The lights are on
I've been a fan of Castlevania ever since I first played it for the N64 back in the day. From there on, I dabbled in the occasional vampire-slaying adventure on other platforms as the years went by but none of the titles I played could really grab me like the N64 original and its sequel could. Then Lords of Shadow came along and gave me a whole new thing to be nostalgic about.
Interestingly enough, LoS actually takes some big steps away from the tried and true formula of: "Dracula gets resurrected, hero has to go and kill Dracula" but that deference in no way robs the game of any of its appeal. Following newcomer Gabriel Belmont (voiced by Hollywood veteran Robert Carlyle) on his quest to recover the three pieces of an ancient relic known as the God Mask from the enigmatic lords of shadow and thus bring his murdered wife back from the dead, the game is spread over a series of "stages" sectioned into twelve chapters. And while that may sound slightly short on paper, in reality the exact opposite is true; be prepared to get your money's worth cause even if you don't bother to do the optional level trials and go searching for every loose item this is a game you won't be breezing through in six or seven hours. To give you an idea of its length, the game in its entirety spans two discs.
Each stage opens up with a short introduction narrated by another knight in Gabriel's order named Zobek (voiced by the legendary Patrick Stewart) whom Gabriel meets early on in his quest and who offers assistance from time to time. Gabriel's weapon of choice, a sort of "cross-whip" hybrid, acts as both a weapon and a tool for getting around as Gabriel often employs it to help scale walls or rappel across cliffs. Periodic upgrades to the weapon increase its functionality and offer new options in combat as do the various secondary weapons that range from old classics like the throwing knives to newcomers like the dark crystal.
The combat itself offers variety and functionality that is easy to pick up and offers dynamic, flashy battles reminiscent of God of War or Devil May Cry. Experience points earned from defeating foes and solving puzzles allow you to purchase new combos and moves and later on in the adventure Gabriel gets access to two different kinds of magic that use a system similar to the soul absorption mechanics of Onimusha and each offer their own benefits; the light magic allowing each of Gabriel's strikes to recover health and the dark magic enhancing the damage of his attacks. Each type of magic can be toggled on and off at will and strategic use of the two kinds becomes imperative during the game's later battles.
Puzzles offer unique challenges without ever feeling too too rough on the brain and they can even be skipped at the cost of a sizable bonus to exp. Some are old favorites like lever pulling/pushing or platform jumping but then others, like steering crows to different scarecrow resting spots or playing a giant game of a dark alternative to chess with a bored vampire child are as original as they come and only enhance the game's dark tone.
The only reason this game doesn't get a perfect ten are a few small errors that could have been avoided. A few times during the game there were situations in which it seemed the game expected me to have prior knowledge about how to solve a puzzle or defeat a boss that I didn't. While I'm all for having to figure stuff out on my own, I don't like having to look up a strategy guide online in order to figure something out (something I hate to do because it feels like cheating).
But a couple minor frustrations certainly didn't detract from the overall fun the game offered and the story, while different from what Castlevania fans might have come to expect, is a new and unique re-imagining of the franchise that definitely delivers an engrossing adventure filled with the perfect blend of breathtaking scenery, intense combat, and harrowing puzzles that make Lords of Shadow a worthy addition to the Castlevania universe.
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