Thursday, February 27, 2014

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (PS3/PSN)

Prior to the release of the "Lords of Shadow" saga, and the "Mirror of Fate" tie-in the history of the Belmont clan, and their eternal struggle against Dracula had never really been fleshed out. In fact Gabriel Belmont, the forefather of the Belmont clan had not entered the picture until the first "Lords of Shadow" game had been released. Previous 2D releases did much of nothing in the way of fully revealing Gabriel's story, or the Belmont family ties. The origins of Alucard, and even the origins of Dracula himself were kept in the shadows of gaming history like the dark characters themselves. The 2D games that were released before these definitive plot installments came into play were shared in such a haphazard sort of way that many questions were left unanswered for faithful fans of the series. The introductions of new characters later on, and the new stories that were added also made little to no sense in the ongoing saga.

In "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow", and the follow-up of "Mirror of Fate" we find through some misguided events pertaining to Gabriel Belmont's quest to resurrect his dead wife Marie that he was eventually turned to the lord of darkness known as Dracula. Trevor Belmont, Gabriel's son gets drawn into the fray of good versus evil later on in the timeline after he ventures out to castle Dracula in order to avenge his people, and his father, Gabriel. Later on it comes to light after Trevor's tale is fully realized (through his son Simon's story) that he was in fact the Alucard that we got a first glimpse of in "Symphony of the Night". Having damn near killed Trevor during an epic fight Gabriel/Dracula learns of Trevor's relationship to him, and saves his life by sharing with him the dark gift that he had forsaken his own mortal life with. After the lethal battle between father, and son ends, and immortal life is given Gabriel entombs Trevor within the castle thinking him dead, only to find out years later that he had awakened as a creature of the night. During the following events of the "Mirror of Fate" plot Dracula (aka, Gabriel Belmont) reveals to Trevor what he had done in order to spare his life. In death everlasting Trevor becomes the mirror image of his father, and dawns the name "Alucard" as a result.  Hating his new eternal life Alucard seeks out vengeance against his father within the castle walls.

Later on in the sorrowful tale of the Belmont clan the left behind son of Trevor seeks out vengeance of his own for his parents only to find out things are not as they seem. Simon Belmont enters the scene as a grown man with a particular artifact that was left with him by his father, Trevor Belmont. This mystical shard of mirror known as the "Mirror of Fate" guides Simon only part of the way to his destiny. Without a proper understanding of the events that are being shown to him in the mirror's reflective surface he goes forward without the knowledge necessary to fulfill his part of the prophecy as the one to slay Dracula, and ultimately fails to end the Belmont curse. After seemingly killing off Dracula in a joined battle with Alucard, Simon is hit with the truth that his final strike to the lord of darkness did not end the battle at hand. Alucard scolds him on his thoughtless actions, and finally reveals to him that he is indeed Trevor Belmont, the lost father that he had been trying to avenge all along. This is of course where the tie-ins end, and the story continues in the "Lords of Shadow 2".

In this story continuation which is told from Dracula's perspective you (the gamer) will be doing the former lord of shadow's (Zolbek's) bidding as you try to thwart Satan's apocalypse, and put an end to your own immortal suffering. Along the way you'll meet up with familiar people, and creatures from previous Castlevania games. You will even encounter new types of monstrosities, and persons of interest that will add a whole new meaning to the word darkness. As Dracula you will use your unholy powers to infiltrate the current day castle grounds as well take a trip back down memory lane on occasion in order to fight the haunts of the castle you once knew. Castle Dracula, as it turns out has undergone an interesting overhaul thanks to modern-day citizens, and their ever expansive colonization. Seeing as Dracula wants to leave the castle in his wake the castle itself is also out to get him. By doing Zobek's bidding, and following the lead of the apparition of young Trevor Belmont though you will revisit your home in a last ditch effort to free yourself, and your cursed bloodline. Redemption is only just out of reach, and it's up to Gabriel to make things right in this epic final showdown of evil versus evil.

