Review by Taladryel

"A worthy series entry but with noticeable problems"

So I picked up my brand-spanking-new copy of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, played it to about 40% completion (3.5-4 hours at a moderate pace) and wanted to share my impressions with the gaming public...I'll try to make this as comprehensive as possible.

Graphics - 8/10
The in-game graphics are actually quite similar to Capcom's Devil May Cry and Onimusha 2. In fact, the main character somehow reminds me of Dante... In any case, both the backgrounds and the enemies are very nicely detailed. Some of the rooms/corridors could use a bit more lighting but overall there aren't any glaring issues that I could find.

On the other hand, some of the graphics in the interface/menus/map look like they were ''ported'' from PS1's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (and resized for the PS2) and as such look a bit outdated. I personally didn't mind much, but I know some will.

Music/Sound - 7/10
The sounds are just what you would expect from a slash'em-up platformer. Very unintrusive, despite some repetitiveness. I have a distinct impression that one or two of the combat sounds were actually ported from PS1's Symphony of the Night (SotN), but cannot positively confirm this just yet.

Music - I haven't heard nearly all of the themes yet, but the range so far is ''average'' to ''decent''. The track for the first ''castle'' level is worthy of the excellent SotN soundtrack, but subsequent tracks aren't quite as memorable...hopefully this will pick up again as I progress further into the game. Also, this ain't Xenosaga and the London Symphony Orchestra - just your regular synths.

Camera and Controls - 3/10 and 10/10 respectively
First, let me say that the control scheme has been implemented very well - in fact, despite the character's far greater mobility (in 3D, no less) and a much larger repertoir of special moves, the controls are just about as intuitive as they were in Symphony of the Night. The newfangled ''real-time'' menus for item use/equipment switching are very easy to use after a few tries (even in the middle of a boss fight). In fact, the only ''issue'' I have is that you can only switch weapons/armour/orbs in ''real-time'' (rather than from the Equipment menu as is customary).

However. The camera, while not horrific, isn't anything to write home about. First off, there are NO camera controls. At all. Not even to center it. Which by itself wouldn't be too bad, except that combat tends to be rather dynamic; that is, oftentimes you'll have enemies coming at you from multiple directions with different attacks to counter/avoid, and the camera will only show you half of them. This isn't quite as annoying in most ''rooms'', since there is enough space for maneuver/etc., but it's a real murder in corridors. Several times I found myself running ''south'' (facing the player), knowing that there are some sorts of enemies ''in front'' of the character and having no way of knowing who/what they were until I literally ran into or past them. Very unsettling. The jumping puzzles are also not helped by the awkward camera angle, and good luck trying to scan a given room for items/ledges/etc.

Boss fights are easier (the camera tends to center on the boss), but on the whole Konami could have done a whole lot better. Call me spoiled by the cameras in Ratchet&Klank and Kingdom Hearts...

Story - 6/10
You are a knight called Leon (Squall?!!). The local vampire decided to have some fun with you by kidnapping your betrothed and daring you to come get her. So off you go (after dutifully leaving home all of your weapons and relying on the charity of a whip-making stranger...). Standard fare, in other words. [Oh, and there are whispered rumours of a Super Whip...]

Gameplay - 8/10
Arguably the most important aspect of play. First off, the rating doesn't incorporate the whole Camera issue - that's been dealt with above. Overall, this thing is like Symphony of the Night in 3D (if you haven't played SotN, I suggest you pick up a copy - they're cheap nowadays - and have a run through, it's an excellent 2D platformer...). If you liked SotN, you'll like Lament of Innocence.

Combos are multitudinous and very easy to pull off (unlike some spells in SotN); one thing I haven't quite figured out yet is the ''combo unlock'' pattern (number of kills, game progression, etc.); so far I have ''randomly'' gained 5-6 out of a possible 20-30 moves. Besides unlockable combos you can mix the Light/Heavy attacks up to produce very effective ''mini-combos''. On top of that, Castlevania Special Weapons are back - and when enhanced with different orbs can produce a wide variety of effects. And on top of THAT you've got magical relics that can be used to temporarily enhance your abilities...[Though this latter element is a bit useless since to use the Relics you need to build up Mana by blocking enemy attacks - and most of the time you can just hack away with combos/Special Weapons without worrying much about blocking.]

Linearity has been mentioned with regards to this game - well, the plot is somewhat linear (kill x Bosses to get to Big Boss), but there seems to be a lot of optional stuff thrown in. The 5 ''core'' levels can be done in any order (there is at least one additional pre-Dracula level - in the castle dungeons - that I haven't figured out how to unlock yet), which can be a good or a bad thing; I don't advise venturing into the Waterfall Level until you are somewhat experienced/built up. Within the levels themselves, there are many rooms that are not on the ''boss path'', and some that you can't enter until later on in the game. In other words, the game is linear but only to a point.

Jumping puzzles have improved in complexity (thanks to the ability to ''whip-jump'') but are relatively rare and in any case the camera tends to make things more difficult than they should be.

Two readily discernible gameplay issues - first, the game seems to be too short. After 3.5 hours my completion percentage is already 40% - that's with 2.5 levels done - and I'm taking my time exploring and taking every side path. Second, the difficulty level isn't very high at all. Your character's stats don't really improve unless you change your equipment - yet I've managed to blow through 2.5 levels on only one armour and health upgrade. Readily available potions make even boss fights long but not overly difficult. On top of that, once you cleared a given room once (unlocking the exits), the next time you go through you can just run past the enemies (saving both time and health). Nor are most enemies very annoying if you don't let them surround you (and the few who do give you trouble can be usually dealt with by the Special Weapons).

In other words, the game isn't quite as easy as SotN was, but it isn't very easy to die. Aside from these two issues (length and difficulty level) and the ever-annoying camera, gameplay is pretty solid.

Buy or Rent
If you liked SotN, a definite buy. Otherwise, rent it and see if you can deal with the camera/other issues or just try to beat the entire game in a single week-end - a real possibility!

Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/22/03

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