I am a huge fan of the Castlevania series, both the classic games as well as the Lords of Shadow trilogy by MercurySteam. I found myself constantly making references to the franchise in my blog posts and gaming community comments, so I figured why not get it all out and make a post solely on that topic.
The original series started way back in 1986 with – what else – Castlevania. This game remains one of my favorites, even though I have never beaten it or reached Dracula; I was always defeated by the Grim Reaper if not sooner. The game along with its sequels is renowned for its fantastic soundtrack, even in comparison with other games of its time, back when video game music used to be spectacular by average.
The series was rebooted in 2010 with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which featured a new yet nicely fitting main character, Gabriel Belmont, who would turn out to be the grandfather of the new timeline equivalent of Simon Belmont, who was the main character of the first two Castlevania games, as well as Super Castlevania IV. The game was widely successful, and while it featured gameplay that explicitly deviated from that of the classic games, it improved very much in one key way: a coherent story.
As much as I love the old games, I must admit their story is scattered at best, and utterly ridiculous at worst. The Lords of Shadow brand reboot brought a story that was easy to follow and actually interesting, in contrast to the slightly corny and shallow plot of the old days. That is one of the main reasons the series’ future interests me.
The Story So Far
At the beginning of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dracula doesn’t exist yet. Instead, Gabriel Belmont is hunting the titular Lords of Shadow who have caused the earth to lose their connection with the heavens, thus bringing about what seems to be the “end times”. Gabriel finds each of the Lords and defeats them one by one – the lord of Lycanthropes, the lord (or lady) of the Vampires, and the lord of the Necromancers – and finally ends up fighting Satan himself, who seems to have been pulling the strings behind the scenes all along. Fitting, no?
After the main events of Lords of Shadow, a prophecy that has been looming in the background throughout the game is fulfilled: The one who defeated the Lords of Shadow, Gabriel Belmont, would himself claim the throne of the Prince of Darkness. In practice, this means he becomes the classic archvillain of the series, Dracula.
The first sequel to the Lords of Shadow, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, continues the story with what can be called a substitute for both the first Castlevania game as well as Castlevania III. It tells the tale of Simon Belmont, the grandson of Gabriel and son of Trevor Belmont, who practically never knew his father but whose foster family was killed by Dracula’s minions as they wreaked havoc on the countryside. Simon enters Dracula’s castle to have his revenge on the inhumane monster.
Besides Simon’s story, the game also tells about his father, Trevor Belmont, who once sought to defeat Dracula as well. Unlike Simon, Trevor knew who Dracula was, and wished to undo the shame of his family by vanquishing the corrupt Gabriel. Unfortunately, Trevor fails to defeat Dracula in combat and is mortally wounded. He reveals his identity to his father, who desperately attempts to save Trevor by giving of his blood. Thinking he was too late, he buries Trevor under his castle, and out of overwhelming rage, orders his underlings to start a campaign of terror in the surrounding lands – causing the attack that killed Simon’s foster parents, and resulted in Simon wishing to have his revenge on Dracula.
However, over time, Dracula’s blood resuscitated Trevor, reanimating him as a vampire. He would become the Lords of Shadow equivalent for another classic Castlevania character: Alucard, the son of Dracula, who chooses not to side with the dark creature that is his father, but instead opposes him in order to rid the world of him forever.
As Simon Belmont enters Dracula’s castle, he meets with Alucard, not knowing his former identity. The two join forces and encounter Dracula, and with their joint efforts, they manage to defeat and seemingly kill him. Alucard, however, remains skeptical, and assumes that one day, Dracula will return.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 begins with a brief introduction where Dracula, practically single-handed, wards of a full-scale assault on his castle by the Brotherhood of Light, an order that he himself was once a part of. The main story begins in the present day, centuries after the opening, as Dracula awakens weakened and without a clear memory of what happened to him the last time he walked the earth.
He then comes into contact with Zobek, whom he know while still searching for the Lords of Shadow, and who turned out to be the third Lord himself, making him the Lords of Shadow equivalent of the Grim Reaper, for all intents and purposes. Zobek instructs Dracula that Satan, whom Gabriel defeated centuries ago, is planning a return, under the impression that Dracula has been killed and is no longer on Earth to oppose him. Zobek promises Dracula that should the latter help the former in defeating Satan, he would be given the eternal rest he is craving for – through the Vampire Killer, Gabriel’s old Combat Cross, which is currently in Zobek’s possession.