Gameplay in this new Castlevania experience mimics that of the previous Lords of Shadow installments, and adds tons of new tribute material for those gamers who wish to take a trip down memory lane. Like the previous game, 'Lords of Shadow 2' revolves around the usage of an all encompassing book known as the "Travel Book". In this guide of sorts Dracula will be able to add skills, upgrade them, and master them as he combats the evil of the world he currently finds himself in. In total you'll find that Dracula has three different weapons at his disposal. These include a makeshift whip composed of blood, a life stealing sword known as the "Void Sword", and a pair of fiery gauntlets know as "Chaos Claws". Each weapon carries with it a unique skill tree that uses in-game currency as a means to learn, and upgrade the skills that are shown. As far as the mastery system goes you'll find that by continually using each skill (which basically amounts to performing combos) you will fill the skill's mastery level up, and be able to apply that mastery to the core weapon in order to make it more powerful.

Along with the primary weapon skill trees, and offerings you'll find that there's also obtainable secondary weapons which can be used in the more stealth aspects of the game. Things like bat swarms, and blood knives can be used to distract powerful guard enemies, so that you can get deeper into the castle grounds. Not all enemies in 'Lords of Shadow 2' are conquerable, and some will require "Metal Gear Solid" style tactics in order to get past them. Other unique skills, or abilities such as dark transformation (turn into a group of 9 rats), and possession will come in handy as well as you make your way through each of the areas. The transformation into rats is in itself a stealth feature not unlike the previously mentioned MGS, and will require expert guidance in order to avoid the loss of all nine of your rodent pals. You will only control one rat at a time though as you guide them through vents, ducts, and various hazards. By losing rats you will limit your chances at completing the required task at hand. At the same time you'll also find that by returning to the darkly lit transformation areas you will not only be able to transform back into your normal self, but you will also be able to regain any rats lost should you need to transform back.

Possession is also another tricky feature. Only certain enemies in the game can be possessed, and only at certain sections of the game. During these points in the adventure you'll need to distract the armed guard/s, and sneak up behind them in order to gain control of their body. It should be noted that each creature, or human that can be possessed can only be used for a limited time before their body erupts into and explosion of blood revealing Dracula's true form. Timing your possessions right, and distracting any other nearby guards is a must if you hope to progress past these stealth points in the game's plot. The good news is that while these stealth sections of gameplay are tedious in nature they are few, and far between.

Aside from the weapon management, you'll also find a library's worth of information within the pages of Dracula's travel book. There's info sections on the city, creatures that you happen upon, bosses that you defeat, Dracula's lineage, and even item descriptions. Like any Castlevania before it you'll find many Easter eggs, hidden items, and in-game currency in the world that Dracula inhabits. In-game currency for example can be found in breakable boxes, crates, and garbage heaps, and can be used for skills as well Chupacabra shop items later on in your playthrough. Some of the items are noticeably hidden in the debris strewn landscapes of old, and new castle Dracula. The in-game currency, art, and city memorial archives (scrolls containing history info) can all be found in the destructible environmental objects located everywhere within the game. You simply need to pay attention to your surroundings to find them, and destroy everything that can be destroyed to uncover them.

While a good portion of your time will be spent managing the things within the pages of your travel book you'll find that the gameplay at hand is just as epic, and Castlevania-like as it was in the first 'Lords of Shadow' game. Part of the game will be spent infiltrating the castle with your stealth capabilities while another huge portion of it will be spent on combat, and castle exploration. The stealth part is pretty much self explanatory. You'll be trying to get from point "A" to point "B", or "C" after a cinematic cutscene is shown. In these stealth scenarios there's little to no combat involved, and only stealth tactics such as transformation into rats, and possession of your enemies are required to get to the next area.

