Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 10/23/03 | Genre: Action
Castlevania is a franchise that has been loved by gamers since it first appeared on the NES. It began as a simple side-scrolling action game. From there, the series slowly evolved and it wasn't until Castlevania Symphony of the Night that I became a huge fan of the series. SotN introduced us to Alucard who wielded a sword instead of a whip. Players were also given an EXP system that gave much more depth to the game. However, Castlevania remained as a 2D game until the release of Castlevania 64. This title proved to be a huge disaster and the series continued on with several excellent 2D titles on the Game Boy Advance. As the Castlevania series continues to excel in 2D, I was shocked to hear Konami was developing the next incarnation of the series, Lament of Innocence, in 3D. While images of Castlevania 64 were dancing in my head, after spending some time with Lament of Innocence, I am amazed with how good this title is.
Players control Leon Belmont. He is forced to give up his title so he can run off to an ominous forest and save his betrothed from the clutches of Dracula. However, Leon does not know anything about Dracula or his castle. Before he can make it to the castle, he is stopped by a local merchant who equips him with a whip made with alchemy and gives Leon a little information about Dracula. He also gives you an opportunity to purchase potions, armor, and other items from him in the future. Of course, these won't be free.
If you are wondering why Leon Belmont is clueless about Dracula, it is because Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a prequel to the original Castlevania. So players will get to experience how the Belmont family first began to get involved with Dracula.
The music director for Lament of Innocence got into the spirit of the title being a prequel. Since this is a prequel and set before the original Castlevania, the music director felt that the music hasn't been composed yet. Therefore, he decided that he would have to come up with an entirely new soundtrack for the game. Because of this, you will not hear any of the classic music you are accustomed to hearing. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. While I enjoy the classic music in the series, the new scores are really good and set a mood within the game. Whether you hear slow, ominous music within a long, dark hallway, or a fast-paced beat when you are surrounded by a group of enemies, the music is really good. While none of the current soundtrack in the prequel has appeared in the games that are supposed to take place later on, I hope that some of the same scores are used in future installments of the Castlevania franchise.
The action in Castlevania Lament of Innocence is really good. However, I am a bit concerned with the direction Konami took with this title. Castlevania has become a series where several RPG elements have been thrown in to make the game a bit deeper. For some reason, this was not done in Lament of Innocence. I have two possible reasons as to why Konami would not include this element in the game. The first is that, as with the music, the developers wanted to stay true to the spirit of the original Castlevania. In doing so, they decided that since the original game was a simple 2D action title, they would create the prequel as a simple 3D action game.
The second reason why they would have left out the Role Playing Game elements is because they wanted this feature to be one of the big selling points for the next version of the title. Before spending more time and resources in Lament of Innocence, Konami spoke with the developers and asked them to leave out some of elements that would make the title much deeper, mainly the RPG elements and secret characters to replay the game as, so they could use these features in the next title in the series. While I really hope that the first reason is the truth, sadly I have a feeling the latter may be more accurate.
Despite the inclusion of RPG elements, the gameplay in Lament of Innocence is very good. Unlike a lot of other 3D action games, the player doesn't have a 'lock-on' button to keep their attacks centered on one specific enemy. Instead. The player swings their whip in the direction of the enemies on the screen and if they are within range, you should hit them. This system works very well and doesn't restrict you to constantly change your target. Also, there are times when several enemies will gang up on you. By using your stronger attack, you will hit enemies all around you. This can be extremely helpful at times but it takes a little bit longer to use the stronger of the attacks. Most of the time, you will find that the weaker attack is your best option. In addition to the two types of attack maneuvers, players also have a block button. If you block certain moves from stronger enemies, you will replenish your magic. For the most part, the magic you get is pretty worthless though and you will have more luck using your whip. That said, blocking can be very helpful to you when you are trying to look for an opening against a tough opponent.
The camera angles are fixed in the game and for the most part they work very well. When entering a room, you may find that the camera is very close to Leon and you can't really see what is ahead of him. This is one of the problems with the camera but it usually does not cause many cheap hits. I am not really sure if there is a better way to do the camera in this type of game either. The only other alternative would be to have the player be able to move the camera around like what is seen in Jak II. But as I complained about in that title, the player can be forced to baby-sit the camera and it distracts from the gameplay.
The visuals in Castlevania Lament of Innocence are just gorgeous. The first thing you will notice is how great our main character looks. Standing still, Leon moves his fingers and breathes very realistically. He is not static or stiff at all but alive within the environment. The enemies are also very detailed but each type of enemy looks the same. I would really like to see slight variations of the same type of enemy in the future to just add a little character to them. Also, I should mention that the environments are very impressive as well. Each themed area within the castle has its own unique character. Some rooms are brightly lit--while others are eerily lit. You will also find plenty of stain-glass windows with light coming through them providing an awesome graphical effects on the screen. All of this moves along without harming the framerate one bit. No matter how many enemies appear in a room or what is on the screen, Lament of Innocence stays at a steady framerate. This is a pretty impressive showcase for the PS2 hardware.
Castlevania Lament of Innocence is a very solid game and an impressive way to bring the series into 3D. While it is fun, it is lacking in just a few areas. For starters, the game is a bit short. In roughly ten hours, players will find their way to the end of the game. With the lack of RPG elements to ensure the gameplay is a bit deeper, players may become a bit bored with just straight action. However, with several areas to explore, this is one game that any action-loving PS2 owner should pick up. For those of you looking for the next Symphony of the Night, you may be a bit disappointed after a few hours of play. However, you will still find plenty to love here. While Lament of Innocence won't surpass the greatness of Symphony of the Night, it is a worthy title to add to your library and a great sign of what is to come for the Castlevania series in the future.