“He who fights monsters should beware, lest he become a monster himself.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
I believe this is a fitting quote for the journey of a man, a man named Gabriel Belmont. He sets out on a quest for revenge, killing every dark being in his path, but in the end it was all for nothing, and he becomes what he always fought against. That is the tragic tale of Gabriel Belmont, the originator of the Belmont clan, in this alternate Castlevania universe of the Lords of Shadow.
Gabriel Belmont is a warrior of the Brotherhood of Light, an organization of holy knights whose purpose it is to defeat evil and protect humanity. But, they’ve screwed up along the way, and Marie, Gabriel’s wife was murdered. Shortly after, the Heavens were cut off from the Earth, and the people began to believe God abandoned them. The Brotherhood knew better than that, and sent Gabriel on a journey to put an end to the titular Lords of Shadow, beings that threaten humanity, and reconnect the Heavens with the Earth, so that the souls of the deceased can ascend to heaven again. It is not a religious duty that drives Gabriel, but the love for his dead wife, and love can blind you to many things, as Gabriel finds out.
Lovely weather, eh?
Our hero finds out that with the power he obtains from the Lords of Shadow, he can resurrect his wife. It’s interesting to see how these two motivations drive him, to see his wife again and hold her in his arms, and the greater good for all humanity. It’s what these different drives have him do that make Gabriel question what is right and wrong, or good and evil. Is everything set in stone or not?
Gabriel was not the first or the only of his fellow knights that was set on a quest. Along your journey you will encounter the corpses of your fellow knights that didn’t make it, and get certain gems that increase your magic or life meters, or give you puzzle clues. Most often you will find scrolls on them that tell of how they didn’t make it, often in detail. Sometimes it’s chilling to think about, but their stories were almost always at the back of my mind while I was busy surviving and slaying every creature of the night on my path.
The combat in this game is very similar to God of War. Not that that is a bad thing, as it’s very refined and well implemented, and you won’t survive if you try to button mash your way to victory. Your main weapon is the Combat Cross, a weapon used by the Brotherhood of Light. It’s a cross (duh) with an extendable chain that you use to fight enemies. It’s your main weapon and you need to get good with it quickly, mastering combos and unlocking new ones on the way, or you will die. Luckily, it’s not hard to learn how to fight with it, but it’s hard to master, and that’s where the fun is at. It will also get upgraded during your journey. At one point you get spikes on your combat cross chain for extra damage, and to go to places you couldn’t go before. At another, you get a stake attached to it that you can use to stake vampires (duh), and open certain doors or passages that you couldn’t open before. With all these various upgrades and power-ups it’s very rewarding to go to levels you’ve finished already and get treasures and other minor upgrades you couldn’t reach before.
You also utilize Shadow and Light magic. These forms of magic use the souls of your slain enemies as fuel. When you turn Light magic on and attack an enemy, you will regain lost health, but when you use Shadow magic you will deal more damage and enemies are less likely to retaliate quickly. You can gain souls quickly by filling a “Focus Bar.” This bar gets filled when you attack enemies successfully and use lots of combos without getting hit. When the bar is full, enemies will release souls with every hit they take, making it much easier to refill your magic containers.
You also get several sub-weapons, such as silver daggers, holy water, faeries, and a dark crystal that aid you in your adventure. Silver daggers are a ranged weapon, thrown and especially effective at werewolves, while holy water severely weakens vampires and allows you to take them down quickly. Faeries may distract your enemies, and when you break a dark crystal, you summon a demon from the shadow realm to aid you in your fight. They offer interesting depth and may help you out when you’re low on health, but unfortunately many of them are not effective against bosses, so I would just use them on random minions.
The boss fights in this game are spectacular. You have a variety of bosses, including giant Titans that you need to climb on, and you need to try and destroy their weak points, the runes that power them. Then we also have the Lords of Shadow of course. Their battles are very impressive, and you need to be skilled or you won’t survive, but when you defeat them, you’ll feel very satisfied — or at least I was.
Graphically, this is a very polished game, even for something that was released four years ago. Everything looks smooth, and if there were any glitches I didn’t notice them. The design is also gorgeous. Despite the fixed camera, which is annoying at times, there’s a lot to see in this game. There are dazzling vistas and the architecture is marvelous, and it’s one of the game’s strongest points. You, and your eyes, won’t be bored. The game is filled to the brim with color, and only when you reach The Land of the Dead will you see a lot of brown; but yeah, it’s the land of the dead, so I shouldn’t be surprised.
Color’s where it’s at with this game.
The monster designs take the classic approach, and are therefore not very impressive or original, but they are functional, and you’ll immediately know what a creature is. It’s when they get out of the realm of the traditional monsters that the design gets more original, as you could see before with “the walking coffin.” Other mini-bosses shine as well in their design, and one I have engraved in my memory is an undertaker in the service of necromancers, who raises the dead to aid him in the fight, and he does that with a giant flaming shovel. Yay, fun times!
The soundtrack of this game serves to enhance the mood and emotion of the game, with the more action packed bosses featuring bombastic, grand orchestral pieces, while many parts of the game that overlook a big area, or are just you travelling across the land, feature quieter pieces that enhance the more lonely parts of the game. Gabriel does this all by himself of course, and loneliness comes with the package. The soundtrack doesn’t have many easily recognizable tunes like what was almost required in the NES and SNES days, though you will occasionally find a nod towards those tunes in various tracks of the soundtrack. I believe composer Oscar Aurejo did a great job with what was probably one of the hardest parts of the development of the game, and I’m glad to see him return as composer for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.
This game is one of last generation’s strongest titles, despite its flaws, and I’ll be sure to replay it once every now and then. The story is engaging and full of emotion. Gabriel is a round character, a human being, courageous and strong, but flawed. The art design is dazzling, the combat system deep, though not that original, and the music is magnificent. I’m excited for Lords of Shadow 2, and I look forward to what MercurySteam will do with the character of Gabriel Belmont. Or should I say, Dracula?