Combat situations as few, and far between as they are will have you facing small groups of difficult to kill lesser enemies, and larger-than-life bosses which will require certain attack, and defense approaches to defeat. The smaller enemies in the game come in a decent variety that include everything from classic Castlevania blood skeletons to citizens infected by a demonic virus. All of these enemies will take multiple hits to kill. You can also choose to stun them to the point that you can drink their blood as well. When it comes to the lesser enemy types you can simply kill them off with one of your three weapons via numerous strikes, or you can hit them until they are glowing gold, and finish them off by drinking their blood via a classic "Lords of Shadow" ring mini-game. Weapons of choice are another interesting aspect of combat. While the shadow whip will be your main way of delivering the death blow to the denizens of the damned the 'Void Sword', and the 'Chaos Claws' will come in handy for different reasons.

Even though Dracula is immortal you will find that his life will come to an end if his blood level empties out. You can combat this negative effect in one of two ways. First, and foremost the ability to drain an enemy of their life liquid (blood) is a great source of health refills if you are desperate for it, and are good enough at combat to avoid continuous strikes from your foes. Health leaves you fast on a per hit basis, so stunning the enemies to the point of draining quickly is a must if you hope to survive the more intense battles. Secondly the "Void Sword" will be a perfect way to refill life if you have enough void magic to use it. By striking enemies with the Void Sword you will regain life quickly, but at the same time will lose the magic required to use the weapon. The same goes for the 'Chaos Claws'. In order to refill your void, and chaos magic meters during combat you will need to maintain, and fill up your combo meter without getting hit. Doing so will reward you with red orbs that can be absorbed for each type of weapon (L3 = Void, R3 = Chaos). Outside of combat you can also refill your life, and your magic via specific statues/shrines.

The Chaos Claws are also a different approach to attacking in a combat scenario, and are in place as a means to dispatch the more armor heavy foes. By continuously bashing away with your flaming fists (Chaos Claws) you will heat up any armor that the enemy has, and will eventually break it should you strike the shield/armor enough. As you progress in your playthrough you will run across groups mixed with both aggressive enemy types as well as defensive enemy types. Learning to discern the two types will help you overcome the odds that are stacked against you, and will better help you understand which enemy to attack with which weapon.

Aside from standard attacks the Void Sword, and the Chaos Claws can also be used to get past certain objects, and hazards in your path. By selecting the appropriate DPad direction (UP) you'll assign the projectile as the secondary weapon type. While this will be a standard blood knife when using the shadow whip the effect will be different when the Void Sword, and Chaos Claws are equipped. With the Void Sword equipped your projectile can be used to freeze water, and stop fires. The Chaos Claws on the other hand will allow you to blast away blockades, and things with a 'Chaos Bomb'. Even during certain boss battles the different projectile types will prove useful for sending the damned back to the depths of hell. In the end learning when, and where to use these secondary projectiles is a must if you hope to make it far.

Combat in general is a mixture of evasive maneuvers (DASH = L2), carefully timed attacks (SQUARE = Overhead, TRIANGLE = Area), and proper defenses. Like the first 'Lords of Shadow' game the combat remains basically the same with little added to it. If you need to you can always consult the Travel Book for info regarding combos, and other in-game actions. The Travel Book is there for a reason after all.

About the graphics, and sound ...

Graphics in this epic end all tale are an odd mixture of noteworthy cutscenes, vivid level designs, decent character creations, and sometimes mediocre appearances. From the start menu forward you will be graced with a moving image of Gabriel Belmont in his vampiric form. This lord of darkness while ominous in his own right comes off as being only a partially developed creation. His skin, and his overall appearance are well represented throughout the game while his hair remains oddly lacking in the visual sense. Certain other details of other main characters also come off as being a little stiff, and inconsistent with the rest of the character model.

The quality of the in-game locales, and backgrounds which will no doubt be the curiosity of many gamers as well. For the most part you will find that castle Dracula, and the surrounding areas are decently rendered. With that being said though there are certain features on the landscape that cheapen it's appearance, and make it less than grand in nature. The repetitive debris that can be destroyed for hidden items, and power-ups are among the more lacking visual features of the landscapes. As far as the good goes you will find certain areas that shine with preternatural glory, and show Castle Dracula in a way that will no doubt impress diehard fans. Textures, and renders in these areas definitely look appealing.

