Diplo's Lament of Innocence Article
oji Igarashi has, in the past, been an outspoken critic of the output of Kobe studio. In an interview conducted concerning the development of Harmony of Dissonance, the series' return to Igarashi's leather gripping hands, Igarashi pumped his project up and deflated KCEK. Circle of the Moon, he said, was just kind of boring. And the man was right. Nathan Graves was the precursor to the stick-shift car, the gameplay gimmick – card combos – came the hell out of nowhere; and it was no fun to look at, a mess of shots cobbled together from walls for an "ULTIMATE BRICK EXHIBIT" in the MoMA.
Then, Harmony of Dissonance sprung up, and, by most accounts, put a dainty, odd boot on CotM's face. There are those who wistfully look back while spitting on Igarashi's "return to grace," citing some unseeable difficulty as a kick-ass boon on Circle's part that makes it "The Best Castleroid/Metroidvania/Hemorrhoid/etc." The fact of the matter is, these are the kind of people who probably drone on about how all of us who play Symphony of the Night are lithe-wristed bastards, and shame on us for even thinking about the graphics, and HURGH GAMEPLAY MATTERS.
Gameplay, you know, does matter. Though, hell.
The fact of the issue (I have graphs to prove this) is that Harmony was more of a Castlevania game, more interesting and emotionally layered, more lovingly made, and Circle of the Moon was in all earnestness a pretty easy package that felt akin to a no-name SNES action title being granted slim doses of Castlevania simulacra, thanks to a hack. The level design in Harmony was a step down, and the journey itself was shockingly easy, yet the game had artistic aspirations, felt interconnected by geeky, gushy, in-the-know Castlevania fanaticism.
Within all this, more was waiting to be built upon. Igarashi had proven that he got certain things that others flew past in their corporate cars. Thus, Aria of Sorrow chiseled away its own marble excess and emerged as an impeccably crafted hero. It was beautiful, tighter, flowing, quick, and just plain fun. While wrongs were righted, Aria was, most agreed while furrowing their brows as wine experts do while swishing cabernet in their mouths, that the aesthetics were a bit less daring than its predecessor, "safer." Yet, why raise a keyboard slamming stink when so much was glorious?
And so, with Iga's announcement of getting his hands dirty with The 3D, there was a tingle of anticipation in the Castlevania's collective's pantaloons. Aria did not have the nuances of Symphony's layout, but it took much of the baroque decoration off its steed and allowed the creature to run more freely, let us sink our teeth into clacking pacing and progression. And it showed the guy behind the reigns knew how to provide better than Kobe ever had. Here would be the package to erase our memories of those chunky, muddy puddles on the Nintendo 64.
The problem with Lament of Innocence isn't that it's lacking a conscience. Nor that it is, in a word, terrible. The problem is that people forgot to design a world around it. With a glance, the makings of a sparkling product seem to be intact. The game gets a hell of a lot done with gusto, and that's much of why its tripping over its own feet is so annoying.
Label the graphics or music poor, and I'll humbly suggest you consider never speaking in public again, because someone might just have a bar of soap handy to jam down your throat to cleanse it of all that vile. Here comes a team with comparatively minor funding and staff, and the fruits of their labor still look damn good on my TV. Rooms and hallways are dipped into a thick atmospheric goblet, the enemies are alive and gorgeous, and Leon Belmont, originator of the Belmont clan, who also has a thing for copious amounts of hair gel, is a silkily animated devil. The strange joke the designers played on themselves is that the camera, smooth as it is, often obscures half the environmental work.
To the devotional and unfamiliar alike, Michiru Yamane delivers a love letter in the finest calligraphy, outdoing The One Whose Name We Shall Not Mention Again, and swirling divine melodies around our ear canals clothed in the punchy demeanor of 8-bit composition and the orchestral format's dignity.
