Review of the Month; Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2

Few years back I kicked my review category on with Castelvania: Lords of Shadow. For better or worse, I’ve been trying to keep that up. I’ve tried to steer away from games as of late, but this has been on the backburner for some time now. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.

To give a fair go with the game, I went with the 360 version. This way I’ve kept the sub-series on same console to notice what has been changed without resorting to wonder if possible problems are port exclusive. Another problem that I personally have with sequels and their reviews is that more often than not you can refer to the first game’s review to get the basics down. That is unless the sequel shakes things up a lot, like how Super Mario Bros. 2 stood apart from its predecessor. CLoS2, for better or worse, has the same core gameplay as with the first game.

Rather than prefacing Castlevania as a series like I did last time, I’ll try to keep this tight and compact.

Unlike the first game in the subseries, Lords of Shadow 2 tries to replicate the action adventure style gameplay Metroid, La-Mulana and Symphony of the Night are known for. Metroid Prime managed to translate that rather well into 3D, whereas CLoS2 kind of misses it just by a bit. The maps are connected to each other in more or less cohesive way, but what stands out the most is the overall visual and stage design. As the game is split between Past and Present segments, they feel very different from each other visually and tonally. For past the designs and architecture follows the same grand, overdesigned look the visual style the series is known for and it fits just fine. Dracula’s Castle is known to change itself and is a living being here, so seeing how some of the architectural choices don’t make a lick of sense can be attributed to the twisted nature of the castle itself.

The Present segments however suffer from making absolutely no sense in how they were designed. Its videogames, it doesn’t need to make sense, but when you have a bottomless chasm under your bridge that’s supposed to be a driveway, you just stop and look how none of it makes any sense. The architecture follows similar grand style most of the time, as you’d expect, but then suddenly you have almost minimalistic spots that exist simply to add an area between two main ones with a puzzle for the player to solve.

If the game was focused in either Past or Present only, it would’ve been a more cohesive piece with overall better stage design. But either of that matters very little if there’s not much to do on the maps. Designing a 3D environment to be similarly explorable to its 2D counterpart, most often camera angles and obfuscated paths are used to conceal collectibles. There’s less a wonder if finding a way towards something and more just sense that you were tricked not to notice the thing you were looking for.

The graphics are fine, nothing exceptional and do their job. There’s some glitches here and there, but nothing too notable. There’s nothing much to stand apart from what we’ve seen during the last generation of games.

The controls are as you’d expect, most of the time. Dracula moves just fine, targeting is semi-automatic and only few ugly spots here and there have their heads out. There’s no change from the first game in overall terms of controls, and that carries to the platforming. Much like previously, you only have certain spots on the walls or wherever where you can move to. It’s as restrictive as ever. This sort of platforming is tiresome, as the only challenge comes from the occasional timing obstacles. It’s not fun, just a chore you don’t mind until you’re going through the same area for the Nth time because you missed something the last times.

Action gameplay in Lords of Shadow 2 follows the same lines of its predecessor to the point that most attack animations Dracula uses look like they were lifted straight up without any modifications. So sure, the core fighting mechanics are pretty much the same. You have Direct Attack, which you’ll be using most of the time as it packs more punch than Area Attacks, which feels more or less useless in this game. There’s little reason to use Area Attacks, as they do not stagger the enemies nor they function as actually controlling the fight area.

In CLoS we had Light and Shadow magic for healing and heavy damage, and CLoS2 has a similar system with Void Sword and Chaos Claws. Void Sword is weakest and quick, but replenishes Health, Chaos Claws are slower and hit close, but cause the biggest damage, and Shadow whip is just somewhere between. In previous game you could mix and match between the weapons, but the CLoS2 limits you more this time.

Previously you could get Light and Shadow magic just fine, which allowed for a more free action. In CLoS2, you have a Concentration meter that fills as you successfully combo enemies. If you defeat them while the meter is full, the enemies will yield replenishing bits for both Void and Chaos. The meter of course empties straight away if you get hit. It tries to encourage the player to play well, but more often than not it can be completely ignored. That’s a problem that CLoS didn’t have.

If you choose to ignore the system and stick mostly with the whip and only use either Void or Chaos weapons when absolutely necessary, the system falls to shambles. Perhaps this is why Dracula can replenish health from enemies as a Finisher, so that players don’t need to rely too much on the Void Sword.

