Replay Value: 8.7
Konami's Castlevania franchise is one of the longest running franchises in videogame history, spanning releases across 13 different consoles, including the Amiga 64, NES, Nintendo 64, Playstation, and now the Playstation 2. After debuting a few months ago at E3 with some controversy, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence has made its arrival, and the whipping action is every bit as fierce as it was with Symphony of the Night (PSX) and Super Castlevania IV (SNES).
Lament of Innocence stars Leon Belmont, heir of the Belmont family, who's status is that of an aristocrat. Despite his ruling status, Leon, and his long time accomplice Mathias, are also the protectors of their domain. Unfortunately for Mathias, upon returning from a battle, he soon finds out that his wife had suddenly passed away. Mathias sinks into a traumatic depression, leaving Leon all duties of commandeering battles. A year passes by and a swarm of monsters invade Leon's home. Soon enough they capture Leon's wife Sara, and here is where Lament of Innocence picks up. Leon gives up his title and ventures off into the forest to find his wife, who was taken into the castle Eternal Night. On his way, he comes across a man named Rinaldo, who will remain a key character throughout the whole game. Rinaldo talks to Leon, offers him some advice and eventually gives Leon a whip made out of alchemy -- the game begins.
At first sight, Castlevania looks like your typical run-off-the-mill action game, though such is not the case. Castlevania: LOI is a rather deep action title that not only has superb action elements, but also incorporates some other pretty cool ideas for upgrades and whatnot. Aside from the various whips, the game has sub-weapons, as well. There are are five sub-weapons in the game (knife, holy water, axe, cross and crystal). Each sub-weapon's attack is affected by orbs. There are seven orbs in the game, all of which offer a different attack for whatever sub-weapon that is attached to them. So, in other words, the sub-weapon serves as a variable and the orbs manipulate it. It may seem a little confusing, but it's very easy to understand. As with other Castlevania games, when you use your sub-weapon, your hearts will deplete; so you'll have to destroy vases and whatnot to recover them (Note: to those who've never played a Castlevania game, hearts are not your health. They're two different things in Castlevania games).
In Lament of Innocence you can temporarily power Leon up by using relics, thus having your MP deplete. There are 10 relics, all with their own unique powers, that range from attack up, defense up, invincibility, HP recovery, quicker running, heart recovery, and more. A real time window helps you manage everything on the fly, such as equipping and using items; a really nice feature, worthy of mention. Lastly, your Whip of Alchemy can be upgraded to 4 other kinds of whips, all with their own elemental status (wind, fire, ice and lightning).
Lament of Innocence's gameplay is top-notch. It feels a lot like last year's Rygar, but plays much smoother and more refined. There's tons and tons of action, as enemies flood almost every room in the game. Reflexes are also required to get the best playing experience, as Leon can acquire a good amount of really cool techniques and moves that will aid him throughout his quest. As for the boss fights, they can range from easy to borderline madness; so the game is pretty challenging. In total, the initial adventure is about 12-15 hours, but there's a lot of extras to unlock, such as secret characters to replay the game with and a ridiculously hard mode for those hardcore veterans of the series.
On the technical side of things, screenshots of Castlevania: LOI do not do this game justice. Lament of Innocence is one fine looking title. The game boasts splendid character detail and some really good animation to go along with it all. The frame rate is silky smooth and never stutters, no matter how much ass is being kicked. The textures are really well done, and the lighting compliments them really well. While there are better looking games on the PS2, Lament of Innocence is still a looker. Regardless, the environments are superbly detailed and capture the whole atmosphere of an 11th century castle possessed by demons and other creatures of the damned. The game's soundtrack is arguably the best since Symphony of the Night, and maybe even the best of the whole series. Unlike the MIDI-esque soundtracks from the previous games, the whole soundtrack in Lament of Innocence is orchestral and really adds that awesome layer of atmospherical (sic) depth to really enamor the player into the virtual world displayed on his/her TV set. Lastly, Lament of Innocence boasts some fairly done voice acting, as well. Some spots seem a bit questionable, but as a whole, the acting is done well and convincingly.
Having completed Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, I must say that this is one superb title. It's arguably the best action game of the year, so if you were really disappointed by Devil May Cry 2 earlier this year and are really in the mood for a deep and highly enjoyable beat 'em up game, Lament of Innocence is it. Developed by the Symphony of the Night team, it's no wonder that Castlevania: LOI stands out so well among the other Castlevania games. And despite being 3D, Konami's overseas team proves, once more, that they can make miracles happen. Rejoice, Castlevania fans, this is a 3D conversion done right.