Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
When Castlevania: Lords of Shadow came out, it was hailed by some as a breath of fresh air for the series, a new adventure that broke from traditional Castlevania storytelling to try something bold and different. And that's true, the first game did break from everything people expected from a Castlevania series, crafting a different kind of game, creating something more akin to other, modern action games such as God of War. In the process, though, the game ejected the entire timeline of the series, causing no small amount of angst among fans. It did it to create something different and new, that's for sure, it then had to find a way to continue that trend going forward.
That's where MercurySteam had the plan to craft two sequels to the original title: one to continue the adventure of Gabriel Belmont 1000 years in the future after he'd become the Dark Lord, Dracula, while the other would fill in the gapes in the years between, telling stories featuring new versions of classic Castlevania characters in this new timeline. The middle game, interquel Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate came out first, on the Nintendo DS, with full-fledge sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (titled Akumajo Dorakyura: Rodo Obu Shado 2 in Japan, translated at "Demon Castle Dracula: Lords of Shadow 2"), following the next year, presumably once the buzz was at a fever pitch.
There were a couple of problems with this plan. First, four years passed between the first title in this sub-series and full sequel Lords of Shadow 2. Four years is a long time for buzz to be maintained, and it seemed like, having played through the first game enough, most fans had moved on from the series before Lords of Shadow 2 could come out. Then in the lead up to this sequel, Mirror of Fate debuted and become one of the worst performing games in the series. That did not help the talk around Lords of Shadow 2 at all.
Frankly, this sequel could have used all the good buzz, and good will, it could have gotten because it's a bit of a muddled mess. Picking up after the cliffhanger ending of the first title, we join protagonist Dracula after he's been brought back from a long sleep in his grave, weakened by his slumber and hardly a living creature at all. Still vowing to get revenge all all his enemies, Gabriel... we mean Dracula has to find and restore his powers and be ready to take on the evil that's spreading across his lands, the darkness of Satan. Dracula had a mission, a duty... and a craving for blood, all which would be sated by the end of this adventure, after he'd explored every nook and cranny, wandered through two different versions of reality, revisited his past, and maybe met two versions of his child even. There's just a lot going on here.
For those looking forward to playing as Dracula, that promise was fulfilled in this sequel. Here you get a vampiric version of a Belmont who not only whips and attacks his way through hordes of enemies, but also gets to drink their blood, turn into various vampiric forms, and cause all kinds of undead carnage. It is, at times, quite satisfying, and there are clever times where the vampiric side of Dracula is used quite well. Being able to play as Dracula hailed this as a bold move for the series, but there were some critics disappointed that the sequel simply felt like more of the same. Gabriel still controlled the same as Dracula, for good or ill, and the game was built on a similar engine, meaning that all the flaws of the first title were still present here.
Making matters worse, the story was simply all over the place. Your quest to take on Satan seems fairly direct at first blush: go here, find one of Satan's lieutenants, kill them, move on to the next, and again, until Satan is drawn out and you can defeat him. But then the game layers on these dram-like sequences where Dracula is sucked into his own past, exploring a version of his castle that is there but isn't all at the same time. Sometimes he's dealing with character that are dead, like his son Trevor, or being aided by the ghost of his dead wife, Marie, but it all just kind of happens without reason, sending Dracula on ever more complex fetch quests simply for the sake of drawing out the narrative and making the player do more.
In construction the game is like a 3D Metroidvania, as if one of the Metroid Prime games was filtered through MercurySteam's vision for the series. The game doesn't lack for ambition, but that might actually be its biggest flaw. The areas are so expansive, there are so many areas to explore that only reward you with tiny slivers of bonuses, that it's not only easy to get lost (when you inevitably have to back track) but there's also little reward from trying to do and see everything. And, worst of all, none of it feels like Castlevania, with the game trying to do so much and please so many people that it lost all thread of what it was supposed to be.
Considering how long it took to come out, and that newer consoles were already out when this title arrived on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the game simply wasn't able to pull in the same kinds of numbers that the first game in the series achieved. Fan disinterest, coupled with poorer reviews, didn't help matters, and Lords of Shadows 2 ended up selling far less than Konami had hopes (numbers are hard to come by but reportedly sales were closer to the 200,000 range than the 1.75 Million of the first game). It's no wonder, then that Konami has effectively put the series on ice ever since, not only ending the Lords of Shadow sub-series, but the whole of Castlevania as well (leaving it a mobile- and erotic-gambling-series only for the foreseeable future).