Developed by Mercury Steam and Konami, this game features medieval-like action against fantastic creatures taken from classic literature, such as vampires and werewolves. Mercury Steam’s team was aided through the process of creating this game by Konami, this lead to interesting opportunities such as appearances from renowned actors like Patrick Stewart (ProfessorX in X-men) who lends his voice as the narrator and a secondary character throughout the game. The game also had an interesting collaboration by Hideo Kojima, responsible for series such as Metal Gear Solid and Lunar Knights.
This team’s effort put together brought us this title, which supposedly was not even going to feature the name “Castlevania” since it had little correlation to the canon established by previous games. Nevertheless, it was later revealed that this game intended to create an “alternate” storyline and was, in fact, thought of as a Castlevania game from the beginning, thus, including familiar elements like the name “Belmont” in the mix. To refresh your memories or teach you something today: In the previous Castlevania games there was a formula that was usually followed: The main villain was either Dracula, or some evil guy trying to bring Dracula back from the dead, and the hero was often a member of the “Belmont” clan, a family said to be the ones “in charge” of defeating Dracula should he arise from the dead, or to stop that from happening altogether. All this was possible by the use of a sacred weapon known as the “Vampire-killer”, a whip that was rumored to be able to vanquish evil. This game, however, does not feature Dracula as a villain.
The gameplay in LoS is rather simple: There’s a player character and there are a lot of evil guys. In this game you alternate from fighting hordes of enemies, puzzle solving and platforming, a new element for the series with which the game developers chose to experiment, it is not bad, and gives the adventure a feeling of actually being doing something rather than mindlessly slashing your way to the end, but it does suffer from the issue of ambiguity: It is complicated at first to know which ledges are climbable and which ones are not, until you recognize the patterns they are usually accommodated in, causing the game to turn rather monotonous in the platforming sections.
The puzzles, on the other hand, are entertaining and offer a decent challenge, with the contingency that if you are stuck in one you can cheat and have the puzzle solved for you, which is also entertaining, because in this instance, the game will show you the way of solving the puzzle, but, not unlike a big brother, it will sit back and wait until you finish doing what you were told to do.
The combat is engaging and fun, there are a lot of combos you can work with to clear rooms full of enemies, but it is still pretty repetitive at times, and the enemies have attack patterns that are easy to memorize and predict. Still, with the addition of combos and side weapons (daggers, holy water, fairies (yes, fairies, although this ones are somewhat useless since if you try to use them in a boss battle they will fly out of your pocket stare at the enemy, get scared and run back to you before you realize what has happened) and a crystal that summons a dark creature that kills every enemy in the room once you use it (for those of you familiar with the Castlevania series, it is much like the rosary, but, this one can be used whenever you feel like it and it’s kind of… unholy)) the game also offers a variety of ways to defeat everyone around you, and this array of options, makes the experience a likeable and memorable one.
The best part is that you achieve all this with a simple controller, you move around with the joystick, you have a light attack button, a heavy attack button, one for grabbing objects or opponents, one to use side weapons. Another one to absorb magic orbs, the D-Pad to change your side weapon and the shoulder buttons to choose which kind of magic to use (yes, there is magic, but hold on, we’ll get to that later).
In this game you are alone against the armies of, well, the Lords of Shadow. These guys, as many henchmen, do their best to please the “monster resources” department, and come at you with everything they’ve got, although as I mentioned earlier, they have very predictable attack patterns and often only hurt you because they all attack at once, you if you try to hit a member of the group, one might hit you back as you are distracted showing his mate the different meanings of pain.
The bosses are a similar story; some of them are about the same size as the main character and are easily defeated by recognizing their attacks, dodging them, and hitting them with the main weapon until they cry and die. Some other bosses are… big, very big, they are giants that you defeat by crawling on them like an obnoxious little spider and hitting the designated spot until you break them, this second kind of boss takes more patience than skill since you have to be on the lookout for the quick time event that will allow you to move forward in your offensive.
