Horror in 3D on the PS2
If you thought Konami were only recently getting a lot of flak from the gaming community then trust us when we say... This is not a new sitation for them. Truth be told they have been getting both barrels for a long time now. It's almost a sport!
One of the biggest times of fan's voicing huge levels of anger was when the PS2 console was the major console player in the market and Konami took it's entire franchise library and went 3D. Castlevania fans were not pleased, especially since the two N64 games had been received so badly from both press and gamers alike. Maybe 3rd time lucky eh?
Konami serve up another symphony
Ok so you have this incredible game series that hit fame on the NES, had it's graphics pumped up and a CD soundtrack added for the PC Engine and PS1 and now has a massive cult following... Pressure anyone? What do you do when fans play a game the calibre of Symphony of the Night and scream out for more?
Well if you are konami you get those same geniuses to make another one, only this time for the Playstation 2 and you politely ask them for it in 3D! Flat sprite graphics are out apparently and now everything has to be a Devil May Cry clone, strange really when you think about it because at it's heart DMC is very much taken from Castlevania in the first place. Capcom Vs Konami really was a war that lasted for years and gave us all incredible gameplay experiences.
But I digress, back to the point of this...
In 2003 as the PS2 console was very much at the peak of it's market penetration nicely outselling every other console on the planet by a huge margin the same folks behind the incredible PS1 classic unleashed their new entry in the series. 3D had not been kind to Konami with all of their franchise updates as some of my posts will show (be patient - lol) and moving the game into a more 360 camera moving arena was considered both risky and an act of sacrilege by many hard core Castlevania fans. People were used to 2D scrolling affairs and quite frankly that's how they liked it. If it ain't broke don't fix it seemed to be the general video of the time. The Nintendo 64 entries were considered to be very poor and so understandably when 3D was mentioned again people starting to inhale and wait for the impending doom!
Good thing that this time konami got it right... And then some. The third 3D entry for the series and the first franchise release on the PS2 this was a resounding success across the board. Set in 1094, it focuses on the origins of the series' premise—the eternal conflict between the vampire hunters of the Belmont clan and the immortal vampire Dracula. Lament of Innocence follows Leon Belmont as he searches a vampire's castle in search of his kidnapped betrothed. So basically the classic damsel in distress story that everyone does...
Now here's where things get cool...
Unlike many 3D based action adventure hack 'n' slash videogames that play out in small scenes across stages or levels with a linear approach this one actually created an open world effect allowing the players to go off and actually search the castle. Considering that many original Castlevania fans loved the whole Castlevania/Metroid (Metroidvania) way of play this instantly shut a lot of moaners up... old school gameplay in new sexy modern ways... Nice!
Add into this a hub world system that makes all the main 5 areas of the game world open from the beginning meant that once you got past the whole... 'umm where do I start?' problem you were hooked on exploration and smacking evil monsters in the face, you really did feel like you had just walked into a nightmare. There was of course one small exception, that of the 6th area which was locked until you defeated all previous areas bosses and collected items.
The whip, the primary weapon of choice for a vampire hunter?!?!?!?! returned but with multiple versions and fully upgrade-able extras. On top of this the usual mixture of blades, potions, crosses and assorted monster dispatching paraphernalia were all there. Extra playable characters were also able to be unlocked (classic retro move) each with distinctive move sets, attacks and weapons.
Puzzles were the order of the day to break up the hack 'n' slash gameplay however nothing even remotely 'Mensa' like but the combination of strategy regarding weapons mixing, exploration and said puzzles all combined with fantastic graphics for the time and a great soundtrack to create a complete win on almost every single level.
At the time of release reviews were very positive with many now famous magazines and websites giving the game 80%'s and even the occasional 9 out of 10. Considering the two previous 3D outings had met with a very mixed response from both the public and the press this managed to convince people a 3D Castlevania could work.
Near this text is a picture of my PAL copy of the game and of course by now you have already seen some screenshots of it, it may look a bit worse for wear now in the graphics department but for 2003 (2004 Europe) this was impressive indeed. Another game followed 2 years later but that's another talk for another time. Considering how bad Contra became in 3D during this time Konami pulling off a more ambitious project with vastly superior results goes to show just how great they were when they felt like it.
While not as famous as it's 8-Bit and 16-Bit cousins this PS2 game is well worth a play and for my money has actually aged very well indeed. It's also becoming a bit of a collectors item, especially in PAL format because of the much smaller print run and check this out.... COLOUR MANUAL!!! (trust me for us Europeans a colour manual is like finding a free pass for the free cake & lapdance party!)