First Impressions: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was released last week, and I expected my copy to arrive a week after release because I chose a cheaper shipping option. To my pleasant surprise, it arrived a couple days after release, so I was able to spend a bit of time with it the night before I had to leave for a business trip. Now that that particular trip is over and I’m on holiday (though I’m not at home, so I can’t play the game right now), I’ll share some first impressions.

The story, a reboot of the Castlevania franchise, is pretty typical of a lot of videogames: you are Gabriel Belmont, a (presumably) straight, white male, whose love interest, Marie (a (presumably) straight, white woman), was murdered by evil monsters. She’s dead and you’re really sad. What’s really sad is that before the plot even has an opportunity to start twisting, the first woman introduced in the story (via a dream sequence) is in a refrigerator (well, she’s technically between life and death, however she’s sufficiently incapacitated enough, given that only Gabriel can save her, that I think this counts as a fridging). Also, you are so angry that the evil monsters killed your wife, you want revenge. Apparently being a member of the Brotherhood of Light (warriors who fight against supernatural evils in the land), and being against evil monsters in general is not enough motivation to go kill those monsters.

I haven’t played a Castlevania game since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and like Lords of Shadow, the protagonist in Symphony of the Night, Alucard, is motivated to destroy Dracula because of the death of a loved one. The other two Castlevania games I’ve played, Castlevania and Castlevania: The Adventure, were also not particularly strong in terms of storytelling, however Simon Belmon and Christopher Belmont, respectively, were motivated to fight evil (Dracula) because evil is bad and causes suffering in lots of people. I wasn’t expecting an innovative plot from Lords of Shadow, but the women in refrigerators trope existing in this game still deserves a call out whenever possible because it is annoying, and maybe someone will get a clue, so in the future they may stop annoying people with this boringness if it gets called out enough times. Creators need to find other ways to add depth to a lead character and to make him or her more interesting than killing off or seriously injuring their significant other or loved one. This shit is getting old. That said, I’m holding on to a shred of hope that Marie turns out to be more than Gabriel Belmont’s reason for character and personality development.

For me, it’s too early to tell whether 3D works perfectly for this Castlevania game, but the bits I have played are pretty smooth. The fighting appears, so far, to be fairly forgiving. I haven’t played God of War, but I’ve heard friends talk about it and read impressions. Combat is pretty satisfying at this point, with a lot of cool effects and abilities that are easy to execute. I almost feel that this game is sort of like what I imagine God of War is like, based upon what I’ve heard about it, but I can’t confirm this feeling because I have no interest or intention of playing any God of War games.

My only annoyance with combat right now is the inclusion of my old nemesis, the quick time event (QTE), which requires the player to execute particular button combinations in a certain amount of time in order to perform special moves in a combat sequence in s0 that fight can progress. Thankfully, QTEs in this game are not very complicated, and so far most involve pressing any button at a specific time, rather than multiple button combinations.

The platformer aspect seems okay so far, though at this stage, opportunities to platform are limited. I played through an area which required some climbing and swinging from vines, and this was also not terribly difficult to get a hang of, though I imagine that the obstacles will get more difficult as I progress through the game.

One of the things I miss is Michiru Yamane‘s music. She composed the music for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and most of the recent Castlevania games, including the other two 3D Castlevania games and the Nintendo DS titles. Whilst I’m only familiar with Yamane’s work on Symphony of the Night, it was most excellent and I treasure my Symphony of the Night soundtrack. That’s not to say that ├ôscar Araujo’s compositions are bad; they’re serviceable so far, and it’s too early for me to make a final judgment on whether I like or dislike them. I’m just suffering from nostalgia and desirous of some ties to classic Castlevania games. As I purchased a limited edition copy of Lords of Shadow, I have a CD soundtrack, so I’ll be giving it a proper listen at some point.

The voice acting is noteworthy because Konami, the publisher, and Mercury Steam, the developer, brought in some high-profile actors to play many of the key characters. Robert Carlyle plays Gabriel Belmont, Patrick Stewart plays Zobek (Gabriel’s mentor) and narrates the story, and Natascha McElhone plays Marie. I’m a big Patrick Stewart fan, so I’m happy about his inclusion in the game. So far, I think the voice acting quality is really high, so no complaints from me on this front.

I don’t really have much to say about the graphics. They meet my expectations for a PS3 title, which is to say, the graphics look great. I haven’t seen anything that particularly wows me on the art direction and design front, but I think I’m too early in the game for this to happen. In terms of character design, I think Gabriel Belmont is too bulky and hulking to be particularly attractive or cool-looking, but that’s just my opinion. With regard to concept art, I definitely prefer Ayami Kojima‘s (no relation to Hideo Kojima) work much more. She did concept art and character designs for many recent Castlevania titles, like Symphony of the Night, Lament of Innocence, Curse of Darkness, Aria of Sorrow, and Harmony of Dissonance.

