Review by sauronsama

"The Legacy of the Belmonts begins"

For those fans of the series who remembered 'CastleVania: Legends'' that came out on the GameBoy; we always assumed Sonia Belmont was the first Belmont to arise and slay Count Dracula. Now that CastleVania's first PS2 game comes out, we are no longer right.

CastleVania Lament of Innocence tells us the true origins of the Belmont line, and how it all began. How the Belmonts first entered CastleVania. Without giving much away, Leon unwittingly goes into the Castle to rescue his beloved. Along the way meeting a somewhat crafty alchemist named Renaldo. It is here that the Hunter Whip handed down by many generations of Belmonts is given. So with whip in hand, the drawbridge to the castle lowers down. Leon Belmont, are true originator of the Belmont clan, steps into the castle and a legend that has only begun.

As far as the story goes, it seems a little bit awkward at first for it being the true beginning of the Belmont clan. I'm sure a few fans may be turned off by this. But the game does offer so much potential to live up to its name, and be a pioneering name for itself to have CastleVania finally make a good impression in the 3-D world.

When N64's CastleVanias were released, they were torn done by many a bad review. Sloppy camera angles were among the problems. It looks as if the developers looked deeper into the problems and fixed them. I theorize that 'Devil May Cry' was their model. Capcom's sword slashing, demon butt-kicking castle exploring 'Devil May Cry' was no doubt an inspirational model to making the new 3-D CastleVania. You will similar elements used within the game that was used in Devil May Cry. (Guns and Swords not included.)

Upon entering the castle, there is a room the player enters to be taught how to operate the whip, combos, and magic spells before venturing onto the true quest. Facing off against considerably weak foes, the player gets to get a hang of what is in store. As I was going along in the castle, the difficulty didn't seem that challenging. Monsters, though sometimes overwhelming in numbers, can be dealt with easily. You also are offered a good blocking system. Very vital to your survival. Bosses may take some practice, but not entirely challenging.

But one of the most challenging aspects of CastleVania is the exploration of the castle. Despite it being not as huge as one might expect, the castle does have some crafty puzzles in store. Some puzzles are relatively simple to figure out. Still others may take time. Others may even damage you if you are not careful. The Castle also has numerous hidden entrances that can only be unlocked by certain keys, weapons, etc. I am still stuck with my original whip, and still need to find the power ups. So far there seems to be four more power ups for the whip. These may seem hard to find, and you may often find yourself more than halfway through the game with your original whip. But even the original whip deals hefty blows.

The combos performed by the whip make excellent control. There is a straightforward slash and a round slash. Two different buttons sued, each with its own combo. Triangle and square activate the whip actions, which are fluid to use and offer good dead on accuracy to most enemies. The circle activates subweapons. The sub weapons are linked to certain elements found in the castle. Orbs you collect create a linkage to the use of powered up sub weapons.(Much like Harmony of Dissonance on GBA) The spells are effective, and use the heart system like in all CastleVanias. Hearts determine the number and the number varies by spell and weapon. Magic Relics are also used. Sometimes hard to come by. Some are used for attack; others prove to be used as a defensive. Activating combos and spells in the game is very easy, and helps quite a deal in the game. The Whip also acts as a grappling hook onto certain edges.

Yet activating potions and other healing items is not as easy. Particularly if you are in a scuffle with a huge horde of enemies or a strong boss. The Right Analog button when pressed activates the 'Heal Item' menu and so forth. In fact it also activates the 'Equip' menu too. Konami decided to ban the 'Start' option of pausing the game to equip or heal, and decide to have these things done while fighting and running was still going on. This doesn't work as well, as healing in the midst of fighting can be risky, as well as equipping. It's an awkward move to Equip and Heal without pausing for CastleVania, and in many situations, it doesn't work so well, as you are frantically trying to control both the battle and options at the same time.

The MP system works well and not so well. MP used to activate spell combos can be built up by certain enemy attacks. When enemies flash purple, blocking the attack made will fill your gauge. Then you can activate spells. It works nicely in these cases. But if your enemies use normal attacks, then your MP gauge won't fill up. And MP can be depleted quite drastically for most spells.

