Title :Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :Konami
ESRB Rating :Mature
Game Rating :8.6
Review by :Ken Gagne

Every story has a beginning. Until now, the origin of evil has remained shrouded. The veils of time are parted, and Castlevania is revealed, in Lament of Innocence. 

Lament is the latest in a storied line of vampire-hunting games from publisher Konami. This entry is the first for the PlayStation 2, and intends to successfully transition the series to 3D, ignoring the failed Nintendo 64 attempts. This precursor to the Castlevania legacy details the first conflict between the Belmont clan and a vampire when a local lord captures Sir Leon Belmont's betrothed. Without the Church granting him leave to abandon the Crusades, Leon must forsake his mantle and sortie to the forbidden forest wherein lies his love. 

Lament's PSOne predecessor, Symphony of the Night, took Castlevania in a more adventuresome direction, prompting searching and the collection of items required to enable greater access to Dracula's domain. The need for exploration is less in Lament, since it varies from that 2D formula. Unique keys collected in one stage can be used in another, inviting revisiting of cleared stages, and levels have optional branches that can be unearthed and probed to discover enhancements for Leon, but these accouterments are often unnecessary to fulfill his quest. 

Instead, the 3D arena focuses on Leon's combative abilities. The Belmonts' trademark whip can be wielded in a number of devastating combinations. Secondary weapons — the traditional axe, holy water, cross, and the like — can be modified using orbs collected from each stage, creating 25 unique combinations. The variety of enemies is plentiful, such that the frantic search for the nearest save point is not just an exercise in button-mashing, but truly inspires distress in gamers wishing to capture their progress. 

Contributing to this fervor is the gameplay's inbuilt lack of respite. Equipment can be changed and items consumed only through a real-time window, navigated with the right analog stick, relieving the player of the opportunity to breathe while casually scrolling through menus, as most games allow. This simple technique, though potentially frustrating, is innovative, realistic, and maintains the pace of conflict while increasing the player's agitation. 

Players not only fight the hordes of undead, but also block and dodge their attacks — tactics which fill Leon's magic meter, allowing him to use a handful of rare relics that give him short-lived advantages in battle. Armor and other accessories can be purchased outside the castle walls. Within the walls, the citadel is divided into five areas which can be explored in any order prior to tackling the vampire lord. Due to this lack of linearity, the difficulty level remains rather constant until the last level, despite Leon's progressive growth in repertoire and strength. Some end-level bosses can be defeated on the first or second try, while others are more fiendish in nature. 

Castlevania itself is a finely articulated palace, detailing a castle with such awkward names as the Anti-Soul Mysteries Lab and the Pagoda of the Misty Moon. Though there is not much of the environment with which to interact, the trappings of a mansion are plainly visible. It's a combination of Castlevania action in a Resident Evil setting, though the lighting is not as accurate as that latter series. The camera is automatic, similar to Devil May Cry, so that for any given position Leon can take, the camera will often give the same perspective. This cinematic method works well except for depicting the environs fully; hidden areas can be easily missed if the player isn't jumping randomly, causing the camera to reveal an area's higher altitudes. 

Four recent Castlevania games have had aural themes to their subtitles. Lament of Innocence renounces that tradition, and provides a soundtrack which is anachronistic for its setting, and falls short of its ancestors' excellence. The dialogue, though not authentic for the 11th century, is admirable, and the sound effects abound; the size and nature of several enemies can be determined without visual confirmation simply by listening carefully. 

Surprisingly, Lament's storyline is one of its strong points. Though Belmont heroism and vampire malevolence are timeless quantities, their interaction in this Castlevania has layers that players won't expect; watching it play out becomes an incentive to finish each stage. Completing the entire story will take an experienced gamer only five hours — six if they if they want to find every hidden item. 

Lament of Innocence is not the groundbreaking trendsetter that Symphony of the Night was, but it does successfully move Castlevania into 3D without blemish. There is little to lament in this guilty pleasure.

This article is copyright (c) 2003, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Tech News, 11-Nov-03