Monday, October 18, 2010

Mercury Steam Has Vanquished The Horrible Night

I'll just go ahead and steal the title of the NeoGAF official thread for my Castlevania: Lords of Shadow post, because that is exactly how I feel.

Now that I've had a couple of days to let the game and the ending sink in, I have to say, well done, Spaniards, well done, indeed.  I don't know that I've seen a franchise overhauled in such a dramatic and successful way.  Maybe Metal Gear with the first MGS, or maybe if you count Final Fantasy's occasional flashes of brilliance amidst it's normal (since VI, anyway) mediocrity.  Regardless, Castlevania was really in need of this reboot.  Prior 3D games were average at best, and the Metroidvania formula was stale almost the moment they started them on the GBA.  I'd almost given up hope that we would ever see one my my favorite franchises make the leap from retro greatness and more modern soulless tedium to something with all the glitz of HD and great playability of it's forbears.

Lords of Shadow succeeds for me on three essential levels. First, it extracts the essence of Castlevania for this new entry, leaving behind the messy continuity and all the baggage of the series to this point.  The window dressing for a great CV title is gothic architecture and decor, traditional European horror monsters, and a brave warrior wielding a whip, or a sword in a pinch.  Second, Lords of Shadow nails the transition from 2D into 3D.  I've thought about this a lot over the years, and the only really viable way to recreate CV for the modern era is basically to make something very much like a God of War game, in many respects.  Mercury Steam has pulled this off, and even made it work better than it sounds by making combat more about patience, defense, and reading your enemy than your typical GoW or DMC game, which tend to be more about how long your combo can get without an iterruption.  The third aspect of LoS that resonates the most with me is just how much of an epic journey the game is.  I played far, far more of Castlevania II and III growing up than I did I or IV.  If you're not familiar, II and III had just as much, if not more, of their stages set outside Dracula's Castle, in the Transylvanian countryside, than within.  Simon's Quest was entirely in the countryside, and had no castle at all, as I recall.  Gabriel's path in LoS takes him from one end of the map to the other, traversing rural villages, haunted forests, ancient ruins, abandoned fortresses, frozen wastelands, an absolutely huge castle, and other realms of the dead before it's conclusion.

The game is long, too.  By the end of the journey, you'll have been through so many places and so many challenges, that you'll be as worn out as our hero is.  I played the game on Knight difficulty, one notch up from the default, and the hardest setting available the first time through.  I clocked almost exactly 20 hours on it.  I would actually recommend Knight, because you'll be forced to really learn the combat system to succeed, and  it's much more fun when you know what you're doing in challenging encounters, even outside of the game's awesome bosses.  3 sword masters at a time, or 3 greater lycans, or any encounter mixing 3 or more skeleton warriors with other types of monsters were enough to have me stuck for 5-10 attempts with regularity.

This brings me to some of my complaints with the game.  First off, one of the most annoying, is that occasionally you will be dealt damage from an attack before the animation has gone off.  This seemed to happen more when fighting the game's larger foes, bosses in many cases.  I believe it to be a case of the game shortcutting to your death when it has calculated that you're dead anyway, but I'd feel better about it if I at least saw the killing blow before dying.  Next up is the music.  It's not bad, it's just not outstanding.  Castlevania has always had outstanding music.  The rest is either technical or design issues that, while bothersome, ultimately take away little from the overwhelming helping of awesome that the game serves up.  I'm a longtime fan of the series, and I already love what Mercury Steam have done here.  Fix up some of these little things, and the sequel should be amazing.

Now about that sequel...  going off the ending to this game, there are a couple of ways they could take it, and I am dying to see what they're going to do.  If internet malcontents complained about this game not being Castlevania for whatever reason.... Bloody Tears, indeed.


Greg said...

Did you see this? I recall you said you were planning to finish Demon's Souls soon so I thought you might find this interesting.

Count Elmdor said...

Yeah, I've bookmarked that for eventually! I'm slowly getting back into the swing of that game.

Have you played Demon's Souls?