Review by kristina kim
"A Castlavania for a new generation of gamers feels as old as the series itself"
Castlevania is without a doubt one of the most endearing videogame franchises. The gothic horror atmosphere was always accompanied by excellent music and awesome gameplay. The series has evolved over time, naturally, as all games should be expected to do. It's startling quantum leap on the Playstation - a system renowned for it's capability at manipulating polygons was host to one of the best side-scrolling, old-school games ever. Taking a hint from one of the most finely crafted videogames ever, Super Metroid, Symphony of the Night won the hearts of gamers everywhere with it's combination of rock-solid gameplay while at the same time taking advantage of the PSX's audio and visual prowess to produce one of the most aesthetically stunning games of the 32-bit era. The next evolution of the Castlevania franchise has now arrived, without any regard to it's N64 brethren, in full 3-D glory. Is it everything that long-time Castlevania fans will be able to enjoy, as well as being something to attract a new generation to the classic Konami legacy?
If there is one company that knows how to tap into the power of the Playstation 2, it is Konami. After the graphical masterpiece that is Metal Gear Solid 2, little can be seen to top what has already been done with the system. Perhaps in a classic case of overachievement, Konami has once again outdone itself. Not satisfied with simply delivering a technically stunning game with me-too graphics which could be tailor made to any game, LOI conveys the same sense of atmosphere which has been key in the appeal of the series. The frame rate moves with incredible speed, with no noticeable slowdown or stutter. The spell and weapon effects are awesome, all of which are rendered with incredible smoothness and beauty. Everything has been rendered in an extremely sharp and detailed fashion such that moving closer to the camera actually draws out finer details from the game. The engine shares a lot of similarities with Devil May Cry - the game's areas may not be vast and expansive but are divided into highly detailed small subsections. Movement between each room is also lightning quick with no noticeable load time. The game is divided into 5 smaller sub-sections, each of which has it's own theme that's omnipresent throughout each level, each of which is so distinct and impressive that they could be used to form a game of their own. The richly detailed graphics continue the heritage of Castlevania games.
Again, in what seems to be an indomitable will to surpass their previous efforts, the team at Konami has outdone their impressive score for SOTN with the music found in LOI. As always, there is the pipe organ constantly playing somewhere in the background, as well as Gregorian chants to darken the mood. Some of the music may seem out of place, such as the boss music which belongs more in a nightclub than it does in a Castlevania game, but overall it can't be said that any of the game's music is a poor effort. LOI carries on the tradition of excellent music combined with a great visual experience to draw the player further into the experience of the game.
In many ways, LOI carries on the past traditions of the Castlevania series extremely well - it's extremely well-polished graphics and superb sound as well as it's stunning atmosphere and character make it a worthy successor to the name. Aesthetic experience is part of the overall appeal of the Castlevania series, and LOI can't be mistaken for anything else. Regarding the actual gameplay that takes place, perhaps it would have been best to leave the past where it belongs. The formula for Castlevania that was seen many moons ago, which was irrevocably altered with it's PSX incarnation in SOTN, makes a jarring and startling comeback. Castlevania is now once again little more than moving in a sideways pattern, occasionally making tricky jumps, well-timed whips to anchors, whipping candles to get hearts, and mowing down endless rows of enemies to face down a boss. While these elements were present in SOTN, they were merely the framework for an even deeper role-playing and exploratory gameplay structure. With those excellent RPG elements lost, the game feels surprisingly shallow now - there's no incentive to stay and fight enemies unless it's absolutely necessary to your progress. Learning new skills is the result of pre-determined checkpoints in the game to balance new enemy encounters, and their discovery does little to actually motivate progress in the game. There is a complex magic/item system, which does add some variety, but most techniques are fairly similar in their execution, with very little actual variety. There is a large enemy variety, more so than seen in most action games of late, all of which have varying patterns, but they can largely be ignored and simply defeated using the same attack patterns repeatedly - our hero Leon attacks quickly and with a strong fervor. The level design also needs work - every level is designed such that exploration and backtracking are necessary to successfully complete each area. However, this quickly becomes tedious as there's no real goal to be achieved other than reaching the end of the level, in which case a linear level design would have been much more fitting, and would have rendered the oft-used auto map function completely unnecessary. Some areas lead to items and weapons that are useful to your quest, but they are not necessary to complete the game, nor are they even necessary to progress through the game. There are secrets areas here and there, but they're so esoteric, few and far between, and difficult to discover that calling them secrets is a gross underestimation. LOI is now but a shallow action game, not even in the same vein of it's spiritual-offspring-turned-inspiration Devil May Cry, which had much more variety in combat as well as sporting gameplay that was much more difficult and required the mastery of techniques. There is no such learning curve in LOI - the beginning of the game plays no differently than the end, and it's all the same in between.
That's not to say that it's a bad game. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence just ends up being average. The graphics and sounds will amaze you, surely, but the gameplay ends up feeling very flat after only slightly progressing through the first area. Even those pursuing strictly an arcade-action experience would be better off with other titles in the PS2 library that promise less redundant gameplay and will truly pose a challenge. It's somewhat of a disappointment that the team responsible for the remarkable SOTN - a game that took elements of games that were adored and adorned it with even more excellent qualities, wrapping it in the heart of a Castlevania game - made LOI, a game that by all means is not any more complex than any game that predates the PSX. In their rush to create a game that could appeal to a potential new generation of Castlevania fans, Konami fervently attempted to recreate the heart of Castlevania; in that measure, they have succeeded admirably. However, what this game is lacking is a soul.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/30/04
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