|Castlevania: Lament of Innocence|
|MtAMinutes to Action||8|
|Keep Playing?||I guess so|
|Buy from Amazon|
I'd never really paid much attention to the Castlevania series until Dawn of Sorrow was featured during the early days of the Nintendo DS. I was a bit hesitant to purchase the game, writing off the series' gothic style as that of a poor horror game. But in late 2005, I ventured into Castlevania for the first time and found its undead denizens too charming to slay just once. I've returned to see Lord Dracula and his wacky friends eight times since then, and enjoyed every visit.
Having played every modern "Metroidvania" since then (besides the recently-released Harmony of Despair, focused on online multiplayer), I realized I hadn't yet spent any time in a polygonal version of Drac's realm. The impending release of franchise reboot Lords of Shadow encouraged me to stop by the local game store and check the ten-and-under bin for anything Castlevania. The various entries on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 systems have received mixed reviews, but I'm willing to take a chance on a bargain title in one of my favorite franchises.
My excursion to GameStop ended with my wallet ten dollars lighter and a copy of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence added to my collection. I've spent sixty minutes in the demon castle. How did this latest visit fare?
(minutes are in bold)
00 - A man runs through a forest, and happens on a figure in the dark. The figure introduces itself as "just an old man." The forest-sprinter introduces himself as Leon, and the old gentleman recognizes him as Baron Leon Belmont.
01 - "My name is Rinaldo Gandalfi. Please follow me to my cottage." Sounds inviting enough. Leon follows.
02 - Rinaldo lives here because he has "unfinished business" with Walter Bernhard, master of this forest (and a vampire!). Apparently Bernhard likes it when Rinaldo helps vampire hunters. Bernhard sees it as a game, one which Rinaldo thinks nobody can win.
03 - Leon explains that his fiance was kidnapped. Rinaldo says she is bait for the game. Leon came into the forest unarmed, so Rinaldo offers him a whip, made with alchemy.
04 - Leon is unfamiliar with alchemy. Rinaldo says that the only person who truly understands it is Matthias Cronqvist, Leon's most trusted friend. Leon didn't know Matthias was an alchemist.
05 - Leon trusts Rinaldo because he is a friend of Matthias.
06 - Rinaldo rewards his faith by enchanting Leon's gauntlet. Leon can gather power from enemy attacks and use magical relics with it. "Right now, this is all I can do for you." Seems like a lot to me.
07 - Leon thanks Rinaldo and starts to leave. But wait! Rinaldo says the door to Bernhard's chambers are locked by five monsters in the castle. Leon is frustrated, understandably.
08 - That was a long intro. Now I'm in control outside of Rinaldo's shack. X jumps and double jumps. Square is a direct whip attack, triangle is a horizontal whip attack that hits a wide area. Circle appears to do nothing. L1 brings up an item menu, R1 blocks. The right stick brings up an equip menu. The viewpoint is isometric, and the camera moves on its own.
09 - Cutscene: the drawbridge to the castle lowers, and Leon vows to save Sara. This castle is, apparently, Castlevania.
10 - I've entered the castle now, and it looks suitably like a medieval palace. Statues, fountains, candles...I can whip the candles, and they have hearts in them! It's Castlevania alright.
11 - I enter the next room and find a save point. I exit back into the hallway and try out some doors.
12 - I've come across a hallway identical to the previous one. This might get disorienting...thankfully, there's a map similar to that of the 2D Castlevania games. I found a Stone Marker, which I can use to mark things on my map. Not sure how that'll come in handy yet.
13 - Leon pulls himself up ledges when you jump to them. He can pull himself up to some ledges with his whip as well.
14 - Enemies! Skeletons with clubs. Too bad clubs don't have the range of my whip. I make quick work of them. I've learned a new technique: Quick Step Command. This is a dodge. Leon seems to be much more agile than his 8-bit descendants, flipping and rolling about.