In the way of visual variety you'll find that Konami, and it's team of developers (MercurySteam) have done good to keep things fresh. The variety of enemies, while repetitive at times do offer new sights for those traveling across the virtual landscapes. Also the different locales whether it be in the old castle, or on new castle grounds are shown in a such a variety as to not make the adventure dull. My only complaint about traveling the castle grounds would be the dream-like transitions where the white wolf leads Dracula to a new point of interest. These haunting means of travel come off as being was to shortcut the castle's massive build, and offer less grounds to cover for the gamer to play in. It is in essence a glorified loading screen in which you watch Dracula follow the white wolf through a bloody tunnel filled with creepy sounds.

When it comes to the soundtrack offerings the music shared with the gamer is the epitome of what Castlevania is all about. There are haunting voice-overs, haunting sound effects, hard hitting weapon sounds, and plenty of symphonic music to listen to you as to take Dracula on his last stroll throughout his home. Even the character driven cutscenes are done well enough for the most part with the only exception being the hard to understand Gorgon trio that you'll confront later on in the game. Overall it' not that bad of a game, but it does have some slight flaws. There's nothing in the way of plot disruption, or the gameplay though, so a playthrough should be no problem for anyone willing to give this game a chance.

Now onto the verdict ...

I'm a long time Castlevania fan. In fact I've played through every Castlevania game ever made. I've enjoyed the 2D installments as well as some of the 3D installments that weren't as popular amongst the fans. The 'Lords of Shadow' saga itself has been an interesting journey which for once finally gave meaning to the main characters we've grown to love as well as the timeline that each character has shared along the way. While some of the plot strays away from what previous 2D Castlevania games have suggested it still remains mostly true to the mythology that all of us have witnessed over the years. It's nice to finally see the story of Dracula, and the Belmont clan come full circle.

Do I think Konami did this game justice? Yes I do. Despite it's minor flaws, and it's mimicry of Hideo Kojima's "Metal Gear Solid" series I found my playthrough to be rather enjoyable. I loved seeing Dracula come to terms with his past, and confront the demons who have haunted him all of his life. It was an epic adventure not unlike that of "Symphony of the Night". Sure the castle didn't cover the acreage of "SotN", but it showed enough of it to relay it's grand scale nature. All of the character interactions, and plot material came together quite nicely giving us one more proper fight against the true lord of darkness.

I strongly suggest that anyone who has invested quality time, and money into the Castlevania series get this game. There's no need to buy the first 'Lords of Shadow' game, or it's accompanying DLC as the game rehashes all of that plot info at the beginning of the game. Take my word. It's definitely not something to miss out on, especially if you are a die hard fan of the Castlevania series.


  1. Awesome review man! -SlasherJPC

    1. Thanks! I could have written a strategy guide length book about the game it is so content filled :)

  2. About the story- aren't LoS and previous CVs in separate timelines? I know the Castlevania timeline is headache-inducing, but stuff in LoS like Alucard's origin doesn't work in older games (he and Trevor work together in CVIII).

    On that note, which is your favourite of the older Castlevanias? Outside SOTN, I lean towards 1, Rondo of Blood and Bloodlines/The New Generation myself. I also feel Castlevania 64 isn't as terrible as some say- it's got issues but it has fantastic atmosphere.

    1. Lords of Shadow is it's own history of the Belmont timeline. It does have some similarities to past 2D Castlevania games, but certain events such as the one in "Symphony of the Night" tell different tales of Trevor, Alucard's, and Marie Renard's involvement. Also if I remember correctly Simon Belmont was the forefather of the Belmont clan in the original 2D series. Don't quote me on that though.

      As far as favorites go "SotN" is definitely at the top of my list. Other than that I loved "Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse", "Castlevania: Bloodlines", "Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin", and "Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia". All of those were superb 2D Castlevania games.


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