There’s parry system that’s pretty weakly implemented, and it’s something that you just need to use. It’s something that’s not really that intuitive, as the action is not really fast. It looks and should feel fast, but it’s walking instead of running. One example is how the enemies sign their Unblockable attacks with a red ring. First I immediately dashed from their way, only for the enemy to home in with their attack. It takes a solid two or three seconds for the actual attack to start, as if the game is saying HEY, I’M GOING TO DO A BIG ATTACK LOOK OUT and it’s extremely jarring. You don’t really control the fighting or dictate its pace, the game controls what you’re able to do and how.

Nevertheless, when things fall into place, the fighting is enjoyable and upgrading the skills is decent fun. Personally, it’s not about really learning the game’s system, but dumbing down reaction time and trying to give a damn about how it works. It’s not like in Metal Gear Rising or Bayonetta, where you can dictate the pace of the fight and need decent reactions to play well, even when the possibility is in there.

CloS2 still fucks things up. There are sequences that serve no other purpose than to put more length between the game’s segments. There are numerous forced stealth sequences, of which one actually makes sense in-universe early on, but when you’re forced to do a stealth sequence against Pan’s brother Agreus only to reach the area you fight him, you just have to groan and ask was that sequence necessary. These forced sequences are the weakest part of the game alongside the platforming, and most if not all of them should’ve been removed. They bog down the game’s pace and overall atmosphere. The aforementioned Agreus’ stealth section is not hard by any means, it’s just annoying as hell.

The music is… well, it fits. It’s very atmospheric, but not one tune gets stuck in your head. It’s in the exact same way as its predecessors. I’m not even sure if there’s a big difference between Past and Present maps’s music, it serves so well as BGM. Like with the first one, it’s nice to listen in-game, but it’s not something I’d buy a CD for.

Storywise, Lords of Shadow 2 is a mess. It relies Mirror of Fate, an in-between game, to set most things up with the titular mirror and characters. The game’s not necessary thing to play, as CLoS2 sums it all up. It’s your usual Castlevania bullshit really, nothing spectacular and serves as a basic excuse to whip some monsters and chew down necks. However, I did notice that the story forces itself too much on top of the gameplay at times, making it more or less a chore to sit through. There were few times I simply skipped a scene because I didn’t want to sit on my ass for five minutes to see Dracula discussing some shit. The goal was marked is marked on the minimap anyway, so it’s not like this game with adventure as its main part will let you get lost.

Outside these, there are some notable nitpicks to have. First thing is the stupid pseudo-fanserivce lines that Dracula makes against the Order soldiers. Y’know, Die monster and all that. Internet memes do not make good script. In addition, all the major enemies keep spouting their lines over and over and over, which ends up being annoying as hell. It would have done good to either have them yell basic attack yells instead of talking, have far more lines they say at scripted points or just put far more time between when they talk. In fighting games the same yells over and over doesn’t become irritating as the fights are less than one minute overall time, whereas in these games the scripted fights can last fifteen minutes or more, at worst.

The length of the game is about the same as its predecessor. It can be beaten in about week or so, less so if you skip all the scenes and know what you’re doing. Then the time falls sometime between a day and thre days. The major only major differences between the two are the changes in the combat mechanics and the adventure aspect with CLoS2. Because of both of these, this sequel feels less tight, and the design lacks same sort of directional polish that CloS had.

Do you see a problem in this review? It’s that it refers a lot back to the original game. It’s pretty much the same game in new pants.

Perhaps the game needs to be faulted in playing things too safe. CLoS shook things up, which made it one of the most selling Castlevania games and most of the fans absolutely hated it, but CLoS2 seems to have lost that. Whether or not Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is better game than its predecessor is mostly up to opinion. While I have always felt a slight yearning to return to the first Lords of Shadow just to complete it again, I don’t have the same feeling with this game. Lords of Shadow 2 is kinda there, wanting to be something but never really telling what or in what way. Much like a lot of games of its era, it’s not really all that great, but it’s not bad either. It’s a mediocre game that has Castlevania slapped unto it, but still being better 3D Castlevania than those without Lords of Shadow slapped to its name.