Dracula then proceeds to hunt down Satan’s acolytes, gradually regaining his powers in the process, and eventually learns that it was his son Trevor, now known as Alucard, who put him to sleep all those years ago, with a sword forged from a fragment of the Vampire Killer. The plan was to fool Satan into thinking Dracula was dead, so that he would make his return onto Earth, exposing himself for one final attack by Dracula to defeat him for good. Dracula was to defeat Zobek as well, as to rid the world of the evils that would take his place should he ever be vanquished.
And thus, with the help of his son, Dracula defeats both Zobek and Satan, and while the original plan was for him to be slain through the Vampire Killer after everything was finished, it appears he changed his mind – with a cryptic aphorism, he enters the cathedral that was his hiding place after awakening into the modern times, and the screen fades into black.
The Lords of Shadow Trilogy Analysis
The first Lords of Shadow game had a story that was clearly separate from any of the classic games in terms of plot and setting: Dracula, the most prominent central character of the series, didn’t even exist yet, and while the main character was a Belmont, he was not one that had made an appearance in the old games. Only somewhere past the halfway point of the game, the player is teased with a few little things that serve as reminders that this is in fact a Castlevania game. The most noticeable one of these things is the castle of Carmilla, the Vampire Lord of Shadow, which clearly resembles the castle that Dracula resided in in all the classic games.
While the plot of the first game wasn’t exactly unusual or groundbreaking, it was a decent story that had enough hooks to keep the player interested as they progressed through the games. One of its strengths was, in truth, the fact that as the game begins, there appears to be little to no connection to the classic games, but the player wants to learn what makes this game a Castlevania. And the story does deliver, and towards the end, it leaves you content with what it has produced for you.
The second game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate serves as both a nostalgia trip for fans of the old games (aside from being a 2D action game, it is the only one of the three games where you actually hunt Dracula), and a background story for more of the series’ characters besides Gabriel Belmont. It features the classic main character, Simon Belmont (although he is much more masculine in a Conan the Barbarian-esque kind of way than he used to be), but the real focus is on the origin story of Alucard, or Trevor Belmont.
The story of the second game is simpler than that of the first one, but it’s a good story nonetheless, and is intriguing enough to remain relevant throughout the game. Even without being anything special, it still surpasses the original few games that barely had any story at all. It is nice to actually have a narrative in a Castlevania game.
Lords of Shadow II: Dracula’s Quest
The third game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, is the trickiest of the three games to analyze. First, it should be noted that it is a pretty good game, unlike a lot of reviewers have deducted (based on reasons I simply don’t understand). It’s not quite as good as the first game, but it did expand the combat system nicely, the gameplay is similar enough to feel familiar (why change it if it works), and the game world is less linear than that of the first game. It has its stumbling stones, but the fact remains that it is a good game. Shame on you, Colin Moriarty, for excessively reducing the game’s score based on a few downfalls.
What I do agree with him on, though, is the fact that while the plot seems to have potential as you start the game, the overall story ends up being massively underwhelming. It seems as though the writers had this great idea – Dracula co-operating with Death in order to rid the world of Satan, alternating between the present day and a 1000 years in the past – but never really got anything out of it. So basically, that back-cover text is the entire story, there’s nothing else there, except for the semi-surprising appearance of Alucard towards the end of the game.
And to make matters worse, the ending was one of the most anti-climactic I have ever seen. As expected, Satan eventually appears, but he arrives with little fanfare, and his presence doesn’t feel nearly as threatening as it did in the first game, despite the fact that he appears to have been pumping some serious iron in Hell for the last 1000 years.
After Satan makes his appearance, the game proceeds into a climbing segment on the back of Leviathan, conjured by Satan to aid in his assault on the world. This segment is very similar to the Dragolich Titan in the first game, only much shorter and simpler. To some extent, that’s a good thing – I found that the Dragolich Titan eventually became quite tedious and dragging as it took a long time to clear that part, and sometimes it wasn’t entirely clear on where you were supposed to climb next. The fact remains, however, that the Leviathan part was so short that it was over before you even realized it had started, and so this dreadful behemoth was swept off like a mini-boss, while it should have been a true, fearsome boss character.
But that’s not even the worst part: After the death of Leviathan, Satan – instead of facing Gabriel directly – possesses Alucard, and so he and Dracula duel on the head of Leviathan falling from a massive altitude. While the battle was cool and even fairly epic, it seemed like a prelude to the actual final fight of the game, where you could actually kick Satan’s winged butt.
