Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

It has become a common practice in the movie industry to “reboot” a franchise when either creators or their audiences have come to consider said series to have “jumped the shark,” for instance, the Batman movies. Videogame developers have only begun to look into the concept, with one series receive a reboot being Konami’s Castlevania franchise, surprising since audiences had come to enjoy the side-scrolling RPG gameplay that had at the time defined the series. The reboot, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, released for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, was actually originally to be a standalone game called Lords of Shadow, although Konami ultimately turned it into a dolled-up installment of the Castlevania series, the results actually being enjoyable.

Lords of Shadow contains a far greater action-oriented focus than its “Metroidvania” / “Castleroid” predecessors, although it does have a few RPG elements such as the ability to collect five gems of different colors found on battlefields and in dungeons to increase protagonist Gabriel Belmont’s maximum life, maximum light energy, and maximum shadow energy. Gabriel also receives points from slaying enemies that the player can use anytime to learn new skills requiring certain button combinations. Battles are otherwise somewhat simple in theory, with Gabriel able to jump, use a straightforward chain attack, or a twirling chain maneuver, useful for slaying multiple foes.

One excellent feature that makes the reboot enjoyable, in addition to difficulty levels the player can select any time throughout the game, is the presence of mid-boss checkpoints that really save the player wasted time in case they get far enough in a boss only to die. Camera problems are also largely nonexistent since the camera tends to stay a good distance from Gabriel and is fixed. Pretty much the only charge one could levy against the game mechanics is that some parts of boss fights require timed button presses that the player might miss at times and can catch less experienced players off guard, in which case a boss regains part of its health and the player must continue fighting.

Controls are generally passable, with an overall linear structure keeping players moving in the right direction, although a few stages would have benefited from in-game maps, ironically present in most of the game’s RPG predecessors, and there are points where advancing through a dungeon can be somewhat difficult without help from a guide, as can the puzzles, although in most instances the player can forfeit an experience point reward (negligible at best) for an instant in-game solution.

Lords of Shadow features more story than prior Castlevania titles, with Patrick Stewart’s narration in between stages keeping players up to speed, and Gabriel having backstory, although there are some occasional WTF moments, particularly during the ending.

The reboot largely depends upon ambience for its aurals outside the voice acting, although there is some occasional enjoyable music. The voicework is also largely solid, with Patrick Stewart on the roster, although there are some annoying voices, with the Chupacabras and Baba Yaga coming to mind.

Lords of Shadow uses a realistic visual style that mostly looks superb in spite of some occasional texture blurriness.

Finally, while the game is a bit longer than most other Castlevania titles, it’s still a short game overall, with this reviewer clocking in between ten and fifteen hours.

In the end, while the franchise didn’t necessarily require a reboot, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow mostly does well, what with its solid gameplay with a few anti-frustration measures and solid graphics shining the most. The reboot has also indicated a new direction for the Konami franchise, what with forthcoming sequels on the current generation’s consoles and the Nintendo 3DS.

The Good:
+Solid gameplay with some anti-frustration features.
+Decent storyline.
+Patrick Stewart contributes to the vocal talent.
+Superb visuals.
+Excellent replay value with plentiful Trophies.

The Bad:
-Some parts can be hard without a guide.
-Music is nonexistent at times.
-Some voices are annoying.

The Bottom Line:
Great reboot.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 10-15 Hours

Overall: 8/10

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