News Flash: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Also, religious topics will be discussed.
This post will be about the story in Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2 (we’ll say LOS2 going forward). Gameplay is out of scope, and I may put up a different post to discuss that topic. There were a lot of initially skeptical responses to this game prior to its launch. Clearly the reviews were very divided as well. I rather enjoyed the story in LOS2, and would like to discuss what people enjoyed, what they disliked, and any insights they might have. I have some thoughts of my own, which I will share below.
DISCLAIMER: The combat in LOS2 can be both frustratingly unfair, and beautifully deep/rewarding. It really does deserve a discussion of its own. If that is what you want to discuss, bear with me and I will make a post about it later. Let’s try to keep this discussion on topic. ALSO: I will be presenting my own opinions; discussion and disagreement is encouraged.
Playing the Prince of Darkness
It is fascinating to me that Mercurysteam chose to explore playing as Dracul. This is unprecedented in Castlevania, which is a little surprising actually. So, you play as a creature of the night who has been terrorizing the population for centuries. He would seem to be irredeemable. Hell, he even thinks he is a lost cause. Gabriel Belmont was utterly destroyed in Lords of Shadows 1; he not only made great sacrifices to save the world, he was manipulated by God, the Devil, and his allies who knowingly stripped him of anything and everything he loved. His child was hidden from him, he was forced to kill his wife, and even killing his son and turning him into a vampire was something fated to happen that no one had the courtesy to tell him about. There is no good reason for Gabriel to not hate the world.
And yet, there is still some humanity left in him. Gabriel sits on his throne and considers himself the lesser evil. Even while he gathers the worst monsters in the world, even while sinking to the depths of depravity, he knows what is right in the world. He becomes Dracul in part to keep Satan from trying to force his way back in. He could probably have tried to take over more of the world. Instead he sits like a benign cancer on one small part of Romania. He builds up the legend of how awful and unbeatable he is, but he doesn’t reach any further than his own borders. In some ways, by drawing other monsters to himself, he is keeping them out of the rest of the world. I think of Dracul as an alcoholic who has hit rock bottom and is just wallowing there.
The Dragon Wants Out
But (ENDING SPOILER HERE!!!), Dracul makes a pact with Alucard, his son, to both end his own miserable life, and stop Satan. Gabriel is driven by hatred and anger. He wants to destroy Satan, he wants to be a thorn in God’s side, and most of all he wants to end the hateful thing he has become. Gabriel agrees to appear to be destroyed so that Satan can be lured into making a move. Gabriel wants to clean house and tie up all loose ends, including himself. This is a pretty big departure from the revenge motivation of say Kratos. Gabriel is much more aware of how destructive he is. He really just wanted to be a good man and do the right thing. But fate and the heavens conspired against him. Fate has been not just unkind, but wildly unfair. Playing as a character who wants to right some wrongs before his time is up is a much more interesting motivation than just revenge. It reminds me of Nairiko from Heavenly Sword; there is an air of nobility to what he wants.
I really wonder about the developers at Mercurysteam. Clearly they knew what kind of protagonist they were creating. Clearly the media and general public could not be privy to what was motivating Dracul. So the developers had to sit on their knowledge, and take a lot of criticism. Good on them for sticking to their creative ideas.
Is Gabriel Redeemed?
I don’t really have an answer to this. Gabriel saves the world. He is willing to lose his son again to stop Satan. He is willing to die, but doesn’t. I like that he decides to walk away from whatever Fate has in store for him. He is going to create his own destiny now, perhaps trying to help humanity from the shadows as Alucard has been. This is a very strange ending note for Dracul. In every other Castlevania game, we see the Belmonts win, the castle crumbles, and a vague, "this is not over …" about Dracul’s return. Instead, we get that Satan is dead/foiled, Dracul and son are off on new adventures, and the Belmont line is ended.
Is that okay? Should Dracul be allowed to have a semi-happy ending? Can we forgive Gabriel and hope that he is able to find some peace? Should Alucard have just destroyed him as planned? The ending is very anti-climactic, and you can see how some of the final elements were a bit rushed. But I like a game that lets us ponder what is right. Dracul, in this story, isn’t ultimate evil. He is a man at his absolute worst. But he is still a man. There is still good in him. Gabriel desperately wants to be with his son, and he can be after a fashion with Alucard. Gabriel doesn’t particularly hate humanity; he was just finding rock bottom with the image that humanity projected on him. I think this is an interesting note for Mercurysteam to leave on. They won’t be making any more games in this continuity, and presumably Konami will reboot everything. We aren’t stuck with anything that is setup here. So why not give Dracul a happy ending?
Father and Son
Mercurysteam had said that this was about the love of a father for his son. I can see what they meant. LOS2 is by no means a perfect game. It is ambitious in some ways, and a train wreck in others. I really felt like Gabriel wanted to destroy the monster he had become. I felt like Trevor worked as a ray of light leading Gabriel out of rock bottom at the castle. It also felt like Alucard was a reminder of the horrible things he had done. It all seems to hang together and be plausible, if not always believable. Certainly there are some disconnects, like the Prince of Darkness hiding as rats, when he can destroy 10 foot demons quite easily. But the game seems to really have a heart. I enjoyed the game, and would really recommend it. I think there was some interesting creative freedom since the developers knew this would be the last words written on this version of Gabriel. They built an interesting and conflicted relationship between Gabriel and Trevor, Dracul and Alucard, and even Dracul and Gabriel. So? What do you think?