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Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PlayStation 2) artwork

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PlayStation 2) review

"Legacies are hard to come by in the gaming world. Few franchises can claim that they have stood the test of time by lasting over a decade or have kept up with the constantly changing hardware by producing profitable sequels on more then one next-generation system. Castlevania—much like its Nintendo counter parts Metroid and Zelda—is one series that can boast such things. Eighteen years later and its mark left on more then four systems, Castlevania is still a legend in its own right. However, the..."

Legacies are hard to come by in the gaming world. Few franchises can claim that they have stood the test of time by lasting over a decade or have kept up with the constantly changing hardware by producing profitable sequels on more then one next-generation system. Castlevania--much like its Nintendo counter parts Metroid and Zelda--is one series that can boast such things. Eighteen years later and its mark left on more then four systems, Castlevania is still a legend in its own right. However, the word legend strikes me as something old. Though Konami’s powerhouse could carry the burden of tarnish from too many years in the business, “Lament of Innocence” casts off any dust gathered to dominate as one of the most insane 3-D games available.

Legacies always have a beginning. While the standard seems to be telling a story halfway through, then later on give you the background (like Star Wars) Konami has taken it to extreme measures, waiting almost two decades to shed light on the Belmont’s history. Finally giving me what I (and probably the rest of you) have been screaming for, we get a glimpse into how this bloodline found its destiny. Leon Belmont isn’t concerned with destiny. Leon may be a proud knight in the time of feudal lords determined to fight in the name of God and peace, but I think destiny is the furthest thing from his mind. This is fate, however, and fate is like possessed blood. Feeding you, controlling you, driving you forward to its goal no matter how bad you don’t want to go. It is no different here. Conscience and the churches strong disposition keep Leon from investigating the mass of monsters that have surfaced. It is only when his fiancé, Sara, is kidnapped does Leon forget his title and his rank in order to do what’s right, to unknowingly begin a battle that will span generations. Belmont is a name synonymous with killing vampires, and it all begins here.

Time rolls back on itself, and I would have it no other way. The story is everything I have waited years for. All those little questions that linger like “How did the Belmont’s come to fight vampires” or “Why do they use a whip” are answered here. The background shines with enough nostalgia and new information that it will keep you coming back night after night. The only problem I had (this is my only complaint, so if you’re looking for them, treasure this one) was with the actual emotions involved. Perhaps I am just a bit detached because I have played most of this game in sporadic, rental segments but I just did not feel any pull towards some of the characters. When sadness strikes in the game, I found myself uninterested. Two characters really take the spotlight, and you care about them don’t get me wrong, but others that are supposed to be important just haven’t gotten enough camera time in order to drag me in. There are cut-scenes o’ plenty, but mostly involving the monsters you are forced to battle.

Okay, two complaints. Those cut-scenes are a bit dull and it seems like the designers’ energy was put into something else. That something else being the environments, the monsters and Leon himself when he’s traipsing through the castle rather then a monologue. This game is a crushing tidal wave of visual bliss, the likes of which I have never seen. Chaos Legion and Devil May Cry pale in comparison to the sharp, polished castle structures and mind rending details Lament provides. Everything in this game has been tightened and smoothed out to incomparable measures. The dark, horrid castle seeps intricate insidiousness in every shadowed corner. Each monster is sickeningly designed and exudes a decrepit brilliance. Though darkness overwhelms, your vision can be pleasantly shattered by a jolt of color--whether from the lush purple from magic attacks or a brutal lash from your elementally charged whip. Like a stroke of red in a black and white painting, these subtle bursts drag you back into the light.

Clinging to the back of visual splendor, the sound makes its presence known with Leon’s quick vocal bursts and a symphony designed to induce emotions. The same style doesn’t dominate through an entire dungeon, but shifts between moods and certain corridors. The voice-overs provide some amount of dignity during the cut-scenes and make up for the lagging graphics. The door creaks, the strange sounds and screams that have made other Castlevania’s famous are driven to a whole other level. Water rushing, clocks churning and the crack of the infamous whip are enough to seduce you into turning the volume up.

While the sound and graphics are enticing, what really makes this game addictive are the controls. Granted, I will be the first one to admit controls cannot usually make or break a game, but in the action genre they are downright necessary. Drawing upon the infamous and entertaining formula of Devil May Cry, Lament’s style is based on the notion that “you want to hit them more then they hit you.” And while bounding around and leaping off walls to avoid damage is not dominant, dealing said damage first is. Leon has every attack you would hope for from an undefeated knight. Countless combos are at your disposal, all with a glorious and rupturing finish. Leon will sometimes drive his whip forward like a hammer as it swirls with fire, other times he will intentionally smack the floor, causing thunder to rupture up from the ground and punish those surrounding him. Some combos can even be linked as Leon will wrap his whip around an opponent and tug them forward, allowing you to finish up with another devastating series. Each combo is precise and if timed well you pull them off with very little frustration involved. The massive list would never allow even the tiniest amount of boredom to seep in, despite all the enemies seeking you harm.

I will be the first to admit that “Symphony of the Night” may be Castlevania’s pinnacle advancement into the next generation. However, “Lament of Innocence” shatters it’s way into another brand new era. With action steering towards 3-D, Konami has decided to wage war against the big names like Devil May Cry with a searing, brilliant new twist to an old classic. Though “Lament of Innocence” may not be the original in this battle for 3-D supremacy, Castlevania’s latest installment rises up once more to take its place on the action throne. Hail to the king.

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Community review by True (September 27, 2005)

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