For this review, I am going to focus on the 2nd advent of 3D Castlevania and the first officially recognized in the CV timeline. That game is Castlevania:Lament of Innocence. A lot of fanfare surrounded the release of this game in 2003. IGA claimed that it would be the very first game in the timeline and would reveal the source of the Belmont family and their millennium long conflict with Dracula and the forces of darkness.
Lament takes place near the end of the 11th century, specifically 1094. Baron Leon Belmont and his friend, the tactician Mathias Cronqvist, are both skilled warriors who command undefeated armies in defense of the Holy Land. Historically speaking, this is inaccurate as Jerusalem was captured by Christian crusaders in 1099 and held for nearly a century until recaptured by Saladin in 1187. But nevermind, Castlevania has always occupied a loose place in history, even in the legends of Vlad the Impaler.
Leon's betrothed, Sara, is kidnapped by a vampire named Walter Bernhard and taken to his castle in the Forest of Eternal Night. Leon asks the church for permission to use his knights to rescue Sara, but is rebuffed. Leon proceeds to renounce his title and goes to Walter's castle to rescue his beloved, alone...
Lament of Innocence's graphics can be hard to evaluate objectively in this age of high def gaming. They are good and detailed to be sure, but at the same time, full of jaggies and they look somewhat washed out, as if out of focus. It isn't bad 3D in the same way as all graphics looked until the Dreamcast, but its coloration is muddy.
Besides that, the classic Castlevania enemies benefit from their transition in 3D, even if they don't have much animation. Skeletons and armor knights look good. The bosses are suitable big and mean looking, too bad they are all very easy to beat.
Michiru Yamane returns to compose once again, and before the game was released, she made a statement that the trademark Castlevania electric guitars would not be in Lament, those instruments not having existed in the 11th century. Such guitars didn't exist in the time of any other Castlevania either, so this really seemed to be a type of marketing move. This was a bold decision indeed, but would the score suffer because of it?
I am happy to report that Lament's score is great, but not among Castlevania's best. The standout tracks like Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab or House of Sacred Remains are excellent new additions to Castlevania, but a lot of the other pieces only really work in their respective stages. There is some electric guitar in Castlevania Reincarnation that is similar to Dracula's Castle and Black Banquet from Symphony.
Gameplay is in the style of traditional Castlevania, but a whip combo system is added to spice up the combat, with linking moves done with the two different buttons. New moves seem to be learnt either at key points in the game or by using certain techniques. It seems pretty random. Subweapons make a return, and for each boss you defeat, different orbs allow you to modify these attacks. Lastly, Leon is quite agile, learning dodging maneuvers that make the already stupid enemies very easy to defeat.
Leon practically has to stand right in front of the enemies in this game for them to be able to hit you. They also lack long-range attacks and the ones that have them, you can see coming pretty easily. This makes the fighting somewhat tedious, the lack of an experience system makes you want to avoid combat. Unfortunately, the game often forces you to fight by locking doors. These situations are plentiful, but at least they don't take too long to overcome.
When it comes to challenge, in addition to the easy enemies, Leon has many techniques that make this game easy. Potions and other healing items are there for your use. I guess the developers knew the game was easy enough already, so they made the player have to use all items in real time. This is a clumsy interface and its absence wouldn't be missed in future CV games.
Replay value is interesting as there are bonus modes to play once you complete the game with Leon. There are two different characters, and the interesting thing is that they are more fun to play than Leon. The game is the same, but their unique abilities not only offer a different experience, they are more fun to use. The only lacking thing is the absence of a new game plus which is present in the Castlevania handhelds.
In summation, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a very good entry in the Castlevania series and enjoyable to any fan of Castlevania or similar games. It has some obvious flaws, but is still a great game compared to the 3D Castlevanias on the N64. The story is involving and interesting, Leon is a neat character, and the bonus modes are the icing on the cake.
- Ugly Bob