Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003)

Platform: Sony Playstation 2
Stages: 7

American Version

European Version

Japanese Version

Let's remember the Nintendo 64 Castlevanias briefly - they were valent, rather fun attempt to bring the classic series into the new dimesnion, but the sluggish controls never won it many fans. Fast forward five years and now we have Lament of Innocence, the next attempt for Konami at 3D. However, instead of following in the footsteps Symphony of the Night (as they've been doing with the GBA games), the producers decided that, once again, the series was in need of a reinventing by liberally infusing some fresh blood into its veins. The result is a quality game that, while flawed, is still one of the best actions titles on the PS2.

The game begins with a bit of backstory, telling the story of two warriors in medieval Europe - holy knight Leon Belmont and tactician Mathis Cronqvist. As the tale begins, Mathias' wife dies of an illness, and not a year passes before Leon's own bride, Sara, is mysteriously kidnapped. Mathias informs Leon of a vampire who dwells in a forest called Eternal Night, and without a thought, Leon sets off to do his courageous deeds. Before even entering the castle, he runs across a mysterious old man named Rinaldo Gandolfi, who bequests Leon his whip. After this somewhat lengthy exposition, the battle begins. After a brief tutorial, you are given free run of five levels, with the sixth and final level opening up when they are completed.

Small bits of plot and character development are expoused after each boss fight, but the general plot doesn't go anywhere until the game. Despite the general predictability of the overall plot and some lame dialogue, there's actually some surprising substance here, and the English voice acting is marginally competant, although Japanese voices are here for the purists.

And while it's become popular to call any 3D action game a Devil May Cry ripoff - don't. While the general action feel has borrowed liberally from its purported Capcom forebearer, there's enough differentiation that it stands as its own game. The camera, for one, is usually zoomed out so a large portion of the room is visibile at all times. It's not perfect, and it doesn't quite keep up in boss battles, but it also works much better than a majority of games this type, even if some people cry over the lack of manual camera control.

The biggest differentiation lies within the basic castle design. While the more recent Castlevania games have had a heavy concentration on item collection, Lament of Innocence feels like an honest-to-goodness dungeon crawler. There are generally a handful of unique rooms in a level, connected with identical corridors. This initially feels very repetetive, especially given the somewhat dull room layout, the lack of variety, and the general look of the levels - this IS an 11th century castle, but the dark, grey brick and marble facade does wear thin. Some stages are better than others - the Ghostly Theatre stands out the most - and the rooms with platforming or vague puzzles elements are pretty well thought out, but when you walk through the same hallway for the thirtieth time, you begin to get the feeling that maybe Konami should've spent more time with this instead of needless padding it out and artifically lengthening playtime.

Unfortunately, this also somewhat harms the exploration aspects - while there's a whole gamut hidden relics and items littered throughout the castle, they all require an overwhelming amount of backtracking. You don't need to refight enemies in rooms you've already beaten, but without warp points, it becomes a pain to lug through a level from beginning to end just to find a key or some mostly useless tertiary item, especially given the sameness that permeates throughout.

With the general design a bit lacking, it comes as a blessing that the combat system is actually fairly deep - there are two types of whip attacks, and by combining them, you can eventually learn some fancy combos to inflict more damage. Then there's the subweaponry system - lifting liberally from the Spell Fusion system of Harmony of Dissonance, Leon can combine any of the subweapons found lying throughout the castle with one of seven colored orbs to produce some rather impressive spell effects. The implementation runs a bit smoother here than in Harmony - the map marks the locations of all subweapons, and the slightly harder difficulty level means that you'll actually need to rely on them to get out of binds quite often.

The one aspect that stands out above all others is the music - composer Michiru Yamane has composed a masterpiece that almost surpasses Symphony of the Night. The styles range from orchestral to dance, with a bit of opera thrown in. It's not quite as diverse as Symphony, and there aren't nearly as many songs, but all of the main stage themes are excellent. Most of the music is completely new, although there are a few bonus songs (including the ending theme) that pays homage to Castlevania classics. Most of the bosses even have their own theme music. Even with the unimaginative level designs, the background music makes whipping guys a devilish pleasure.

In spite of its flaws, once you get into its mindset, Lament of Innocence actually becomes a rather fun game, as long as you're into the "kill all enemies then move on" mentality of dungeon crawlers. If nothing else, it has plenty of good ideas that need some time to brew, so here's hoping they get further developed in the next installment.

Thanks to Jason Staggs for the promo booklet scans, Tenshi no Shi for the magazine scan, CapcomMDB for the Joachim pic, and Setzer the Gambler for all of the limited edition scans.

Lament of Innocence Artwork

American Front
American Back
American Manual
Japanese Front
Japanese Back
Japanese Manual
Japanese game and music CDs
Japanese Advertisement
Dengeki PS2 Cover
Dengeki PS2 Cover (minus text)
Limited Edition Calender - Front
Limited Edition Calender - Back (CD Notes)
Limited Edition Calender - January
Limited Edition Calender - February
Limited Edition Calender - March
Limited Edition Calender - April
Limited Edition Calender - May
Limited Edition Calender - June
Limited Edition Calender - July
Limited Edition Calender - August
Limited Edition Calender - September
Limited Edition Calender - October
Limited Edition Calender - November
Limited Edition Calender - December
Promo Booklet 1
Promo Booklet 2
Promo Booklet 3
Promo Booklet 4
Music Sampler Cover
Cover Art (Wallpaper)
Leon Belmont 1
Leon Belmont 2
Leon Belmont 3
Leon Belmont 4
Leon Belmont 5
Leon Belmont 6
Leon Belmont 7
Mathias Cronqvist 1
Mathias Cronqvist 2
Sara Trantoul 1
Sara Trantoul 2
Rinaldo Gandolfini 1
Rinaldo Gandolfini 2
Walter Bernhard
Joachim Armster
Magazine Advertisement (two page)
Japanese Poster (Sonim)
Logo 1
Logo 2
Rendered Leon Belmont (Wallpaper)
Leon Belmont Action (Wallpaper)
Medusa (Wallpaper)
Joachim (from soundtrack)

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Castlevania Games - Castlevania: Lament of Innocence