Review: Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence (PS2)


Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Genre: Action Adventure
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood, Violence)
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: 10/21/03
Official Home Page: Lament of Innocence

The Castlevania series has a very long and interesting history. Starting out as Vampire Killer on the MSX Computer System and progressing its way through more consoles than any other series, Castlevania has always been about the battle between good and evil. Typically, it has focused on the legendary Belmont clan, a long line of vampire hunters, and the majority of the series has been about their exploits in defeating Dracula, lord of the vampires, in his legendary castle. Despite this, the most recent games (Aria of Sorrow, and now, Lament of Innocence) have taken the focus away from Dracula, and put it squarely on the shoulders of the castle itself, which is why the official title of the series is now actually Castlevania, whereas prior to Harmony of Dissonance, it was called Akumajo Dracula in Japan.

This game has been highly anticipated by many, and feared by others, primarily because it’s the third time the series has ventured into the third dimension. Virtually every 2D title has been a great success, but the previous two attempts at making a Castlevania game (both on the Nintendo 64) were considered failures, so a lot of people had their eyes on this title from the moment it was announced. Will this title be a success and mark the end of the 2D era in Castlevania games? Or will it too fail, and cause the developers to go back to the drawing board? I hope I will be able to answer these questions in this review.

But before I begin, I want to make you aware that I am a long time fan of the series, in particular the titles that have a lot of RPG elements, like Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow. That being said, I haven’t ever played the N64 titles, so there won’t be any comparison to those. I was truly looking forward to this title for the same reason as many others are, because I’d like to see the series go into a new direction, but stay true to its roots. So any further ado, I give you the tale of the first in the Belmont clan to wield the whip against the powers of darkness. I give you

Castlevania:
Lament of Innocence

Story
During the time of the Crusades, a company of knights is said to be invincible due to the efforts of two men: Mathias Cronqvist, who is a brilliant strategist, and Leon Belmont, who is a warrior second to none. The two friends led their men to victory after victory. But not all is well, because when the company returned home from a battle one day, Mathias is dealt a disheartening blow. While they were away, his wife had passed away. Because of this, he became despondent and stayed in bed as much as he could.

Despite his comrade’s unwillingness to fight any longer, Leon continued to lead his company to battle, and they remained undefeated. Other problems occur within Leon’s barony when he finds out that monsters have been ravaging the lands. What’s even worse, Mathias tells Leon that it is a vampire that is controlling the monsters, and that same evil creature has kidnapped Sara, to whom Leon was betrothed. The Church forbids Leon from acting against these beasts, so Leon proceeds to renounce his title and go into the forest to save Sara by himself.

But despite what he thinks, he is not alone in his quest. Once he enters the forest, he meets a man named Rinaldo Gandolfi, who is an alchemist who has a grudge against the vampire as well. Being the kind hearted soul he is, and because he too wants to see the vampire vanquished, he helps Leon in any way he can. Realizing that Leon is unarmed, Rinaldo gives him his enchanted whip and advice on what needs to be done to stop the evil. So with this knowledge and power, Leon heads off to the castle, deep in the forest, in hopes of defeating the vampire and saving his beloved.

Ok, so yea, it may seem like your standard “save the princess” story, but there is much more depth to it than that. There are twists and turns in the story that makes it more than just a cookie cutter tale, and the way they tell the story makes it seem like it’s not just standard. So while it could be better, it’s still a very good tale and provides a nice backdrop to the game itself.
Rating: 7.0


Our Hero: Leon Belmont, the first Belmont Vampire Hunter

Graphics
I had seen screenshots of the game before it was released, but that didn’t stop me from being surprised. This is one of the best looking games I’ve seen on the PS2 thus far. The quality of the graphics is on par with the Squaresoft titles on the PS2, and that’s saying a lot. Not only are the character graphics great, but so are the enemies and the environments.

The characters are all extremely well designed. Leon looks cool and stylish, just as you’d expect a badass vampire hunter to look. The enemies are all very detailed, and it’s really cool to see some of my favorites rendered in 3D. It reminds me of the first time I played Ocarina of Time, especially when I see enemies such as the Fish Men, Skeleton Knights and Flea Men (or as I like to call them, Jumping Humpers) in a full three dimensions. The designers deserve a lot of praise for the job they pulled off here.

Also equally important and equally well done is the environments themselves. Each area has a different feel and mood to it, and the layout and designs fit perfectly. It never feels like you’re in a room with just walls. There’s always a ton of detail in every room, from sconces, to bookcases, to tapestries, to statues. They captured the feel of an actual castle almost perfectly. One of the most surprising things is that the ground and the walls don’t look like a single texture has been tiled over and over. It actually looks like every single area of the walls and floors is different.

