The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Publisher: Titan Books
Cost: $34.95 ($25.79 at Amazon.com)
Release Date: 03/04/2014
Get it Here: Amazon.com
I was actually kind of surprised that Titan Books did an art book for the Lords of Shadow franchise, especially since it all of Mercurysteam’s Castlevania games have been so critically panned. Sure the first Lords of Shadow sold exceptionally well, but that can be chocked up to people putting blind faith in a franchise and being horribly let down by the end product. I know that the first Lords of Shadow was unanimously derided by everyone on staff here at Diehard GameFAN – which is actually a first. We’re usually a pretty varied bunch. I reviewed the PS3 version of the game while Mark reviewed the 360 version and we both had the same opinion of the game – that it sucked. Although I played far more of LoS1 than Mark, he was the one willing to go back and play the 3DS follow up – Mirror of Fate. Like many critics, Mark found that game to be even worse. Don’t just take our word for it. Even Mercurysteam and Konami are unhappy with the Lords of Shadow series and how bad the games are. Take a look for yourself. So again the question remains, why did this series get its own art book? Well, two reasons. The first is that art is not the video game and can be viewed on its own. The second is that obviously Konami is trying to squeeze every last drop of blood from the stone that it can with this. The end result is a book that is almost as disappointing as the games, with hilarious rewriting of history by Konami and the authors of this book, so bold faced lies about the product and a frank look at how little the company actually cares about the license or fan reaction. The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is as much a red flag about the series as it is an art book.
So let’s start with the long introduction, which is sure to offend many Castlevania fans including those that actually liked the Lords of Shadow games. Here you’ll find choice quotes about the series such as, “The hardcore audience was becoming more and more difficult to please. It was on its last legs really.” regarding the state of the franchise before the LoS reboot. There’s also praise for previous games made by the same team like Jericho, which like LoS was panned by fans and critics alike. Most telling about the introduction is that it and staff members from the project admit how panned Lords of Shadow was but that they simply didn’t care because it moved copies and that Konami outright doesn’t care about reaction to the game once someone has purchased it. While that is probably true for a lot of companies, there is something to be said for pride in the end product you put out and to read quotes like, “We had this fan backlash but at the end of the day, well, you know we sold more copies than any other Castlevania in history” or, “…you can never please them” regarding fans of the series, it’s a bit scary how much contempt oozes out from Konami towards Castlevania fans in this book. Especially since from where I sit in my position with the CV franchise, Castlevania fans are almost as easy to please as Mario and Legend of Zelda fans in that they tend to love everything that comes out for those franchises. No, what you’ll get from the introduction to The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is that Konami realizes they made a turkey and instead of blaming Mercurysteam for a bad product or themselves for allowing these games to go out to the general public, they’re almost blaming the fans for not lapping it up like it was a yearly Madden release. That’s both shocking and sad to see. It was and will be a real eye opener for those that read the introduction. If I was Konami, I’d hope that my fans DIDN’T get this book to see just how little they are thought of. Of course if I was Konami, I’d also do damage control, let go of the people quoted in this book and state that they didn’t speak for the company as a whole. However, that won’t happen, even in the face of the extremely scathing reviews LoS2 is getting.
So yes, the introduction is pretty insane akin to Sega’s marketing of Shining Force Neo in which it badmouthed the previous entries in the series in an attempt to make people believe the then latest release was THE BEST EVER, only to have things totally fall apart, but what about the rest of the art book? You know, that actually showcases art from the three Lords of Shadow games? Well, it contains eight chapters, but don’t expect to see a lot of art from LoS2 in the game. The book really focuses on the first Lords of Shadow game while briefly touching on LoS2 and Mirror of Fate. It makes sense to focus on the first game to a degree, as it keeps spoilers down and a lot of the end product of the art repeats throughout all three games. So don’t expect a third of the book to be devoted to each game. Rather there are specific aspects of the series that will be looked at here3.
Chapter One is “Gabriel” which makes sense as he is the protagonist of the game. His chapter is only six pages long but you get four full pages pictures of Mr. Belmont a half page picture in tribute to the original Castlevania art and some interesting notes and sketches. Most interesting is that Gabriel was originally meant to look and be like Reinhardt Schnieder from the N64 CV titles, but Kojima nixed that and sent Mercurysteam back to the drawing board. Makes you wonder what would happen.
