Review by Tenshi No Shi

"Castlevania redefines its origins."

If you haven't read one of my previous Castlevania reviews, all you really need to know is that Castlevania is my favorite series of games and that I have played, and beaten, every single one of them. My anticipation level for any new addition to the library is immeasurable as is the fervor in which I devour the game. In other words, I played this latest installment nonstop and am now prepared to give me critique of it.

Lament of Innocence is actually the first Castlevania game in the series timeline, revealing the origins of the Belmont clan, Dracula and the infamous whip used to slay the undead. You play Leon Belmont, a nobleman and highly decorated knight who has left his command to pursue the monsters that have kidnapped his beloved Sara. Along the way, you receive the help of a wise alchemist Rinaldo who has his own reasons for wanting the vampire Walter, current master of all that is evil, dead. Interestingly enough, the game even manages to explain why candles contain money, items and even weapons when you destroy them. The story is told in a rather linear fashion, but the origins of the Vampire Killer and of Dracula are all the reason you need to play this game.

I can't count the number of times I have said this recently, but prepare to throw another one on the pile- Lament of Innocence graphics are a mixed bag. The character models are top-notch, both in texture detail and animation. It's the dull, almost lifeless cookie-cutter backgrounds that bring down the experience somewhat. There are a few truly outstanding exceptions to this statement, but for the other ninety-five percent of the game, don't expect anything even close to a 3D version of Symphony of the Night. I think, however, the single most impressive thing about Lament of Innocence graphically is I never once had any issues with the camera- something very rare in most of the action/adventure games I have been playing recently. For the sequel, let's hope they keep the same level of detail, but come up with a wider variety of architecture.

I never thought I would hear a video game soundtrack that moved me as much as Symphony of the Night, yet here again Lament of Innocence proves to be a surprising contender for best video game score ever. You may think I am exaggerating, but I assure you I am not- I listened to the sampler CD non-stop for a week straight. So, you know the music is good, but what about the audio effects? Well, they aren't going to win any excellence awards, but they get the job done well enough and won't leave you wanting for more. Finally, I should make mention of the voice acting, which is, to my surprise, actually pretty good all things considered. Again, it's not the best out there, but it is certainly better than most of the recent drek pressed to disc lately.

Of course, if a game doesn't control well, it really isn't worth playing no matter how good it looks and sounds. Thankfully, Lament of Innocence plays even better than it looks or sounds, so there's no problems here. You've basically got more control over your whip with having two types of attacks, opening up an interesting number of combos that you learn at key point in the game. The ability to use items or switch weapons on the fly adds the element of tension to the game, as you can't access these things from the stat menu, forcing to effectively 'think on your toes'. Above all else, the fact that the controls are tight and responsive leaves little doubt in my mind that IGA's team is ready to handle the world of 3D gaming.

If you haven't figured it out by now, this game is quite the departure from the previous games in the series. Gone are the RPG elements of leveling up (though stat-enhancing equipment still remains in a limited fashion) as is the completely open ended style of game play. Instead we find a Castlevania title that is a melding of old and new, with some adventure elements and limited puzzle-solving as well as endless action and epic boss battles. I have to admit I miss the RPG style a bit, but playing a game more reminiscent of Rondo of Blood certainly brought a tear to this old school gamer's eye. The addition of the Relics and Orbs systems (equipping different Orbs will change the attack of your sub-weapon and Relics will enhance certain abilities or give you unique powers) really add a unique twist to the tried-and- true formula while still managing to retain that familiar feel.

It just isn't a Castlevania game without hidden goodies to find and extras to unlock. Aside from optional hidden bosses to discover and items to unearth, there are two hidden characters to play as and an increased difficulty level which leads to even more special items. Sadly, there is no inverted or alternate castle of any kind- one hundred percent is all you're going to get here, so stop looking.

The question of whether to buy Lament of Innocence boils down to what kind of Castlevania fan are you and what do you expect of the game? Long-time fans will gobble this one up as it harkens back to the roots of the series while still infusing some of the more modern game play techniques. Fans weaned on Symphony of the Night will be disappointed in it overall lack of RPGedness and may not really care to know the origins of the Belmont clan. Personally, I think it's a good game worth playing through at least once, fan or not.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/10/09

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

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