Never have I seen three words cause such frenzy among gamers. And yet as the third week approaches following the launch of the newest Lords of Shadow game, it seems that it has once again ignited a series of flame wars across the internet.
To those who are unfamiliar with the game, the first thing you need to know is Lords of Shadow isn't the title of this game series. It's the subtitle.
The full title is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Castlevania is one of the longest running series in the medium, dating back to the eighties on the original NES. The series, which has spanned multiple consoles, started out following Simon Belmont as he whipped (yes, whipped) his way through Dracula's castle, slaying his monstrous minions until finally confronting the vampire lord and slaying him, causing his castle to crumble. The series more or less stuck to this pattern, save the game's second iteration, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, until 1997 when Castlevania: Symphony of the Night hit the Playstation to rave reviews and set the standard for the series for the next decade. Starting with that game, the series took a greater emphasis on RPG elements and for the first time, did not have a Belmont (or someone vaguely related) taking charge, but rather Dracula's half-human son, Alucard.
Most fans were perfectly happy with this. At least at the time. But even many of those fans would tell you that the series had hit a rut. Not to mention that Konami's attempts to bring the series from a 2D plane to a 3D one were mediocre at best and downright awful at worst.
Fast forward to 2010 when Konami handed the reins to western developer Mercury Steam, who launched the reboot of the game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The somewhat tongue-in-cheek quirkiness of the earlier games was all but gone and other than references or nods to the earlier games, many fans argue that the game wasn't even a Castlevania game at all. It didn't have the right feel. This game also had no RPG elements to speak of, but was more in vein of other popular 3D action games like Devil May Cry and God of War.
But many also loved the game's direction for the series. Including its larger than life bosses, deep combat, its more serious tone and narrative and of its big twist ending. Enough loved the that it actually became the highest grossest game in the Castlevania series.
And so, the feud began.
Two weeks ago, Konami and Mercury Steam released the next game in the Lords of Shadow trilogy, Mirror of Fate, which offered to make some concessions to fans of earlier iterations while still appeasing the new fans.
And once again, the response has been mixed. It seems that fans either love it or hate it.
Now that we're all caught up, the questions you're inevitably asking are:
1. What did you think of it then?
2. Is the game worth playing?
And my answer to both questions is "I loved it" and "Yes".
Although I make no claims about being a hardcore fan of the series, I have been a fan of the series since its premiere. I also won't hide the fact that I was a large fan of the Lords of Shadows game. Other than perhaps Super Castlevania IV, Lords of Shadow is probably my favorite in the series. Frankly, I wasn't even sure they would make any more, given how many people had problems with the first one. So when it was announced that a 2D "mid-quel" was announced for the Nintendo 3DS, bridging the gap between Lords of Shadow and the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2 and starring series mainstays Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont and Alucard, I didn't even have a doubt. This has been one of my most hotly anticipated games since it was announced in Nintendo Power. I wanted to play this game.
And I am glad I did, as I enjoyed almost every moment and had a hard time putting it down.
Ah, yes. There's that word. "Almost".
So what's wrong with the game? To be honest, the biggest concern across the board has been the controls, and as sad as I am to say it, I have to agree with the game's critics on that one. They could use some fine tuning.
Don't misunderstand, I personally didn't find anything game breaking. But the Circle Pad, as anyone with a 3DS will tell you, is not really the most efficient control stick ever conceived. That's more on Nintendo than on Mercury Steam, but it is something that can't be ignored. Especially when the use of the Circle Pad instead of the DPad (or at least the option to switch the functions of the two) doesn't make sense. Using the Circle Pad gave the developers the option to let the characters run or walk. Which is fine, except walking serves no purpose.
The other issue is that the game is a little glitchy. Again, nothing I found to be game breaking or overly frustrating, but the biggest concern I had was the use of fall damage. It wasn't bad necessarily (although that will vary depending on who you talk to), but it was extremely inconsistent. Sometimes I would fall from certain heights and take damage. Other times, I would slow my decent by using the block button in air and it would negate the problem. The fact that sometimes the music wouldn't cue in when an enemy appeared was also strange.
But as a whole, these were my only major gripes with the game. Everything else was only minor quibbles in a product I ultimately loved.
As with the previous Lords of Shadow, the game looks quite stunning. I would probably go so far as to call it one of the best looking and sounding on the 3DS that I've played so far. Detailed character models, great use of the 3D effect and the cel shading used for the cutscenes were all fantastic. I personally echo the sentiment that the cel shading should have been used throughout the whole game and that it was bizarre not all of l, but even so, the game still looks quite nice.
It also sounds quite nice. The cinematic score once again composed by Oscar Araujo is a nice touch and it builds atmosphere. Old school fans once again bemoaned the lack of the arcadey themes the soundtrack was known for, and I can't say as I entirely blame them. But Oscar's score is still wonderfully composed and a great touch. In addition, the voice acting is seriously top notch, with some surprisingly big names on the list to boot.
The story continues from the events of the previous game and takes a Memento approach in its story telling, as the paths of the game's protagonists are told in an almost backwards fashion. The final twist is somewhat negated in that it's fairly obvious from early on and when it is revealed, the story telling approach negates much of its impact. None the less, I highly enjoyed it and the new interpretations of the Belmont clan.
I also enjoyed the combat. I felt it was fast paced and while it is a scaled down version of the combat from Lords of Shadow, I thought it translated surprisingly well into a 2D view. Combat felt frantic as I was swarmed by enemies and had to take advantage of the blocks, dodges and rolls to evade and counter my opponents. I also enjoyed the platforming, which felt like obstacle courses. In truth, it could have benefited from some more clever enemy placement, but I still had great fun.
Sadly, the game is short and not particularly challenging, only taking me about 11 hours to beat the game at 100% (which is a rare feat for me these days). It's also pretty liberal with the check points, which you're either going to love or hate. Personally, I didn't have any issue with it, especially in the amazing boss battles, as they too had check points which I often needed. I also didn't have any issue with the quick time events, though the fact that there were some needed to open chests and certain doors was a bit excessive.
In short, I highly enjoyed the game. Although my gaming picks for 2013 have been pretty slim so far (this is the first game released in 2013 I've played to this point), I would still say right now it's a contender for my game of the year. In fact, I'm actually disappointed I've completed the game and I'm going back and replaying it though the unlocked "Hardcore Mode" with the game's new game plus feature.
But as the internet will attest to, this is definitely not a game for everyone, especially if you were looking for something with more open exploration and more akin to the Castlevanias of the last decade or so. If you're on the fence about the game, you may want to wait on a price drop. If you didn't enjoy Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, you should probably just wait until the trilogy finishes and wait and see where Konami takes the series after that.
But if you're like me and enjoyed Lords of Shadow and the more action based games in the series and you also have a Nintendo 3DS, then absolutely pick this game up. I had a blast playing it and I'm evidently not alone, so do yourself a favor and get a fantastic game. It has its short comings, but it's still a great time.
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