Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow successfully restarted an aging series, and its sequel destroyed it

When Castlevania is discussed today – at this point far away from all new games in the series – we often hear about the same few retro titles. The original game paved the way for other action platformers. Symphony of the Night influenced decades of non-linear action RPGs, including a host of great games on Game Boy Advance and DS.

Another game that was rarely discussed in these conversations, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, was a radical departure from the series’ past that drew more from Zelda and God of War than it did from Castlevania. Its deviations from the series’ conventions only helped make its big twist even more unexpected – and its ending was so bad that it only made Lords of Shadow 2 more disappointing.

Spoilers for Castlevania: The Lords of Shadow series follows!

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow works because of the series’ already long legacy when it was launched, not despite it. With Gabriel Belmont in the lead role – a new character whose last name can be recognized by any Castlevania fan – Lords of Shadow spends much of his long playing time on a story that does not feel quite like Castlevania. Gabriel’s wife Marie is dead and he is determined to complete a mission that will likely result in her resurrection. It’s a story that would not be out of place in a variety of action-adventure games, including a great inspiration like God of War. The trick here, though, is that developer MercurySteam wanted longtime fans to feel a little frustrated while playing. Of course Gabriel had a whip, but where were the creepy bats? Where was death? And, of course, where was Dracula?

These players would have to stick to an after-credit scene to get these questions fully answered. Zobek – a magical man with the voice of Patrick Stewart, who helped Gabriel for most of the game – was Death all the time, though it appeared more often as a soft-spoken narrator than as a spectral thriller. And Dracula had actually been in the game too … so to speak. The tormented Gabriel became Dracula, living into the present and adopting the name as a result of the events of the game. But with his wife still dead, his vampire power had become a curse, with the immortal Belmont longing for eternal rest instead of eternal life. Zobek offered Gabriel that luxury if he would prevent Satan’s helpers from reviving him.

An amazing little pile of secrets

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate HD
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its 3DS sequel Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (yes, that’s a bad name) both play on existing expectations for the Castlevania story, even in terms of existing characters. In the original canon, as well as in the Netflix animated series, Trevor Belmont – a vampire hunter and Castlevania III protagonist – and Dracula’s son Alucard are separate people. They are often together and occasionally fight against each other. This is not the case here – via the Mirror of Fates reverse chronological history, we learn that Trevor became Alucard after being killed by Dracula, who happened to be his father. Dracula only realized this when Trevor took his last breaths and the son woke up like a vampire on a personal mission to destroy Dracula. It’s a twist that undermines our expectations, while at the same time feeling in line with the previous version of Alucard, and it adds more emotional weight and meaning to the young vampire’s mission.

Both of these games set the stage for an incredible finale – for a game that would see Dracula fight the literal Satan, heal his immortality and die knowing he had redeemed himself, and return from the prince of darkness to the brave warrior who loved his family he had once been. He would finally team up with Alucard to fight a common enemy, where father and son conquered their personal demons while slaughtering an army of literal ones.

What a terrible night to have a sequel

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

It’s just a shame we never got that game, because Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s story stinks. No, not in a funny vampire way, but in such a confusing way that it seemed like completely different people were writing it. Characters’ motivation seems to change completely from one game to the next, especially with regard to Patrick Stewart’s Zobek – a character you unexpectedly have to fight in one of the worst boss fights in the entire game. Improvements were made elsewhere, to be fair, especially with more complex and flashy matches, as well as a free-ranging camera instead of the fixed one from the first game. But even if your battle is great, there must be a reason to fight, and Lords of Shadow 2 just does not seem to know what that reason is.

Did different people write the games? Well, in part. Director and MercurySteam study director Enric Alvarez was one of four writers, along with producer Dave Cox, on the first play. Alvarez’s writing contribution appears to have been greater in Lords of Shadow 2, with “written and directed by” in the credits. Cox, meanwhile, is not listed as a writer on Lords of Shadow 2, but received a writing credit on Mirror of Fate. Whatever the reason, however, it is striking how little respect Lords of Shadow 2 seemed to have for the entire set-up and earned emotional moments from the previous games.

It seemed way too eager to throw them out for no good reason, other than to have another “twist” that didn’t feel as deserved as the original Gabriel-is-Dracula revelation did. Instead of fulfilling his destiny and eventually resting, Dracula chooses to destroy the mirror of destiny and create his own destiny. Out of context, it sounds like a cool way to end the series, but this is a man who has wanted to die for literally hundreds of years. Twists work when the seeds have been planted without the audience noticing. They do not function as the one in Lords of Shadow 2, as it appeared to have been chosen at random.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 should have been an incredible and bittersweet ending to the personal tale of one of gaming’s most tragic characters. Instead, it defiled what came before it, making each turn less meaningful, leaving us to wonder if Gabriel Belmont’s entire story had been a waste of time. The only reason I still think of the game more than eight years after it was released is that it could have – and should have – been so much more. MercurySteam had already done the unthinkable by producing a reboot of a classic game franchise that players actually liked, but it seemed to guess every decision it had made in that game when they developed Lords of Shadow 2. If the team ever will call a mulligan and just try again, I’m willing to pretend the first Lords of Shadow 2 never existed. Well, apart from this.

GameSpot may receive a commission from retail offerings.