And that’s where the biggest disappointment lies: After the neat but really easy fight with Alucard, you’re presented a brief cinematic where Dracula drives Satan out of Alucard’s body and impales him with the Combat Cross. Satan falls down, dead, and that’s it. It literally felt like there was no final boss in this game.
Furthermore, besides the disappointing wrap-up, I was displeased with the character of Dracula in the game. While the character was interesting and functional, I felt like it didn’t really deliver what was promised – after all, you were supposed to play as the villain, but he turned out to be a good guy after all. I understand that he was supposed to be more likable that way, and this is a new story and all, but I couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed.
It’s kind of the same thing that they did with the film Maleficent: A classic story told from the perspective of one of the most iconic villains of all time. I went in thinking I’d get to see the character being made deeper and more interesting by exploring her past and seeing some reasons for the things she did, and early on in the film, that indeed was the case. But towards the end, it turned out that she was the biggest hero there was, and that sort of devastated the film’s uniqueness for me. After all, if the film was supposed to be different due to the “villain’s-point-of-view” angle, and it then turns out that the villain wasn’t a villain at all but the good guy instead, doesn’t that kind of eliminate what was supposed to be different in the first place, making the film ordinary for it?
That’s my biggest problem with Dracula, as well. While the introduction segment pictured him as someone who everyone wants destroyed, and who has little to no sympathy for the people he slays, the story eventually turned him into a victim of fate, effectively destroying what made him intriguing in the first place. He didn’t even need to be inherently evil like in the old games – I would have been content with how he seemed to be at first, a bitter, resentful, lonely man who has lost everything and though he has nothing to live for, he can’t even die.
Even with the third game’s stumbles with the story, the Lords of Shadow trilogy still provides a great reboot for the franchise, making its elements more self-sufficient, rather than borrowed. For example, Dracula is no longer the alter-ego of Vlad Țepeș, distancing him from the book by Bram Stoker, and in fact he isn’t even referred to as Dracula as much in-game – rather, he is called “the Dragon”, or “Dracul”, sort of simulating the feeling that it’s simply a coincidence that he appears to be so similar to Stoker’s Dracula.
The games paint an interesting picture of the world they are set in, and more than ever, the world feels believable and real. A couple of segments from the first game even depict some actual human settlements, serving as a reminder that this is supposed to be a real world, not just a dimension of demons and monsters.
Thus, it would be nice to see someone else take the wheel now that MercurySteam is done with their trilogy. The groundwork is there, so it would be a great mythology to build on, with a lot of extra material still unused from the classic games for new tie-ins.
However, the Lords of Shadow trilogy left little to pick up on: it already established that Dracula survived for a 1000 years from the times of the original game, so making an interquel would be tricky in that it practically couldn’t feature Dracula at all without retconning the timeline. Furthermore, a sequel would be an unappealing prospect for two reasons: first, as I stated above, Dracula effectively became a good guy by the end of the second game, so he wouldn’t be a good main villain, and second, the modern-world setting isn’t all that interesting, especially in a game that has most of its strength pumped from 15th-to-16th-century atmospherics. Furthermore, in the third game, Victor Belmont claimed he was the last of his bloodline, an assuming that’s true, a sequel couldn’t believably feature a character from the Belmont clan either.
So while MercurySteam stated that anyone else is free to continue the story they started, Lords of Shadow 2 did a pretty good job in tying all the loose ends and so forth, making it really difficult to pick up anywhere. It’s a real shame, because the world they created was – and is – fantastic.
Therefore, I believe there are three possibilities for the future of the franchise: Either someone will create another reboot – unlikely, but possible in today’s world where everything somehow needs a reboot, even reboots – or continue on the classic timeline, adding to the already muddled overall plot of the series, or perhaps continue on the rebooted franchise without utilizing Dracula at all – after all, the original series also deviated from the elements with which it started from, with games without Belmonts and even games without Dracula as we know him. It may also be possible that Dracula would be featured in a game set in the time briefly after his transformation, but I’m not sure about the appeal of that option.
Either way, I am fairly interested in whatever direction the series progresses into. I would love to see the Lords of Darkness universe expanded further, since I feel it has a lot more to give story-wise than the original series, as much as I love the old games. Whatever happens, I hope the future games will be good, and I hope the stories are worth following.