Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Although Castlevania 64 has its fans, it was not generally viewed as a rousing success. When it was announced that a new Castlevania game would be released in 3D, the question was how it would play. Would it be another Castlevania 64, or would it somehow be a Metroid in 3D? Metroid Prime proved that the exploration genre could be suited to the 3D experience, but could Castlevania pull off the same feat?
When Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was released, what fans were presented with was a game that cherry picked some ideas from the Metroid-style games, but in a style the Castlevania series hadn't really seen before -- a clean break from Castlevania 64 and a different 3D experience from other series.
Lament of Innocence takes place centuries before any previous Castlevania game. We're introduced to Leon Belmont, hero of the Crusades, back from the east. When he gets home, his friend, Mathias Cronqvist, informs the Leon that Leon's wife, Sara, was being held captive by the evil vampire Walter Bernhard. Leon, being the hero that he is (and, for some reason, loving his wife), ventures to Bernhard Castle to save his wife, rid the land of evil, and be the big, tough hero we all know he can be.
Inside the castle, Leon encounters a central hub area. Each section of the hub leads off to a new level (unlocked over time). Each level (modeled, by and large, after Castlevania staples, like the "Chapel" and the "Underground Caverns"), features a series of inter-connecting rooms, each room which will lock after Leon enters it. Leon must clear the rooms (of monsters, traps, or hit specific switches) to move on and continue his journey (thankfully, once cleared, Leon won't have to battle everything over and over again). While journeying, Leon will also find upgraded equipment, special items/moves, learn combos, and become a big enough bad-ass to take out all the enemies that get in his way.
Some of the upgrades are welcome -- such as whips increasing in strength (interestingly, modeled after the Belnades magic types: ice, lightning, and fire). He'll also be able to collect the standard sub-weapons (axe, dagger, cross, holy water, and newcomer crystal), and when combined with seven different orbs he'll collect over time, Leon can create a variety of attacks and effects (like the DSS and Sub-weapon/Spell combos from previous games). As with previous games, these combinations may prove more or less helpful depending on your tastes and what kind of attacks you're looking for. Likely, as before, you'll find a combo or two you like, and will tend to stick to those, ignoring other combinations altogether (I know, during my playthroughs, I tended to ignore the combos most of the time, and only really relied on the spells at the end of the game for the final, game-ending battles).
Unlike previous games, though -- and even with all the items, upgrades, and spells you can collect -- there isn't a whole lot of depth to the game system. Leon doesn't level up like heroes in previous games. This means that fighting enemies ends up as more of a necessity, a chore if you will, and less of something you relish. You'll end up unlocking rooms through the first time in a level, and then any time you come back (to hunt for treasures), you'll dodge most anything you can. In many respects, it feels like a dungeon crawl (room to room slog) through the areas of the game without the benefit of a level system to make the crawl worthwhile.
Graphically, the game is pretty enough, with each area having it's own design style. That said, the same room graphics are used over and over again, and fundamentally there isn't much of a stylistic difference between levels. Everything is "grey rooms" or "blue rooms" or "red rooms", over and over again. I like many of the cool glowing effects and stylistic flourishes -- and certainly creatures don't look nearly as bad as in Castlevania 64 -- but it's not very original or varied.
The soundtrack is stronger, but there isn't a large variety of tracks. There are few remixes, with the music leaning heavily on new tracks. Most of the songs from the stages are great listens, with my personal favorite being "Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab". Many fans love the soundtrack (especially the pre-order bonus disc released with the game), but the lack of breadth of tracks holds back the soundtrack from being brilliant.
The biggest issues, simply put, is that the game just isn't very memorable. I've played through it a couple of times, and while I had a reasonable amount of fun, I can't say I remember much of the experience afterwards. It hasn't stuck with me the same way as older, platforming games, or even the more recent Metroid-clones. For an attempt to reinvent the series for the third dimension, it's another decent attempt... but it also has enough flaws that it doesn't rise above Castlevania 64. It's a fair, if only decent, entry for the series.