Castlevania – Lords of Shadows Review (PS3)
Castlevania, though one of the longest and most glorified franchises, has never really been on my radar. It’s a bit of a drawback really, because I don’t have any warm gushy nostalgia surrounding this franchise, to soften any of its rough edges. In short, I’m less forgiving.
This also means I am not usually drawn to any new Castlevania releases, but a friend of mine insisted that this was the greatest game to evAr walk to the earth, so it had to be tried.
Let the slandering begin.
This game is a gigantic enthusiastic mess.
I have this vision of the first design meeting, held in an overcrowded conference room, filled with super excited console nerds. Everyone talking over each other, wait scratch that, in Japan it would be completely orderly. Okay everyone taking their turn expressing their ideas.
‘Castlevania is a platform game so in 3D we should add awesome climbing stuff like they have in Uncharted!’
‘What about fighting huge guardians/titans like Shadows of the Colossus?’
‘Quick-time features like God of War are a must, we especially should add the weakened foe super move quick time feature.’
‘One of the final moves should be the ability to ride the creature so that it can help the hero pass a difficult obstacle.’
‘Castlevania has the whip as a main weapon, but we could add combo moves just like Motal Kombat. Up, down, X = round house.’
‘Well if we are going to have that weapon we should at least upgrade it and then have various other armor that will give the wearer special powers, you know like almost every Zelda game (and then some!). And we should add fairy guardians just for good measure. Always liked those.’
‘But being able to do combo moves at a whim is too powerful so we need to add mana. To make it more interesting we should split the mana into two types, good and evil, and since it is Castlevania (so glad they remembered that at least sometimes) the mana should be replenished via soul gathering.’
‘To top it all off, we should definitely summon a huge demon, sort of like the later Final Fantasies.’
‘And for the art direction I think we should make it look as much like Prince of Persia as possible. I will pass around some images I will be referencing. Especially look at the Two Thrones one. It exemplifies the dual aspects of our character very well.’
Finally it comes back around to the head honcho. Nodding his approval he closes the meeting with a “Make it so!” And thus Castlevania – Lords of Shadow was conceived.
How they managed to stay on budget while cramming all that stuff in is beyond me. It is also why I think of the design meeting being led by a cluster of enthusiastic console nerdlingers rather than a bunch of business men – who would have just picked features from the highest grossing games.
And yet, the result makes me wonder. This homogenization of console games seems like an invention so evil, only a businessman could come up with.
Release date: October 5, 2010
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platform I played on: PS3
Genre: Action Adventure
It might seem that I was a bit heavy handed in my design meeting scenario. Let me assure you that every example I gave is actually from the game.
There is even more than what I already mentioned, which makes it hard to figure out what to begin with. Start with basics.
Combat is pretty basic, yet filled with seemingly thousands of combo moves. Most of the time when I pulled a combo move off, it was accidental.
The whip/cross is the main weapon, but as one progresses, various other armor pieces are accumulated that also have combo moves, which can be used in combat (it is also used for grappling). Gloves of super punching, boots of speedy running, you get the idea. These armor combo moves also help break through doors or walls sometimes.
All these items have combo moves that use the Good (blue) and Evil (red) Mana that the main character has access too. Blue mana is mostly used for defensive magic, like healing, while the red magic is mostly a damage boost. Only one type of magic can be used at a time and sadly the mana doesn’t last very long when you do use it.
Beyond the worn weapons are the collected ones. Up to ten silver daggers may be stored, which are the thrown weapon of choice against werewolves. Holy water can be collected and thrown to help take down a pack of vampires.
Purple gems are collected to form a summoning stone. Once complete a huge demon may be summoned. This action will stall combat while the demon animation rolls and inflicts massive damage to all in the area. (Huge chained pregnant Demon. Someone has some issues.)
Lastly there are fairies to collect. These can be sent out to stun opponents.
But when it comes to boss fights, blocking is really the key mechanic of the game. If an opponent’s attack is properly blocked it will stun the opponent for a few seconds leaving it vulnerable. But beware; attacks that flash white are not blockable.
