Considering that it’s only ten days before Halloween, you’d expect us to cover some game ripped from the horror genre. A title filled with puddles of blood, undead monsters and tons of things that go bump in the night. Well, have we got a story for you fresh from the pantheon of classic gaming heroes. Our story revolves around the patriarch of a long line of vampire hunters fated to do battle against Dracula and his hordes. Far from the typical game character, this warrior will spawn a gaming legend, with generations facing off against darkness. Join me as we prepare to venture into the night with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.
Lament of Innocence is set during the Crusades of the 11th century and introduces players to Leon Belmont, an incredibly skilled knight in the service of the Holy Roman Church. In charge of a company of knights, Leon’s unit was highly regarded as unbeatable, thanks to Leon’s strong leadership and the planning of Mathias Cronqvist, a brilliant military strategist. After receiving news of his wife’s death, Mathias returns home to mourn and attend to his family, forcing the company from the front lines into a supporting role.
A year later, Leon returns home to find his land invaded by monsters, Mathias bedridden and his fiancée, Sara, kidnapped. Denied any of his men by the Church due to the ongoing Crusades, Leon renounces his title and quickly follows the kidnappers into the forest of Eternal Night. While crossing through the ominous woods, Leon meets a mysterious man named Rinaldo Gandolfi who seems to know quite a bit about the supernatural. In fact, Rinaldo informs Leon that his common sword will do no good against the monsters in the forest. After enchanting both Leon and a whip (the weapon that will become the Belmont trademark), Rinaldo informs him that the true threat to his land and his fiancée lies within the menacing castle at the center of the forest.
While new to the weapon, Leon picks up the whip quickly, and gets used to performing weak, quick strikes, or strong, long range attacks. These basic attacks can be chained into a series of combos, such as driving an enemy up into the air. As he gains skill with the whip, he’ll gain stronger combos that can be strung together to turn Leon into a spinning, flailing machine of death. During aerial attacks, Leon can rain fire from above by enveloping his whip with flame. Aside from the typical platform double jump found in most action games, Leon can also use the whip to latch onto balconies, posts and other objects to pull him up to higher areas. Finally, like previous Castlevania games, Leon can use special items, like an ax, knife or holy water to trigger special attacks, but these can be augmented by several magic orbs that convey new powers to these weapons.
Unlike previous Castlevania titles, Lament of Innocence lets Leon instantly warp to any one of the five main areas of the castle. Each area features a distinct backdrop that radically differs from the others, and can be completed in any order. However, each area’s boss has to be killed before progress into the final area of the castle can be made. The Ghostly Theater features a number of rundown stages, backstage areas and large, sweeping staircases. The Garden Forgotten By Time is set in a dangerous greenhouse with a number of poisonous and carnivorous plant life. The Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab packs tons of metallic creatures and experimented monsters in small, cramped rooms. The Dark Palace of Waterfalls are rife with sewers, waterfalls and lizardmen. Finally, the House of Sacred Remains are packed with zombies, skeletons and other undead creatures.
Graphically, Lament of Innocence is a PS2 masterpiece, with huge 3D modeled environments, characters and backgrounds. The gothic ambience found here is both oppressive and awe-inspiring. Leon and other characters are large and facially expressive, with perfectly synched lips for line deliveries during cutscenes. A very nice touch are the blur effects from room to room, as if Leon is going deeper and deeper into a nightmare with every step.
What’s more, sharp, visually interesting particle effects abound from the triggering of a special attack to the breaking of an object. The main problem within Castlevania are the camera angles, which are fixed and uncontrollable by the player. The issue arises when the camera pans or zooms in a corner or chooses an angle that simply shows Leon running, which can often hide incoming swarms of enemies until you’ve run into a series of attacks. Since the number of save points in a lot of these stages are few and far between, you’ll sometimes find yourself staring at a Game Over screen because you’ve fallen victim to a quick strike from a frenzied group of monsters. Similarly, these horrible camera angles can lead to your continual trying and re-trying of puzzles with the lack of clean coverage of a room or its elements.
Sound is excellent within Lament of Innocence. The soundtrack is primarily based around the area that you’re adventuring in at the present time, but each piece is melodic and haunting, with driving beats during combat contrasting slower, more atmospheric pieces. The voice acting is great in either English or Japanese, and gives a better sense of actors understanding what they’ve been given by game writers and delivering a good performance.
While the gameplay is incredibly engaging and the 3D environments are amazing to behold, Lament of Innocence does bare the curse of being incredibly short. Veteran adventure gamers will most likely be able to power through this game in less than fifteen hours, although you can expend much longer trying to uncover all the secrets hidden within the castle. Some of these aren’t necessary, since most bosses and every monster can go up in flames with even the most basic attacks. While you’ll often spend a lot of your time trying to track down save points to record your progress, you won’t typically find yourself stumbling upon stores or other helpful people like other games in the series. Instead, you’ll either have to navigate your way back to Rinaldo’s hut or teleport over to his place. This can be a huge pain in the butt when you’re low on potions or other health aids and have to fight through a huge line of rooms with no respite in sight.
Even with these issues, Lament of Innocence is a great title for fans of the Castlevania series. Returning to the first family member that started the hunt of darkness was a novel idea, and one that paid off with an engaging plotline, solid graphics and good voice acting. If you’re a fan of action games or platform titles, or you’re just looking to battle against the forces of evil this Halloween, you really can’t go wrong with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.