A few years ago, I took a deep dive into the Castlevania series. Not that I was any sort of stranger to it, but the breadth of the franchise is dizzying, so there was a lot that went untouched. Specifically, I had always kept the “Metroidvania” titles at arms length, and the 3D games I viewed with skepticism. My goal was to address this lack of perspective, and now I’m all caught up.
During that time, I did play Lament of Innocence, the first PS2 title in the series. While the sidescrolling explore-’em-ups continued on the Gameboy Advance and the initial experiments in 3D on the N64 were widely considered failures, it seemed like in order to evolve to modern standards, 3D was a foregone conclusion.
Unfortunately, continued experiments in 3D would always yield similar results for the series.
I WILL KILL THE NIGHT
Going way back to the year 1094, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence sets itself up as the chronologically first game in the series. You play as Leon Belmont, a former knight with amazing hair who gave up his title when he finds out that his fiance was stolen by a vampire, because I guess vampires are just gothic kidnappers.
Upon reaching the castle where his betrothed was taken, he meets pigtailed merchant, Rinaldo, who gives him a whip that was made through alchemy. He then suicidally charges off to whip the creatures of the night. Not much of a departure for the series, but we’re taking some tentative steps into unknown territory here.
Did you play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? It was one of the seminal titles in the series and the progenitor of the “Metroidvania” subseries of Castlevania titles. It takes the games and shifts their focus to exploration rather than precision platforming and stiff combat. It was an evolution that came at the perfect time. Not that there was anything wrong with classic Castlevania’s difficult flavour of platforming, but video games as a whole were progressing away from that challenging structure and more towards interactive experiences.
Anyone with patience could topple Symphony of the Night, regardless of skill level. That’s not quite as guaranteed with the steep difficulty of earlier titles.
Most importantly, it set expectations for what a Castlevania title was supposed to be, and Lament of Innocence plays heavily like a game that is struggling to adapt that into 3D. Certain compromises had to be made. Actually, a lot of compromises had to be made, especially when it comes to the environments.
The castle, rather than a big cohesive entity divided into multiple zones, is rather just a hub from which you can embark to one of six different levels. The individual levels each have their own theme, and there’s some exploration to be had in each one, but they’re all isolated into their own areas. It’s a formula that has more drawbacks than advantages, but this is just where the disappointment starts.
THE ALCHEMIST’S WHIP
The combat leans heavier into the 3D beat-’em-up or hack-and-slash territory. Platforming exists between whipping monsters, but very little focus is on it, and it’s largely underwhelming. The whipping up to ledges and across conveniently spaced posts is stiff and somewhat hilarious to watch. This means that exploration is largely horizontal, with vertical movement only being accomplished by climbing stairs.
That would be fine, if not a little flat, but the levels themselves seem to be nothing more of an assembly of preconfigured rooms. You’d almost think each one of them was procedurally generated, because everything is pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. It makes exploration monotonous, and the repetitive environments are such a disappointing oversight that it’s astounding.
A CRUMBLING FOUNDATION
On the other hand, it helps avoid the janky 3D platforming found in Castlevania 64, but cutting it out entirely sort of feels like cheating. Maybe if the combat was something special it would make up for it with its change in focus, but instead it’s just passable. It’s no Devil May Cry, is what I’m saying. In fact, I played through a large portion of the game not realizing there was a heavy attack button and did perfectly fine.
It feels half-baked. Like very little thought was put into developing or polishing compelling combat mechanics. Most fights merely involve slapping enemies until they fall over, occasionally whipping out a sub-weapon when the situation calls for it.
Speaking of which, the sub-weapons are probably the best part of the combat. Each level completed presents you with a jewel that alters the effects of subweapons when equipped. A decent amount of experimentation comes from this, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably just find one that works for you and stick to it. Maybe I’m just boring.
Lament of Innocence also falls into a complaint that I’ve had about the series at large: the bosses are just boring. In fact, when I think back to them, I don’t think I could name all six level bosses, nor do I have any hope in recalling their individual mechanics. Mostly, I just remember bashing away at them until they fell over. Without the heavy attack. The combat doesn’t really allow for much else.
DIRGE OF DISAPPOINTMENT
You could probably overlook the dour combat, the underwhelming boss battles, and the limp story if the exploration was in any way comparable to Symphony of the Night, but it’s here that it pales the most severely. It’s in no way near as compelling, not even measured by its own merits.
Overall, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence isn’t a strictly bad game. When it comes down to it, it’s not an unpleasant or uncomfortable experience, it just doesn’t excel in any way whatsoever. It’s incredibly forgettable. It’s entirely limp and unsatisfying, like cold french fries. For any normal game, that would make it very difficult to recommend, but for a Castlevania title, it’s practically a sin.
This review was conducted on a backwards compatible PS3 using a disc based copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.