The game is pretty fun so far, and seems promising. I’m looking forward to picking it back up when I return home.

10 comments

  1. SnakeLinkSonic · October 11, 2010

    I knew I’d end up having to separate this game from the series proper when it was first announced (this game makes it even more apparent than the prior 3D games I’ve played). There’s just no way to realistically succeed the legacy that Kojima & Yamane have put down (who surpassed Igarashi in importance to me a long time ago). My only problem now is navigating with how to deal with people expecting and reacting to this series becoming a somewhat above-average hack-n-slash epic fest. I’m not on board with it myself just yet, but I will have to give the full game a shot to come to any definitive conclusion (which I don’t intend to do for a while).

    • Brinstar · October 11, 2010

      I think it’s almost impossible to separate this installment from what came before. There’s a history and fan awareness of previous games, as well as certain expectations coming from that history that may not necessarily go away with the knowledge that Mercury Steam developed this game. I’m not expecting the same design philosophies or sensibilities, but a game that is recognisably Castlvania. Already Mercury Steam have chosen to create a game that is more story-heavy than any other Castlvania game I have played, and that’s certainly raising expectations in a direction I wouldn’t otherwise have had if the game had been developed by Konami. And despite the lack of story in the previous Castlevania games I played, I enjoyed them quite a lot.

  2. DSimon · October 11, 2010

    If you’re interested in playing a recent sans-refrigerator Castlevania game, I strongly recommend Order of Ecclesia. Besides starring one of the coolest portable-game female protagonists of recent memory (right behind the incredible Jill of Drill Dozers…), it’s also just a well designed experience.

    • Brinstar · October 11, 2010

      I think at some point I was interested in that game, but probably got distracted by a new shiny before I could buy. :-P Thank you for the recommendation, and for the note about the protagonist in it!

  3. Thefremen · October 11, 2010

    Well, if it is relatively easy I guess I’ll be OK. I had to do New Game+ twice to make it through Dead Rising 2.

  4. Albedo777 · October 11, 2010

    Just wait until the second female character is introduced.

    I’m in the same boat as you, though I’m really, really enjoying the score. I’m on chapter 5 or 6 so far, so I’m a bit further. There’s lots more platforming but I don’t think it’s as fast/fluid as Enslaved or Prince of Persia. A lot of the movements feel a bit wonky and I’ve died more than a couple times from jumping that wasn’t my fault.

    I keep waiting for something big to happen to the story that’ll make it more interesting than “blah blah blah wife dead blah blah blah three parts of a mask” that’s so typical in games. We’ll see. I also miss the openness of SotN, etc. This new game feels very “arcadey” where you go back to levels when you have better equipment, but you have to play through them as if you were encountering them for the first time. That’s my biggest annoyance. Anyway, looking forward to hearing more as you progress. :)

  5. Josh Petrie · October 11, 2010

    For the most part I enjoy the game, although there are some aspects to the combat model that seem too “sticky” (such as the timing of magic orb absorption) for what is otherwise pretty fluid. Some of the timings on the sync blocking for attacks are non-obvious as well.

    But the thing that drives me absolutely insane is the way the camera jiggles around like it’s drunk whenever you aren’t moving at all. It’s crazy.

    • Brinstar · October 11, 2010

      I really dislike the timed blocking moves. I actually disliked timed anything in games. More often than not, it stresses me out and annoys me if I try to perfect those moves. I just don’t bother. Please don’t tell me those moves are a key part of beating a boss. :-)

      Just a small note, out of respect for people with mental disabilities, I ask you not to use the words “insane” or “crazy” to describe things which are frustrating or irritating on this blog. I know saying that something is “insane” or “crazy” is super common in everyday speech, but it is hurtful to people with mental disabilities, so for that reason, please refrain from that language here. Thanks. :-)

  6. UZ · October 11, 2010

    Castlevania Lords of Shadow is a lot like God of War, at least from what I saw in the demo. There are basically two differences:

    1) Stuff is not noticeably Greek in CLOS

    2) Kratos has a gravelly voice that suits his ugly mug. The semi-truck-sized Gabriel Belmont is voiced by Robert Carlyle, whose voice sounds small and skinny.

    Oh and GB can throw knives. And… nope, that’s about it.

    Michiru Yamane’s music in SOTN was indeed great. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence’s music was so boilerplatey and bland that I was surprised to see the same name on both games… it’s kind of weird actually.

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