Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

Game Overview

Any time a Castlevania game is discussed it always has to be done with a mention of if the game came out before or after Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That pivotal title has cast a shadow over everything that's come since, even for games that aren't really Metroidvania clones. As the success of that game grew (admittedly slowly before fans and critics jumped onto the bandwagon), Symphony producer gained more and more clout in the company, leading him to take over the series and put his unique stamp on many of the games to come since.

In the case Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (known simply as Castlevania in both Japan and Europe), the desire here was to take the Castlevania series and, once again, extend it into the third dimension. Other game series had made the jump to the new format, but Castlevania's previous attempt, Castlevania 64, was something of a disappointment (twice over, no less). With IGA having overseen two hand-held titles, the decision was made to try out the series once more in the third dimension so that maybe IGA's luck could rub off there as well.

Set long before the adventures of the Belmonts against Dracula, Lament of Innocence follows the story of Leon Belmont, a hero back from the Crusades looking for a little peace a quiet. Unfortunately, an evil vampire, Walter Bernhard, kidnaps Leon's betrothed, Sara Trantoul, forcing the hero to venture into the demon-infested lands around the vampire's castle and find a way to break into the final throne room and take on the vampire for a little vengeance and to kill the demon before he can gain more power.

Setup, by IGA, to act as something of an "origin" for the series (sorry Castlevania: Legends), Lament of Innocents looked to setup many of the conventions of Castlevania lore, giving explanations to such things as, "why do the Belmont's have a magical whip?" and "why are they so down against vampires?" In the process it also looked to try and find a way to take the formula of Castlevania and actually make it work in that pesky third dimension.

On that latter front, the game is marginally successful. IGA remarked that working in 2D proved much easier than 3D, and that many of the ideas he from the Metroidvania genre he was helping to perfect had to be pared back for this game to make something cohesive to play while still feeling like Castlevania.

The resulting title works in many respects, although it still feels flawed. Although better than Castlevania 64, certainly, the title wasn't up to the same standards, game play-wise, as players had come to expect from the 2D titles. Leon felt stiff, harder to control, and the game's camera often fought the player (and what they were trying to get Leon to do) as they explored the castle. Although the music and sound were great, especially given the solid PlayStation 2 hardware there was a spark missing, leading some to comment that game felt shallow, maybe like it was trying to serve too many masters without necessarily nailing any of its ideas fully.

What hurts the title more than anything is that it can't quite figure out if it wants to be a 3D platformer or an exploratory Metroidvania game. Many of the RPG elements of the series, that were introduced in Symphony of the Night were stripped out in Lament. Leon, though, still had to go back and forth exploring the same chunks of the castle over and over, meaning there was a lot more back-tracking with a lot less in the way of rewards. This was coupled with rooms that felt more like battle arenas (with forced fighting to little benefit), putting the emphasis on the fighting but not giving the players any reason to want to do so (except because they had to).

Some likened the game, even, to Devil May Cry, Capcom's popular action-fighting game series at the time, and its possible IGA (or the executives at Konami, or both) saw that game and felt they wanted to make their own spin on it. Whatever was the motivation, those that saw a parallel felt that Lament of Innocence didn't nail the game play as well, making for a weaker entry in that genre, although a fine showing in 3D for Castlevania (low bar as that might have been).

The game was successful enough to spawn another 3D attempt later, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, but in the years since this game is viewed as a bit of a misstep itself for the series. It's not as bad as it could have been, but neither is it as good as fans, or critics, really wanted. It's a half step towards something bigger, and only the opening salvo for where the series would eventually go when it committed to 3D action (for good and for ill).