A full moon beams down its fluorescent glow, setting the pace for an epic battle between man and beast.  Gabriel Belmont, a knight from the Brotherhood of Light, carries an eery calm as he hurls lash after lash into his prey, Cornell, Lord of the Lycans.  Nothing scares Belmont for he’s already lost that which mattered most, Marie, his wife. It is for her sake he fights and embarks on a perilous quest throughout 11th century Europe in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a video game for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  Developed by MercurySteam and published by Konami, it is a third-person action/adventure set in 1047, a time of cataclysmic darkness.  The connection between heaven and earth has been severed.  The spirits of the deceased are trapped on earth, including Marie.  The Brotherhood of Light, a sect of holy knights who combat the supernatural, sends Belmont to investigate based on a dream they had of his beloved longing to deliver him a message.  She holds the solution to earth’s salvation.  The holy warrior must consult Pan, guardian of the Lake of Oblivion, an area that allows the dead to converse with the living. 

Pan puts Belmont through a test to evaluate whether he’s worthy to enter.  After passing, the hero proceeds to the Lake of Oblivion and beholds his departed spouse, who is able to relay messages from the Brotherhood’s founders.  She informs her love that he must recover the power from the Lords of Shadow, the God Mask.  In doing so, he will re-establish the link between heaven and earth.  More importantly, he can resurrect his wife.  There are three Lords to overcome:  Lord of the Lycans, Lord of the Vampires and Lord of the Dead.  With each Lord vanquished, a piece of the God Mask materializes. Of course, plunging into such a threatening endeavor requires an equally lethal arsenal.

The Combat Cross is Belmont’s primary weapon in the game.  It’s similar to a whip, but can be used in a variety of ways.  There are direct attacks and area attacks.  The former afflicts damage only on foes in front of him.  The latter hurts all within his radius.  Both have deadlier forms in the advanced moves section that comes with stage progression.  Players can hold the direct attack button to initiate a nine-step combo of controlled lashes that will eviscerate unlucky adversaries.  The chain barrier ability is also handy.  When players charge the area attack button, Belmont twirls his Combat Cross, whipping anything in his direction, which can be adjusted as needed.  It ends with a block breaker strike that has the knight flip through the air as he spins his whip for the crushing blow.  

The chain saw move is even more brutal.  The fearless adventurer rotates his weapon so fast it resembles a silver spinning wheel.  It dices the skin of opponents with the ferocity of a fan’s blades.  He can also grab enemies for quick kills, particularly effective on goblins, gremlins and small trolls.  Blood splatters as he lays waste to the supernatural creatures.  Tougher enemies, however, require a sufficient beating before succumbing to that move.  In addition to functioning as a whip, the Combat Cross serves as a grappling hook and stake.     

Amping his weaponry to a whole new level, Belmont has Light Magic and Shadow Magic.  Activating Light Magic imbues him with a shimmering blue aura and he gains health from every enemy he attacks.  The Holy Cross, the most powerful move in the game, stems from this mode.  Exuberant blue rays pierce through all caught in their glaze, blinding them before obliterating them.  Shadow Magic turns the lone warrior a glaring red and magnifies the damage of his attacks.  This dark mode features Shadow Flames.  This ability scorches all entrapped in its vicinity, reducing them to ash.  Armed for anything, he thus begins his hazardous sojourn.

Belmont’s hunt for the Lords of Shadow spans a diverse range of lands.  Seeking Cornell, Lord of the Lycans, places him in the Enchanted Forest.  A crystal waterfall trickles down from a cliff, propelling him to do the same.  Players can hear the flow of water as they descend their hero downwards. Birds chirp and lavish trees sway as the gallant protagonist marches forward. The game also has a 3-D quality to it.  Leaves fall towards the gamer’s TV screen. 

Further along lies Agharta, an ancient city once occupied by mages, but now overrun by lycans.  It is Cornell’s kingdom.  The land is in ruins, illustrated by its dilapidated columns and broken bridges.  To move forward, players must tame a warg, a giant wolf-like beast.  Additionally, Belmont is guided by Claudia, a supporting character.  Observe as the courageous voyager presses on and listen to the theme of a tried knight, a song of perseverance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-tApC-na88&feature=g-upl).

Searching for Carmilla, Lord of the Vampires, Belmont passes through Wygol Village.  The frosty town has few inhabitants due to the hordes of vampires that linger.  Most villagers barricade themselves within their houses out of terror.  The fabled explorer fears nothing.  He’s after a holy water relic that will stun overwhelming bloodsuckers.  It’s stored in the Abbey.  Alas, this requires treading past a graveyard plagued by ghouls.  The flesh-eating creatures spew acid that blinds and poisons the hero.  It can only be countered by Light Magic.     

Acquiring holy water allows Belmont to temporarily stun any throng of vampires ambushing him.  He’s now ready to enter Carmilla’s castle.  A third of the game is spent here for there are many sections.  Players must navigate the valiant figure from the castle’s base to its peak.  The Maze Gardens are an icy labyrinth with barren trees and snow-covered shrubbery.  Although there’s no ice sculptures, it resembles the garden in “Edward Scissorhands.”  The hall of the castle is just as cold. Chunks of snow adhere to the ground and icicles dangle from the ceiling.  The environment is decorated with demon statues, bookcases and candlesticks.  

Snow falls down from the balcony, appearing to stick to the player’s TV screen as Belmont balances himself across wooden beams, climbs scaffolding and rappels up cliffs with his grappling hook.  A swarm of bats squeak and scurry through the air, alluding to the Dark Lord who rules this frozen fortress.  The outer wall stage is similar to the balcony, but it includes a scenic backdrop of the extravagant castle.  Take a look at this breathtaking footage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWUwd9ndlpU&feature=g-upl).  Carmilla waits at the top. 

To confront the Lord of the Dead, Belmont must enter a lifeless realm.  The contrasts between it and earth are obvious upon arrival.  The sky is beige and skull-shaped mountains lie in the distance.  A creamy fog engulfs the atmosphere.  Larger concentrations that blanket portions of the ground are toxic and should be avoided.  Traversing this grim dimension, the brave hero squares off against skeleton warriors and creeping corpses.  Despite their small stature, the corpses are the greater threat.  Left unchecked, they will hop into empty tombstones, sprout vine-like appendages and become creeping coffins.  They are formidable foes in this form.  Death’s domain also contains reapers.  They attack slow, but their scythe is fatal if it connects. Necromancers are another abomination to contend with.  These corrupt sorcerers conjure zombies to assault the holy warrior.  They also slam their sparkling green staves to the ground, sending columns of fire in his direction.  Slaying these evil wizards opens a series of portals that lead to the Lord of the Dead.  From there, all Belmont can do is preserve hope of reuniting with his Marie. 

With its heartfelt story, flavorful combat and gorgeous scenery, Lords of Shadow has something for everyone.  Players may find themselves stopping during gameplay just to hear the score (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L8BrjyiHDo&feature=g-upl).  The music is so moving it pulls on one’s emotional heartstrings.  The game features an exceptionally talented cast as well.  Robert Carlyle, well-known as Rumplestiltskin on Once Upon a Time, voices Gabriel Belmont.  Patrick Stewart narrates the grandiose adventure.  At its heart, Lords of Shadow is a game about the depths one is willing to undertake for love.

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