Exploring the castle is a nice lush 3-D experience. There are many good things about the castle. It's textures are nicely put and the lighting and other forms of ambiance give it a very nice gothic feel. You actually feel like you are in a castle. Whether it be empty halls, clergy room, gardens, or even aqueducts, the castle is nicely detailed and an enriching experience to explore. But the downside to this is that many of the halls and other rooms look the same. You may get lost if not checking the map constantly. You are more than likely to see the same type room as you explore. And certain rooms are blocked off to require you to fight a number of enemies before passing. And some Places are not so conspicuous. It may take trial and error to find your way through the entire castle. But it is not as frustrating as one might think.

Another accomplishment to the title that departs from its 3-D predecessors is variety. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. There is a larger variety of them this time around. Not just skeletons, fish men, or ghosts; but demons, animal like men, and other ghastly ghouls make up for the castles inhabitants. Including very nicely done and challenging bosses. (OK, so they're really not as hard as you might think.) Each enemy is nicely done, and encountering each one enriches the experience to the atmosphere. Some enemies may annoy you, but its normal for them to do so. It's a 3-D game so expect to get overwhelmed by hordes of enemies along the way.

A lack of variety thereof comes in items. Weapons are limited and harder to find. Accessories and armor are limited as well. Healing and MP restores are available, as well as Hearts and the like. Money can easily be found throughout the Castle to barter with Renaldo later, but large amounts of it are hard to come by. Finding key items and relics also takes a bit of puzzle solving to do. And solving these puzzles may add to gamer anxiety of not progressing further when needed.

The music is nicely enriched. It offers some nice scores, whether soothing or dramatic. But in reality it's not the best soundtrack out there in the world of CastleVania. (Symphony of the night boasts to have the best.) Voices are nicely done, though watching the Japanese version may be a bit better for use hardcore types who don't prefer dubs. ;-) The music isn't entirely original, but its not bad. It actually fits well with its environments. Music changes also help when a major battle may take place.

Finally the replay value. The castle has many twists and turns. Many enemies and secrets. But the constant shots of virtually the same castle settings may turn off and bore some gamers. Some gamers might get constant headaches from staring at the dark visuals for too long. If you beat this game, you may not play it again for a while, as getting through the castle's puzzles and traps does take time. But it is an experience once must play, as it truly is a joy to have.

The only thing that concerns me about LOI, is the future of CastleVania. If this game is successful, (So far it's gotten very decent reviews), then what of CastleVania? For years fans have treasured CastleVania as a series to stick truly to 2-D roots. Will Konami finally ban that concept and go into 3-D, leaving 2-D only for GameBoy Advance? Despite LOI's great value, I certainly hope CastleVania sticks to it's 2-D roots. People fondly remember CastleVania on NES, SNES, and even more so on PSX, where CastleVania Symphony of the night was played. N64 seems to leave only the bad. While Lament of Innocence will leave quite a few gamers satisfied, it makes me wonder if Konami will actually attempt to make more 3-D CastleVanias. And as many fans can tell you, that is not exactly the greatest transition series to work with.

If there be more 3-D CastleVanias, then let us hope it will blow us away, and leave us in awe more than Lament of Innocence. Because if they do, then Konami just may convince us after all that CastleVania would make a great 3-D series. Lament of Innocence is a great game, great gameplay and nice ambiance. But it is still not enough for us to truly grasp the 3-D experience of CastleVania. Should Konami make more, we can only hope that there will be a title leaving us in awe for not just giving us a truly great 3-D CastleVania game, but a truly great 3-D game period. One we have never experienced before. Can Konami do it?

Who knows? for now we have this being the best of the 3-D CastleVania titles. Fun to play and own. And us fans get a deeper look into the origins of Belmont fame. While it may take time and patience getting used to its settings and gameplay, it certainly is a rewarding experience. A game truly to be remembered.

CastleVania finds its true well as its first debut on Playstation 2. for a first impression it has done its homework.

The quest has begun and so has the legend. Prepare yourselves, as you enter CastleVania, for the first time. (If you know what I mean. ;))



Bottom Line: A CastleVania 3-D game that actually is fun to play. If Konami makes more of these, let us hope they will make one that will truly blow us away, and can actually outdo this one. Because in terms of 3-D CastleVania, this is truly the best.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/27/03

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