Review by LordMessiah
This new attempt at a 3D Castlevania immersed itself in a baptism of fire as soon it was birthed, in order to wash away the bad memories conjured up by the two 3D Castlevanias that appeared on the N64. Has it overcome the failures of those two games? How does it fare against other games it may be compared to? And has it successfully transplanted the normally 2D world of Castlevania into the realm of 3D? Please read on.
The story concerns a certain baron named Leon Belmont of the 11th century who must abandon his title and sword in order to rescue his betrothed from the clutches of a great vampire who resides in a castle nestled in a forest cloaked in darkness. The story seems simple at first, but it definitely does not end simply. This game has the best story of any Castlevania yet, complete with cutscenes and drama, all the while exposing the origins of the feud between the Belmont clan and the vampires of the night and those who serve them.
This game instantly submerges the player into an expansive castle brimming with a Gothic air. This is Castlevania in 3D. The castle itself is well detailed inside and out, as is the small outdoor area one can also explore. Take note of the different paintings that can be found in various rooms. And while it is true that many of the room and hallway designs are recycled at times, it is not detrimental to playing and enjoying the game, I feel. And be rest assured that there are unique and interesting rooms to explore. Also to note, there is no real interactivity within the various rooms in terms of destroying objects (such as chairs, tables, statues, etc.). If another game like this one was made and there was more variety in the rooms and some interactivity with objects added, the graphics would earn a 10 in my book.
One especially impressive quality of the graphics are the lighting effects. Torches burn with realistic flames, while moonlight gazes through stained glass windows, thus casting reflections upon the floors. These are but two things that make use of the great light effects in this game, but feel sure that there others that appear in more action-oriented ways than torches and window reflections. The water effects are also quite a sight.
The character concepts of artist Ayami Kojima are well translated onto the graphics engine of the PS2. The way Leon’s whip flows about when he attacks enemies is quite impressive, as is his various acrobatic movements.
One must also note the dozens of enemies to be found in this game, each with their own interesting look to them, including the bosses one will inevitably face. Many classic Castlevania enemies make a return in 3D as well, a sample of which would include the skeletons of course, the bats, and the flea men.
One cannot help but love the music in this game, composed by Michiru Yamane. From the sounds of organs to pianos to strings while sometimes being mixed with a techno beat, one will easily find a favorite song amongst them, if not many. It captures the perfect atmosphere that is Castlevania. Also keep your ears perked for any familiar Castlevania songs, you never know where you might hear them.
The English voice acting in this game was surprisingly excellent in this game. Every voice matches the character it belongs to, and actually shows emotion during dramatic moments. Also included is the option to switch the voice acting to the Japanese version if one wishes.
The gameplay is the meat of any game, and especially this one. Fortunately it shines through and does not falter. The game is not linear, in the way that you have 5 areas to choose to play through in the beginning, and may tackle them in any order desired. This game also took a middle of the road approach when it came to RPG elements, in that there are some weapons, armor, and items to equip and use, but there are no experience points or level-building.
The fighting system in this game is quite well designed and is very action oriented, as it should be. I also feel it outshines the fighting systems of certain games it may be compared to. Control is dead on, and just about as good as it can get in this sort of game. There are two buttons you can press to attack with the whip, one is a light, quick attack and one is a heavy, slow attack. Press these two buttons in combinations to produce combos. One button is devoted to the use of classic Castlevania sub-weapons, of which there are 5. Leon also has the ability to block most attacks from enemies, and can also double jump from the start. And one does not buy moves in this game, Leon automatically and realistically learns more moves the more he fights with the whip, which can result in quite a menu of special offensive and defensive techniques. There is also no need to lock on to anything, merely face an enemy to attack it, even in mid combo from what I saw. The equipping and using of items is handled rather realistically as well in that both can only be done in a real time window. So watch out, for when fumbling for a potion when near death, Leon can still be hit by enemies and die, while he cannot attack while fumbling for that same potion, only move. Objects known as relics can be used by Leon to give him certain special properties or abilities, as long as he has enough MP, which is gathered by blocking special attacks of enemies. On top of that, there are deeper aspects of the gameplay that the game itself will reveal to the player. Overall, combat, puzzles, exploring, and platforming elements make this game up.
The camera of a 3D game is always a source of criticism and often is a stumbling block to the gameplay. This game features a fixed camera, not a manually movable one. In some games this might spell doom or at least frustration, but I felt the camera worked very well in this game, and I never had any trouble with it, nor did it cause to me to die at some point. I in fact hope the designers stick with this camera system.
My first time though took me 16 ½ hours. I used no guides, did not rush, and explored a lot. Some may finish this game quicker, or may take more time than me. After beating the game one has unlockable characters, a new difficulty setting, plus other secrets to look forward to and discover. One can also go for a 100% exploration rating. This game truly has an extended life beyond the first playing.
This game is a definite buy, especially if you are a Castlevania fan, or simply an action fan. Lament of Innocence takes the Castlevania series into a bold new direction, and it clearly outshines the past attempts at a 3D Castlevania and as well the competing action titles of today. And it can only get better from here.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/30/03
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