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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

(Konami; US: 7 Oct 2010)

Often the idea of love and our need to be loved conflict with the expectations that society places on people.  Konami’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow places you in the shoes of Gabriel, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, but more importantly a recent victim to the blinding power of love.


Gabriel has recently lost the love of his life, Marie, and only the power gained by killing the Lords of Shadow can bring her back.  Conveniently, hell has taken refuge on Gabriel’s plane of existence, giving him a license to kill, not in the name of love but in the name of God.  In order to bring Marie back, Gabriel must kill the Lords of Shadow, each granting him possession of a fractured mask.  Once all the Lords have been killed, Gabriel will have every piece of the mask, thus giving him possession of seemingly unlimited power, which can be used to restore order and bring back his lost love.  Of course, in order to get to each of the Lords, Gabriel will have to travel through great obstacles that are conveniently overcome with each weapon and physical upgrade that the game provides.


Just as in previous Castlevania games, the player’s progress is blocked based on the current abilities that he has.  While the previous games in the series were more like an open world, where you could travel back and forth at will, Lords of Shadow has been broken down into levels and chapters.  Because previous installments were wide open, you would eventually encounter areas that couldn’t be accessed, but each obstacle gave you a rough idea of what was needed in order to continue.  Lords of Shadow, on the other hand, is very linear, and the only obstacles that you find that are linked to future upgrades are weapon or item enhancements.  By substituting an open world with a very linear level design, Konami has taken out nearly every reason to return to previous levels.  Part of the fun that exemplifies the Castlevania series is going back to previous sections of the game and using your newest upgrades to demolish anything in your way, while still getting to experience a new section of the world.  Sure, there are some upgrades that you will miss while playing Lords of Shadow, but most of the important ones (life and magic) can be found during a single play through.  Eliminating the need to go back through already finished levels destroys a lot of the fun and relevance that the new upgrades could have had.  This brings me to another point: this game doesn’t feel like Castlevania.


Saying Lords of Shadow doesn’t feel like a Castlevania game isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is very reminiscent of other high profile, entertaining series in the same genre: God of War and Prince of Persia.  Gabriel’s cross/chain weapon is reminiscent of Kratos throwing his very similar bladed chains around.  While the combat sequences feel great, the amount of combos that the game grants you as you progress seem to be only a bullet point in Konami’s marketing strategy.  Many of the new combos have very time sensitive variances to them and when you add a fast AI alongside a health bar that seems to drain too fast, it makes those seemingly powerful moves pointless.  While many of the platforming sections are a great way to break up the chain swinging, button mashing monotony, they still lack the polish seen in the other games that this game is taking cues from.  Surprisingly, some of the best moments in which Lords of Shadow shines are in the puzzle sequences.


Spread throughout various levels are some of the most creative and frustrating puzzles recently seen in the action/adventure genre.  Coinciding with the numerous puzzles are the many Brotherhood soldiers that have fallen in battle and left behind a little insight relating to a specific area that you are in, advice on how to more efficiently defeat a monster or how to solve the puzzle you are currently faced with.  These advice scrolls are a very streamlined version of the Demon’s Souls notes that online players were able to leave behind in that game.  While both are very different in their delivery, they illustrate the same type of visual response that we have when we know that there is some type of barrier ahead that has already taken a life.  This adds a little excitement to what is coming ahead while also fleshing out Gabriel’s world a little more.  Adding to the variety of death scrolls found belonging to Gabriel’s fallen brethren is the vastness of approach to the puzzles themselves.  While some puzzles will be more challenging than others, if you find the closest fallen soldier, they can assist you or just give you the answer (solving the puzzle gives you point rewards while asking for the answer takes those away).  Giving the option to bypass and be told the answer to the puzzles ensures that players won’t be stuck if they don’t want to be.  The dead Brotherhood of Light soldiers add to the mythos surrounding the world, but they also illustrate a common concern that people have when choosing to fight for another’s convictions, a conviction that they don’t completely understand.


A variety of justifications have existed throughout history for those who fight for a cause.  In this case, Gabriel uses love as a catalyst and justification for his actions, while at the same time using religion as a way to confirm those convictions that he fights for.  Every level in Lords of Shadow begins with a short narration by Patrick Stewart.  While Stewart tries to deliver a commendable performance, it is easy to detect in his delivery that he could care less for the story.  Unenthusiastic vocal delivery aside, each introduction’s intention is to express the suffering that Gabriel is going through, based on a character that is seemingly close to him and understands his plight.  To the gamer, Gabriel looks like another tool for destruction that will be used in order to save the world and get the girl, but Stewart’s character, Zobek, attempts to act as a conscience, one that isn’t often seen on the screen.  The divide that exists in this character reflects the state of mind that Gabriel is in. His desire for love has blinded him to the events unfolding around him as well as how it negatively affects himself and everything around him.  Even though it would have been nice to visually experience more of the inner turmoil that Gabriel is suffering on screen, these sequences expressed through narration are a nice touch as they address the repercussions and possibility of losing oneself when fighting blindly. 


Many will argue that Lords of Shadow fails to live up to the expectations that many of the Castlevania 2-D sidescrollers have set, but when you break down the actual mechanics used throughout the series, it effectively translates them into the extra dimension.  It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of the series or a newcomer, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a worthwhile experience and a welcome addition to the action/adventure genre.

Rating:

Eric Kravcik is a recent English graduate facing an economy many of his elders say he should be terrified of. Horror stories aside, he initially enrolled in the Computer Science field and it took him three years to find out he didn't like writing code before switching to the aforementioned field of study. He believes we are at a very interesting moment in video game history where a rift is forming between the big budget titles, casual audiences and the independent scene. While searching for a stable career he takes time to enjoy this new shift in the industry and can't help but be excited for the future.


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