The lights are on
It's no secret that the Castlevania series has thrived in its 2D incarnations, but stumbled when taking the step into the third dimension. While the latter titles weren't absolute trainwrecks by any description, they lacked a certain magic that was present from the NES originals all the way through Symphony of the Night and DS versions. Producer David Cox wants to change the series' reputation by rebooting Castlevania in 3D and reminding gamers why it's such a legendary name in the industry.
"The first plan was actually to remake the original NES game in 3D," Cox says. The team at MercurySteam decided against it when they realized Super Castlevania IV essentially tried the remake approach back on the SNES. Instead of taking a similar route, they set their sights on putting together an all-new quest that harkens back to the feel of the 8- and 16-bit classics."We want to go back to that feeling of being a lone warrior facing off against tons of supernatural enemies with nothing but your whip," says Cox.
Despite this statement, new protagonist Gabriel Belmont will have plenty to work with in addition to his whip (referred to as the Combat Cross this time around). Secondary weapons return in Lords of Shadow, including the iconic dagger and holy water. These will be acquired by destroying environmental objects like candles, replacing the hearts usually seen in the franchise.
As is the standard with modern 3D action-adventure games, you'll collect experience as you defeat enemies. This replaces the RPG-esque leveling seen in Symphony of the Night in lieu of a currency system like those seen in God of War and Devil May Cry. It's clear that the focus of the game isn't on returning to the style of SOTN, as many of its elements are nowhere to be seen here (highly customizable armor, a multitude of weapons, combat focusing primarily on swords, etc). "This is an action game through and through," according to Cox.
You may not find yourself in a massive non-linear area like in the "Metroidvania" titles, but it won't always be a point A to point B affair. Replayability has always been a focus in the series, from the elusive 200.6% completion in Symphony to the soul/ability collection in the recent DS titles. Lords of Shadow is no different as a result of tons of hidden items and secret paths scattered throughout the varied levels. There are fifty stages in the game, and each can be revisited. No backtracking will be required as it will be handled via the menu.
"I want the gamer to have five minutes of combat, followed by five
minutes of puzzle-solving, followed by five minutes of platforming,"
says Cox. While he wants the gameplay to constantly rotate through
these varied methods, some areas will heavily lean on one in
particular. One of the classic areas from the series is the Clock
Tower, and it returns in the form of a lengthy stage that's almost 100%
platforming. I watched Cox as he perilously hopped from spinning gear
to spinning gear, avoiding various electrified hazards. It appeared to
require a more precise touch than the basic platforming seen in other
titles in the genre, and should be a nice bit of nostalgia for those
familiar with dodging Medusa heads in towers past.
the game will have to overcome is a bit of "Darksiders Syndrome." That
title was criticized by some for borrowing gameplay elements almost
directly from other games. Like the THQ sleeper hit, there's no denying
that Lords of Shadow resembles God of War during combat and evokes
memories of Zelda during the puzzles. Adding to this, much of the
platforming is reminiscent of Prince of Persia and the new Titan bosses
are handled almost identically to Shadow of the Colossus (you have to
platform up the massive beast to a "rune" spot to take him down).
too early to tell if this will be a major criticism of the game, but at
least one element proves that MercurySteam doesn't want to directly ape
Kratos' combat style. When I asked if quicktime events will be a
gameplay element, Cox was quick to react. "We wanted to avoid that. We
felt that when it's done like that, the gamer focuses too much on the
button and gets distracted from the actual action that's happening."
They're instead aiming on presenting the gamer with exciting action
scenes without having to worry about a giant button icon distracting
them from Gabriel's quest.
