Review by DrLight66

"A better 3D Castlevania, and a glimpse of things to come"

A couple years ago, to the horror of many Castlevania fans, Konami released a 3D version of it's long running series on the Nintendo 64, aptly titled Castlevania 64. The game served as evidence in many fans' minds that the gothic vampire killing series should remain 2D, as the game suffered from clunky controls, bad camera angles, and a very poor combat system. Konami later released an upgrade of that game which featured a few new levels and new characters, but nothing drastic. (UPDATE: Actually, upon playing Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness quite a bit, I've found it to be a much improved version of Castlevania 64, and the upgrades make for a very enjoyable game)

So, when Konami announced that they were creating another 3D Castlevania game, this time for the Playstation 2, fans had good reason to worry. However, this installment was being directed by the same guy responsible for Symphony of the Night, considered to be the best game of the series; but that game was 2D. So, how exactly did Lament of Innocence turn out? Pretty good, actually.

Story:

In past Castlevania games, it's been deja vu over and over as far as the plot is concerned. Dracula and his castle have risen again, and as part of the Belmont clan, it's your destiny to go and put an end to his evil hijinx.

However, Lament of Innocence is a little different this time around. The game is supposed to explain how all of the above got started, and it does, in a choppy and vague manner. I haven't completed the entire game yet, but I'm about 70% through, and here's what I understand so far. You are Leon Belmont, some fancy knight of the throne. One day, you learn that your girlfriend has been kidnapped and taken to Castlevania, so you go and try to rescue her. On your way to the castle, you meet a mysterious old man named Rinaldo. After chatting with him for a while, he tells you that he'd like to help you in your quest to rescue your girlfriend, and he gives you a magical whip to aid you in your travels. From there on up to what I've played, there really hasn't been anything else to the plot. Honestly, the story has never been Castlevania's strong point, and this game is no exception.

Graphics:

The graphics in this game are very good. In fact, the textures and character models look remarkably similar to those of Devil May Cry. The whole entire game runs at a fluid 60 frames per second, with absolutely no slowdown, even when there's a million things going on the screen at once.

Enemies, especially the huge bosses, are very well detailed and have the appropriate ''look''. You'll recognize most of the enemies in this from previous Castlevania games, but there are a bunch of new ones as well. Also, I must add that Medusa is one of the coolest looking bosses of any game, ever.

Special effects in this game are excellent as well. All of the magical attacks are very big and very pretty, and you can tell that Konami put a lot of time into making these.

Now, the level design in this game is something that I felt could have been much much better. The different areas of the castle simply aren't creative enough. When you enter a hub, such as the House of Sacred Remains, you'll first think to yourself ''Wow, this place looks cool.'' However, after running around in it for short while, you'll definitely notice that a lot of the rooms look exactly like one another. You'll go through a million hallways that look exactly alike, and ditto for the rest of the rooms. The hallways and rooms are well detailed, with paintings on the walls and such, but they are overused, and if it weren't for your map, you would easily get disoriented. Basically, you'll be thinking to yourself ''Hey, haven't I been here before, like a million times already?''.

When you enter a new world, you'll notice that while the atmosphere has been changed a bit, the structure of the levels are still the same. You'll run through either long hallways, or large square shaped rooms. In fact, anyone who's played Shinobi on the Playstation 2 will know exactly what I'm talking about. To make it blunt, the level design of this game is pretty bland, and really shows the limits of the PS2's power.

Sound:

One thing that Castlevania is famous for is it's great music. Symphony of the Night perhaps has the greatest soundtrack of any video game ever. Lament of Innocence on the other hand, doesn't have the great score that I was expecting. The first level of the game has that great symphonic sound that the series is known for, but other than that one song, there really isn't much to write home about. While the rest of the songs are all symphonic, they are kind of monotonous and unmemorable.

The sound effects, on the other hand, are great. Everything sounds exactly how it should, from statues crumbling to the footsteps of the giant axe lords to the whip of, well, your whip.

Controls:

The controls of your character are perfect. They are extremely smooth and you shouldn't have a problem getting used to them at all, especially if you've ever played Devil May Cry. Pulling off combos is easy, and you won't have trouble with your character locking onto the wrong enemy during combat. You'll be jumping onto platforms and whipping yourself across poles with ease.

There are two problems, however, with the interface of this game. One, is that you have no control over the camera whatsoever. While the camera gives you a clear view of the action 95% of the time, there are moments in the game where you'll wish that you could go change the camera angle.

Secondly, is going through your inventory. You cannot pause the game to use items or equip weapons and armor. Instead, you must do it during the game itself. This puts you in a lot of unfair situations, especially when facing bosses. During a fight, if you want to heal yourself, you have to go through your inventory manually and try and hurry and find that potion, all the while standing still and putting yourself at huge risk of getting clobbered. The same goes true for equipping orbs and relics and etc.

Gameplay:

Lament of Innocence's gameplay can be summed up in two words: dungeon crawling. Sadly, it really is that simple.

As you enter Castlevania, you are given 5 dungeons to explore. When you defeat the bosses of all 5 dungeons, you can then advance further in the castle. You can choose to enter the 5 dungeons in any order, although you'll probably want to go through the easier ones first. As you go through each one, you'll find yourself running around the same generic looking rooms, trying to find switches to hit so that you can advance further in the dungeon and eventually make it to the boss. This is pretty much the core of Lament's gameplay. It isn't very deep, although it could have been.

Now, there are a few rpg elements featured in Castlevania. As you repeatedly use combos on enemies, you'll unlock new combos to use. Also, as you enter certain hidden rooms, you'll acquire new equipment and skills. However, none of these are needed to complete the game.

Lament of Innocence is missing two very important elements that SotN featured. First, there isn't an experience point system. This creates a huge problem, as Lament features an excellent combat system, but doesn't give you a very good reason to go around fighting enemies. It would be so much fun to level up your stats by defeating enemies, but sadly, this isn't the case. And since enemies only drop gold or lousy items such as potions or serums, you'll find yourself avoiding fighting them whenever you have the chance.

SotN made finding new skills and items fun by sealing off areas of the game unless you acquired those skills or items. In Lament, pretty much the whole entire game is accessible right off the bat, except of course the last area. Aside from a few hidden rooms, you don't need any new skills or anything to advance through the game.

One other POTENTIAL (I have yet to finish the game) problem with the game is length. I've been playing it for 10 hours or so, and I already have 70% completion. However, from what I understand, after you beat the game, you can then go through it again and try to get 100%. I'm not sure how this works, but I've read that it adds about 8 hours to the game.

Summary:

Lament of Innocence is a fun game, and it's a huge leap over the N64 installments of the series, but it could have been just so much better. Had the game featured an experience point system and better level design, I would have given this game a much higher score.

Pros:

+ Deep combat system
+ Nice graphics
+ Monsters are cool
+ Lots of hidden areas
+ Controls are excellent

Cons:

- No Experience point system
- Music is disappointing
- Rather bland dungeon design
- Too much generic dungeon crawling

Buy or Rent:

If you're looking for an above average action/adventure game, you may want to pick this up. However, you could probably finish the entire game by renting it twice. So, it's really up to you.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/28/03, Updated 04/21/08

Game Release: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (US, 10/21/03)


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