Out of all the vampire hunting heroes in the world, Reinhardt Schneider holds a special place in my heart. Okay, fine, call me names, but I remember playing Castlevania on my Nintendo 64 over and over again so that I could get all the bonuses, see all the endings, do everything that could be done (yes I played the earlier ones too, but the N64 was the only one I felt the need to beat more than once). I was in no way upset or disappointed that Reinhardt isn’t the hero of Konami’s latest Castlevania title, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but it’s hard for me to play a Castlevania title and not think of Reinhardt.
In point of fact, Reinhardt may not be a bad guy to think about with Lords of Shadow as the new Castlevania title seems as though it may have very little to do with Castlevania. Instead, it acts more as a standalone, separate piece, and as for that N64 version, it has been retconned out of the official lineage.
So it was with Reinhardt in mind that I picked up a controller at Konami’s Gamers’ Day and got my first (and second) experience with Lords of Shadow. I did have time to circle around to the title twice and got very different images of the game each time.
The first time I found myself as Gabriel Belmont (to be fair I was Gabriel the second time too as he’s the main character, but I digress), squaring off against a mammoth Titan half-stuck in ice, but not too stuck to send waves of the stuff crashing towards me, knocking me off my feet. For reasons I was not privy too having picked up the game in the middle, I was battling this Titan on what seemed to be a frozen lake without any Castle Dracula to be seen. Defeating him consisted of avoiding his blows and then climbing up his arm in order to destroy different specific squares on his body (they were lighted up all pretty like and the source of his power). At least, it all started with the specific squares, I never got quite far enough to see how it ended before having to put down the controller.
More striking than the combat, which was most un-Castlevania like save for Belmont’s whip and dagger use, was the quickly shifting, very dynamic camera, and the snow that kept pelting said camera. It all looked great and Gabriel’s outfit had a lot of detail, but where was Dracula?
Well, even our second visit to the game didn’t quite answer that question (except that perhaps not getting a specific answer may be an answer in and of itself), but we did get to play the beginning of the game during that trip. The game opens in the year 1047 and features Gabriel Belmont showing up as a mysterious stranger in a dark, rainy village. Though the villagers were wary of him, the werewolves who suddenly appeared made the villagers quickly turn their attention to other matters. Being the hero and all, as Gabriel, I smote the werewolves with something akin to a chain whip that emanated from Gabriel’s oversized cross. This was done in fine fashion, with splattering blood, lots of jumps, and – I’ll say this even though the idea didn’t strike me at first, it was given to me by someone else and now I can’t get it out of my head – acting an awful lot like a God of War we once knew.
As the demo progressed, each new section was prefaced by Patrick Stewart’s voice, explaining to us a little about what Gabriel was up to (it turns out that his wife passed away and he’s on a hunt for vengeance or redemption or to save the world or some good guy quest that’s a combination of all those things). There were horses to ride, grenades to grab and hurl back at enemies, and evil swamps to cross without hands grabbing us from the bottom and pulling us under. It was all a lot for us to cope with, but cope we did until our time was up once more.
Walking away from the demo, I had two distinct thoughts that grappled with one another for supremacy in my mind – 1) boy, that was a great time and 2) ummm… why is this a Castelvania title? The action was outstanding, it was easy to make Gabriel do some pretty spectacular moves, and the graphics were great. Even though the camera shifted around, it never seemed to block what we wanted to see, and the light streaming through the tree canopy was almost mesmerizing. But, while there was definitely an evil presence in the game and nefarious doings afoot, there didn’t seem to be any reason for this to be Castlevania. Where was the castle? Where was Dracula (it couldn’t even be definitively said that we were battling his minions)? Medusa? Any of the things we know and love about Castlevania save a guy named Belmont, a whip, and a dagger?
I do greatly look forward to get my hands on the game again, because I’m most definitely curious to see more. I want to know if there is a reason for this to be Castlevania, if the combat continues to be compelling, and if all the boss battles work out quite as well as the one I saw. It was exciting and thrilling and a little worrisome at the same time which may just make it the perfect tease to have shown at the event.