Faith and Nostalgia – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Posted on 15/01/2011


Of course he needed to be a Scotsman. One with a thick set accent. Only a Scotsman would fit into this game as protagonist.
Spanish developer mercurysteam bring with them a lot of distinctly European heritage. The game’s environments look and feel a lot more authentic than anything American or – worse – Japanese developers usually try to pass off as parts of the Old World, even if it’s all set in some fantasy part of medieval Europe.

Lords of Shadow is a curios game. A Japanese IP developed by a bunch of Spaniards. Voiced by a Brit and a Scotsman.
Their cultural background shines through on various occasions. Not only do they manage to feel really fresh and for me as a European authentic, but they bring things to the table gamers rarely see.
For one, matters of faith. Lords of Shadow is none of these weird popcultural items that feature something that closely resembles christian religion while being too sensitive to just go for it.
The characters in the game are devout Christians. Wary of the fates of their immortal souls. Whenever protagonist Gabriel encounters a fallen brother in arms, he goes down on one knee, crossing himself. The final battle is all about God’s love and forgiveness. The main quest more about atonement than anything else.

EA's Dante's Inferno went for a similar style of game, but featured a lot more In-Your-Face weird, over the top bordering-on-blasphemous portrayal of "Catholicism".

In this, Lords of Shadow is a game that wears the catholic background of it’s country of origin on it’s sleeve. It might not yet fully be there, it’s not a game that delves into the weirder parts of catholicism, though it’d really just be a matter of a paint job really to introduce relics of saints granting new kewl powers. EA’s Dante’s Inferno might be closer to that vision. But at the same time a bit too loud and willingly edgy and insensitive to really appeal.
To me, EA’s Dante’s Inferno is a game depicting Catholicism the way outsiders see it. Stark, ravingly mad, mostly. Lords of Shadow on the other hand seems less eager to treat Catholicism as a carnival freak show.
For the Castlevania game it seems like the character’s conviction is something that just comes naturally. It’s more a part of their whole being than them being constructed around the concept of “religious nut job so zealous he rips the Grim Reaper’s head off in the prolouge, steals his scythe and jumps headfirst into hell to SLAY THE DEVIL!!!”.

To this day, this game's cover encapsulates the spirit of Castlevania for me. Barbarian dude whipping the hell out of unholy, supernatural horrors.

To understand why I personally grew to absolutely adore Lords of Shadow, it’s important to know what Castlevania in it’s essence is for me. I never had a PSone. I never played Symphony of the Night, or at least not when it was important and relevant.
My key Castlevania experiences lie with the second installment for the original GameBoy, Castlevania II – Belmont’s Revenge and with the superb Super Castlvania IV for the SNES.
When I was a kid, Castlevania II easily was my favorite game on the little grey box. As with the games of that platform, it sure wasn’t as pretty as any of the other or later installments, but it bore a rich and imaginative selection of level and world design. It was a game that prominently featured huge boss monsters and – for a GameBoy game anyway – spectacular music. Not too many games of that era boasted 8bit versions of Bach for their semi-final bosses.

Mercurysteam manage to take me back to these days. Lord’s of Shadow looks a lot like what my kid self painted over the pixely grey-green GameBoy graphics of old. Having next to no experience with the games that came since, and not really being able to reconnect with them now, Lords of Shadow evokes in me some weird kind of gaming nostalgia to my very early days as a gamer.
Overall, the game’s art style is something to behold. It makes me wonder what Guillermo delToro’s upcoming game will look like, since mercurysteam already manage to bring his art team’s style to the gaming screen.

Gabriel's character design is the perfect mix of old and new. Barbarian and pretty boy.

The old boss monsters I remember are all there in some form#.
Also the look and feel of the early 90s games seems to have been recreated and updated to HD this time.
Lords of Shadow’s protagonist Gabriel Belmont’s character design is something of a mix between old and new. His build, haircut and gruff ruffled appearance bring back a bit of the good old barbarian Belmonts of old, while his crimson armor’s color palette seems to be closer to the looks of the more effeminate IGA-games protagonists.
Left is the old, barbarian Belmont, more akin to He-Man and Conan. Right is the "new" Belmont of the hidous Castlevania fighting game, a random Manga prettyboy.
To me, this game is a perfect addition to the Castlevania series. Having skipped the IGA titles, I’m not missing the Metroid-style exploration. Lords of Shadow still has some of that, no doubt. Though it’s no longer anywhere close to a necessity to finish the game.
Also I’m not really missing the screamingly colourful, very Japanese art style. Super Castlevania had a great color palette that grew more and more neon in the following installments.
Also it’s good having a (partially) barbaric Belmont back. Here’s to hoping they’re here to stay.