One completely new addition to the series is the new Light magic/Shadow magic system. The former helps you by regenerating health and boosting defenses, while the latter increases your damage and makes Gabriel more aggressive. When enemies are killed, they drop neutral orbs that can be sucked into either your Light or Shadow pool and distributed toward the powers you desire. Games like Dante's Inferno and Infamous allowed gamers to shape their character along good/evil lines and give them abilities according to their alignment, but Lords of Shadow is taking a different route. Your Light/Shadow orbs aren't based on how virtuous or malevolent you are, so you can pick and choose what ability you want to work toward every time you collect orbs. Simply decide what type of power you want and absorb the neutral orbs to the relevant side.
When it comes to storytelling, Lords of Shadow diverts from the Castlevania formula in a major way. Early in the game, Gabriel learns that a shady group of three men known
as the Lords of Shadow are behind his wife's murder. These three each
carry a piece of the "God mask," which supposedly carries the power of
bringing back the dead. As you can expect, Gabriel will face off
against all three in boss battles throughout the game in an effort to
obtain the mask and revive Marie. Previous games featured basic frameworks of plot that basically boiled down to "Hey, let's go kill this Dracula dude." With a more in-depth plot this time around, the series will be presented with Hollywood voice-over talent. Robert Carlyle voices your vampire-hunting protagonist, Patrick Stewart plays the swordsman Zobek, and Californication's Natasha McElhone provides VO for Gabriel's slain wife, Marie. It doesn't hurt that Hideo Kojima is on board as a producer, considering he's no stranger to integrating a compelling narrative within a solid gameplay experience.
It may borrow elements from other titles when it comes down to gameplay, but the look and atmosphere of the game is what makes it stand out from the pack. The human characters are distinctly in the Castlevania mold, but the enemies look far more vicious and aggressive than we've ever seen them. Ghouls are no longer slowly-shuffling whip fodder, they're now quick and pose an actual threat to the player. One character that appeared especially disturbing was the "Evil Butcher." He's a lumbering, deformed beast with slabs of meat hanging off hooks on his belt, and the menacing cleaver he carries isn't just for the gutted pigs that hang from his ceiling. "We wanted to get away from the art style of the originals and make it a bit darker," Cox says. "The old games had this boyish depiction of vampires and monsters and we wanted them to have a darker edge this time around."
Time will tell if Lords of Shadow's gameplay separates itself sufficiently from the rest of the 3D action pack, but it's already clear that its aesthetic is distinctly Castlevania. Everything from the music, character designs, and the beautiful environments are looking fantastic. If it presents gamers with compelling gameplay, we may finally get to see a 3D Castlevania game that does the series justice.
Looking forward to it! Super Castlevania IV is one of my favorite entries in one of my favorite series of all time (at least, until they truned it into a Japanese RPG-lite with the cards and magic and crap. Thank Jeebus they're getting back to the Belmonts and leaving all that anime junk behind!
Have to hear more about it but sounds interesting.
@Chase88 there already is a trailer. everyone keeps praising God of War as if they created the fighting mechanics when Shaolin Monks did it beforehand
God of War came out before Shaolin Monks.
Man, I hope it's good.
sweet Definately getting this one for Ps3
i can only hope i can afford it when the time comes
So. Damned. Excited.
Can't wait. It's my favorite game franchise of all time.
I highly doubt they will be copying other games.
As I've never been a Nintendo guy (my parents went with Genesis instead, what do you want from me?) I don't have any memories of past Castlevania to refer to. But, all the same, this version is looking mighty impressive. Keeping my eye on it for sure.
Actually, I think there was a Castlevania for the Genesis, but I'm not too sure (help?). Still, it's nice to see a step away from the "metroidvania" games and a nice nod towards the original Castlevania games. Also, when did Gabriel become a Belmont again? I think I missed that.
This is only coming to PS3?
The lack of QTEs has increased my hype tenfold. *** QTEs.
While I would like to see more influence from SOTN (by far my favorite in the series) it sounds like they are devoted to making a great 3D Castlevania. And I mean, it's got freakin' Captain Picard doing a voice! What else can you ask for?
yes, there was a castlevania for genesis, it was called Bloodlines. I didn't think it was all that great, but at the same time, it wasn't horrible either.