Many gamers were probably worried about Konami latest attempt to bring the legendary series to 3D after several disasters on the N64. However, this PS2 installment was developed by the same team responsible for the classic Symphony of the Night and goes a long way in correcting the mistakes those previous games made. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a prequel set before the events in all of the previous titles and traces the origins of the Belmont clan's never-ending battles against vampires. As the game begins, aristocratic Leon Belmont's bride-to-be Sara is kidnapped and taken prisoner inside a foreboding castle. Leon forsakes his nobility and risks his life to rescue her from an evil vampire who may or may not have a relationship with his longtime partner Mathias Cronqvist. The evil head of the castle who treats the unlucky adventurers who wind up in his castle as toys to play with and unleashes his demon hordes on them. Leon also meets a mysterious figure, Rinaldo Gandolfi who runs a shop just outside the castle. He explains certain things to Leon and promises to keep his shop open so Leon can return to buy and sell the mysterious orbs he comes across. Lament of Innocence's backstory is fairly interesting, and the plot unfolds during a series of cinema sequences during the game. However, this isn't an RPG, and the main thrust of the game is its action sequences.
After a brief tutorial level where you learn how to perform jumps and use the whip, you'll enter a magical chamber where Leon is transported to the first level and the action begins in earnest. The first thing veteran Castlevania players will notice is that the game takes place in full 3D. This has been problematic for Konami in the past, but the camera angle is fixed in one angle. You can't manually adjust the angle which allows you to focus on the action. The top down perspective switches viewpoints automatically during the course of the gameplay, and players have to adjust their movements to the direction in which Leon is facing. This can become disorienting, but you can call up your map at any point during the game to help you get your bearings. The levels are quite large and the automapping feature is quite helpful, and lets you easily find rooms you haven't visited yet. The castles are quite large and its easy to lose track of where you are. Exploring each level thoroughly is very important, and you'll probably have to backtrack and find certain keys in order to break a room seal deeper in the castle. This can be annoying but isn't terribly odious. There are several types of rooms, some offer standard combat, there are also many long hallways filled with objects and little else. Players will also face numerous puzzle areas which require more brains than reflexes. Some rooms are locked until you clear out your foes, but you can run past them if you have to pass through the room again. For the most part, you can get by these enemies without taking much damage, but you need to be careful. Additionally, there are numerous save rooms in the game, which are indicated in red on your map, where you can also replenish your character. The save points are well spaced which makes progression come a bit easier. Lament of Innocence's finely tuned gameplay offers a good balance between action and strategy, creating an involving title that challenges your reflexes and puzzle solving skills simultaneously.
While Lament of Innocence's combat system seems straightforward initially, it reveals a surprising amount of depth as you delve deeper into the game. Leon's main weapon is the classic whip, and he can use it in a variety of ways to perform different attacks and make combos as well. This definitely adds to the strategy, since most foes take multiple hits to defeat, and usually attack in groups. Players will face an array of classic Castlevania foes including skeletons, zombies and cursed knights and these basic enemy types come in different varieties and each has their own unique attack styles. You'll have to be on guard throughout the game, since the enemies can also hurt you by throwing a curse on you, which gradually saps your energy. Additional enemies can also spawn at any time, so you have to stay on guard at all times, until the doors unlock. The main game's enemies are relatively easy to beat individually, but cause more of a problem when grouped because it makes it difficult to defend yourself. The standard foes are tough enough, but Leon's biggest challenge comes at the end of each level. Here, he has to defeat some challenging and imposing bosses. These can be difficult to take down initially, and you'll probably have to battle them multiple times in order to defeat them.
In addition to the whip, you can use a variety of special attacks and find additional whips hidden throughout the castle. During your adventure, you'll find numerous statues holding candles, and in typical fashion, smashing them releases hearts and other icons. As usual, your heart icon displays how much energy you have, and this is depleted when you use these special attacks. Some of these are updated version of familiar power-ups such as crosses, holy water. Additionally, you can find money or health power-ups hidden inside the statues, so it pays to smash everything you see. While Lament of Innocence's inventory system isn't as elaborate as it was in the most recent games, there's still a lot to keep track of. Players can manage their inventory in a number of ways, and can call up their current objects by pressing down on the right analog stick. Players can also check their character out in the status screen, and can also call up an circular menu to change orbs quickly. The seamless nature of the gameplay interface is easy to understand and doesn't get in the way of the action.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Lament of Innocence is true Castlevania and does the series proud with its lush environments and beautifully gothic design. An ominous fog is visible outside the castle, which adds to the atmosphere. Once inside, the level of detail is remarkable with paintings on walls, stained-glass windows and flickering lights creating an absolutely beautiful experience that's breathtaking. Lament of Innocence's subtle color palette makes for a natural look while the sophisticated light-sourcing and dazzling special magic effects are also implemented effectively and create a realistic environment that's simultaneously intimidating and entrancing. The beautiful character and enemy designs are simply amazing with fluid animation that brings them to life. Leon moves with a graceful feel throughout and the foes can be frightening. The enemies' spawning animations are beautiful, as they rise up from nowhere and this definitely adds to their malicious feel. Even more impressive are the boss characters that take up large areas of the screen, yet retain a high level of detail. From a technical standpoint, the game runs at an smooth frame rate with very little in the way of jaggies, walls rarely break up which gives Lament of Innocence a solid feel. The game looks fantastic, but it's the music that really sets the mood of Castlevania titles, and Lament of Innocence's soundtrack is beautiful yet terrifying with ominous choruses, unsettling organ soliloquies, and mournful dirges that enhance the mood. This orchestral music sets an undeniable tone of gothic foreshadowing that permeates the adventure. While many players doubted that any 3D Castlevania could ever match the aesthetic brilliance of the PS1 classic, Lament of Innocence's dark beauty matches Symphony of the Night. It's definitely one of the moodier Castlevania adventures to date, and the Castlevania spirit is evident throughout.
Even though many Castlevania fans have expressed doubts about the series making a successful transition to 3D, Lament of Innocent should lay those fears to rest once and for all. Moving the character and battling enemies is surprisingly intuitive, and the straightforward layout of the levels makes it easy to progress through the game, though failing to explore each level thoroughly usually leads to a lot of backtracking. Lament of Innocence emphasizes action over the RPG elements introduced in the past few games, but this streamlined approach works well and allows you to concentrate on the action. There aren't as many items to find, but a more elaborate battle system adds depth to the battles themselves. As players have come to expect from the Castlevania series, production values are first-class all the way with beautiful environments, character design and animation making for a beautiful game. The gorgeous soundtrack fits the action perfectly as well. While the fixed camera allows you to concentrate on the action, the frequent changes in perspective can be annoying. Fortunately, this is a minor problem in an otherwise sterling rebirth for the series. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is an excellent title that offers tight-controls, challenging opponents and beautiful aesthetics. It's a solid revival that should please most fans of the series and is the first 3D game that truly lives up to Castlevania's impressive lineage.