Jeremy Jastrzab
25 Jan, 2006

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence Review

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Following our recent feature on the history of Castlevania, most of our readers ought to be aware of the significance and prowess of what is an excellent series. While the GBA titles and last year’s DS title have been paving the way for 2D platforming excellence (if we forget about Harmony of Dissonance), the thoroughly underrated 3D incarnations were left high and dry on the N64. However, in this latest generation, there was one title released by Konami in early 2004 that tried to restart the 3D incarnations. With another one soon to be released in the first quarter of this year, let’s take a look back at Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.

Konami does a George Lucas and rewrites the Castlevania timeline with this game. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is meant to take its place as the title that explains how the Belmont lineage started. You play as Leon Belmont, a former nobleman who gave up his post in pursuit of a vampire named Walter Bernhard that has kidnapped his bethrowed, Sara. As Leon enters the forest known as the Eternal Knight (where Walter resides in his castle), he is met by a mysterious old man named Rinaldo. Here, Leon receives the whip that will become the legendary “Vampire Killer”. Apart from this lengthy introduction, the ending and a few minor cutscenes in between, the story doesn’t go too deep. Castlevania was never really known for story telling but here it plays out a little bit like an anime. Nothing outstanding and unusual for a Castlevania game, but it’s presented reasonably well.

Whip your way out of trouble

Whip your way out of trouble
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a very different game compared to the rest of the series, even in comparison to the other 3D incarnations that were released on the N64. It’s neither a 3D take on the classic platformer nor a “Metroid-vania” like the recent 2D versions. Instead, upon entering the castle, the players are piggybacked through a basic tutorial of the games main moves. This mainly concerns combat, which is much deeper than older titles and much more akin to modern action games. After that, Leon finds that to get to Walter, he needs to collect five orbs that will unlock the door. In the following room, there is what seems to be a large circular altar that has five enchanted lifts. Each of these lifts will lead to one of the games five main levels (though it can be considered that the game has seven in all).

The general objective in each of the five levels is to work you way through each area until you get to the boss. Upon defeating the boss, the player will collect their reward, which happens to be an orb. This sounds all good and well but the developers have snuffed some good potential here with some poor design decisions. To put it simply, the developers have not decided on which way to go, to create a good action game or to create an authentic Castlevania game. The result is game that is far worse than the sum of its parts.

In terms of the action, there is a very competent combo system, decent and variable magic system as well as the numerous characteristic sub-weapons. With your trusty whip, you can string together combos with the square button for weak attacks and the triangle button for strong attacks. As you defeat enemies, you’ll gradually learn more powerful and useful combos and moves. There is no lock-on button, you’ll generally swing at the closest enemy. As in most Castlevania games, you’ve got wide variety of sub-weapons but they all act very differently, as the game is in 3D. The magic system works by combining collected orbs with your sub-weapon to greatly change the effect of if that weapon. With several different effects and reactions, there is sure to be one that satisfies the player’s style. You can also collect relics that can be equipped and used to boost your stats, but using these consumes MP (magic points).

In all, there are about three rooms like this

In all, there are about three rooms like this
Even with the sub-weapons, the whip combos are pretty much a cover up for what is otherwise your general hack and slash. That’s not the say it’s a bad thing. In general the controls are fluid and respond well. Interestingly, if you want to refill your MP, you need to block an enemy that flashes purple before it unleashes a stronger attack than normal. There are a number of classic and new enemies that will be familiar to Castlevania vets. For a while, it’s amusing and challenging to hack through a few enemies but given the game design, it is unfortunate that combat becomes a very inconsequential activity.

Unless a room gets blocked off when you enter and you need to beat all the enemies for it to open up, there is really little reason to fight them at all. You can run from one side of the room to the other before most will even notice that you’re there. So it’s hardly a fight for survival. There are items and monies to collect but after a while it is unlikely that players will care too much about it. Sure, most the enemies are mindless or undead monsters that are sporadically aggressive but there are a lot of red-faced situations.

Oddly, it is the combat that is one of the game’s strong points. The part that really makes the game fall down is that it isn’t a platformer. The level designs are almost completely flat. So what does that mean? It means A LOT of running. Each level, you are basically left to traverse from point A to point B, though sometimes you’ll need to go through C. The flat design itself is a bit of a mess. Each level is but a collection of geometrical shapes unimaginatively pasted next to each other. This results in a lot of unnecessary backtracking and time wasting. There aren’t any levels that require much jumping. There are merely a handful of rooms spread across the levels that will require you to do some “platforming” in order to reach one of the games numerous goodies.

This is partially because it is relatively easy to get to the boss but most need to be triggered into action by an item or by unblocking the pathway to them. The levels don’t back this up because there is simply too much unnecessary traversing. At least the save points aren’t far away from the bosses. The real killer is that in each level, there are only a handful of different types of rooms. This means that you will be walking through a lot of identical areas. The result? A very boring and tedious experience. This is a real shame given that there are a lot of useful items, such as accessories and relics that can be unlocked and found with some exploration. The major problem is that the game design makes this experience seem a lot more trouble than it’s worth.

Leon carries his crucifix everywhere with him

Leon carries his crucifix everywhere with him
The game has a fixed camera that manages to interfere with even the most simple platforming puzzles. Thankfully, the game is forgiving in this regard. However, the camera does often force you to watch yourself when entering a room. To replace the camera control, you use the right thumbstick to bring up quick menus that allow you to use items and equip items on the go. It is useful but not in the middle of a heated battle.

It’s really just a mix of poor and obviously unsure design decisions that bring down the game. Obviously, the lack of platforming is a big problem. However, there are little things such as a flawed attempt at making some basic character stats, imbalance in boss fights and too many cut-and-paste rooms that come close to making the experience unbearable. Especially because most of these rooms are empty. As bad as this sounds, there is still a competent gameplay engine underneath. Leon moves and controls well but even if we take this as an action game, it doesn’t stack up against some much stronger alternatives.

At least the game looks reasonably good. While it is contentious that most of the “young” men in the game look at a little to anime inspired (re: they look like girls), the rest of the game is at least visually pleasing. Each of the levels has some large and impressive environments. The geometry is good and texturing and lighting is spot on. It’s just a shame that so many are repeated so many times. Character and enemy models have some solid animation work but the enemies get a bit repetitive (as expected). In the very least, the looks have some resemblance of what you could call Castlevania and despite the fact that the game is two years old, it holds up very well. But what’s with the cheap, old menus? They’re hardly worth the nostalgia.

Whip him into shape!

Whip him into shape!
Sound-wise, the game has some excellent voicing and some great gory sound effects. Even though the use of the voices is very limited, they are done very well. The sound effects do the job that they should. The music on the other hand initially sounds like it rekindles some of the Castlevania glory but as you get through the game it can sound a bit off. That’s not to say the music is bad. It’s appropriate in most scenarios and is well composed but at times, it just doesn’t feel right.

We’ve talked a lot about how this game doesn’t really fit into the Castlevania lineage. However, even if it weren’t Castlevania, it still wouldn’t stand up against other far superior titles out there. Sure, the presentation is good, the aesthetics are great and the core mechanics are rock solid. There’s even some decent replay value. However, the pure fact that the development team have butchered the game design and made a game that is more arduous than enjoyable and one that doesn’t really fit into anything leaves the game in the dark. It makes us lament over the game known Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and what could have been.

Related Reviews:
NDS: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow

Related Articles:
Franchise Mode #11 - Castlevania
The Score
If you want to walk around a large repetitive castle, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence will do the job for you.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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8 years ago
What a disappointment. So much for having high hopes.
8 years ago
Spot on, totally agree.
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