Review by mrcaliche
When a painter creates something that people deem his masterpiece but then decides to keep on painting, people will continue to compare all of his following works to it, the problem is that a painter cannot keep painting the same picture over and over again, otherwise it will not only lose its effect and its originality, but it will also make people wonder why they chose that painting as his masterpiece in the first place, when it seems he can only keep repeating himself over and over again and that his talents don't extend beyond what he accomplished with that one painting.
Had Konami chosen to make Castlevania: Lament of Innocence within the tried and true style of Symphony of the Night (Considered by most the very definition of a classic, and the line that defined a before and after for the series) it would've only been Konami showing lack of imagination and creativity. Instead they completely redesigned the game, and decided to bring some of the style from the latest games, new improvements, and a definite taste of classic Castlevania gameplay dating back to the 8-bit days. This comes as no surprise given that Konami is probably one of the few videogame companies that does not enjoy repetition and has a lot of respect for their franchises, therefore not bringing out games that feel rushed and with no attention to detail, or that do not meet Konami's high standards of quality (Castlevania: Resurrection being cancelled, anyone?).
Castlevania: LOI is one of the most entertaining games I've played in a while, as well as a game I had been waiting for since 1997 when SOTN came out. And boy, does it deliver a satisfying end for such a long wait. The game is not perfect though, there are some issues that Konami should keep in mind for further installments, but for the first venture in 3D since the Nintendo 64 letdowns, and for the first Castlevania game in a next-gen system, this game deserves nothing short of praise. But if you need for me to say it in order to be happy, I'll say it: No, it's not better than Symphony of the Night overall, but it IS better in a lot of aspects, and places itself right up there in a nice second place.
On to the score, people.
Story has never been the driving force behind a Castlevania game, usually they just give you a start, or a reason why you're in a demon-infested castle fighting demons instead of home watching your TV--er, fireplace (there were no TV's in those days); and an ending to close the story, which usually consisted of you standing on a cliff as Dracula's castle crumbled...and that was usually about it.
Given that Lament of Innocence was supposed to tell you how it all BEGAN, you know: Castlevania, the Belmont Clan, why a freakin' whip, etc, etc; it was needed for the game to have a little more depth to it. In my opinion it does give you a nice story (better than Symphony of the Night, for those who require comparisons) that has some really nice twists and very interesting (if not downright disturbing) aspects to it. It completely steps away from the usual Castlevania fare, probably because, well, it IS supposedly the first one. Here's one that will not spoil the story for you but that you probably won't want to read if you want to be shocked: NO DRACULA?!?! I was amazed by this, but not necessarily hurt, the story is good enough so that such a thing doesn't matter.
Anyway, the story is about a man named Leon Belmont (There just HAD to be a Belmont named Leon at some point or another, I just knew it) and his friend Mathias Cronqvist. They're knights who fight for the Church. When Mathias' girlfriend is killed and Leon's girlfriend is kidnapped, Leon has no choice but to defy the Church's orders of not going into battle and renounces his knight title to go to the Woods of Eternal Night to look for her. Here he finds that his betrothed being kidnapped is nothing but an invitation from a vampire named Walter Bernhard, who inhabits Castlevania, to a twisted game in which Leon would have to defeat him in order to recover her; a game that has been played by Walter many times and has been won by no man. A mysterious man Named Rinaldo Gandolfi explains this to him and, upon Leon's insistence in going to Castlevania, Rinaldo decides to help him by giving him the hallowed Whip of Alchemy that will destroy the hordes of the underworld; and so, the story begins.
The way the story flows is very nice, and the game provides a very satisfying ending that, as most of us expected, doesn't really close and leaves a lot of things open for future Castlevania games, but provides all you need to know how the Belmont Clan's history started.
The graphics in this game are excellent, each character is modeled in a very detailed manner. The monsters and demons you fight are pretty much the same ones that we have come to know from every single Castlevania game to date (And some new monsters join the cast) but modeled in such a great way that you can actually see these monsters as actual creatures of the night, not just a badly animated drawing pasted in front of the background to be a nuisance. You can actually see flies buzzing around the zombies, the shape of each bone in the skeletons' body. The way some monsters vanish in an explosion of blood when they're defeated is jaw-dropping, especially when this happens over water, then you see the individual drops blood fall into the water and dissolve. The backgrounds are amazingly detailed and they are drawn in the same gothic style that we've come to expect from the Castlevania series: ornaments, paintings, torches, everything designed with great attention to detail. When you move by windows you can see dust and mist floating slowly in the moonlight that's coming in through them. You can see reflections of light and shapes on the metal armors of armored enemies. In short, this game is beautiful and graphically stunning. Konami is to be commended for the graphical work in this game. There is one particular boss in the game that is about three screens tall, it is the most disgusting thing you have ever seen, it is grotesque, ugly and to be perfectly honest, it's quite painful to watch, I was impressed at this monster, because for such a huge creature it had an amazing amount of detail to it.
The only problem I can actually find with the graphics is repetition. It feels as though the developing team made an effort to make the game look as good as it possibly could, but forgot that besides quality there should be variety. When you enter a stage it has a very distinct look to it, and it will look AMAZING, and the atmosphere and personalized style of each stage are breathtaking; the problem is that what you see in the first or second room or hallway of a stage will be pretty much the ONLY thing you'll see for the entire stage. Sure, there are a couple of rooms in each stage that are completely different and don't look like anything else in the stage, but sadly that's not enough. Given the sheer length of these stages (They are HUGE) they should've thought about adding some variety. The other thing is the enemies; there's a big amount of enemies in the game, and they all look stunning; the problem is that the game has roughly fifteen basic enemies and the rest of them are just variations of the same enemy with different colors and with some new things added; so HERE I will have to do what I hated so much and blatantly compare the game to SOTN, where there were literally hundreds of enemies; and while I'm comparing, I'll dare say that, regarding the backgrounds issue, in SOTN each stage had something in it that made you feel like it was very original and you had never seen it before (Moonlight effects in Olrox's Quarters; depth effects in the chapel section of the Royal Chapel) but there's no such thing here, most of it is pretty standard.
