Castlevania Review

Castlevania ps2 box art

Great gothic hack and slash game that mixes platforming elements with lots of monster fighting.

Story

Leon Belmont is a former baron who has had his betrothed, Sara Trantoul, kidnapped by a malevolent vampire lord. Leon’s most trusted ally, Mathias Cronquist, is very wise and knows that the vampire’s name is Walter Bernhard and that his castle is located in a cursed forest only known as Eternal Night. Without hesitation Leon heads to the forest, determined to do what ever it takes to get Sara back.

On his way to the forbidding castle he comes across a mysterious man named Rinaldo Gandolfi. He happens to know quite a lot about the vampire and is keen to help Leon defeat it. So, before Leon continues his one man crusade to the castle, Rinaldo arms him with a special alchemical whip and an enchantment that allows him to absorb energies and use magical relics.

What sinful horrors lurk in the castle? Will Sara be safe once again?

The Game

Castlevania on Playstation 2 is a dark, gothic third-person hack and slash game that has quite a few roleplaying- and platforming elements nicely mixed into it. Chronologically this game encompasses the very first episode in the long running Castlevania timeline (at least as of to date).

You play as the protagonist Leon Belmont and the goal is to vanquish the vampire and save Sara. In order to do that, you must first defeat the five guardians that have sealed the door to Walter’s throne room, and to do that you must go though five dangerous areas of the castle and battle countless zombies, skeletons, ghosts and other monsters.

Castlevania1Controls

The game is fully rendered in 3D, but you can’t control the camera view. Instead, it follows the on-screen action automatically from a preset pattern. This makes it hard to navigate through the castle without constantly checking the map and compass. The camera can also feel somewhat restricting as it does not allow you to check every corner of each room. It never makes unexpected twists and turns through, so adapting to it comes naturally through playing the game.

Most of the play time is spent fighting monsters and the fighting itself is fast-paced, fluid and a lot of fun. There are 14 unique fighting moves that you can learn and you can even link together attacks to create combo-attacks. The game does not allow for super advanced combos though, so it doesn’t have the deepest combo-system around. It does however support some mid-air combos which, at least, look somewhat cool.

Typically monsters will come in numbers, and fighting multiple monsters at once is always risky. The combat controls are surprisingly easy to manage, however. There is one button for sweeping attacks and one for direct attacks and the whip attack connects easily with the intended targets. You can also change attack direction in the middle of a combo, which comes in handy when fighting more agile foes. It is important to read opponents and use defensive moves such as dodging and blocking because otherwise you won’t be long-lived.

Content

Other than your whip you can use so called sub-weapons, which are special weapons found in the castle such as holy water, crosses and throwing axes. Using sub-weapons will use up your “hearts”, which are power-ups that you collect throughout the game. This means that if you are a heavy user of sub-weapons you must work for it, in that you must keep collecting new hearts, which quickly can become tedious.

The most interesting thing about sub-weapons are that you can alter their effects by combining them with magical orbs that you get from defeating boss monsters. There are seven such orbs, and five different sub-weapons, which means that you can get 40 different effects out of them (although the standard effects are quite mundane in comparison to the orb empowered ones).

Even though certain monsters have weaknesses against certain sub-weapons, it isn’t notable enough to be worth the trouble of trying to match them up.

On top of these weapons, you can use magical relics to assist you in your quest. Relics are very rare and typically only found in hidden treasure rooms. Their effects are very powerful but they drain your mana pool when used. If you aren’t rich enough to buy mana regenerating items and still want to use the power of relics, you can regain lost mana by absorbing energy from certain attacks. Attacks that you can absorb energy from can be identified by that they are color coded with a light purple glow – basically every monster has one such attack. If you excel at blocking attacks, you can perform a “perfect guard”, which means that you blocked the instant the attack landed. Perfect guards do also regain some lost mana, regardless the attack, so they are well worth the effort.

The game is designed to let you freely explore the castle on a room-by-room basis. There are many rooms which you must clear from monsters the first time you enter it. Typically monsters will respawn as you leave and enter the same room, but fighting them again is (almost always) optional. Avoiding monsters by simply running past them is a valid and common tactic if you must backtrack and want to conserve your health and hearts. There are numerous occasions when you must traverse the same rooms multiple times because you’ll encounter many locked doors and the keys are spread out all over the castle. Throughout the castle you’ll also encounter many secret rooms, hidden treasures, deadly traps and some absurd puzzles.