15 - Leon can use certain objects in the environment to swing from his whip. The method used to do so is a bit strange, and Leon looks incredibly unnatural as he does it.
16 - I check out my inventory. Looks like I can equip whip upgrades, armor, and two accessories. I can set relics and use items from this in-game menu as well. Enemies turn purple when I can absorb their attacks with my gauntlet. Doing so builds up my relic magic.
17 - I use my first relic magic, found in this room, which sets fire to the ground Leon walks on. Doesn't seem especially useful, really. I take out the skeletons in this room with my whip.
18 - I've gathered a lot of hearts from candles, but don't have any sub-weapons yet...assuming they're used for sub-weapons, that is. I've made it back to the first save room, and try going in another door.
19 - Cutscene: several platforms lower into the room. I've found a map of a section of the castle. Stepping onto one of the platforms that lowered, and it teleports me to a new area.
20 - House of Sacred Remains. Looks like this is one area of the game. There are skeletons in the room. I go back into the teleporter, though, to explore the previous room.
21 - I take another teleporter into the Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab. More skeletons welcome me. There aren't any barriers keeping me from moving on. Maybe I can tackle these in any order I want? Let's see what the other areas are before I head into another one.
22 - Garden Forgotten by Time. Skeletons. Dark Palace of Waterfalls. More skeletons! Ghostly Theater. Skeletons on staircases!
23 - I'm guessing those are the five domains of the five monsters guarding Bernhard's door. Well, let's try that first one, House of Sacred Remains. Looks like a cathedral. A cathedral full of walking skeletons.
24 - I'm getting a Devil May Cry vibe from the automatic camera and invisible walls, as well as the gothic architecture. Not so much from the combat, which lacks DMC's style and complexity.
25 - I enter a door, and it locks behind me as skeletons rise from the ground. Skeleton Archers join the regular club-wielding piles of bones.
26 - A pedestal in the middle of a small room. It takes me a while to get onto it thanks to the wonky jumping. An eye lights up...somewhere. I have no idea where that is.
27 - Leon has a cool guillotine kick that he can use from the air. Doesn't seem especially useful, though. Enemies in previously-cleared areas reappear.
28 - I'm att the end of the hallway, according to the map. The door locks, and zombies crawl slowly towards me. Their main attack appears to be vomiting on the floor, which is as easy to avoid as it is in real life.
29 - I've seen the same hallway three or four times in different areas. I guess they re-use assets to fill out the castle map. Just like the portable games. Ghost Warriors attack, and defeating them nets me an additional strike in my standard combo. These guys are a bit more aggressive than the skeletons.
30 - I jump up to a balcony in this room and find a high-potion. The opposite balcony has $250. I was hoping for some armor or whip enhancements or something cool...
31 - Into another empty, familiar-looking hallway. Skeletons and ghost warriors are summoned and quickly destroyed. One gives up a potion.
32 - I've come to a room that has a pipe organ at its center. A side door leads to a quick skirmish with zombies.
33 - The camera can easily lose enemies, especially when backtracking. It's annoying to be attacked by skeletons you can't see coming.
34 - The map continues to build itself as I roam the castle. I'd be lost without it, everything looks so similar. Rune Spirits and skeletons attack every now and then.
35 - I need to start paying more attention to my health, I'm down to half vitality. I use a potion, but it barely helps at all.
36 - Hmm...looking at the map, it seems there's only one available room I've yet to check out. And it's quite a ways back. Time to backtrack...
37 - I use a connecting hallway to take a bit of a shortcut, and Skeleton Swordsmen greet me. Defeating them rewards me with a Perfect Guard technique. Guarding upon impact from any attack adds to my magic meter.
38 - Found a save point on the way. Saving your data also restores all health.
39 - The timing for this Perfect Guard is very demanding. It has to be activated right as an enemy attacks. It also stuns the enemy, though, which is useful.
40 - Leon can dodge out of an attack to cancel it. Pretty useful. I've found an Axe subweapon, which Leon throws horizontally at enemies, unlike the arc motion from the 2D games.
