Castlevania. That name means something to you. Whether you revere it because of great childhood memories or revile it because you played Sega, you get nostalgic feelings. There is no middle ground. Mercury Steam, the developer behind Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (LoS) is poised to maintain the polarity the series has garnered in the past. Which side of the fence will you sit on?
You are Gabriel, a knight in the Brotherhood of Light sent on a mission to find a sacred mask. This mask is rumored to bring the dead back to life. It is no coincidence that Gabriel needs that mask to revive his wife, Maria, who lost her life at the hands of the Lords of Shadow. Let the mundane continue.
Castlevania is not original in its intellectual property or its premise. The familiar tenets of a protagonist fighting for love lost at the hands of a great, imposing evil arise. Normally, I would welcome such a pure, noble motive but coming off the heels of Dante’s Inferno, that concept is tautological.
Moreover, our protagonist possesses both light (holy) and shadow (unholy) magic. These magic powers add both offensive and defensive variety to the hack-n-slash combat. Gabriel has direct and area attacks that keep the swarming enemy hordes at bay. Combining these attacks with light magic enables Gabriel to heal while Shadow-infused attacks inflict substantially more damage. The leveling abilities in this game open up new combos adding depth and a role-playing feel to Castlevania. I know what you’re going to say, “If this is a RPG, where is the choice”? Well, it’s more prevalent than you may think.
True to its roots, LoS gives you that upgrade now, come-back-and-play-later-feel. There are several areas that you cannot access on your first time through a level. LoS, in concurrence with its predecessors, encourages players to return to earlier levels to find hidden upgrades and goodies. The choice is determining which upgrade to select, whether you will replay a level to attempt the trial challenges, or if you want to hear more Patrick Stewart.
That’s right, Patrick Stewart is a character/narrator who monologues the opening for each new stage within the 12 chapters. Enemy, weapon, and music presentation also make the auditory experience fantastic. Visually, LoS is stunning. The environmental variety accompanied by locked (occasionally problematic) camera angles truly allows the developer to show you something gorgeous. The menu and leveling system is always easily accessible and that adds to the overall experience.
Disc switching is back. Luckily, LoS is logically split with 6 chapters accessible on each disc. It’s an easy way to keep track of the discs but the option to install assets from both discs to make switching unnecessary would have been a more amenable approach.
Castlevania is hard. You will die often in this game but reloading is extremely fast and generous. Checkpoints arise before you encounter another wrinkle in the game and reloading an old game is a pleasant experience. That is a lifesaver for a game that makes you die so much.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow wrapped up in 21 hours of game-time. I have already invested three hours replaying certain sections of the game. I don’t normally jump right back into a game unless it compels me to do so. Time flies when you’re having fun.
The entire experience of LoS is identifiably distinguishable. The experience is familiar enough to be intuitive yet customized enough to mean something for Castlevania fans. I appreciate the references and I’ve only played one Castlevania game (Dracula X Chronicles on PSP).
I finally have THAT game to replay each year. You know the game you play once per year because it just does something for you? Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is it. The replay value of the added difficulty, trial challenges, and leveling options ensures Gabriel an extended stay in your disc drive.
Get It Scale: 5/5 – Let’s Get It
For the kids: Castlevania is rated M for mature. The b*tch word and bare female breasts occur a few times throughout the game. Two occurrences are scripted events. **Spoiler: A secondary weapon summons a bare-breasted beast each time the player uses it. All of these occurrences can be skipped by pausing the scene at any time and selecting skip.
I will not allow my 11-year old to play this game. He’s a very smart kid but the gore and visually risqué cutscenes prevent this game from seeing my son’s room.