Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed on PS3)
Game Developer: MercurySteam Entertainment
Release date: October 5, 2010
Official game website: www.konami.com
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow review summary:
The Castlevania series finally breaks out of its 2D shell in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. MercurySteam Entertainment has taken to the task and delivered a Castlevania game with gorgeous environments, an amazing orchestral soundtrack, a rich Castlevania story, vast gameplay, and the best looking Castlevania game yet. Elements from Castlevania’s 2D days are here in spirit, but delivered up to this generation’s gaming standards and expectations. A few technical issues keep Castlevania: Lords of Shadow from achieving perfection, nonetheless don’t let that keep you from playing it. Whether new to the Castlevania series or not, there’s plenty to take in and enjoy in this memorable and dark action adventure.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – review
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow presents a reboot to the long running Castlevania saga that began on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-80s. Konami and game developer MercurySteam want players to set aside preconceptions, although that’s easier said than done. Especially for those that have followed the saga and various 3D implementations of its 2D game mastery. But it’s time to grow up and open up to a worthwhile and must-play Castlevania game.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow puts players in the role of Gabriel Belmont, a holy knight of the Brotherhood of Light. Gabriel sets out to release the spirit of his murdered wife, Marie, from the limbo she’s trapped in. Along the way, Gabriel will need to take care of some holy order as well. Gabriel is occasionally accompanied by another Brotherhood of Light, Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart, who also narrates the story). Castlevania: Lords of Shadow tells a tale of the classic struggle of the balance between good and evil (or light and dark), something that Gabriel himself questions and struggles with throughout the adventure. The storyline in this Castlevania game is deeper and more cerebral than any other Castlevania game before it.
[Watch a brief video clip from Gabriel and Zobek below, or here.]
Gameplay in Castlevania takes place in the third-person perspective. Gabriel is equipped with the familiar Belmont weaponry: Chain, Holy Cross, Holy Water Flasks, Daggers, and more. The Holy Cross is steadily upgraded throughout the adventure. A few Holy Relics also provide upgrades, which also allow for the familiar back-tracking to reach further upgrades. Where the majority of upgrades come in (40) are in Gabriel’s moves. Once again, that includes the familiar double jump or dash, but also includes some eye candy and powerful new magic effects. Light Magic and Dark Magic moves can be used and upgraded for healing and powerful attacks. Occasionally, it even calls for Ikaruga-like attack balancing tactics. The magic meters are replenished at fountains, or from orbs acquired from successful chain combos (defeating enemies without getting hit). There is even a Dark Crystal that gives Gabriel a massive summoning power, much like in Final Fantasy games. I stuck with a few easier to execute moves or powerful moves, but executing all of Gabriel’s moves and Holy Cross and Chain techniques takes true mastery onto itself. Several quick time events (timed button presses), are presented in boss battles or when grabbing enemies, which could easily turn a fight for or against players.
[Watch a brief video clip of some of the gameplay below, or here.]
In addition to fighting on foot, there are the occasionally opportunities to ride on horse or overpower and mount enemies. There are four main enemy types you can mount, such as Wargs or Spiders, which also help Gabriel reach the unreachable places. Expect to come across various puzzles, which offer diverse challenges or mini-games.
[Watch a video clip of one the mounts below, or here.]
Castlevania players know the game series presents a medley of monsters from the lore of man. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is no exception to that. The overall motley of lycans, vampires and undead are here, and much more. There are fantastic creatures, both of good and evil alignment. From Goblins, Chupacabras, Ogres, Titans, Mandragoras, and other monstrosities, players won’t get bored by the bestiary. The developers went deep into the pot of fantasy here.
Environments also reflect the appropriate habitats for the grim and enchanting beings. Gothic-era and European influences are aplenty. The environments in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow are a sight to behold and are a show-stealer. Stained-glass cathedrals, bubbling bogs, and sky blue vistas. Backed by the dramatic orchestral music, the tone is set with dark and richly woven performances. Orchestral tracks like “Waterfalls of Agharta,” “Agharta” and the choruses of “Cornell” are melancholy and memorable. Fitting accompaniments to the textures of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The veteran voice cast, notably with Patrick Stewart, creates an even more engrossing audio experience to bring life to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
[Watch a brief video clip of one of the environments below, or here.]
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow isn’t without some blemishes. These come mainly from the technical side, with the largest flaw being the save feature. There is one autosave slot, and it went corrupt for me and forced a restart of the game. This may not be a widespread problem, but can be a tremendous setback. See more details on it here. Good thing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is such an engrossing game that even couldn’t deter me from coming back for more. At the time of this writing, a patch was not available, although it is said to be in the works to address the issue. Besides that, a few camera angles made for some jumpy perspective shifts. There was also an odd onscreen glitch that happened briefly on a couple levels, which looked like a stretched out chain crossing the screen. Maybe I was cursed a bit along the way, but a few technical issues keep Castlevania: Lords of Shadow from being a perfect gaming experience.
Replay value is woven into Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Getting through the single-player game may take upwards of 10 hours on the easiest mode, but there are many more hours left with much content to unlock. Completionists will have their hands full for some time, especially with some of the challenging level Trials that are presented (like finishing some levels without recovering energy).
[Watch a brief video of a battle against Animated Armor below, or here.]
Players have the option on setting the gameplay difficulty in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which include: Squire (easy), Warrior (normal), Knight (hard), and the maximum Paladin difficulty after the first playthrough. Normal level difficulty (aka “Warrior”) will present a tough challenge in itself. For players who want to avoid the frustration of many repeated attempts in battles, my recommendation is to start as a Squire (easy). Upon completion of the first playthrough, players have the option of going back and using upgrades gained along the original playthrough. This makes completing unfinished Tasks and playing at higher difficulties more realistic. Experience points in the game also allow players to unlock plenty of artwork which, after playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, will be appreciated.
As a long running Castlevania fan, I admit I felt a bit of trepidation that Castlevania designer and producer Koji Igarashi (aka Iga), artist Ayami Kojima and composer Michiru Yamane were not involved in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. They’ve contributed to some of my favorite Castlevania (and gaming) experiences. I could only imagine Konami felt that way as well, assigning Kojima Productions to oversee what MercurySteam was crafting. However, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a very worthy and recommended game. It’s my new Castlevania gaming poison that I’ll be returning to even after completing it. Don’t miss out on the rich fantasy and twisting experience of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. With much replay value, a long single-player storyline, and a historic reboot of the Castlevania series, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is highly recommended as a keeper in your gaming collection!