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PS2 Review - 'Castlevania: Lament of Innocence'

by Hank on Dec. 21, 2003 @ 1:49 a.m. PST

Set in the 11th Century, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence thrusts players ten centuries into the past and casts them in the role of Leon Belmont, the forefather of the legendary Belmont Clan and the first in the family’s long line of vampire hunters. With social and political activities operating under the oppressive grip of clergy during the Crusades, Leon is a nobleman about to be engaged to his beloved Sara. However, when his young lover disappears one fateful evening, Leon sets out to rescue her. Read more for the full review ...

Genre : Action
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: October 31, 2003

Buy 'CASTLEVANIA: Lament of Innocence': PlayStation 2

I can still remember the first time I heard the story of Dracula. The tale is both scary and intriguing: a vampire abducts fair ladies and changes them with a single bite. Is he a seducer or a man of evil? Welcome to Castlevania, the lifelong battle to defeat vampires while saving our loved ones. We shall begin our battle against one of the strongest enemies of the night.

If you haven't played it before, Castlevania is perhaps the most revered beat-'em-up game of all time. As you might have heard, Konami's latest installment of the series, Lament of Innocence, is 3D. Seasoned Castlevania enthusiasts are probably groaning at the thought of another dismal 3D attempt, but let's find out if the curse has finally been lifted from the franchise.

The controls for the game are very easy to grasp, and it's a cinch to get the hang of the controls after playing through the tutorial. The controls are: square: light whip/examine/confirm, triangle: heavy whip, circle: sub-weapon/cancel, X: jump/confirm, R1 or R2: guard, L1: orb window, L2: relic circle, and right analog: real time window. The thing that makes this complicated and more advanced is the real time window, a feature that is done superbly and which I have yet to see in other games. In a real life battle, you can't stop the fight so you can grab a med kit, let alone have the time to use it. Lament of Innocence has taken this into account and created the real time window so that during a fight, you must equip your items and heal yourself using the right analog stick. It is really quite impressive and requires a lot of getting used to. Hitting the start button so you can use the healing items is no longer allowed.

Like many beat-'em-up games, you attack by hitting certain button combinations to execute certain moves. You will only start off with a limited set of moves, requiring you to unlock the more complex and powerful ones as the game progresses. The moves are somewhat lengthy, but after you finish hitting the combination of buttons, you will be certain that it activates the attack you desire. If you think one hit will kill your enemies, think again. Each enemy has different life points and requirements in order to be beaten. You will probably never face the enemy mano-a-mano other than a few boss battles. If you don't use your button combos well enough, you will definitely get hit or killed by the monsters. If you were surrounded by a massive army, you should execute one of the heavy combos which will attack and hit almost anyone within a certain vicinity, giving you the necessary time and space needed to defeat them. I personally like to change my fighting style to suit the situation, but if you are comfortable with one move and think you can handle it, then be my guest. The developers have advanced the gameplay so much that your manner of attack doesn't particularly matter. Let's say you are beating on one character and another one is approaching you from an opposite direction. Rather than getting hit by the character because you are stuck in a combo, you can actually break out of it and dodge, an element that is needed in almost every game of this variety. To perform one of four possible dodge moves, simply hit the R1 (block button) and X (jump button) simultaneously. You can dodge left, right, back or even a double dodge, once it's been unlocked. I also relied heavily on the blocking moves. Blocking is standard and similar to all of the other systems of this genre, but they do implement a perfect guard, meaning you timed the block perfectly. If you do execute this, you will gain magic points, which will allow you to use your special abilities like relics and orbs. The special moves that require MP are executed by hitting R1 and circle (sub-weapon button), and they can unleash devastating attacks against your opponent. If you do not have any MP, however, you can rely on your secondary attack items: knife, holy water, axe, cross, and crystal. Luckily, most bosses will have a weakness to one of these secondary attacks. Hearts can be picked up from defeating the enemy in battle or knocking down the braziers. So if you are low, make sure you fill up by destroying all of the braziers; you never know when these secondary moves will save your life. Once you have familiarized yourself with all of these buttons, it's time to attack the castle.

