How Metroidvania is it? Barely Comparable. Normally for a Classicvania I'd mark this as ''Not a Metroidvania'' but Lecarde Chronicles does include some movement upgrades that make it somewhat comparable to the series' post-Symphony of the Night games
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Review Info: Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles was played on a Windows PC.
Buy Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles if you like…
- Classicvania games
- Slow meticulous gameplay
- Minor Exploration in linear levels
- Expanded Castlevania Lore
- The Belmont Whip
- High Difficulty/HIgh Memorization
▼ Review continues below ▼
Disclaimer: Due to a game breaking bug I was unfortunately unable to complete this game. This bug occurred in the final stages of the game, so I believe that I can give a decent synopsis of Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles – however you may consider this an incomplete review because of this limitation.
On the Castlevania timeline, between Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow there was a long span of time where the Belmont clan was nowhere to be found. There are three official games that take place during this period, and in those games it’s revealed that the Belmont whip was in the custody of the Morris and Lecarde families, with those families getting tangled up in the ongoing Dracula war along the way. Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles plays with the idea that the Lecarde family also had a long previous history of dealing with the evils that plague the world. This game shows us the journey of Efrain Lecarde, a knight of the church whom you play as. Because Eric Lecarde from Castlevania Bloodlines uses a spear, I half expected his ancestor to be depicted in much the same way. Surprisingly though Efrain functions more like any Belmont would, with him wielding a whip and the typical four subweapons we’ve seen throughout the series. As a result Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles is sort of an evolution of Castlevania 1 and 4, although it is clearly influenced by the later Metroidvania titles as well. The level design along with some unique changes to the formula make Lecarde Chronicles a worthwhile playthrough, but that recommendation doesn’t come without some heavy caveats – both from a design perspective and for technical reasons.
You start out in Spain where you are sent to investigate some horrific activity in a nearby cemetery. There the dead are rising from the grave and cheekily throwing their ribs at anyone passing by, which raises a few eyebrows. Based on some evidence found at the graveyard, Efrain is led to the manor of Von Viltheim where the main course of the game takes place. The manor is sealed off in order to give you six more levels to play, and thus begins the major difference between Lecarde Chronicles and the other Classicvania games.
Instead of playing each level in a specific order, you gain access to at least two new levels to choose from at a time, which you select from a world map screen. As you complete levels, talking to townsfolk and listening to their rumors opens up more areas you can explore. As each area contains a piece of the key to the seal, you do of course have to complete every level to move forward, but you can do them in almost any order you choose. Each level contains optional and not-so-optional items you can pick up. The expected pickups are all there; Heart, Stamina, and Health expansions of course can help make a difficult game much easier. The most interesting items you can find however are these statuettes that expand Efrain’s moveset. The first you’ll likely find is the ability to spin your whip, which helps a lot with tiny enemies like bats or projectiles, and it uses stamina to keep you from abusing it. The other statuettes contain Metroidvania-like movement upgrades that have a significant effect on the game. One of the early levels absolutely requires you to have at least one of these movement upgrades, and once you get into the Von Viltheim manor you’ll need basically all of them to successfully pass all of the trials. This slight change to the Classicvania formula might be a bit disappointing to people wanting a pure experience, but for fans of both types of Castlevania games the combination is quite novel.
The inclusion of these “Metroidvania” style upgrades also helps with some of the design and control niggles the game has by default. The first thing that stuck out to me initially is how Efrain lacks the ability to short hop. I say this while acknowledging that none of the Classicvania games have included short hopping either. The difference between Lecarde Chronices and its most similar games Castlevania 4 and Bloodlines is that in those games you either had the option to whip diagonally, or your jump didn’t cover so much of the screen. Your jump height in basically every Classicvania game is up to the top of the main character’s head from where they were standing on the ground, and Efrain Lecarde is tall and detailed. His whip also only covers his chest area when swung, which is a slightly more precise location given his height compared to other Castlevania protagonists. Thus Efrain has a much larger blind spot that enemies can take advantage of. This setup leads to a lot of awkward situations where an evasive bat becomes the most threatening thing that can come at you because of how easy it is to miss them. There are also a lot of situations where there are spikes on the ceiling or enemies above you that you’d want to avoid, and until you get used to where Efrain’s head is going to be when you ascend, you’re probably going to jump right into those things. I want to emphasize that all of these observations are things you can get used to; it was just extra hard for me in the case of Lecarde Chronicles because of the expectations I brought into the game. Later on though you get a Double Jump, and the level design is adjusted to accommodate your new power, and thus your normal jump sort of becomes your short hop with the double acting as that extra oomph.
Precision platforming and even more exploration also become major features around the same time you get that Double Jump power, which is somewhat unique to the otherwise clunky Classicvania formula. Double jumping between narrow platforms prevents those challenges from being too difficult, but in tandem with enemies sent to annoy you there’s still plenty of challenge to be had. Some levels will require you to visit different passages branching out from a hub area to collect items to unlock a door. This requires you to slide your way through hidden pathways and jump onto precipices to complete the task. These exploration levels require you to do this all on a single life – die once and you have to start the “exploration” over again – which may be frustrating for some, but I found it to be an enjoyable change of pace.
