Castlevania is one of those few retro gaming franchises that couldn’t ever quite figure out how to make the leap to next generation consoles. In fact, when developers MercurySteam finally got it right with Lords of Shadow I think it took most gamers by surprised. A 3D Castlevania game that was actually fun to play and try to the heart of the series?
While the game’s success was due, in large part, to getting the gameplay right one shouldn’t underestimate the shift in art direction that took place. A much darker game than its predecessors, the narrative story behind Lords of Shadow is also more richly complex, giving a new backstory to the franchise’s infamous villain as well as it’s legendary hero and his bloodline.
As The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow proves, there was a lot thought that went into recreating the feeling that gamers in the late 80s first had playing through Simon Belmont’s epic quest to defeat Dracula. Starting with an Introduction that lays out MecurySteam’s initial pitch, including the introduction of Gabriel Belmont to the franchise, the book then splits into eight chapters that span all three LoS games (Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate, Lords of Shadow 2). Main protagonist Gabriel Belmont receives two chapters, one dedicated to his role as the “new” Dracula, while subsequent chapters cover the Belmont Family tree, Allies & Antagonists, weaponry, Supernatural Bestiary and Locations & Environments. The book ends with a chapter on The Modern Age, a look at MercurySteam’s motivations behind Lords of Shadow 2 were and how they aimed to bring the series to a more modern day setting – complete with human-sized mechs, high tech puzzles and paved roads.
It’s not always easy to admire the intricate detail that goes into creating a game like Lords of Shadows, but The Art of Castlevania goes to great lengths to share every last idea that went into making all three games – from the intentional difference of lighting between LoS and LoS 2 to the shift from Western horror influences to more mythological influences with the addition of creatures like Pan. There’s also a notable theme of duplicity inherent throughout the new trilogy, not only in the struggle between light and dark but Gabriel’s transformation into Dracula, Zobek’s dark turn as the Necromancer of Death and even the bringing back certain characters from past Castlevania games.
Then, of course, there’s also the artwork that showcases everything from rough storyboards, painted environments and 3D rendered character models. Even more obscure or random elements are highlighted; Dracula’s coffin, Gabriel’s boot design and an assortment of relics – all in service to fans of the gaming franchise. Naturally, the creature designs were my personal highlight with Harpys, Witches, Floating Heads and Agreus being standout favorites.
OUT OF 5
The Art of Castlevania: Lords of Shadows goes above and beyond to document just how much thought and work went into bringing the franchise into the modern day, staying true to its heritage while reinventing the backstory – even resurrecting obscure characters like Victor Belmont from the failed Dreamcast title, Castlevania Resurrection. Diehard fans will definitely enjoy digging through this tome of art and knowledge while even casual fans or artists might enjoy sifting through the countless character and level designs.
+ Nice developer backstory
+ Awesome character designs
+ Great visual overview
– Maybe the price tag