Review by Figboy
"An admirable 3D start to a classic 2D series"
Castlevania has long since been one of my all time favorite gaming series since I first laid eyes on it back in 1988. Since then, I’ve tried my best to play, if not get my hands on, most of the games in the series. The first one I actually owned being Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, still one of my favorites. Now, here we are, nearly two decades later, and Castlevania is being reborn in the third dimension. Sure there have been numerous attempts to do this, but all have failed thus far to capture the true essence of what a Castlevania game is supposed to be. Granted I was a bit disappointed when I found out the PS2 game would be in 3D, and though Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is not the pinnacle of Castlevania gaming we hoped for, it’s a dang good start.
To put it simply, this game is beautiful, and definitely brings to mind the hauntingly gothic castle in Capcom’s Devil May Cry, but as you’ll see a bit later, the similarities really end there. Every detail of the castle’s environments and characters are superbly crafted and animated, from the lowly bats to the gigantic Cyclops. As for our hero, he moves with an elegance and grace reminiscent of Dante (okay, so the similarities didn’t end with the castle), and he certainly knows how to handle his whips. His acrobatics are impressive to watch, and pulled off with style. The textures in the castle are some of the best I’ve seen in a PS2 game, and ranks up there with Silent Hill and Metal Gear, two of my other Konami favorites. The game looks and moves good. My only complaint is that the rooms, while beautiful, look way too similar sometimes, often causing navigational confusion, and plenty of switching back and forth from the map screen.
Easily the most important factor of a video game next to gameplay, Lament of Innocence does not disappoint, though I do have a few gripes that I’ll address in a bit. Leon, the first in the Belmont clan’s line of vampire hunters, controls superbly, and his numerous attacks and defensive maneuvers are incredibly easy to pull off. The jumping can be a bit spotty, but thankfully, there isn’t too much of that, and mercifully, the falls you’re guaranteed to make aren’t fatal. The main gripe I have is the complete lack of player control over the camera. Even just a simple button press to center the camera behind Leon when navigating corridors would’ve been nice. Or maybe a first person view to scope out your surroundings. I’ll go more into the camera issues in the Gameplay section, otherwise, this game controls like a 3D game should; with the smoothness and ease of it’s 2D forefathers.
Quite possibly the best part of the game, though I did wish that there were more tracks to listen to. The score is dynamic, dramatic, and downright haunting in some parts (the castle entrance music is quite chilling when played at night with the lights off.). The music isn’t as great as the seminal Symphony of the Night, but it is definitely on par with it, and can hold up to the benchmark set by it. The sound effects are great as well; a mix of newer effects, with some classic Castlevania staples thrown in, like the whooshing of the Axe Armors axes being hurled at our hero, or the squeaking of the bats. The cracks of Leon’s whip are satisfyingly sharp, and the resulting impact upon your enemies is wonderfully pleasing to the ears. While all of that is great, I must admit that the voice acting isn’t very good. It’s not even close to being as bad as the “Die, monster! You don’t belong in this world!” of Symphony of the Night, but it’s definitely not Metal Gear caliber. Thankfully, you have the option to switch to Japanese dialogue with English subtitles (which is how I’ve been playing the game, thus far. Though I wonder if the Japanese think their voice actors suck, and the English one’s are great. Though here it’s vice versa. Hmmm.).
Here we are. The part of a game that makes it or breaks it. And luckily, Lament of Innocence does an admirable job pulling it off, despite the unyielding pressure from fans and the like. While some can simply say that the game plays like a 3D version of Symphony of the Night, I tend to disagree. While the game does have some of Symphony’s mechanics, such as items, and weapons and armor to collect, the game reminds me more of the very early Castlevania games. It seems to me like Konami has done a very bare boned approach to making this game. Sure you get orbs to mix and match with your different sub-weapons to cause more powerful attacks, and different whips, but the gameplay definitely boils down to just a man, his whip, and Dracula’s castle. And isn’t that what Castlevania really is? I think it was a very smart choice for Konami to do the game this way. It’s not as simple as the first Castlevanias, but it is also not as overwhelmingly deep as Symphony of the Night. It is a good mix of the old with the new. I think it’s a great reintroduction of the series to Next Gen home consoles, and a good building block for future titles in the series, of which I hope there are many (and hopefully one will boast the return of Alucard, by far one of the coolest characters in the Castlevania mythos.). The game is pure action, with some heavy exploration thrown in for good measure, and it really is quite fun. Traipsing about the large castle, battling Dracula’s minions and searching for secrets is enjoyable, though, due to a sometimes funky camera, it’s hard to see hidden ledges and rooms, that are sometimes important to continue your quest. I found myself entering a room and hopping up and down just to try and get the camera to move to a desired angle. Which really makes Leon look kind of silly. The real time windows that you use to equip your character is a little strange at first, but after a while, you find yourself navigating it with ease, even while in the middle of some intense battles, of which there are many. Though Leon controls great, you can’t interrupt combos in the middle of their attack, though an enemy can, by bashing you a good one, costing precious health points and interrupting your flow on your desired target. There is also plenty of tedious backtracking, though I can handle that most of the time, and I’ve bypassed it mainly by using Magical Tickets, an item that warps Leon back to Rinaldo’s hut outside the castle. I wish Konami would’ve put warp points throughout the castle like in Symphony of the Night, as some of the levels can be very large. But despite those gripes the game is a blast to play and look at.
Replay Value: 7/10
Though I’ve finally finished the game, there is still a few challenges that I’ve yet to overcome (I only have a 97% search ratio, and I just can’t have that.). There seems to be more items for me to collect, and hidden, playable characters to unlock, a la Richter in Symphony of the Night. The game is somewhat on the short side; A player can definitely beat it in one go on a weekend at most, though it can take considerably longer to finish, if the player decides to seek out all of the castles secrets. I’ve already logged more than 16 hours of play (though I think that’s more to my complete ineptitude at finding things the first time through. I’ve done waaaay too much tedious backtracking.), and I fired the game up again after beating it this first time, which is a rare thing for me. It’s that fun. If you enjoy Castlevania as much as I do, whether from way back when, or with the awesome GBA games, you’ll really dig Lament of Innocence. Konami has definitely done what they set out do, which was craft a Castlevania game worthy of it’s predecessors, in 3D no less, and set the stage for even more ambitious and deep games in future installments.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/28/03
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