Like the levels, bosses too are more than what you’d normally find in a Classicvania game. Just about all of them have multiple phases, usually based on how much health they have left, which gives them plenty of opportunity to surprise you in challenging ways. Sometimes these surprises result in an equally surprising death, but almost without exception the bosses are designed well enough to give you plenty of opportunity to react to them on a single life. Dying does drop all of the hearts you’ve collected, which means a second try will be harder than the first, but I found the upgraded whip to be the most viable damage method in most cases anyway. In other cases where items were the key to victory, playing the level over again with that in mind let me prepare accordingly to unload my axe or cross throwing madness once I got to the boss. It felt like cheating, which was delightful in its own way.
The biggest issue with Lecarde Chronicle’s design lies in the ever difficult-to-balance enemy AI – speaking of enemies outside of boss rooms. Castlevania as a series is no stranger to unpredictable enemies, with the Medusa head being the hallmark of frustrating foes. The aforementioned blind spots exacerbate what could already be considered an issue with Classicvania design. Some levels without explicit foreknowledge of how to manipulate the enemy AI can trap you in no-win situations where you’re forced to take damage. If you’ve collected all of the health upgrades available up to those points, a few hits aren’t as big a deal, but they add up and can lead to a lot of repetition as you have to play large level segments again thanks to a classic lives system. There is far more well-designed content in Lecarde Chronicles than there are frustrating parts, but there’s enough random frustration that I hesitate to give the game the stamp of “Great”. For a fan project though, it’s still incredibly impressive. There are plenty of memorable bosses and clever situations to enjoy.
The biggest caveat I have against recommending this game is that it just stopped working for me in the most frustrating way. It started in one specific level in the Von Viltheim Manor where I had to perform some precision platforming. I suddenly was taking damage with no explanation; no enemies were nearby and there was no indication that there was an invisible threat that I was triggering. I tried many things for several hours to resolve this issue, including changing the graphics settings or just banging my head against the wall to see if I could discover what was triggering the glitch. I eventually found out that reloading the game fresh and playing the level up to that point without dying for some reason made it so the glitch did not trigger. So, every time I died in the level and had to return to the spot before the glitch was happening I would quit out of the game completely and reload it again from scratch. Thankfully the glitch was early on in the level, so while it was a pain to do it this way, it also wasn’t so much of an obstacle that I couldn’t keep playing. Unfortunately, in the last stage of the game where it explicitly says you can’t save or return to the map screen as you make progress, the glitch occurred again in a completely different room. Ironically it was in a room where up to that point two hidden 1-up items could be found, so technically I could have tried to just damage tank my way through the area indefinitely if I wanted. Which is what I did, for over an hour. The spot where the glitch was occurring was above a bottomless pit with moving platforms, so if I got hurt in the air, I would always die. If you take damage on the ground, you don’t go flying, but trying to time my jumps between invincibility frames was also an impossibility because the extra time in what I’ll call “the damage zone” meant that I would just die from losing all my health. Therefore, while the glitch was happening it was likely completely impossible for me to get through that area. I suspect that if I could make it to that point without dying once like I did with the previous level the glitch happened, it wouldn’t occur. This time though it was past an entire level and a very difficult boss to get there, so at that point it stopped being worth it to grind out that stage until I perfected it just to say I beat the game before reviewing it.
Under normal circumstances, I would abstain from reviewing a game I couldn’t complete – perhaps to await technical support from the developer, or I just wouldn’t review it entirely. Technical support for a game that was DMCA’d by Konami seems unlikely, plus I was close enough to the end of the game in this case that my overall opinion probably wouldn’t have changed just from the final boss. More importantly though, I think this is a unique part of Castlevania history that I should give my thoughts on.
Ultimately, if you can get a copy of the game I recommend Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles. It has some great Classicvania gameplay with enough twists to make it worth playing. However, you may run into the same issues that I did, and if the issue I experienced is pervasive to say, Windows 10 users or something, then it makes it a lot harder to recommend seeking out. If you’re interested in playing this before checking out The Lecarde Chronicles 2 which I’ll be reviewing next month, I didn’t see anything from a story perspective that couldn’t be covered with a few sentences recapping what happened, so you won’t be missing anything besides the gameplay if you skip it. If you’re a fan of Classicvania games though, since your options aren’t as plentiful as Metroidvania titles, it may be worth rolling the dice and trying it out anyway.
There's a mix of absolutely excellent Classicvania goodness with a dash of random frustration here and there. Expect a lot of trial and error.
Efrain Lecarde moves fluidly through the air almost as if this was a post-Symphony of the Night game, but the lack of a short hop and some vertical scrolling sections make it awkward sometimes.
You can backtrack to old levels with new powers to get extra HP, which is fun, but it's definitely not as deep as the Metroidvania counterparts in the Castlevania series.
There really aren't any puzzles in this game
There isn't a huge expansion of Castlevania lore here, mostly just enough context to give you a reason to whip things.
There's a strong Sega Genesis quality to the graphics, and they are both detailed and nostalgic.
Wonderful remixes of Castlevania's already strong soundtrack does a lot for the game when the going gets tough.
There are three difficulty modes, and you will need to beat the game on the hardest difficulty to see the best ending.