One gripe that almost everyone has with 3D games is the camera. Either objects get obstructed, or the camera itself is obstructed, which means you can’t see everything. Let me assuage your fears; the camera is excellent in this game. It’s a fixed camera that follows your movement, which some may consider to be bad, but it works well, because then you don’t get stuck behind an object and can’t see anything. And it doesn’t abruptly change angles, like many games with a fixed camera. Instead, it sweeps and pans along based on where you go in a room. And if for some reason an object does obstruct your vision, it becomes translucent. And there are very few times when I wished something were on camera when it wasn’t, and most of those times, it was meant to be a secret anyway. So they did a great job here too.

There are two little nitpicky things I have to say though. First, the hair in the cinemas looks a little jaggy. Other than that, I saw very few of the little beasties. Second, some rooms look very similar in overall arrangement, but they do break that up a lot by adding little details like debris and such so it doesn’t seem like every room is exactly the same.
Rating: 9.0

Sound
The title says Castlevania, right? Then I don’t need to say any more.

But I will. Seriously, if there’s one thing that a lot of people can say about every Castlevania game, it’s that they have great music. Even the Game Boy titles have excellent music. But without a doubt, everyone’s favorite is Symphony of the Night, because it was CD quality and sounded like a full orchestra. And now, we have another Castlevania with same great quality. Is it better than SOTN? To be honest, that’s a very hard question. The Castlevania feel is definitely there. It has the light orchestral pieces and the rock pieces and everything in between. Where music is concerned, they can really do no wrong. Oh, and Vampire Killer is on here too. All praise Konami and the music masters behind these games!

And if you thought all that was great, there are even more surprises in store. It’s Animaze. That’s right, otakus; the folks that have dubbed so many great shows are back with yet another game. Previously, we’ve heard their work in games like Xenosaga Episode I and the .hack series, and now they’ve returned to our Playstation 2. Here is where I’d list off all the great voice actors who have contributed to this game, but for the life of me, I can’t place any of them but one. And any research came up with no results. At least the one voice that I can place is none other than Crispin Freeman! And the others are so very familiar, yet I’m ashamed to admit that I have no idea who they are. Damn the credits for not listing them! Anyhow, even if the game doesn’t have Alucard, it does have Arucard. All the voices are performed to perfection, with emotion and inflection that fit the characters. The only problem I have is with the dialogue, but that’s not the actors’ faults!
Rating: 9.0


Medusa never looked so good, errr, I mean bad.

Control
The controls are relatively simple to learn, but some are rather irritating. To move, you use the Left Analog (of course). There are two attacks: big and small. Each attack has its own combos, and you learn new combos as the game progresses. In addition to those, you can jump (with double jump from the beginning!) and the last face button is for your sub-weapon. For the record, I hated the default button layout, but it’s easy to change.

One of the unique things about this game over other Castlevania titles is the ability to guard. By holding R1 or R2, Leon holds up his gauntlet on his left hand, and it can block most enemy attacks. The unique thing is that if you block a special attack, you gain MP (and that’s the only way to do it, other than rare items). MP is used in conjunction with Relics, which do various special things like improve your defense or make fire trail behind you when you walk. While the relic is active (done by pressing the sub-weapon button while guarding), your MP is consumed over time. Another new addition is Orbs. You get them mainly from bosses, but you can get them other places as well, but what they do is you equip them and they change what your sub-weapon does. Take for example the axe. Normally, you throw it and it sends two axes out at your enemy on a horizontal plane (sorry, no arcing axe in this game), but with one orb equipped, it will throw a boomerang axe that returns to you, and another orb will cause a bunch of axes to be thrown outwards in a circle from your position.

Here is where I have to gripe a little. In most games, to equip a weapon or use an item, you access the main menu (the Start button in this game), but whenever you try to use an item that way, you get a nasty message saying that you have to do it from the Real Time menu, which is accessed by moving the right analog stick in any direction. Personally, this makes no sense to me whatsoever. I guess it’s to add difficulty, but it gets to be a real pain when you need to use a potion and some bastard is trying to kill your ass. Not only do you have to avoid the enemy, but you also have to move the right stick to the potion and hit a button to use it. I’ll admit, it can be handy because it’s quick, but why not let you do both? Equipping armor, relics and orbs works in the same way. And while I’m in the griping mood, I’d also like to mention the fact that there is no auto sort feature in the menus. Though you don’t get as many items as Symphony of the Night or Aria of Sorrow, it would have been nice if it could have sorted for you.