Chapter Two is “Dracula,” which is how Gabriel spends the majority of his time in the Lords of Shadow franchise being. This chapter is twenty-five pages long and highlights the “love it or hate it” design that is the Mercurysteam Dracula, along with comments disparaging previous CV games for having light hearted moments or silly credits followed up by lines like, “There’s no room for such lightness in Lords of Shadow, where the tragedy of Gabriel Belmont is reflected in a more solemn, melancholy light, its Dracula wallowing forlornly in the dark. It’s a more serious depiction, crafted for a more serious tale.” Lord, I don’t know whether to tell the extremely emo authors of this book to stop trying to putting over LoS at the expense of the other games in the franchise or to point out this “OH SO DARK SERIES” has Chupacabra comic relief segments. Anyway, the art on the “Dracula” chapter ranges from extremely good to god awful. Art is subjective for sure, but there are some really bad pieces that look like they would get made fun of by teenage goths. At the same time the full page spread of Gabula on page 35 is one of the best pieces in the book. If anything the “Dracula” chapter highlights how bi-polar the Lords of Shadow franchise is, along with how over the top serious it takes itself. It’s also hilarious how the chapter’s author tries to avoid outright saying the name “Vlad Tepes” or saying the legend of Dracula was loosely cast around the mythical creature of the Dragon and not the real life Dracula and the ORDER of the Dragon to which his family belonged to. Some history and contextual folklore would have really helped the authors with writing this book.
Chapter Three is “The Belmont Family” and it’s here where you see the other Belmonts in the games like Trevor/Alucard. Yes, if you missed Mirror of Fate, they’re the same guy which has driven a few Dracula III and Symphony of the Night insane. Anyway, once again the art is all over the place with this one. My wife was really excited to see the Alucard art as at the time of LoS discussions, she was neither my wife nor living with me, so she didn’t get to see any of the stuff I signed off on for my usual Alucard royalty check. She turned right to those pages and her eager smile went to a frown the first words out of her mouth were, “What the hell is this crap?” I can’t say I disagree, especially with the Lords of Shadow 2 art design that is more befitting La Parka on roids than Alucard, but hey, sometimes you have to ride the train wreck all the wait out, right?
Besides the horrible Alucard artwork (although his wolf form is quite nice), the rest of the chapter is a mixed bag. Almost all of the adult art for Simon Belmont is fantastic, while the child art is a bit odd looking. Trevor only gets four pages on non Alucard art, and there isn’t a lot of detail or variety to any of it. You get some interesting conversations around the Mirror of Fate storyboards, like that it was supposedly heavily influenced by the film Memento. Meanwhile the get the further angsty emo kid commentary like “The melodrama and deep tragedy, however, are entirely MercurySteam’s own.” Ugh. At least tis section gives an homage to the cancelled Sega Dreamcast Castlevania game and gives a bit of a spoiler by having the intended protagonist for that game show up in LoS2.
Chapter Four, “Allies and Antagonists” is exactly what you would expect to see in a chapter with that name. Here you get to see a lot of the bosses faced in the series and their original inspiration. Younger or more casual gamers might not know Lycanthropic boss Cornell original came from Legacy of Darkness or that Carmilla first appeared in Simon’s Quest. Perhaps most interesting is when you get to the Zobek section and learn Patrick Stewart was not the first choice to voice him. Rather, Ian McKellen was. Oddly enough, this section doesn’t have a lot of art. You might get two pages or two pictures per character here. This will leave fans of the series wanting but when you have a lot of characters in a franchise to cover, the page count for each is going to be diluted.
So Chapter Four is hit or miss again artwise, but that’s pretty much true of the whole book. The commentary is one again hilariously bad though with lines like, “MercurySteam couldn’t have done better than placing Satan as Lords of Shadow‘s ultimate villain.” Because you know, that wasn’t the second most common complaint about the game after the terrible camera. I mean, I realize someone was paid to hype this and promote the games in a positive fashion, but there’s such a way to do things while keeping one’s journalistic integrity. Ouch. Other hilarious quotes come from Alvarez in regards to the titans he says were an homage to Shadow of the Colossus rather than a rip-off. “Many people say we copied them, but that’s not true – for every similarity, there are 100 differences.” Then there must be thousands and thousands of differences. Note the text doesn’t even try to name some of the differences, but a few pages later the book admits the Dracolich from Lords of Shadow bears “a strong visual resemblance to Phalanx” from Shadow of the Colossus. Oy. So bad. So very, very bad.