Let’s take a moment now to breathe and talk about the “behind the scenes” part of the experience: the pause button. Here you are met with an interface that shows you the collectibles you have from the game such as magic gems to enhance your magic bars and health bar, the scrolls you have collected with little bits of storytelling that create a nice historic background for the places you travel to, the list of all the attachments you have found for the main weapon, and last but not least, a cute little store where you can trade the experience points you earn during combat for combos or upgrades on your side weapons.
I know I did mention magic before, and yes, now is the time to talk about it. You have two magic bars: one that represents good magic; and another one that represents evil magic (marked with blue and red bars respectively). These bars get replenished with orbs or magic fountains found through the game, (in order to fill a particular bar you press the button that corresponds to either good or evil magic) but are not that useful. The good magic main advantage is that it heals you every time you hit an enemy, so you only use this when you are losing a fight, although you can deplete a full bar of this sucker and still find yourself in need of more health to get you going. The evil magic is more interesting, it makes the player character angry, which causes him to attack with more fury, hitting harder and being faster, however, it also falls under the “too little to be useful” category, since it depletes rather quickly, so, this one too will only be used in moments where you need to finish off enemies faster than usual. Where the magic capabilities shine is in the side weapons department, each side weapon finds itself affected by the kind of magic you are using, for example, if you use holy water while using good magic you will create a protective shield, in contrast, were you to use a dagger with evil magic you will throw it on fire, faster and in a stronger manner. To close this discussion: Magic aids you against enemies, in certain puzzles and moments where it serves to advance the storyline.
The tale that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow tells is a simple one: In a medieval time where the world is ruled by evil. There was an allegiance between heaven and earth that was severed by a dark force known as The Lords of Shadow, the rapture in said allegiance caused the souls of the departed to wander incessantly, not being able to reach heaven.
Gabriel Belmont, member of the Brotherhood of light that sworn to destroy evil on earth, protecting humanity against the Lords of Shadow embarks on a quest to find a magic artifact, a mask that according to an old legend had the power to bring people back from the dead. Gabriel sets off to find this mask to revive his loved one, Marie. In his quest for said artifact, he learns that the mask is broken into pieces and that the Dark Lords each one posses one of those pieces. Gabriel’s desire to move forward is fueled by Marie through his quest; she encourages him to defeat the evil forces and to recover the link between heaven and earth so that all the souls can go to heaven. In short, she uses her ghost-like nature to push Gabriel towards what she thinks is the greater good.
This is how he begins his journey, with his goal clear in his mind, but with the knowledge that every step closer to it brings him one step closer away from his humanity, since he has to travel to the depths of hell itself to achieve his goal, having to destroy the Dark Lords, using a weapon called the “combat-cross”: A big crucifix with a whip and several “gadgets” that help him overcome most obstacles (this was another element that had similarities, mostly because it gives a better explanation of how the weapon became to be known as the “vampire-killer).
The music in this game was composed by Oscar Araujo, from Spain. He made the score possible with a 120 piece orchestra. There are several new musical arrangements to accompany the player as he travels through each level and some other melodies that fans from the series will immediately recognize make a sweet comeback (there’s a puzzle that includes one of the best ones as both solution and musicalization).
The graphics are really good, the characters look very life-like and where they absolutely shine is on the level design: beautifully detailed backgrounds that you can enjoy while playing, and very accurate visual elements both in the main characters and the objects you interact with. It all looks like it’s supposed to look.
Now, let’s discuss something most gamers out there need to know before they get their hands on a videogame: Does it have a good replay value? Yes it does, it gives you the opportunity to play all the levels again with the skill that you have acquired through the first playthrough, only this time, you have all the upgrades and power-ups.
The downside is that there’s no way of beginning a new adventure from zero on another safe file, mainly because it only has one and is auto-save based, which, come to think of it, makes it a more immersing experience since you don’t have to worry about reaching that checkpoint room after doing something amazing and you can just move on with the story swiftly.
Wrapping things up: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a good game, and if you can forgive the quick time events, the constant camera issues and embrace the reboot of the storyline, then you are in for a very delightful experience since it’s one of the few games to fuse its elements gracefully.