Thursday, February 24, 2011

Castlevania: Lord of Shadows

Castlevania was less a video game and more of an epic quest.

I've spent over a month playing through the game. I've ascended the peaks of Heaven, I've battled demons and vampires, I've unlocked ancient mechanisms, and I've done battle with the devil himself. At times, the game felt endless and I felt that poor Gabriel Belmont would never see the end of his journey.

Two days ago I finally saw the end of the game. And I'm really sad to see it go.

Zero Punctuation is pretty harsh on the game. Sure, Castlevania is basically a God of War rip-off, but originality was never the video game industry's strong point. At this point, GoW has been ripped off a dozen times, but never with this much style.

You take control of Gabriel Belmont, the (likely) progenitor of the legendary vampire hunting clan. We meet him as he's on the quest to rid the world of three darklords and avenge the death of his beloved wife. His journey takes him through many dark and exotic landscapes, from the spires of Castle Frankenstein to the very gates of hell itself. As your quest leads you deeper and deeper into damnation, you discover the terrible secrets linking the House of Belmont to their age-old adversary, the vampire lord Dracula.

I tend to approach most media, whether films, games, or comic books, from a slightly different angle than most people. I'm not a particularly visually-oriented person and I pay very close attention to the strength of the writing, but for Castlevania my standards were completely reversed. The writing is fairly pedestrian, which the level intro narration being florid and melodramatic, but the visuals of the game were absolutely captivating. From the opening scene of the werewolves attacking the Bavarian town to the wintery climb to the summit of the vampire citadel, I was completely entranced. Every environment, every enemy, and every weapon looks gorgeous. The game does a great job of immersing you in a foreboding gothic universe and I loved the sheer aesthetic joy of following Gabriel on his quest. There are tons of unlockables in the game but I made absolutely sure that I got all the concept art.

God of War-style play tends to fall under two camps: the people who can be measured and precise in their fast-paced combat, and guys like me who mash buttons frantically and hope for the best. Yet despite my utter lack of skill, I felt that the game kept pace with me. One of my big issues with most GoW games is that after awhile it becomes boring butchering enemies who seem to only exist to make you look cool, but Castlevania has enough variety in their enemies to make the game engaging. They attack differently, defend differently, and if you get cocky they can eat you alive. You gotta be paying attention and have fast hands to make it through, but it makes the victories all the more sweet.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been working on this game awhile. As I've become used to games you can knock out in ten or twenty hours, spending thirty-plus hours immersed in the haunted battlefields of Transylvania became much more of an undertaking. After awhile, I stopped feeling like I was playing a game and more like I was undertaking an epic adventure. Sure, Gabriel's angsty revenge drama is pretty generic, but it's played against such a mythic backdrop that I was completely sucked into the world.

I would recommend this game for people who like quest-themed stories with a darker age, avenging anto-hero types, and fans of good Gothic adventure. I've always had a soft spot for the Castlevania franchise but I enjoyed the hell out of this game from start to finish.

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