I shall call you Shadow of the Prince of the Lord of the God of Vania.
With some Portal thrown in at the end.
Because that’s what this thing is. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a complete reboot of Konami’s classic series series, throwing out all of your typical Belmonts and Alucards and whatnot. Instead we get a completely clean slate, with said slate being comprised of pieces of every popular game franchise from the last five years. However, what should really be asked is not whether this new Castlevania is original. One must ask if it is good. So, is it?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: yes, with a but.
Lords of Shadow takes place in Europe during the 11th century. Apparently the one thing historians forgot to record from that time was that mythological monsters were real and terrorizing the land. Luckily a group of holy knights called the Brotherhood of Light went out a’stabbin’ and a’whippin’ and a’killin’ these walking blasphemies against God. Perhaps the most ass kicking of these holy rollers is Gabriel Belmont, a man who is mentally walking a very fine line at the start of the game. Not only is he charged with taking on unholy horrors, but his beloved wife was just murdered. His one solace is the God Mask, a mystical object that may be able to bring back the dead. It just so conveniently happens that the way to get the God Mask is to take down the Lords of Shadow, the guys who have cut Earth off from Heaven and caused all these ghoulies to pop up.
Now just to reassure some people who started to worry when they saw that Hideo Kojima was working on this project, no, there are no 40 minute long cinema scenes. In fact, most of the story comes in brief little cut scenes near the beginning and end of chapters. Intensely deep storytelling this is not. However, it must be said that this is probably the deepest any Castlevania game has gone in terms of story and character development. You do, by the end of the game, get into Gabriel’s head a bit and start to feel for him. Part of this might be because of the excellent voice acting found in the game. Robert Carlyle voices Gabriel while Patrick friggin’ Stewart plays side character and fellow knight Zobek. By the way, Stewart also narrates every single chapter introduction. It’s amazing.
Okay, I can hear you complaining. Enough about the story. What about the gameplay? Well, like I said before, it’s basically God of War. You run around and smash on the attack button until things die. You upgrade your combos and get more elaborate ways of killing things. You do quick time events in order to kill bigger things. We’ve seen all this before. Its also got platforming like Prince of Persia at times. You have to use your Combat Cross to grapple over pits and ledges, find spots where you can grab on, monkey climb all over the place and jump to and from ledges. It’s also like Shadow of the Colossus with the three big Titan fights. Man oh man, are these Titan fights big. Like in Colossus you find ways to get onto the giants before shimmying all over their body, trying to find their magical weak points in order to kill them. It’s a bit more dynamic than Colossus what with the grappling hook you have, but basically, yeah, it’s Shadow of the Colossus. And the scenery and music? Lord of the Rings. Big, epic, sweeping. This game is gorgeous. I will even go so far to say that this is the best looking video game I have ever played. On my non-HD TV, this game looks HD at times. It is that good.
Now to be fair there are some differences from those other games. Some good, some…well, not so good. For the good, there is the magic system. You have two types of magic, light and shadow. Light magic restores your health, shadow magic makes your damage increase. You fill up your magic with orbs that are left behind by fallen enemies. You can also get orbs by racking up combos. If you go long enough without getting hit and do enough damage a little meter at the bottom of the screen fills. When the meter is full every hit you land spills orbs out of your enemies. So this game really rewards you for getting good at dodging and blocking and choosing your time of attack. It’s not like God of War which rewards pure brute strength. Lords of Shadow asks for a bit more strategy from you. It’s really the more preferable system for me.
Another great thing are the puzzles. Man, some of the puzzles in this game can be fantastically fun and challenging. Two standouts come to mind. One is a type of demon chess against a little girl vampire named Laura. You use different pieces to combat the opponent’s pieces, with each piece having different powers. It’s hard to describe, so just think of it as chess with an attitude. And necromancers. Another standout puzzle is where you go inside a music box and have to solve the puzzle from inside the puzzle. It gets somewhat meta, and it not only shows off the uniqueness of the puzzles but showcases the fantastic art design even more. You see the ornate inner workings of the clockwork death trap/puzzle, and you also see the towering woman, Baba Yaga, thousands of times your size watching on as you try to complete it. Like most of the best scenes in the game, it is absolutely breathtaking.
However, like I said before, this game does have its dark side. You know how in Prince of Persia you can pretty much recognize any platform that might exist? Yeah, not so much with Lords of Shadow. More than a few times I found myself wandering around, trying to figure out where exactly I’m supposed to climb or what I’m supposed to be jumping on. It’s not helped that this game has a fixed camera that doesn’t always focus on what you want to be looking at. That’s really the recurring downside to these types of games. You have no control over the camera. Not only that, but sometimes the background looks like a platform…but it isn’t. Remember how I said that this game was gorgeous looking? Welcome to the downside of that. It looks like you can just reach out and touch everything…until you’re reminded that this is a video game with the ol’ invisible wall. You jump for a platform only to find that that isn’t where the game developers want you to go. Now sometimes the platforms glow and tell you, hey, guy, this right here is a platform. But there are times when you’re jumping and thinking that you’re headed for a platform and down you go. And I swear, that damn camera, I once spent an hour looking for where to go, jumping off of everything, before I finally noticed that the camera mostly hid a glowing grapple point. So damn frustrating.
But you know what? Those negatives don’t really hamper the game being fun all that much. It never gets bad, just irritating at times. And you really do want to go back and replay through all the previous levels, using your upgraded abilities to get hidden items or completing challenges. Sometimes I caught myself just going back to levels because they were beautiful to look at. All in all, if this is the way Konami and mercurysteam wants to take the Castlevania franchise, then I’m totally on board. Having played this new take on Castlevania, I’d say that the franchise has a bright future ahead of it.