Parent Talk: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is not suitable for children. There are intense moments of violent action. The dialogue isn’t excessively profane, but is questionable due to the subject matter. There’s bizarre imagery as well, and parents may be offended by some of the monster designs (nudity). Teenagers should be perfectly able to handle the game.
Lords of Shadow is Castlevania reinvented. The original NES game was a linear 2D platformer that established the series’ early years formula (Castlevania II being the sole exception). The series changed with Symphony of the Night on PlayStation to play more like Nintendo’s Metroid franchise. Most Castlevania releases since have been non-linear 2D games, though Konami tried their hand at several 3D adventures for the N64 and PlayStation 2. Fans still cry foul at such attempts; there’s a strong sentiment that Castlevania belongs in 2D. Lords of Shadow though is evidence that change can be a wonderful thing. The PS2 releases’ merits are found here, and every mistake from the N64 is forgiven. Mercury Stream crafted an experience unlike previous Castlevania games, but is still fun to play and watch.
Excellent mythos. Lords of Shadow succeeds where many fantasy games strive: creating a world that’s interesting even outside the scope. Most action games are content to throw the player in to battle armies of enemies, but LoS is a strangely compelling game. The story starts slow and the dialogue is hammy at times, but the characters are genuinely interesting and the world deep. Patrick Stewart’s narration guides players into the fairy tale-like world, filled with creatures ripped from different mythologies. The sprawling environments are lush and incredible to look at, but the creatures and architecture are equally attractive. The voice acting is professional and the adventure’s epic nature makes it truly grand. The plot is especially provocative toward the end. You must witness it to believe it.
+ Solid action mechanics. LoS was quickly condemned by purists as a God of War rip-off. Despite similarities, those allegations are unfair. The primary weapon is Gabriel’s whip, a return to the classic Castlevania formula. In addition to disposing enemies, the whip helps you scale platforms, pull down statues, grab and strangle enemies, and so on. The iconic sub-weapons are present too, such as daggers and holy water. These sport unique properties—for example, silver daggers defeat werewolves instantly. One addition is the use of magic. While the post-SOTN games all include a form of magic/special abilities, the integration is unique here. Gabriel can use light or dark magic, which affects the properties of his weapons as well as other game elements. For example, Gabriel can regenerate health while fighting with light magic, and some magic is necessary for accessing new areas or escaping hazards. The variety of combos and other skills keeps combat fresh. Quick Time Events arise, but are never overbearing. While the ideas and mechanics are solid, fans might criticize the lack of originality. Yes LoS borrows for much of its gameplay (larger-than-life bosses, epic scale, etc.), but it’s still a worthwhile experience.
+ Variety. The environments are varied, spanning poisonous swamps, abandoned ruins, and twisted forests. The enemies and challenges enjoy the same variety. Enemies can be engaged normally with whip, daggers, holy water and magic, or a variety of techniques. Some battles are awe-inspiring, requiring the player to scale a monster similar to Shadow of the Colossus.
+ Exploration. It’s not all action. There are many portions of strict platforming and exploration, which is a treat. The world is so massive that these sections are enjoyable. There’s puzzle-solving along the way too, which includes turning gears to knocking down parts of the environment. These areas are mixed with minor combat as well, occasionally requiring the player to grab an enemy’s item (like a goblin’s grenades) or tame a monster. The overall combination makes the experience similar to the Symphony of the Night formula, but with a different angle.
+ Beautiful graphics. Few games look as good as LoS. The environments are detailed and vibrant. The lush forests, demonic castles, and fantastical villages all look like they belong in a fantasy novel or film. There are frame rate hiccups when the action ramps up, but I didn’t notice it much. The Xbox 360 version doesn’t run as smoothly as the PlayStation 3’s however. 360 build is choppier in performance.
+ Epic score. The game’s orchestral music is as grand as the environments and scale. The songs are a joy to hear and fit the game’s makeover as an epic adventure. Castlevania purists may prefer the classic tunes, but it’s difficult to pinpoint anything that under-delivered. The sound and effects are equally wonderful.
+ Length. Lords of Shadow is a MASSIVE quest. Each stage covers a wide area, and each consists of several levels. There are 12 areas, and even after initially completing them, you have to revisit stages to acquire items or power ups. You can also participate in special challenges or tackle levels on a higher difficulty. Prepare to spend at least 20 hours to finish everything.
– Fixed camera. While other action franchises (again, like God of War) are guilty of this too, the camera causes problems. For the most part, it’s a necessary evil considering the scale and how much there is to show on-screen at one time. But employing a fixed camera, especially at a distance, makes it difficult to see hazards. Falling into pits is then more commonplace than it would be with a movable camera. This is especially problematic during scenes when the action “shifts” from one area to another. The change can be abrupt, especially if it’s in mid-jump, and may result in a premature death. No matter what the case, it’s usually disorienting. Just consider that I often went back and forth between areas because of the awkward perspective.
– Not the same. LoS does tie in to classic Castlevania. The whip, a Belmont protagonist, dark creatures and plenty of secrets to uncover. Even so, the substantial differences in gameplay, music, and tone are hard to shake. The epic soundtrack could have easily been inserted into a fantasy film—it’s not the same as humming to the unforgettable tunes from yesteryear. It’s not necessarily better or worse, just different, and that may deter the core fan.
– Cheesy. Despite the interesting world, the dialogue is plain cheesy at times. Patrick Stewart’s narration makes everything easier to swallow, but the writing borders on melodrama.
Lords of Shadow is excellent. The blend of platforming, puzzles, and action is satisfying…and the mythos, art direction, visual design, etc, only enhance the experience. The largest hurdle is the camera. The dialogue and writing can be hammy, but the plot is genuinely engaging after a few hours of play. This genre is crowded and full of imitators, but Lords of Shadow is the real deal—check it out.