Chapter Five is “Whips and Chains” and it is four pages of well…whips and chains from the game. Chapter Six is “Supernatural Bestiary.” Here you will find models of most of the creatures in the game. It’s twenty eight pages of ghouls, Skeleton Warriors, Demon Lords and many other rank and file monsters. There are also some bosses in this section like the Toy Maker from Mirror of Fate. Again, views on art will vary because it’s SUCH a subjective topic, but this really is a letdown compared to the quality and quantity of art pieces in other Titan Books video game artbooks. It’s odd that Floating Head Zombies get more pictures and a full page when someone like The Lost Soul from Mirror of Fate get a single picture. Again, views on the game aside, this artbook could have been so much better.
Chapter Seven is “Locations and Environments” and this is both the penultimate chapter in the book and the biggest, coming in at forty pages. It’s odd to see the book admit that MercurySteam took a lot of the visual cues from Spain, which makes sense since they are a Spanish company…but Castlevania has always been a game whose roots are in Eastern Europe, which looks and feels a lot differently from Spain. The more you flip through this book, the odder the decisions and though process becomes. Other hilarious notes include the writer stating that it’s a HUGE BRAVE TWIST that Castle in Lords of Shadow doesn’t appear until the end part of the game. It’s not like LoS1 is the first game to do this. I’m pretty sure Simon’s Quest was mostly castle free until the end.
The art is “Locations and Environments” is the best in the book, although almost all of the art is conceptual drawings rather than what ended up in the end product. This is all well and good because it’s an art book after all, but don’t going into any of these games thinking what is in this chapter is akin to screenshots. There are some though, like a two page showcase of Mirror of Fate, Act II. Chapter Seven is definitely the highlight of Lhe Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and if the rest of the book was as detailed and well laid out as this one, I’d have been a lot more favorable to the experience.
The final chapter in the book is “The Modern Age” and like the rest of the book the text is hilariously awful and telling about the mindset of those involved with the game. My favorite quote from this Chapter? “Originally there were things about Lords of Shadow that we weren’t happy with.” Really? Only originally? Not afterwards when the reviews came in? In MercurySteam’s defense, this is the only time in the book they actually admit the game has issues instead of being some seminal work of art or the greatest Castlevania game yet. They spend two paragraphs derirding how bad the camera in LoS1 was for example. After that you get six pages of the modern day setting that is LoS2. There isn’t a lot of art showcased here, and so this section is a disappointment in quality and quantity. It’s also hilarious that once again the author behind this thing try to put LoS2 over by damning previous CV games. In this case by saying that while Aria and Dawn of Sorrow were also meant to be modern age Castlevania games, “Their transportation to a more modern age wasn’t as convincing.” Really? So even though those games are widely considered to be better than the LoS trilogy and have higher aggregate review scores, they really tried to say LoS2 was a better game than either in terms of look and storytelling. Oh man, sure that is probably someone’s opinion out there somewhere, but damn, when you try to sell opinion, especially one bought and sold for, as fact, you lose all credibility. Ugh. That’s honestly the last bit in the book – trying to say, Lords of Shadow 2 is a “Stand-Out Castlevania experience.” Oy vey.
So yes, if you’ve made it this far, you know that The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a terrible book in much the same way that the Lords of Shadow video games are held in low regard by many a gamer. Between the sparse art and strange decisions in this book and the text which talks down to the reader while coming off exceptionally pompous and arrogant towards Konami fans and Castlevania ones specifically, this book is the latest of many train wrecks caused in the wake of the whole Lords of Shadow franchise. Hell, I was embarrassed for Konami and Titan Books that this book was released. Usually Titan Books does a really good job with their video game art books, but this was just a horrible job in every way possible and everyone involved with it should be ashamed. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few nice pieces of art here and I learned a lot (too much?) about the mindset of Konami and MercurySteam with this book, but it really pales compared to what else Titan Books has put out in the last year or two. If you absolutely love what MercurySteam has done to Castlevania, you’ll probably want to pick this up while everyone else recoils in horror from this book in much the same manner that they seem to be reacting to Lords of Shadow 2. If you ever wanted to see how much disdain a company can publicly have towards the people who throw money at it, The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a fine place to start. For everyone else, just stay away.