fall far from the greatness that it could have been. Maybe if there is a follow-up to this (HUGE SPOILER – they set one up story-wise), maybe Konami will take this into account and make a worthy successor to a franchise I’ve personally loved for many years.

Pros:

  • Visually stunning enviroments and backgrounds
  • Engaging storyline and characters, with a bit of over acting
  • Long amount of gameplay for an action title (10+ hours)

Cons:

  • Slow, clunky combat controls make timing in crucial fights difficult, inconsistent feel of QT events
  • Inconsistent and poorly designed platforming
  • No maps, made worse by poor hint system
  • Derivative story elements borrowed from several A list titles makes overall game feel generic, not too much like a distinct Castlevania title except in name only.
Castlevania LoS - Gabriel painting

Castlevania LoS - Gabriel painting

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