So in other words, the graphics are amazing, superb and outstanding; but they could use some of the woah! effect that Konami is known to put into its games.
Castlevania is a series famous for its soundtracks. A Castlevania game without beautiful tunes to go with it would be something unforgivable to its fans, which is probably one of many reasons why most fans of the series developed antibodies against Castlevania 64 and Legacy of Darkness. Sure ambient sounds are cool, but in a Castlevania game, they're just boring.
Thankfully, the fact that Castlevania: LoT was a new attempt at a 3D game didn't mean that they would go with the boring sound, the same composer for Symphony of the Night has composed a mesmerizing soundtrack that should leave every person who enjoys Castlevania tunes extremely satisfied. The music played during Garden Forgotten by Time is particularly amazing. As always, you can expect nods to previous Castlevania tunes around the end of the game, the cool thing is that they're so nicely interwoven into a song, that only if you've heard them and know them by heart will you be able to recognize them. Each boss has his/her/its own theme that plays while you're fighting it, not really a standard theme for all boss fights, and it's usually a song that'll get your blood pumping. Voice acting is very well done here, and though there are not really any award-winning performances, the acting is well above average (None of that atrocious acting like the one from the boat man in SOTN).
For some reason, though, the acting for the female characters and Death is just bearable. Probably what hurts the soundtrack is the fact that there are very few tunes, probably because of the fact that there are fewer sections of the game, but what the game has is top-notch; you can tell that they composed these music with the stages entire design in mind, as well as thinking of the sheer hugeness of these stages. Kudos to Konami for an amazing soundtrack.
This is where the game really shines. Leon is very agile, his attacks with the whip look cool beyond words and it's entertaining as hell to be swinging away at endless hordes of monsters. Now, this is one thing I really liked about the game: the monsters aren't just simple-minded creatures that'll stand in one spot repeating the same pattern over and over again, like in most other Castlevania games; in this game, when you walk into a room, there'll already be a bunch of monsters inside already, which will NOT wait for you to come to them, they will go into attack mode immediately, greatly increasing the realism of the battles, as well as the challenge. Speaking of challenge, the game is relatively difficult, not so much that you will be frustrated screaming obscenities at the screen in every tongue spoken by man, in fact, for a seasoned player it won't be difficult at all, but it will at least provide enough challenge so that you won't feel like the monsters are mere pushovers; so if you're used to the skeletons and most other monsters dying in one or two hits, you're in for a surprise.
Konami decided to do away with the level-up system and chose a different path, in Lament of Innocence, Leon learns combos as he advances and the combos are incredibly useful in the later levels of the game which can be quite challenging, not to mention that the moves look incredible. Leon will acquire accessories and relics with different purposes, new whips (including a now-legendary whip), and get a load of this: you will obtain orbs as you defeat bosses, and depending on the orb you have equipped, your sub-weapon (knife, axe, holy water, cross and crystal) will perform a completely different attack, and most of these are incredibly useful.
The fact that the main character can no longer level-up, though to some gamers might seem like a step back, is an excellent idea. Because how fun is it to get to a boss in the game and realize your level is so high you can beat him in three hits or less? This was well thought out and I hope they keep it this way; though it's kind of a double-edge sword, because the leveling up was a good reason to continue fighting monsters even when you revisited cleared parts of the game; but I'd rather have a good boss fight any day than an easy fight. Speaking of which, the boss fights are amazing, and this is an obvious statement, given that we're speaking of Konami, who design the best boss fights in the universe. They're incredibly fun, quite challenging and are definite high points in the game.
One thing that can be considered either good or bad is the fact that we no longer have a Metroid-style game, in which you go around exploring every single room in a full castle with an actual castle map (a la SOTN); instead, Konami has chosen to make an intro stage followed by a room with five portals, each portal is a different stage (located at no specific place in the castle, which is the thing I dislike about this method) which can be explored in any order you like and as many times as you like, and after the five stages are cleared, you will have access to the final stage. Okay, I'll have to admit that I liked better to be traveling throughout the castle, knowing what place in the castle each different stage was located in, it gave you a sense of space and depth of the castle that was unmatched and it gave you that feeling of man, this place is huge but the portal way also works well, why? well simply because it feels as though you're playing one of the old games in it being stage-based, but still being able to explore each stage in its entirety, and huge stages they are. So, in my opinion, Konami just chose to make a different style of game, and it works just fine, but the expansive exploration of the other most recent titles would've been more enjoyable.
This is a worthy successor of SOTN and a worthy addition to the Castlevania series, no real player can afford to NOT have this game in his collection. It's an amazing game, it is incredibly entertaining, with high production values and an amazing soundtrack. The little flaws it might have are things that you're probably going o notice, but they definitely WILL NOT diminish the experience at all. This game is a masterpiece, a different masterpiece from Symphony of the Night, but that's what makes it a masterpiece, the fact that it dares to be different from what everybody expected and STILL manages to be excellent. The game is a little shorter than previous installments, but still worth every second of gameplay. Konami has placed itself on top of my list of favorite developers and it's because of games like this one that I will forever trust them when it comes to my choice of games. BUY this game, you'll never regret it and I promise you will play it long after it's over, with a hidden character you can use to beat the game once you've finished it you have a brand new way of walking through the cursed hallways and caves of Castlevania.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 11/22/03
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