I’m of the mind that 3D Castlevania games have gone generally underappreciated; that includes the most recent Castlevania: Lords of Shadow titles. Maybe that’s because Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was my very first foray into the series. I recall being in awe, meticulously exploring the castle, solving puzzles and uncovering its many secrets. All of it, to attain the coveted 110% completion. I loved its majestic score and facing off against deadly opponents to the game’s tune. Opponents like Joachim Armster and the terrifying being deep below the castle – the Forgotten One.
This experience was followed by what I would call an equally enjoyable, albeit flawed, successor in Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. I never played the original games on the NES and didn’t even play Symphony of the Night until recently. To me, 3D Castlevania games are the definition of Castlevania. As a result, perhaps, unlike those who grew up with the 2D games, I wasn’t disappointed by the release of Lords of Shadow. And in most regards, it satisfied my expectations.
Its gameplay was inspired by the most recent achievements in the action-adventure genre, especially by the original God of War trilogy. Lords of Shadow was received well and showed great prospects of what was ahead for the series. Or so we thought. Alas, with how Konami has been treating its IPs in recent years, we might not see a proper entry for a while. And hence, all we’re left with is admiring the previous entries in the long-standing franchise. To celebrate the game’s 10th anniversary, let’s take a look at the gothic world of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Lords of War
Right from the very start, Lords of Shadow displays clear inspirations from the God of War series, from the zoomed out third-person camera perspective, to the free-flowing combo-driven combat. Even Gabriel’s weapon of choice, the Vampire Killer, resembles Kratos’ Blades of Chaos. It’s a combat cross which extends into a chained whip, taking the place of the series’ signature weapon. Vampire Killer, a weapon forged to kill servants of the dark, entrusted to a man sworn to serve the light. How ironic then, that Gabriel eventually turns to the darkness himself.
But the similarities don’t end there. Sometimes, during combat, you must react to a quick-time event, either to parry an incoming attack, break free from a grasp, or lift a hefty sharp log to impale a Lycan leaping at you. Lords of Shadow features many boss battles of grand proportion. A battle on a frozen lake pits you against a colossus which you must climb in order to destroy its weak spots. This is something that players of Shadow of Colossus are clearly familiar with.
There’s not as much emphasis on exploration as in, let’s say, Lament of Innocence. But you would still find secrets here and there, solve the occasional puzzle and take in the oft gothic architecture of the surrounding world. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of vibrant colours in Lords of Shadow, but it’s still a fairly dark and depressing game. Much of it stems from the game’s story and Gabriel’s resolute yet grounded character.
The Light Has Abandoned Me
While Kratos’ first journey was one-dimensional, driven purely by vengeance, Gabriel’s is much more nuanced. Narrated by Patrick Stewart, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow follows the transformative journey of Gabriel Belmont. Gabriel embarks on a quest on behalf of the Brotherhood of Light, to slay the Lords of Shadow. They have cast a dark spell on the land of man, preventing any spirit from rising to heaven after death. Aside from pure duty, Gabriel has a personal stake in the cause. His wife, Marie, recently passed away and is now indefinitely stuck between life and the afterlife.
His journey takes him through lush forests and frozen lakes, all further into the dark realms of the lords: Lycans, vampires and necromancers are commonplace. Gabriel eventually learns of two masks – one of God and one of Devil – both pivotal to the plot. The former is said to possess the ability to bring back the dead which, understandably, changes Gabriel’s goal in the overall cause. He makes it a priority to obtain the God mask and bring back Marie from the dead.
Lords of Shadow still includes many familiar aspects in its narrative, such as vampires. But it strays from the usual clash against a singular villain in Dracula. It’s actually a fairly complex story, one which sees the main character fully committed to his duties. He gradually grows from a loyal and obeying servant of God to someone who presides over his own fate, all else be damned. Defeated by his own expectations, Gabriel eventually gives up humanity itself…
Post-release, Lords of Shadow received two, in my opinion, excellent DLCs: Reverie and Resurrection. While both are interconnected, the former portrays events which lead Gabriel to turn into a formidable vampire. And this gives a start to the events in Lords of Shadow 2. The latter – Resurrection – is more of a nod to Lament of Innocence and pits Gabriel against one of the strongest bosses in the whole game. If you defeated him on the Paladin difficulty, I salute you.
Lords of Shadow is a different kind of Castlevania; different even from its 3D counterparts. But it still captures the unmistakable spirit of Castlevania, both in character and tone. It still has those moments of retreading previously visited locations with new powers, in order to obtain a hidden power-up. But its plot is more multi-faceted than simply having a singular villain to beat. And more importantly, Gabriel’s development as a character is an interesting one to observe.
It boasts an excellent story, atmosphere and character development. Plus, an award-winning original score is present. Seriously, just listen to “Belmont’s Theme”. It’s not quite the usual Metroidvania, but how many more of those can you actually handle? Lords of Shadow released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ten whole years ago. And if you didn’t get the chance to try it back then, I strongly implore you to do so now. With Backward Compatibility, for instance.