41 - Bats. Are they ever not annoying? They're bit hard to see and harder to hit. New technique: mid-air combo extension. Turns out Leon can float in the air as long as he's whipping. It looks totally unnatural and weird, like he's standing on an invisible platform.
42 - New enemies, Wolf Skeletons. They can turn into shadows and move underground, striking unexpectedly.
43 - Exploring this large room yields $250 and another $250. Not a lot of fun loot yet...
44 - I've come to a winding hallway with red skeletons in it. They revive shortly after being killed, as is Castlevania tradition. A floating eye enemy shoots lasers as well.
45 - A Heavy Armor enemy approaches, and the music goes all dramatic. Mid-boss? It spins its morning star weapon around and also launches it directly at me. He took a bit of health from me, but I emerge victorious.
46 - I keep finding these Marker Stones for the map. I've got six of them now, but don't know why they would be useful. Dead end, time to backtrack...the Heavy Armor enemy is back, but I can just skip him this time, and do.
47 - Skipping more enemies...the Axe sub-weapon is pretty useful, cutting through multiple enemies. I head into a save room and kneel before the statue.
48 - Time to check the map out and get my bearings...alright, found the next area to explore.
49 - The Axe is much more powerful than the whip...hopefully there are some good upgrades coming.
50 - Found a Crystal sub-weapon. It leaves a crystal on the ground. Not sure what it does...guess I'll test it on the next undead I see.
51 - The Crystal does decent damage to enemies that walk into it, but the axe seems more useful due to its range.
52 - Apparently I'm at 12.3% map completion, according to the pause screen. Is this for the whole game, or just for this area? I'm not sure which I'd prefer, at this point...
53 - Still traveling through hallways...
54 - Cutscene: A bunch of goblins with axes run toward me. No wait, they're Flea Men! They're small and jump around, making them difficult to hit. They explode in a burst of blood when the whip connects. Satisfying.
55 - I come out of a door in the corner of a room...I step off the first time and am assaulted by strange, moving spikes in the ground. They take a lot of health away from me by the time I have any idea what's going on.
56 - Looks like I can only use potions in the real-time item window. The potions only help me a bit. Back in the room with the tricky spikes, it seems I can't defeat them with crystals...and I can't rotate the camera around to find any other safe spots.
57 - I make a break for it, jump over the barriers towards the next door, and hot-foot it to the door. I make it without taking any damage. I guess you just have to go for it.
58 - A trail of raising and lowering spikes rotates around this doughnut-shaped area. I just have to follow them around to the other side.
59 - Skeleton Knights and Archers welcome me to this next area, identical to many I've already seen. I destroy them, as any proper guest would.
60 - I come to another hallway, leading to a save point. I save. The first hour ends.
Minutes to Action: 8
What I liked: Everything, I guess. Nothing really stands out as amazing, but I can't find anything to complain about.
Video: The graphics are standard for PS2 era, with acceptable character models and blurry textures. The gothic Castlevania style is intact here.
Audio: I didn't tire of the one tune I heard repeating through most of the hour. It's fitting for Castlevania. Leon's grunts and whip cracks sound fine, and the voice acting is certainly above average for a video game.
Story: The long introduction built the setting and the few introduced characters well enough.
Gameplay: It reminds me a lot of the modern 2D Castlevanias. It clearly has a focus on exploration and upgrades, and combat is similar to many melee-focused 3D Action games of its era.
Challenge: An easygoing first hour, though there were a few moments of legitimate danger.
Pacing: I'd be happier with eight minutes of cinematics per hour if they were interspersed, rather than all up front. Still, nothing to complain about.
Fun Factor: It's got the exploration, combat, and looting of modern 2D Castlevanias, but something about it doesn't feel right in this 3-D space. Still, knocking skeletons around with a Z-axis available isn't so bad.
Would I keep playing? I guess. It wasn't the most exciting first hour, but it has laid the groundwork for what could end up being a decent action title.