Thursday, November 27, 2014

Third Rate Game Play: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Game: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

System: Xbox 360

Developer: MercurySteam

Publisher: Konami

Player: Tony

Experience: Played other games in series

 (Check after the jump for the full article)

Castlevania is one of Konami's biggest and longest-running franchises, spanning multiple consoles and decades of releases.  The series began in 1986's Famciom (later NES) release Castlevania and MSX computer title Vampire Killer.  The former and more well-known title was more linear in nature while Vampire Killer, a Europe and Japan exclusive, was more open-ended in nature.  Castlevania's team is credited as just Konami and included a number of nicknames similar to how Capcom did, and from attempts by John Szczepaniak in his Untold History of Japanese Games series, the creator of Castlevania is Hitoshi Akamatsu, someone who worked on Metal Gear II: Snake's Revenge and disappeared in the 1990s.  Meanwhile, The NES series received two sequels, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, all while MSX-2, arcades, and GameBoy received other titles.

When Castlevania went to the Super Nintendo, Contra director Masahiro Ueno took over for Super Castlevania IV in 1991.  Ueno made the game as a remake of sorts for the original Castlevania, and environmental effects and whip mechanics were added to make the game less frustrating to players.  Within the next few years, two more major Castlevania titles released: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (ported as Castlevania: Dracula X to SNES) and Castlevania: Bloodlines, the only Castlevania game on Sega Genesis.  Rondo of Blood was directed by Toru Hagihara, and Bloodlines was designed by Teisaku Seki.  Seki would go on to work on Gradius Gaiden, while Hagihara remained the series director for its debut onto Sony PlayStation.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night released on Sony PlayStation in 1997, and it was also the debut of Koji Igarashi's influence on the series.  Igarashi had previously worked on Gradius II, Twinbee, and International Superstar Soccer as a programmer.  In Symphony of the Night, the series shifted to become more open-ended in nature and added many new gameplay elements, as the game originally stood as a side-story to the series.  A Saturn port would add Maria as a playable character and add a new area in the castle, but Igarashi has stated in interviews that he was not content with the quality of the port despite the new features.  Within the following few years, Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe (developer of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon) developed and released Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon before being dissolved by Koanmi in 2002; the leads of KCEK would later form Good-Feel.

As Producer and Director of the series, IGA went to produce new games for the GameBoy Advance: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow.  Whereas HoD is similar in nature to Symphony of the Night, AoS introduced Soul mechanics, in that the hero, Soma, could absorb the souls of defeated enemies for special abilities.  At the same time, IGA's first major 3D Castlevania, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, released 2003.  IGA's major releases continued onto the Nintendo DS with Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow), Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, and finally Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia.  Outside of the handheld releases, IGA supervised the development of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness for PlayStation 2 and the Wii fighting game Castlevania Judgement (developed in part by Eighting).

After the slow sales of the larger Castlevania titles as of late, Konami asked its teams to create a number of prototypes to help reboot sales for the series.  Whereas IGA had pitched a game starring Alucard, Spanish developer MercurySteam would be successful in producing an action game which the company wanted to build.  MercurySteam had previously developed American McGee presents: Scrapland and Clive Barker's Jericho for Deep Silver and Codemasters.  This new prototype, called simply Lords of Shadow, was shown to Konami management, and Hideo Kojima elected to help the team.  The result would become Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, a reboot to the series as developed by MercurySteam in collaboration with Kojima Productions.

Official Word
Castlevania – Lords of Shadow is a dark and vivid new re-imagining of the Castlevania mythology.
It is the end of days and ungodly powers isolate the Earth. The world’s alliance with the heavens has been threatened by a dark and malevolent force – the mysterious Lords of Shadow. Across this shattered land, the souls of the dead wander unable to find peace, whilst creatures of evil wreak chaos and death upon the living.
Gabriel Belmont is a member of the Brotherhood of Light, an elite group of holy knights who protect and defend the innocent against the supernatural. His beloved wife was brutally murdered by the evil forces of darkness and her soul trapped for eternity. Neither living nor dead she realizes the horrific truth of what is at stake and guides Gabriel to his destiny and hopefully salvation for the world.
Game Overview

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an action adventure game in which players control Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, as he ventures to vanquish evil forces which have destroyed the land and killed his wife.  A dark spell has kept the heavens from answering their calls, and with the help of a fellow member Zobek, Gabriel hopes to defeat the Lords of Shadow and remove the curse upon the world.

The game plays similarly to similar action games.  Gabriel attacks with a whip and gains additional powers with it over time to climb walls and perform new combos against a multitude of enemies.  Battles appear in set-pieces from time to time, whether on horseback or in clearings of the path, and enemies range in size and intensity, from goblins with bombs to a gigantic titan in an ice-encased lake.

The game has unlockable items such as artwork and more skills as you progress, allowing the game to open up for replayability over time.


Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a critical and commercial success for Konami, and with that, the company went onward with the reboot to produce more games in the series.  Meanwhile, Castlevania's previous producer, IGA, would continue to work in Konami for a number of years, producing Kinect-focused Leedmees and the shooter Otomedius Excellent on Xbox 360.  However, after years of working at Konami, IGA officially resigned in 2014.  There have been hints of a spiritual sequel akin to Mighty Number 9 after Mega Man, but he officially put this on hold in order to secure employment at a mobile game developer for a time.  The current status is unknown.

Meanwhile, MercurySteam worked on two sequels for Lords of Shadow.  First, they produced a 3DS sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate, which explains the happenings around Gabriel during the first title and leading up to Lords of Shadow 2.  Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 released officially on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC early 2014.  The game was generally met with mixed reception.

There is no telling what Konami intends to do with the Castlevania series going forward, but they have confirmed that Lords of Shadow 2 ends the series, leaving the fate of the series unknown.  Furthermore, with that series over, we are unsure what MercurySteam are working on next or whether they are even working with Konami on another franchise.

Game Play

Back in 2011, we decided to play through the first chapter of Lords of Shadow, and with that, we explore the world the game has to offer, whether we liked it or not.  Really, back in 2011?  Yes, we need to work on our backlog.


It has been a while, but you can see that we were not exactly feeling it.  The game has a very distinct Gothic style which works well for most of the characters and beautiful environments.  However, the game's enemies looked less enticing to us than the series' older monsters.  There were elements which were definitely Castlevania-esque, but it was more of a God of War or other action game of the same genre, focused more on combos and attacking groups of enemies in corridors at once.

As we were more accustomed to the IGA style of Castlevania games, we wanted more exploration and RPG elements out of the game, but instead we received more set-pieces and high-action sequences.  The boss battle at the end made us even less intrigued, as it clearly played on tropes of other action games which had more unique mechanics.

Of course, we walked in with a bit of a negative vibe, so we don't feel the game is bad, but probably not our type.

3RM Says: Hmm, that mask doesn't look to scary.  I can see the strings!

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