Review by mayonaiserhino

Reviewed: 11/19/07

The Other 3D Castlevanias Don't Even Come Close

Let me start by historicizing this game a little...

Throughout 1998, Nintendo Power provided updates every month or so (in the form of articles and pictures) regarding a game called Dracula 3D. This would eventually be released on January 23 1999 under a new title, Castlevania 64. Upon release, the game was met with reviews ranging from decent to very positive (IGN- 8.2; Gamespot- 8.2; Gamepro- 4.5/5; Nintendo Power- 7.9). However, in recent years, the game has found itself the victim of viscous statements calling it “the worst 2D to 3D transition in video game history” and the target of Castlevania helmsman Koji Igarashi’s personal vendetta. Sadly, this has caused gamers who’ve never even played the game to recoil at the mention of the words 3D and Castlevania being used in the same sentence.

What people seem not to realize is that, perhaps, Koji Igarashi isn’t the best person to be going around telling people which Castlevania games do credit to the series and which ones detract from its legacy. First of all, as great as Symphony of the Night and Dawn/Aria of Sorrow may be, they have more in common with the Metroid series than they do with Castlevania. When Konami decided Igarashi should have the final say-so in everything Castlevania, they basically drove a stake (no pun intended) into the original Castlevania formula. Now, for better or for worse, what we have is Castletroid. I, for one, miss what this series used to be.

Which brings me to Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness. Relatively speaking, very few people have actually played with game. Most think that because it’s just a special edition of Castlevania 64 it couldn’t possibly be any good. Well…more eloquent sources have said this before me, but this game is what Castlevania 64 should’ve been. I’d go as far as to say that if the development team had been given enough time to make CV64 as they’d seen fit, Legacy of Darkness would’ve been the product and all the negative connotations about 3D Castlevania games would’ve never developed. Sadly, this is not the case.

Up to this point, I’ve said nothing that hasn’t already been said. So here’s something new: Symphony of the Night marked the first step (second if you count Simon’s Quest) in an entirely new direction for the Castlevania series while Legacy of Darkness became the last Castlevania in a long line of level-based platformers. Up until SotN, Castlevania games had always, always been platformers. Even Simon’s Quest was, essentially, a platformer albeit with rpg-elements. The reason, I believe, Konami decided to give Igarashi free reign is because Castlevania 64 proved to them that the series could evolve no further as a platformer.

It’s true that the camera angles and play control in CV64 took a lot of getting used to. This is something a platformer cannot afford. If a platformer lacks a little something I call pick-up-and-playability, gamers will give up on it immediately. Symphony of the Night, on the other hand, was an instant success for no other reason than it’s tight, simple controls. It was, undoubtedly, the best controlling Castlevania game ever. No one doubts that.

But those who say CV64 and Legacy of Darkness have dreadful controls have, clearly, never played a Castlevania game before. Any old school CV fan will tell you that half the difficulty of the original Castlevania for NES is in its controls…and, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The controls aren’t bad. They just take getting used to. I think that the controls of any great game take a little getting used to. Legacy of Darkness improves exponentially on the camera controls of the original CV64 and, in general, the play controls feel about a hundred times more responsive. Still, there is no automatic jumping like in Ocarina of Time nor is there an automatic camera. You control it. Personally, I felt the manually controlled camera in LoD was quite freeing. I felt somewhat restricted by the automatic camera in Super Mario 64 after playing through LoD. But that’s just me. I think camera technology has improved since last decade, however, and if I were developing a game today I’d go with the automatic camera. These are different times, though…

Legacy of Darkness harkens back to the level-based platforming of the original Castlevania games. However, it also has some of the rpg-elements of Simon’s Quest and Symphony of the Night. There’s some item collecting, puzzle solving, and character interaction. What’s really great is that you get some great platforming levels like the Forest of Silence, Outer Wall, Tower of Sorcery, Underground Passage, and the Duel Tower. These kinds of levels are utterly nonexistent in Castlevania games nowadays. When’s the last time you played a CV game with a pitfall, huh? This game has lots of ‘em. There are also levels that are heavy in puzzle solving and other rpg-elements like the Villa, Castle Center, and Clock Tower. Legacy of Darkness also includes many levels that rest somewhere in between the two level types, most of which are unique to LoD: Tower of Ruins, Art Tower, Foggy Lake, etc. In general, I think the level design in Legacy of Darkness is top-notch, probably the best aspect of the game. Gamers with an obsession for older platformers from the 80s and 90s should be in heaven.

In regards to the technical aspects of Legacy of Darkness, the graphics were great for the time but look a little un-detailed and blocky in comparison to today’s games. The music, however, is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. It may not be the heart-pounding electronica you might expect for an action game. But it adds to the gaming experience with its subtle atmospherics and tasteful rearrangements of your favorite Castlevania tunes. The sound effects are pretty cool, too. The creaking doors, the rattle of bones, the whip cracks.

Depending on the gamer, the difficulty level will range from moderate to somewhat difficult. Some levels you’ll be able to beat without a single death and others, like Castle Center, will literally take you hours and hours…even if you have a player’s guide. From what I can remember, LoD boasts a pretty lengthy quest. You can play through every single level as Cornell and you can play through Reinhardt’s and Carrie’s respective routes as well. There’s also a playable character named Henry whose quest is basically an elaborate excuse to unlock goodies. The play control in his quest is, sadly, quite unresponsive. Thankfully, it doesn’t take very much effort to unlock everything you need to continue playing.

One of the few quibbles I have about Legacy of Darkness is that you’re not given the opportunity to play through Cornell’s quest with Carrie or Reinhardt. It wouldn’t make much sense story-wise. But because Cornell definitely has the best quest, it kind of sucks that you’re forced to use his character to beat it. Reinhardt and Carrie are both much better characters. Oh, well.

In closing, it’s tragic that Konami has allowed Igarashi to single-handedly mold the Castlevania series into a Metroid clone. I’ll agree that his 2D games are great. But they just don’t have that Castlevania feel. I know I’m in the minority here. I just feel that if given a chance, another development team could really make something of this series in 3D. We don’t need, as Igarashi says, to completely disregard the N64 CVs. There’s a lot development teams could learn from here. I think we all need to form our own opinions (by playing the games) and, more importantly, we need to realize that when Igarashi nay-says a 3D CV title, it’s like the pot calling the kettle black. Lament of Innocence feels more like a dungeon crawler than a Castlevania title and Curse of Darkness…well, lets not dog-pile the poor game. There’s enough negative press going around about it. Ultimately, Konami should let Igarashi knock himself out on 2D Castlevania titles and allow some other development team to try their luck at a 3D Castlevania. Maybe Silicon Knights…or maybe, just maybe they could give the folks at KCEK another go at it.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (US, 11/30/99)

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