When the first Castlevania arrived on Nintendo 64, I was a little skeptical. One of my favorite game series was about to make a transition to 3D, thus leaving me uncertain if the efforts would communicate for better or worse. After its release I was thoroughly disappointed. Although the game was decent, it didn't possess familiar elements seen in previous Castlevania titles. Jump to the present, after one year transpires; and and Konami ‘graces’ N64 owners with another tale of Dracula. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness is more an upgrade than a sequel though; using most of the same levels, gameplay features, and characters from the first, albeit with a few enhancements. That doesn’t change the fact that this is what the first Castlevania was supposed to be. In my honest opinion, this game can be summed up best as an exceptional title and a shoddy attempt to restore the Castlevania magic.
Taking place 8 years before the first N64 Castlevania, Legacy of Darkness centers around Cornell, a young beast-man. Empowered with the ability to revert from a human into a werewolf, Cornell leaves his hometown to study and train so that he can harness his hidden talent. He returns a year later to his town, burnt to the ground, every resident has been killed and his adoptive sister Ada, is missing. Now with the power of the wolf at his call, Cornell tracks Ada’s scent to (where else?) Castlevania - home to Count Dracula himself. So it’s up to Cornell to save his sister and put the Count down once and for all. Then there’s another new character - Henry, and two returning - Carrie and Reinhardt. Henry’s adventure takes place years after Cornell’s. As a boy, he was trapped in a villa inside of Castlevania with his mother. Cornell saves him, and he comes back as a grown man, armed with a sword and gun and ready to kick ass. Carrie and Reinhardt return with side quests, which for the most part aren’t much to talk about.
Visually, LoD is very much like the previous effort. Cornell and Henry are modeled with minimal degree of polygons, thus looking very much like a Lego character - blocky and undefined. Enemies are no different as you'll find that the mermen, skeletons and the like all feature quasi-cubic limbs, pointy heads, and meager texture detail. To top it off, you'll discover an annoying fog that permeates the entire area. I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m watching the same thing I did a year ago. One more thing; the character designs are horrible. Cornell looks like a reject from a 70’s anime, Henry is dull to stare at, Carrie is remains ho-hum, and Reinhardt is by far the ugliest Belmont I have ever seen.
You know something is wrong when the music is the only good part of a game. Legacy’s tunes start off very ambient, quiet, and dreary. At the middle portion of the tracks in which the music really picks up. Overall, they don't possess the typical tracks found in previous Castlevania titles (i.e. pop-techno mixes or guitar-orchestra fusion). Instead, there's a mix bag of electronic sounding instruments, classical, and even a pinch of guitar. The combination of these musical elements translate into something which almost sounds symphonic, well for about 1-2 minutes. The only problem I have with the music is that each selection is too short, and levels are pretty long. Moreover, as I'ver elaborated on before, this doesn’t sound like other Castlevania’s, which can be taken as good or bad. In its defense, it can be said that Legacy of Darkness has one of the best soundtracks on the N64.
Sound effects don’t hold up as well. Muffled, low quality samples blare forth and clutter up the music. This leaves a little something to be desired in the overall aural experience. If you can get past Cornell’s annoying yelps and whatnot, keep the volume up for the music. If not, put on a CD or something.
The game plays so much like the previous N64 version of Castlevania that it seriously angers me. Instead of trying to fix the camera, control, and enemy issues from the first, Konami simply used the same ‘engine’, slapped new characters on it, added a few new levels, and sent it out into the world claiming to be different. The half-hearted effort wouldn’t bother me as much if the game played well, but most of the time it doesn’t. Jumping is a pain to accomplish with the floaty movement, the lock-on feature is practically useless, the two camera angles you can choose from are way too close to Cornell for my tastes, and even when you do get a good angle, navigating from platform to platform can sometimes borderline impossible.
To make matters worse is the slow-as-molasses frame rate; even when on-screen activity is sparse, don’t expect the game to break the 30 fps mark. When something interesting does happen though (like insane architecture, explosions, etc.), marvel at the wonder that is the “so few frames I can count it” effect. Thankfully, there are some positive points. For example, the new levels are well designed, there appears to be more enemy encounters than the first game, bosses can get pretty awe-inspiring, and some basic switch hitting puzzles try to add some diversity. The negatives cancel out the positives though; bad overall control kills the well designed levels, the slow frame rate hampers enemy encounters, bosses are cool but a breeze to defeat, and I could go on. In short, the game ends up being a lackluster event due to a bad aspect for every good one.
Basically, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness winds up short of being a worthy N64 title to add to a collection. In essence, the latest incarnate translates as a 'been there, done that' type of title and I can’t say that I like it at all. A rental could keep gamers busy for a few days, but only if they can put up with shot controls and muddy pace. If you’re looking for a Castlevania game, my suggestion is to pick up a copy of Symphony of the Night; (or Rayman 2 for a solid adventure game).
· · · Hero