Yes – Lament of Innocence is Igarashi's act of securing a great grandpapa to the series' canonical base, while chucking out Legends, a title whose sole effect appears to have been making certain individuals genitally enamored with the female contained therein. As far as narrative integrity goes, it's pretty silly, and as far as entertainment goes, it's a pop-corn-muncher, sparse cutscenes considered. There's talk of alchemy, and stones, and TIME THE BLOCK RIGHT FOR MAXIMUM STREET CRED. Pre-op Dracula gets angry at God over his wife's death while he was off killing Awful People, and Leon fights Death in Hell – or something.
And then there's the control and fighting system, just as snappy and crunchy as any other highly-lauded blockbuster. Press square or triangle to begin the rage, and from then on, it's a matter of improvisation, flicking and whirling the whip to apply combos that fit the situation. Over time, the game introduces new moves that can be snuck into your assault – not just for the Vampire Killer, but for Leon himself, like a jump-kick. While you've got all this on your hands, however, the enemies, now and then, are seemingly not in the mood for ascribing to Lord of the Castle Walter Bernhard's violence. And if a room doesn't pull the old kill-everything-to-move-on tactic, there's really no reason to not run past whatever's hanging around. To be sure, the brisk, cool physicality of the combat itself may be reward enough to some, though most of us need a fatter carrot being dangled ahead of us.
So, there you have it. Good to the eyes and ears, and nice to handle, too. Like the director, however, who has his cast members all spiffed up, and that dude who goes by a single name handling the score, and a beautiful building wherein the drama will take place, Lament of Innocence prods its participants along, who realize, upon entry, with a lumpy, sinking feeling in their gut, which one of them realizes is similar to the time she made a two hour drive to Canada for a concert and forgot her birth certificate for presenting to customs, that the building is empty.
Level design is for the birds, Lament concludes. Rooms repeat to the point of unintentional self parody, each one serving little more than a placeholder. There's really not much to say because not much is there. On the outside, the castle has spires and weight, though a jaunt through its bowels reveals its true structure resembling an enormous flat. A good, juicy injection of "verticality," as it were, is needed - handed out on occasion, sure, but them pickings are slim. Besides that, just some common sense. We play games for excitement, for showing off stuff to a friend, for something that will deliver satisfaction after we smack down fifty dollars, and worlds to grapple and scrape at, via sweaty controllers. The world here is a succession of blunt, vacuous boxes dotted with not-so-mean meanies, one that would make you blush and mutter, "Sorry," if people were around.
Proceed further, and it's not hard to distinguish a split personality. The game wants to be an arena brawler, and while the idea, at least, has its merits, you can see the Higher-Up who almost certainly came in during development, arranged an impromptu meeting, and, having got everyone assembled in a room, commenced jumping up and down on the table, yipping, "More like Symphony! More like Symphony!" while Igarashi slumped in his seat and rubbed the side of his jaw. As a result, we have different colored keys, and out-of-the-way statues to whip who somehow unlock doors, and switches to hit that remove water flows on the upper level – all of this bullshit backtracking on our hands that wants to separate from the bundle, is so artificially, stupidly tacked on, but whose sick psychology keeps it bound to the unmatched partner.
In the end, we can't do much more than applaud the wasted artistry, and some guts. In comparison to Igarashi's retard-child, Curse of Darkness, which was supposed to outshine the prior effort, Lament of Innocence is more ambitious and different, but for being a supposed knot to anchor the series down, the link isn't encouraged to do much more than relocate the neo-aestheticism to three-dimensions. The conclusion is thus: in our hands is a super-flat 2D game where the Z-axis is a ghost, a hollow consequence rather than a House Built on the Rock (Matthew 7:24, I believe).
The game is a pretty brilliant kid being forced to work at a grocery store for the rest of his life. I would say this is worth a rental, but when you could just buy Devil May Cry 3, turn the TV volume down, and blast Mozart's "Requiem" on the stereo, it's hard to really mean it. If, however, you find yourself in the position of dictator, take a liking to extrajudicial murder, come under house arrest in a shack located near Cambodia, and are offered the choice between Lament of Innocence and Haunted Castle for video game entertainment, well - go with the former.