By Joseph "Skull Vault" Walter
And while many of the criticisms gamers hold for both "Castlevania 64" and its expansion, "Legacy of Darkness," are quite true (namely a hideous camera, wonky platforming, and an unfair difficulty [in CV64's case]) these two managed to have an atmosphere that closely resembles a horror film, jump scares and all, which is fantastic.
Both are moody, macabre, dreary and dark. If anything, these are closer to the direction the series seemed to be headed after the illustrious "Super Castlevania IV" than the aforementioned "Symphony." And it's because of this that they hold a special place in my heart. When a flawed game has such an impactful setting, it makes it much easier to look past the bad parts and focus on the unique ideas present.
I've trying for nearly a year to write a review of these two games and their outstanding soundtrack, but it can be difficult to dissect all of the elements that work so cohesively.
So, what better way to try and get that ball rolling then by discussing the ominous intro to "Legacy of Darkness," which chilled me to the bone as a child renting this from Blockbuster (which just so happens to be the very copy of the game I now own.)
I'd be remiss if we didn't talk about that pre-title screen demo of the woman running through the woods. It's ripped right out of horror film, and nicely sets the tone. The way she turns around to face her unseen attacker, resigning herself to her fate, is bone-chilling. Of course, the immediate panorama of the titular "Castlevania" only cements the fact that this kind of nightmare is par for the course when the evil Count Dracula re-awakens.
But after pressing start and getting to the meat of the experience, that's when 8 year-old me starts to get nervous.
The slow, ominous footsteps in the dark interiors of Dracula's fortress. Footsteps with a purpose, a cruel purpose. The foreboding, seemingly tragic music only enhances the cinema sequence, and the interspersed credits feed that horror movie aesthetic.
Finally, we get to this crane shot of the man we've been walking with in first-person, as the music swells to this darkly triumphant climax, and the doors to the Castle Keep are opened...
The infamous "Bloody Tears" theme, used in past entries, blasts more threateningly than ever before, as the full scope of the horrifying scene before us is revealed in all its occult glory.
A pentagram is unabashedly embroidered on a Satanic alter in a room filed with candelabras. Death, the grim reaper himself, is performing a rite over a nude, likely-unwilling sacrifice atop Dracula's coffin.
As the music swells, he raises his scythe and plunges it into the offering. The camera cuts to the ceiling, spinning in the madness of the moment.
Dracula erupts from his coffin, looks to his faithful servants, and raises his fist, which burns with rage...
Now, before we continue, it's important for me to note that I had never seen anything like this at this point in my life. I had no idea what a pentagram even was. Luckily, my best friend Michael, who is a tad older, was there to bear witness to this with me, and was equally horrified as he stuttered out the meaning of that arcane symbol and this unholy mass that we were subjected to.
I cannot stress this enough: This was pant-shitting to us. It may seem tame now, but in 1999, this was an embodiment of a nightmare. To see such a cruel display of human sacrifice in this context seemed so much worse that "The Temple of Doom" for whatever reason. And the look of satisfaction on the witch Actrice, and the toothy-grimace of Death just cemented the moment perfectly.
Very few moments had such a lasting effect on me as this did. For years I was captivated by the supernatural and what I perceived to be cultists living in the woods near our local Wal-Mart (a statement I stand by.)
Regardless, there are very few other intros I can think of that so exquisitely set the tone for their respective games. And yes, like I said before, this game is terribly flawed, but the potency of the atmosphere, and the clear intention to make this a horror/action hybrid helps make "Legacy of Darkness" an experience worth having.