Despite the gripes, the controls are relatively easy to pick up, and actual battles are easy (except for the right analog shit). The whip has great range, and it’s easy to whack on a ton of enemies at once. They even threw in a nice mini-map that shows not only what rooms you’ve been to (and which ones you haven’t, if you’ve picked up a map of the floor), but it also shows the percentage of the castle you’ve explored. So with the bad, there is good, but most of the good should be expected anyway, so they don’t get many points for that.
Rating: 6.5

Replayability
Many will feel a desire to replay the game, but not all. When you finish this game, you’ve accomplished pretty much all there is to do. But completing it does unlock several things, like a new character (a la SOTN) as well as a hard mode. The new character makes the game very interesting, since the play mechanics are drastically changed, but it also limits you a lot. You can conceivably get 100%, but a lot of the fun in doing so is lost. You can, however, play the hard mode, which adds a ton of challenge to the game, and though I prefer games of this sort not to be any harder, there are those of you who may enjoy the increased difficulty.
Rating: 6.0

Balance
On the whole, this game is really not all that balanced. The difficulty fluctuates dramatically. The early areas (meaning the first 5/6 of the game or so) are actually pretty easy, and I never seemed to die, even when I was careless. It’s when fighting bosses, and in the last 1/6 of the game, that the difficulty ramps up quite a bit. Though some of the bosses are easy in their own right, they are still much more difficult than the enemies in their level. Granted, this is how it’s supposed to be, but there is a very large gap in the difficulties. When it really gets hard is in the final area, where there are a lot of big nasties in a small amount of space. Still, on the whole, the game doesn’t get TOO hard, considering the fact that it’s not an RPG and you don’t have levels. Even without the items that raise your strength and such, the game wouldn’t be too difficult, since those items improve your stats very little.
Rating: 6.0


The Save Point: My favorite room.

Originality
I have to give Konami credit here. It took guts to make another 3D Castlevania, and to make it unique, yet stay true to the series was a difficult venture. Despite that, it does remind me a lot of Devil May Cry, but better. The Relic system is different, but it’s just a different way of looking at things that have happened before in the series, like the card system from Circle of the Moon. The Orb system is probably the most unique concept in the game, but it too is very reminiscent of the card system. So while Konami went out on a limb by making the game, they didn’t risk their neck by making it completely and totally unique.
Rating: 6.0

Addictiveness
This one is hard to judge, because each person is different, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. The game is fun, and when I’m playing it, it’s hard to put down. But now that I’m not playing it at this very moment, I don’t feel any overwhelming desire to pick it up. There are some games that when I’m at work or on the toilet, I can’t wait to get back to play it again. This doesn’t really feel like one of those games. But on the other hand, I don’t have any overwhelming revulsion either, and I do want to continue to play it.
Rating: 5.0

Appeal Factor
This is another one that’s rather hard to judge. On one hand, it’s rated M, so parents that pay attention to the ratings (as well as store employees) may not allow their child to get it if underage. But to people that ARE over 17, I can definitely see why they’d want to play it. It’s a very action and fighting oriented game, and it has more style than almost any other game out there. Despite that, I don’t think this game will be one that the mainstream public will pick up on, but gaming enthusiasts will definitely go for it.
Rating: 6.5


So much blood for such a tiny little hole.

Miscellaneous
I’ve already talked about the gameplay aspects under Control, so I’ll cover a different topic here. The one thing that this game excels at is mood. The graphics, the lighting, the music, the sounds that the enemies make. All of these are what helps contribute to the mood of the game. This game is probably the darkest Castlevania title, and it is very appropriate. The castle FEELS like a castle. Not only that, but it feels like a deep, dark, EVIL castle. This game is the most immersive non-survival type game I’ve played. And that REALLY adds to a pleasant gaming experience. Sure, some people don’t want to be immersed. They know they are playing a game, and they don’t want to feel like they are in it. But to me, a game has to have the elements of a good book. It needs to have good characters that you can relate to and it needs to have immersive elements to make you feel a part of the adventure. Because really, how can you truly take pleasure in defeating a hard boss if it’s just a game? I can’t. And that’s what they did best with this game. They made it more than a game. They made it an experience.
Rating: 9.0

Ratings Summary

Story: 7.0
Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 9.0
Control: 6.5
Replayability: 6.0
Balance: 6.0
Originality: 6.0
Addictiveness: 5.0
Appeal Factor: 6.5
Miscellaneous: 9.0

Average: 7.0

Short Attention Span Summary
While this game will not appeal to everyone, it is definitely a must for action adventure fans. Comparisons to games such as Devil May Cry and Rygar is a given, and it’s certainly not bad company to be in. The game takes many aspects from the original Castlevania titles and revamps them, and though it doesn’t have the RPG aspects that I’ve grown so fond of, it does live up to the name Castlevania. Though flawed somewhat, the game does accomplish what it set out to, and is the perfect starting point for a new generation of Castlevania titles. Does that mean the end of the 2D versions? I hope not, because personally I think they should make both. So rent the game and give it a shot.