Once an opponent is low on hit points, a grabbing move can be performed which in most cases will result in an instant death move/animation. In a few special cases the grab move will result in the opponent becoming rideable, which is used to overcome various obstacles in the game.
Another feature of combat is the collecting of souls/life energy (forget what they called it). Harvesting these floating glowy balls will replenish either the red or blue mana. But the souls are only released either upon death of the opponent or if the combat meter of ‘not being hit’ has filled up. Then any successive damaging move will release souls, but only so long as no opponent’s attacks inflict damage and no red or blue mana is being used.
The rest of the game is filled with running, jumping, climbing, grappling (he uses his whip to grapple onto item), trying to not fall of titans, riding, solving puzzles, mana and health shrines, and finding hidden treasure (by looting the bodies of dead knights).
And that still doesn’t cover it all. Crazy.
World and Story
The story does the rest of the game proud by being huge, complicated, and forced upon the player via unavoidable cut scenes (never gets as bad as some of the later Final Fantasys though.)
Our protagonist, Gabriel, is a member of the highly warlike Brotherhood of Light order of Knights. They act as protectors in this end of world scenario, where the Lords of Shadow have risen up, scorched the world, and loosened horrors upon the land.
Gabriel’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to save the world (surprise!) and seal away the Lords so that the world can yet again be overrun with humans. To do so he must assemble some sort of mask, which each Lord has a piece of. Gabriel also hopes that the mask will help him bring his dead wife back to life.
What makes the story so bearable is Patrick Steward, who narrates the whole storyline. And most of this happens while the game is loading, making it unavoidable, but in a much more forgiving way, as loading screens have to be suffered through anyway.
Patrick Steward makes everything awesome. ~sigh~
The graphics are clearly in the more realistic vein and mange to be pretty decent – a bit heavy on the bloom, but otherwise fine.
In the end the game just looks so much like Prince of Persia I can’t seem to get beyond that. The Gabriel character looks like the Prince with a bit more armor. Even the backgrounds have a similar feel, maybe a bit more gothic.
Okay, maybe I’m just making it up, but they seem similar to me. =P
There is so much damn content that there isn’t really a need to replay anything. But for those who really want to go through all four million chapters of the game again, there are various difficulty levels and items to procure along the way.
As much as sharing a controller can be called multiplayer. Other than that, its single player all the way.
Things that bothered me
This is probably my biggest gripe about the game because not only were all the ‘borrowed’ ideas from other games implemented in such a way that created almost an identical copy instead of evolving the idea, but also they added soooo much, that hardly any of the ideas get much opportunity to shine.
I hardly ever had the time to get a hang of something before that was shoved aside for something new.
In their overenthusiastic rush to add all those nifty features they managed to completely overshadow the actual game. I wanted to play Castlevania, but ended up playing bits and pieces of ten different games all smooshed into one.
-Where is my game?
It is under there!! If only they had paired down a bit on features. The game has some wonderfully fun mechanics. The split of red and blue mana, the riding of beasts, the combo moves. Those three alone would have been plenty for one game with interesting levels that utilized those tools.
-Shockingly too long.
It’s like the game that never ends. It just goes on and on and on. I freely admit that this feeling of endlessness might be exacerbated by my not enjoying the game as much, but with twelve chapters, each of those with up to 20ish subchapters, there is a lot get through.
-Way too hard!
I played on easy. I picked easy because I wanted to actually complete the game and have a good time. Turns out, there is no easy. I’m not sure how they determined easy mode, but it hardly had any effect on combat. So if you are sucky at console controls (like me!), this game is just a big frustrating tantrum waiting to happen.
This is by far my least favorite combat mechanism there is. Especially in games that have combos, since I tend to mash buttons (due to lack of skill) which means I often find myself stuck in the middle of a random combo move when I have to block.
My fix for this is to not attack and just wait around to block. Fun game play right? No.
Progress (Time played/Game finished)
Very much done. At the end I would just watch as my friend played. Had he not been there to get through all the tough spots I would have quit after the second chapter.
But with him we managed to get to chapter eight, though the game claims that we only completed 24%. I’m assuming its counting the difficulty levels and all the hidden stuff we left behind.
Total play time was eleven hours.