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There's no question that operating under weighty expectations is a killer. Koji Igarashi, better known as IGA, is responsible for one of the finest games released for consoles -- 1997's PlayStation Castlevania: Symphony of the Night -- and he's well aware of it; all the same, it just means that his newer works are subjected to extra scrutiny. That's worked well so far, because the GBA games play to our expectations. But branching out is much more difficult and chancier, and that's what Castlevania: Lament of Innocence does.
This game is, for all intents and purposes, the follow-up to Symphony of the Night, but it properly and irrevocably brings Castlevania into the third dimension instead of continuing the intricate, 2D style of the series' most recent outings. This leap has resulted in an extremely solidly-made, quality game, but lots of what gamers love about Castlevania has been jettisoned in an attempt to streamline it. The result is a very playable but somewhat dull game.
In some ways, the team has stepped up and really delivered on the concept of Castlevania in 3D: the combat engine is one of the best I've seen in a 3D action/adventure game. Predictably, it's combo-based, but it's also intuitive and feels great. The development team clearly put a lot of time into getting this right. As you play around with it you unlock new moves based on your play style; this is cool because you'll build up a bunch of moves that work with how you play, and you don't have to contend with unwanted flourishes or moves you never even use, problems that have plagued most other 3D action/adventure games.
Unfortunately, combat is more or less the only facet of the gameplay that's explored to anything like its fullest extent. The castle you investigate in the game is comprised of six discreet areas -- no more intertwining pathways ala Symphony of the Night or the Game Boy Advance Castlevania games. I can accept that, but what's extremely disappointing is the fact that the majority of areas in the game are simply large square rooms connected by hallways. Thus the only play mechanic for the majority of the game is combat.
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