I've been spending the leisure hours of the last few weeks catching up on my Castlevania. Lacking both a television and a game system, I did so watching YouTube walkthroughs of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
My thoughts on Ecclesia: I liked it. And I'll likely post a bit more about that later on.
My thoughts about Lords of Shadow: well . . . put on your helmets, kids. And watch out for the debris:Contention #1: It's not a Castlevania plot.The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow wiki
claims that this installment is intended to "reboot" the series. This fact would explain why, at every turn of the convoluted plot, I kept asking myself who these characters are and what they're doing in a universe that claims it's "Castlevania." Certainly I recognize the names of the characters: Carmilla and Laura, of course, both appear in previous installments of the series; together they form a very loose allusion to the 1796 Gothic novel by Francis Burney. Even the werewolf Cornell makes a furry appearance (though why he's alive in the Middle Ages when his character is supposed to be one of the protagonists of Legacy of Darkness in the Victorian era is beyond me). So there are some loose continuities with the rest of the series.
But that's really where the similarities end. The timeline makes no sense.
Now, this isn't the first time that Castlevania has violated its own rules. There are plenty of plot loopholes, mistranslations, and discontinuities throughout the series. The Castlevania Dungeon
attempts to lay out the complete plot. And, in this plot, you can see how each game at least makes some attempt to fit in between the others. Not each fit is comfortable, but the attempt is there.
This is not the case with Lords of Shadow. Hideo Kojima apparently saw fit to mangle the plot to his own ends--again, all for the sake of "rebooting" the enterprise.
But that's my argument: the enterprise doesn't need rebooting. There are plenty of plot holes left to fill in the original structure. For instance, what about the "Demon Castle Battles" of 1999, involving Julius Belmont? Or what about the grand finale both Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow allude to? Or what about Mathias from Lament of Innocence? Or what about a more basic question: who is Dracula, and why does he seem to exist as a timeless evil destined to return? I believe Kojima could have brought the game in any of these directions while still having more than enough freedom to dream up any baroque plot that he likes, and while still being able to connect that plot to the other games. Instead, he demolishes the whole plot structure and goes his own way. This move strikes me as profoundly arrogant, an affront to a faithful fan base.
Shameful.Contention #2: Fake Latin.
So. Each time Gabriel Belmont encounters one of the seals that hides away the God Mask (whose role, by the way, is never even remotely explained), he utters a formula: oblivium sempiternum daemonis
. Some have tried to pretend that this translates to "Eternal oblivion for demons." Bogus. If that were the case, Kojima & Co. should've stuck with oblivio semper daemonis
. At least that would've been a witty reinvention of John Wilkes Booth's famous motto.
Also, After Gabriel and Satan become (apparently) fused into one being (again, no explanation there), he shouts Eu sunt Dracul
. After some head-scratching, I think I've determined that Kojima & Co. wanted this to mean "I am Dracul," which would have been ego sum Dracul
. (Dracul sum
would've been more idiomatic and concise.) Instead, eu sunt Dracul
roughly translates to "alas they are Dracul."
This is why classicists should be paid handsomely and kept in the broom closets of every video game company.
This also further underscores my basic thesis about the age in which we live: having easier access to information makes even less of an excuse for ignorance.Contention #3: Manparts, dammit. Manparts.
I will say that the game is visually stunning. The animation is flawless, and each of the settings is an ode to the ruinous Gothic sublime. The creatures move organically, the characters act convincingly, and everything at least looks
lovely. I'll even admit that I was impressed by the Baroque elegance of the Clockwork Tower, which seems to be modeled to appear like a vast pipe organ.
But this all brings up a very old complaint of mine: nudity. Not the presence of it--the lack of it.
The game is rated mature. This is the year 2011. The game was published in 2010. Every female character is sexualized and very, very pretty. Gabriel Belmont is a rugged, handsome, muscular fellow who seems quite a far cry from the androgynous heroes that have characterized the series since Symphony of the Night. Hell, he even has the characteristic, shouldery Belmont strut down to a fine art. Why, then, can't we see his manparts?
Yes, I know, he's a knight. The animators put him in clunky, form-obscuring armor because he's got to protect his tender manparts from all the fell creatures of the night. Why, then, does Claudia jump around in a skimpy, ragged skirt that affords her no visible protection from her hostile environment? Why does the game allow the vampiress Carmilla to sashay around in a creepy Virgin-Mary-inspired outfit that almost shows us her vampiric v-jayjay?
Why all these things? And why can't we see--just once--just once
--why can't we see Gabriel take his shirt off? At least that? I'm not even asking for the full monty here. All I'm asking for is some symmetry. If every female character is consistently sexied-up, then the hunky male protagonist should've gotten the same treatment. In fact, the game features numerous dream sequences in which having Gabriel appear even in the partial nude would've been (1.) sexy, and (2.) appropriate, since suggestions of nudity and vulnerability are a visual trope of dream sequences in general.
But no. Instead, we get Carmilla's vampiric v-jayjay. Oh, and Satan's corpselike nipples, with his ultra-creepy loincloth of shadow. Yep.
While we're on the subject, why do we get to see the werewolf Cornell's hairy pectorals prominently displayed for an entire battle sequence? (Wolf nipple chips--get 'em while they're awfully lovely.) The only male characters we actually get to "see" are the ones we're supposed to think of as ugly. And the only female characters we actually get to "see" are the ones we're supposed to think of as pretty--i. e., every single one of them.
Come on, folks. Not all of your gamers are heterosexual men. Throw us a frickin' bone here. (Or a boner.)Contention #4: Bombastic Orchestral Soundtrack
Plot inconsistencies, anachronisms, and lack of research aside, there is one chief aspect of Lords of Shadow that really, truly, unnervingly ticked me off, and that was the fact that Michiru Yamane didn't compose the music. If she had, I would've forgiven all other shortcomings.
But she didn't. Despite Yamane's cult status among Castlevania fans, despite her exquisite mastery of synthesized sound emulating a Classical/Romantic sound that has become iconic of the Castlevania series since Symphony of the Night, Lords of Shadow chose a Spanish composer (Óscar Araujo) to do the soundtrack. And, while Araujo knows his violins quite well, he's not Michiru Yamane.
The significance of this departure cannot be overstated. Castlevania has changed visual styles plenty of times throughout its history. It has changed consoles. It has changed from 2D to 3D. It has shifted focus from Dracula to Belmont, from Belmont to Alucard, from Alucard to countless side characters. It has changed plenty of times, in plenty of ways. And I'm almost always willing to follow its changes in every regard--except music. Each time they've ditched Michiru Yamane, the results have been mediocre at best.
Lords of Shadow, in short, is a game that doesn't look like Castlevania and doesn't feel like Castlevania. And the chief reason that it doesn't feel like Castlevania is that it doesn't sound
like Castlevania. By opting for an irregular, pseudo-cinematic soundtrack, they've robbed the game of the one last vestige of Castlevania that could have redeemed it.
I want my repetitive synthesized music back. I want to be able to hum "Bloody Tears" in a dozen different remixes. And, as I watched Lords of Shadow unfold, I hoped I'd be humming a new rendition of that old favorite. I was sorely disappointed.
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And now, a little philately: