Yes I know I am a-year-and-a-half late in playing this game, but you can blame that on an utter lack of capital and, well, interest in this game. I’ll have to out myself right now: I did not belive this game would deliver a good Castlevania experience from the very beginning. Yes I was wrong, but when your Castlevania bread and butter consists of Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and the fantastic GBA and DS Castlevania games, you can’t help but be skeptical about any other kind of offering.
So what did I think?
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is often extremely beautiful and contemplative, with sumptuous, melancholy melodies and incredible architecture abound. However, it gets dragged down by the myriad combat interruptions. This wouldn’t be so bad if the combat was quick and unobtrusive, but in reality it is lengthy, tedious, and much more elaborate than it needed to be. The proof of this is in the game itself: the very best two battles of the game are against the Silver Knight and the final boss, and these two battles rely on a simple and unique concept that is not explored in any other battle in the game: Light/Shadow polarity. To elaborate: in these battles, you must keep an eye on the polarity of the enemy’s attacks or shield, and counter it with the opposite polarity. Because of this, these battles are over much more quickly, and yet they are much more engaging than any other battle in the game.
Look, guys, Konami: I don’t care about mashing X and Y in different combinations for ‘direct’ and ‘area’ attacks. It is boring, you know why? Because it requires large and numerous waves of enemies to work as intended, and then it just becomes monotonous. If you had just used the polarity system throughout the whole game, you would have been able to maintain battles more engaging in spite of ending more quickly, and this in turn would result in the mood and pacing of the game remaining entirely uninterrupted for its entirety, something that has been an essential element of every single critically acclaimed Castlevania game there has ever been.
Another small quibble I have with the game is its platforming. It is terrible for a huge chunk of the game. I simply cannot feel anything when I’m making my character climb through pre-determined ledges and doing automatic whip swings. I want to actually play when I’m doing my platforming. I like to have to measure my jumps, gain momentum for whip swings, and otherwise be challenged with all manner of contraptions (falling platforms, rotating clock gears, etc). I said in the beginning of this paragraph that this was a small quibble because, strangely, the game actually fixed this issue in the last third of the game, when the character gains the ability to double jump. I understand that throughout the first two-thirds of the game the level design had to be kept relatively boring (in terms of platforming elements) because of the realism with which the game’s architecture is approached, but this could have totally been avoided by giving the player the damned double-jump ability since before the first-third of the game was over. Like I said, though, the game’s platforming actually became rather excellent in the last third of the game, and I only wish the whole game had been like that.
This next issue of mine is not small by any means. The damned puzzles. Konami: why? Have Castlevania fans ever given an indication of wanting more puzzles in their games? Did you ever hear anyone say “you know what this Castlevania game is missing? Statues that I need to push and rotate so that they can reflect light toward the exit door”? Like hell you did. “Maybe the game would be better if I could take breaks from the action with a good old geometric pattern scarecrow puzzle”? Screw you. Action fans don’t take breaks. Let me refer you to the only games you should ever use for inspiration when making Action Platformers: Super Castlevania IV and Contra 3. In those games, every room is filled with challenging platforms and strategically placed enemies that can kick your ass if you’re a bit careless. You think Contra 3 would have been better paced if it had freaking puzzles? Get out of here with that jive.
Then, there was the ending. That was beautiful stuff. I mean, I don’t necessarily think the story was gorgeously crafted, or the cinematic presentation something to write home about (yet here I am), but the ways in which the Castlevania franchise was re-imagined not only in the moments leading up to the final boss but also in the epilogue, were brilliant. I seriously hope MercurySteam get a shot at doing a sequel for this game, as I can only imagine that it will actually be great all throughout.
- Simplifying the combat would make the game infinitely more palatable, as it would ensure the mood and pacing remain unbroken.
- The platforming needs to be more complex. Giving the character the ‘double-jump’ ability from early on would give the artists flexibility to keep the platforming both realistic and engaging.
- Get rid of all the puzzles. No exception.
- The sequel might actually turn out to be all-around great, given the interesting reconstruction of the Castlevania franchise that was done at the end of the game.
- This one isn’t up there but I feel this is the right place for it: the story does not need to be so awfully explicative. Look, Kojima Productions (yes, I’m blaming this on them, obviously), I don’t need to know, nor do I care, how it is that Skeleton Warriors came to be. Seriously, I do not care. Don’t explain this to me. Salvador Dali never cared to explain why his clocks were melting, so please don’t tell me why it is that human bones become re-animated and are vulnerable to my retractable Holy Cross-Chain-Whip. Explaining the meaning behind surrealist works is just about as asinine as explaining why puns are sometimes kind of funny, so just don’t do it.
So why did I get this game now, a full year and a half after it released? Because it’s the first time I find it for only $20. But also because I was waiting to receive my import copy of Pandora’s Tower, and I needed something to compare that to. I wanted to see which of these two would end up being a better 3D Castlevania game, which I guess is nothing but idle curiosity, but who cares? Either way, I am playing Pandora’s Tower now, and I already see that game doing correctly many things Castlevania: Lords of Shadow did not, yet also missing in some things Castlevania: Lords of Shadow nailed very well. At this point I no longer care which is the better 3D Castlevania, I just want to see sequels for both on the WiiU.
Yes: even though I sound very harsh on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow above, by the end I was truly loving the level design, the platforming, the combat, and the lore, and I want nothing more (well, there are a few things I want more) than to see it get a sequel that comes like the morning Sun to vanquish the horrible Night.