Exploring the castle will require some nimble acrobatic skills. Leon can make double jumps, hang on to ledges and use the whip to cling on to certain objects. The controls are well suited for these platform-jumping elements, but because of how the camera works it can be hard to do jumps with any degree of precision. Luckily there are only a few occasions when this is a problem, and even then it is a matter of patience rather than frustration.

A normal play-through of the game will take about nine hours. Upon beating the game you’ll unlock a new playable character called Joachim Armster and the Crazy game mode, which is a super hard version of the game. This certainly gives some high quality replay value for those who want to squeeze out the most of the game. But for a normal player a new difficulty level may not be enticing enough to warrant another play-through. There are other unlockable features too, but the two mentioned above are the most prominent ones.

It should also be noted that there are multiple endings to the game, but getting the good ending is almost impossible to achieve without the use of a game guide. This is simply so because there are virtually no hints on how to do it in the game.

There are about 80 different monsters in the game. Some monsters are merely color variations with different stats, but still there’s enough monsters to go around. Just to name a few, there are carnivorous plants, gargoyles, bird-men, flaming skulls, bats and undead dogs. Detailed information about them automatically appears in the in-game encyclopedia as you encounter them. This is where you’ll see what weaknesses (if any) each of the various monsters have. As mentioned above, this information isn’t exactly important, but playing on the Crazy game mode where monsters are much tougher it may be worth a look.

Slaying monsters will often yield money that can be used to buy new items such as healing potions, relics and armors. So as long as you are dependent on consumables there’s always a point in fighting monsters. Note that you aren’t rewarded experience points or anything like that in this game. The only way to upgrade your character is through items and power-ups.

Castlevania8Every here and there you’ll find sanctuary rooms in the castle. In these you’ll be fully healed up and granted the option to save your progress. Typically you’d want to save before exploring a new set of rooms because you’ll never know where a mini-boss will appear or when you’ll stumble into an unexpected trap. So naturally you’ll grow anxious if you are far from the last sanctuary room and can’t find a new one. It really makes you feel that you are dependent on having access to them – you’ll always have the choice of either backtracking or taking a risk and proceeding deeper into the castle.

The unexpected and the unknown are your biggest foes in this game. When you’re walking into unknown territory you have everything to fear. But once you’re familiar with how the various monsters fight and how the puzzles and traps work, you will find that there isn’t much challenge left in the game – at least on the normal difficulty level.

Graphics

The game looks good for a PlayStation 2 title, and the monsters all look appropriately cruel and wicked – it is certainly nightmare invoking in a good way. The game is also pretty gory and has support for bloodstains hitting both walls and floors, which all adds to the gritty visual impression. It’s also surprising how the game runs at a solid frame rate despite the fact that there can be ten or so monsters in the same room.

The castle does have some interesting architecture such as gothic statues and elaborate ornaments. There is plenty of unique level design in there to keep it interesting throughout the entire game.

Both the character and monster animation is fluid and believable, so the whole game does have a strong visual appeal.

Sound

The sound is also very much up to par with the rest of the game. The music has great variation that all fits beautifully in the game – partly it sounds like a 80’s horror movie and partly it has a dark ambient sound. There’s also lots of moody piano pieces in there along with some great bitter sweet melodies. The Castlevania games have always had unique music. The music in this specific game has some references to previous songs that fans of the series may recognize.

The game also features some fantastic and memorable voice acting, and lots of great sound effects to go with the action.

Summary

Castlevania is a game with many great qualities. It has a great mix of fast-paced fighting, character development and platforming elements. The setting is quite unique as it successfully mixes lots of cliche horror elements into one single story – and it’s still believable and maintains a serious tone.

The game is lots of fun and has some great replay value, but it doesn’t really play fair with all of its puzzles and hidden secrets. All in all this is a high quality production that’s well worth playing – especially if you’re into any of the other Castlevania games.

Developed By: Konami
Published By: Konami
Version Reviewed: Playstation 2
Genre: Hack ‘n Slash
Players: 1
Alternate Title: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Released: 2004-02-11

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