An article on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Reproduced in full from Border House.
A couple of months ago, Brinstar published a piece called ‘Marie in the Refrigerator?‘ about the new Castlevania game, Lords of Shadow. In it, she pointed out that the death of the main character’s love interest appeared to be the driving force behind Gabriel’s desire to fight the evils of the world, and said that she was “holding on to a shred of hope that Marie turns out to be more than Gabriel Belmont’s reason for character and personality development”.
In the last couple of days, I’ve finished Lords of Shadow myself, and unfortunately Marie’s character development doesn’t get any better. In fact, it gets far, far worse.
Having been a huge fan of the Castlevania franchise ever since I played Symphony of the Night when I was sixteen, I was very much looking forwards to LoS–even if I was slightly apprehensive about this supposed ‘reboot’ of a series that’s produced some awesome games over the years, as well as some truly terrible ones. And I do feel kinda bad for what I’m about to do to this game, both because I love Castlevania, and because calling Castlevania games out on their sexism is… well… kinda like shooting fish in a barrel.
Having said that, however…
Let’s start by looking at the female population of the game as a whole. Of all the characters on Gabriel’s side, two of them–Claudia and the above-mentioned Marie–are female, and at first glance, neither of them are particularly rounded or challenging characters. As Brinstar’s already pretty much covered everything there is to be said about Marie at this point, let’s start by focusing on Claudia.
Claudia is repeatedly referred to as a ‘girl’ or ‘child’, despite obviously being a young woman. She is mute, and communicates via telepathy (I’m not even going to start on how horrifically ableist that is). She is also the last of the Aghartians, and her father built her an enormous, nasty-looking golem to look after her and for her to ride around on, because obviously, being a ‘girl’ she’s incapable of looking after herself.
Claudia is the basic blonde, blue-eyed, magic-using acrobat stereotype that hasn’t changed much since Konami used it for Maria in Symphony of the Night.
However, Claudia doesn’t get to stick around for long, because not long after he meets her, Gabriel has a dream where he stabs her in the chest, and wakes up to find her dead. At this point, I was really starting to hope that this game wasn’t going where I thought that it was going. Little did I know…
With both his female allies now dead, Gabriel had twice the reason to go out there and fight those bad guys, right? While I was slaughtering my way through the droves of evil creatures that populate this game, I found a total of three female antagonists in the world of Lords of Shadow: Two vampires–Laura, and Carmilla–and the dark goddess Babba Yagga. All three of them are repeatedly referred to by way of how beautiful they were, before they fell to darkness.
“Poor, beautiful Carmilla” is the second of the Lords of Shadow, and is portrayed as the Queen of the Vampires. The game tells you that her story is not so different from Gabriel’s, implying that Carmilla fell from grace after the loss of someone she loved. I suspect that the writers intended this to be some kind of cautionary warning of the kind of path that Gabriel was following, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of turning Carmilla into yet another female character who is incapable of being anything at all without the influence and support (or lack thereof) of a man.
She also wins the prize for the least dressed female character in the game (because evil chicks have to be sexy, right? And nothing says sexy like an outfit that doesn’t cover your tits). She is pretty much your standard femme fatale, who kills men with sex. As such, she does her very best to try and seduce Gabriel away from the path of good and righteousness, and when that doesn’t work, she turns into a monstrous, bat-like creature with wrinkled breasts that tries to finish you off the old fashioned way.
The second of the female vampires is Laura, who claims to be Carmilla’s ‘daughter’. In one of the game’s narrative sections, Laura is described as having “the body of an innocent child, yet the wits and cunning of a seasoned predator”, or alternatively, as “beautiful Laura, who was turned many centuries ago, [and] has lived a lonely, cruel existence ever since.”
When you first encounter Laura, she demands that you play a series of annoying and frustrating ‘games’ with her, culminating in a twisted form of chess. However, after witnessing a syrupy, romantic scene between Gabriel and Marie’s ghost, Laura’s resolve crumbles and she admits “I envy you… I envy you both. I don’t want to play any more.”
Then, she promptly disappears, never to be seen or heard from again.
The last female antagonist that Lords of Shadow has to offer is Babba Yagga, the hag-goddess of Slavic folklore. Gabriel encounters Babba on his way to the Land of the Necromancers, and she immediately begins to demand that he allow her to shrink him down to fit inside her music box. Once there, she asks him to recover the blue rose that’s in there for her. Seemingly unhappy with her role as a crone goddess and powerful witch, she needs the blue rose so that she can become young and beautiful again (because who’d want to be a powerful, ugly old woman, right?).
Having said all of that, I could probably forgive Lords of Shadow, and wouldn’t be writing this article at all were it not for the revelations that come about in the last hour or so of the game, when you begin to find out exactly what is going on behind the scenes.
Remember Marie? The love of Gabriel’s life? The woman for whom he is fighting his way through untold horrors so that he can have the chance to bring her back to life? Well, by the end of the game, you not only find out that Marie is well and truly in the refrigerator, but that it was Gabriel himself that put her there.
In the game’s final sequences, you discover that Gabriel has been being manipulated by dark forces all along. Forces that caused him to murder his girlfriend, so that he’d have a reason to go out there and start thwarting evil in the first place. And Claudia? The mute telepath that turned up dead shortly after meeting him? Well, he murdered her as well.
It is also made explicitly apparent that Claudia knew that Gabriel was going to kill her, and that she went along with it anyway. A similar sentiment is echoed after the game’s final battle, when Marie tells Gabriel not only that she forgives him for chopping her head off with an axe, but that she’s been keeping the secret of her murder from him throughout the whole game because she was worried that it would upset him.
All right, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. What she actually says is that she knew that, if she told him that he’d murdered her, he would have been so racked with self-hatred that he wouldn’t have gone out there to thwart evil and fight the good fight. However, none of this changes the fact that both of these women exist solely to necessitate Gabriel’s narrative, and that they have so little worth and merit of their own that they willingly give up their lives and protect him from the truth, so that he can go out there and do big, important, manly things like killing monsters and saving the entire universe.
Now, like I said at the beginning of this article: I love Castlevania, I really, really do. But that? That sort of crap is just not on.