The game starts off telling the story of your character, Leon Belmont, a courageous man whose combat abilities were second to none. Mathias, his genius tactician and friend, warned him that Sara, Leon's betrothed, had been kidnapped and brought to the castle. Leon renounces his title and heads off to rescue his beloved. Because of Leon's naïveté, he heads towards the castle unequipped and eventually meets up with Rinaldo, an alchemist who lives in the forest ruled by the vampire. He provides Leon with his whip and informs him about the task at hand.

The vampire Walter is known for sending out challenges to strong men, and his challenges state that he must first defeat five of his monsters before he can face the head of the castle himself. That means five stages and big bosses for us: Undead Parasite, Golem, Medusa, Succubus, and Joachim. There are more bosses, but they are optional. Since each boss is introduced by a cut scene, I won't ruin all of the fun for you. Before you can face these bosses, you must go through several tasks in order to reach them.

The game isn't exactly linear because the puzzles in the game are not exactly the easiest to figure out. You have to observe your environment thoroughly, or else you won't be able to advance. Some puzzles are easy to figure out while others are a little more obscure. I hated the locks because the first few were easy to find, while later ones took me forever to figure out. You can't always focus on finding the puzzles either because the rooms are almost always filled with monsters. If it is your first time in the room, it is locked up so that you cannot advance to the next room before defeating the enemies. They lock up the room so that you cannot advance unless you do. If at anytime you must re-enter the room after the first battle, the doors remain unlocked so you can skip the enemies if you are in a hurry.

There are several different types of enemies so your strategy may need to differ for each one. They each have their own special attacks and weaknesses which you can read in the enemy encyclopedia after you have defeated that genre of monsters. In other games, beating up on an enemy will net experience points and eventually allow you to level up your character. In Lament of Innocence, this system is not in place, and the only way to increase your stats is to have better equipment, which certainly levels the playing field for all players. Personally, this makes the game more enjoyable because I really hate the repetition that is required in order to gain experience points. The game doesn't ever seem to repeat itself so not having to do massive leveling scores big in my book.

The game requires a lot of skill, and since the puzzles are extremely complex, you will have to use your jump and whip skills wisely. The whip plays a crucial part in the game and is not only used as a weapon but also as a grapple in order to swing over to the other side. If at any time you miss the object, you will simply drop down to the lower levels, requiring you to start all over again. The developers made invisible barriers so you simply cannot walk off platforms; the only way to get off the platforms is to jump. This allows the player to set up for the jump and ensure that they are focusing on the objective instead of worrying about falling to the ground. The bosses themselves are also puzzles, and repeatedly whaling on them doesn't always do the trick. If you ever do get stuck, you can always enjoy the game's music while trying to crack the case.

You have just got to love games that offer voices and music in Dolby Digital. The music is just spectacular and lends an eerie feeling to the game, but you may not have had enough time to even pay attention to it, as you are consumed by fighting enemies and figuring out puzzles. When you do have the time, the orchestral music is perfect for this game. Each level also has its own theme song, and while it loops during each level, you never get bored of it. What dazzles me more is probably the voice acting. While I personally prefer the original language to the dub, the voice acting was pretty good. Luckily, to appease audience members like me, Konami has also included the Japanese soundtrack. The only time you can change the language settings is before starting or continuing a game. I would have loved it if a user could change the language while in the game, but that's just the icing on the cake. Regardless of your audio selection, subtitles will always be on the screen.

The graphics quality in the game also gives a lasting impression. The character designs and enemies are extremely well drawn, and enemies are easily distinguishable. Since the game includes blood in the battles, it's much more enjoyable but also garnered an ESRB "Mature" rating. While not very numerous, the cut scenes are quite good. Most of the artwork is focused on the monsters and the detail of the castle. Each room has its own feel, and you rarely see replicas. Most 3D titles have the ability to rotate the camera, but in this installment, Konami has made the camera stationary so there is no way to truly observe the room unless you run by and jump around to examine the designs. The stationary camera angle allows you enough view to defeat the enemies and view the puzzles. With the map and compass, you can almost never get lost.

Overall, the game is superbly done and boasts excellent audio and visual effects as well as a very intuitive and advanced combat system. The game has definitely broken the curse of 3D Castlevania and has a lot of replay value, allowing you to unlock secret items or even replay the game at different difficulty or characters. The only downside is the fact that the game is easily beatable in eight hours or less, but I'm sure Castlevania fans will invest a lot more time than that. I would love to see what Konami has up their sleeves for the next installment, as this game is almost perfect.

Score: 8.4/10

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