Great game despite the 3D gameplay
Castlevania : Lament of Innocence is the first instalment of the epic Castlevania series on the Play Station 2. This game is supposed to be a prequel of all existing Castlevania games (so far) and sets the starts of the conflict between the Belmont family and the vampires.
For that reason, the story is more advanced than the (almost) empty set seen in most older Castlevania games. And this is a good thing. Leon Belmont has lost his girlfriend that was taken by a vampire named Walter. Unfortunately for him, Walter is really a bad man and is living in a large castle with lots of traps and monsters inside. Also, a friend of Leon, named Rinaldo, has already some good reason to hate vampires but is not able to take revenge himself so he will support Leon in order to do that, giving him his whip. Not only that, but there is a really frightening plot twist before the end of the game, and some more complex story scenes. This is really good, and it's great Konami finally decided to make a Castlevania game with a story (okay Aria of Sorrow had a story too but by far not this emotional).
Graphically, the game is all in 3D, which may not be welcome. I with this game was a 2D platformer like all other Castlevania games I know, but I have to admit that a large amount of the gamer audience would not have appreciated 2D graphics simply because that's not the standard of PS2 games. However, it's good so notice that the game's graphics are very detailed, very atmospheric, and that overall it looks very good and fluid even in 3D. Nothing looks polygonal at all, and there is great transparency effects, and animated backgrounds, which is good news, 3D wasn't introduced "at the expanse" of anything, so I'm all cool with that. I still have to complain about the camera that is really horrible, it seems to be really wrong all time and to "film" the room at the worst possible angle. Although after some time of gameplay you eventually get used to that and this is not as much bothersome.
The hero looks very good with such 3D graphics, and so does the enemies from the classic Castlevania games. The 2D to 3D transition was done flawlessly in my opinion, while preserving mostly the soul of the series which is really a noticeable accomplishment by Konami.
When it comes to gameplay, most things are like you'd expect. You get in the castle and you have to visit 5 areas (in your favourite order) in order to defeat bosses and light orbs. When all 5 orbs are lighten, a path to a 6th area opens and at the end the evil Walter and other surprises are waiting for you. The non-linearity is welcome here, although the game is still stage based unlike some modern Castlevania games where the stages connects between them to form an actual castle (I don't really mind that personally, but it may turn some people down).
There is still RPG elements such as different weapons / armors to buy (although there is really not that many), elemental attacks, and stats. However stats don't increase by level ups, but by finding some hidden items. This works great but some stages are hard to do if you haven't gotten many hidden items (such as those that increase your HP which are really vital).
The controls are easy to get by, X jumps (and double-jump is available from the start), square attacks, and triangle does a big attack. R1 is here to guard attacks, so you take no damage and this is a good alternative to dodging attacks, especially when you're not sure how dodgeable some attack is.
There is many puzzles in the game, and many secrets to finds, many of them that requires you to do some backtracking, and probably to consult a FAQ. So yeah you'll have to visit each stage many times, but since they are very cool this is a great thing.
Unlike usual, Konami did not opt for a rocky soundtrack with great melodies for this game, but for some kind of ambient music (= you couldn't sing it), again probably because it's some kind of PS2 standard. I was kind of sceptical to this at first, but only to figure that in fact the ambient music was very well composed, suits the atmosphere perfectly, and is overall very pleasant to hear. I have to say although it really doesn't sound Castlevania-ish at first, the music of Lament of Innocence is really great. The boss themes weren't memorable tough, but that was always the weak point of the Castlevania series in my opinion.
Nothing really terrible to mention except the terrible camera control and the fact that the game is really hard to do without following a FAQ, because the only way to gain higher stats is to find secret that are well hidden.
Also to use items you have to use the directional pad during gameplay and can't do it from the menu. They did that so drinking a potion would prevent you to do anything else than moving for a long while, and that it's hard to select it from the menu if enemies are attacking you, so you have to heal yourself "in advance". This is very realistic and add challenge, but in fact it's stressful and I don't quite like that.
Somehow I feel like this game was modeled after other PS2 games rather than other Castlevania games. I feel that if I play a PS2 game, it may be very good, but no matter if it is called Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest or Devil may Cry it somehow feels the same, I can't really explain why. Should be the graphics, I play too much 2D games.
The Bottom Line
Castlevania : Lament of Innocence is a good game for what it is supposed to do. It has a modern 3D world and gameplay, while being a true part of the Castlevania series, and it also adds some kind of story to the series, as Aria of Sorrow did before, but in another extent. The gameplay is really good too. However, I have to admit that it is not very hard with a FAQ, and close to impossible without one, and that anyway the length is really short (10-14 hours with all stages revisited countless times and almost all secrets done). Veteran gamers could finish this in a weekend, less hardcore people will finish this in a couple of weeks easily.
Yet it's still a good game and if you have the occasion to find it cheap used or borrow it from someone, you should really do that because it's a great gameplay experience overall, especially to Castlevania fans, but also for people who never played any CV game, because with the story, 3D graphics, good music, low difficulty and all, it's really unlikely any gamer will be turned down by this game.