Castlevania is one of the longest running series in all of gaming. With three titles on the NES alone, Konami quickly made its mark with some of the best action-platformers of all time. However, after the switch to the “Metroidvania” style in Symphony of the Night, the franchise took a drastic turn. Many gamers loved this new style; it took the twitchy combat of the previous games and added exploration and puzzles to the mix. However, the plot soon became so convoluted that there wasn’t very much room for the games to expand upon the story. In 2010, developer MercurySteam rebooted the series with the 3D action-adventure game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It became the most successful title in the franchise, and now, they’ve released a follow-up for the 3DS titled Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate. The game aims to mix together the formula from previous Castlevania installments with the new style used in Lords of Shadow. Does the new formula work? Well, for the most part.
WARNING: SPOILERS FROM LORDS OF SHADOW AHEAD
Mirror of Fate uses a plot device that producer Dave Cox has likened to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, Memento, as the story is told in reverse-chronological order. Although the technique initially seems to be implemented without much reason, the story eventually progresses and reveals big twists with a huge payoff. The player controls three different members of the Belmont family (four including the prologue) as they enter Dracula’s castle to defeat the evil vampire once and for all. The Belmont playable in Act 1 is Simon, known for his starring role in Castlevania 1, 2 and 4. He is followed by Alucard and eventually Trevor: the son of Dracula himself. The plot is tied together quite nicely, especially for those who beat Lords of Shadow and know the truth about Dracula—he’s actually Gabriel Belmont.
Although the series’ canon was thrown out the window for Lords of Shadow, the new plotline established in that game is complex; it’s almost required to go back and learn it before attempting Mirror of Fate. Events and characters are mentioned with no recapping to help newcomers, and the overarching theme of the entire game will be extremely confusing without any explanation, especially considering the spot in the series that Mirror of Fate occupies. This is a bridge-game between Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2, due to be released later this year, and both use Dracula as a playable character. An hour or so on a Castlevania wiki should make it all much easier to digest.
Mirror of Fate plays like a mix of all three styles of Castlevania we’ve seen thus far. The simple progression and falling hazards feel like the first four games, while the non-linearity bears some resemblance to the GBA and DS games. Combat, however, is pure Lords of Shadow—the combos and dodging feel like they were taken directly from that title and pressed onto a 2D plane. For the most part, this formula works well, allowing for quick and stylish attacks with great emphasis on defense.
However, the 2D style of the game does cause some battles to feel slightly unfair, and hit detection is not as precise as what was seen in Lords of Shadow. Enemies are quite varied, with harpies, zombies, skeletons, robots, marionettes and bats all making appearances, and each of these must be handled in slightly different ways. The roll mechanic quickly becomes the player’s best friend, as it’s necessary to use it to get out of the way of attacks. Characters also move a little bit too slow, which can cause some issues in tricky platforming sections. Puzzles work well in this game (aside from one light reflection puzzle), using extremely clever design and plot choices going into the last act. One particular puzzle used a riddle, followed by collecting four items and looking at a visual sequence to unlock a door.
Boss fights have been one of the biggest draws of the Castlevania series, and there are quite a few of them in Mirror of Fate. Most of these are multi-sequence fights that require quick timing and repetition of techniques to beat, and some include fast quick-time events, which actually add a nice challenge to the experience. However, these also include some brutal difficulty spikes that are borderline unfair, especially since the 2D plane means it can be nearly impossible to avoid certain attacks.
Collectibles are also back, with items like scrolls and magic upgrades available to collect throughout the map. Some of these require backtracking after upgrading certain items or skills, and there’s a certain addictive nature to these that can keep the game in the card slot for hours after the story is beaten
While Mirror of Fate’s visuals may not be as stunning as those found in titles like Super Mario 3D Land or Resident Evil: Revelations, it looks well above-average for a 3DS title. In-engine cinematics look incredible, and fight animations are very smooth, especially considering the complexity of some of the moves. At key points within the story, the game switches to a cell-shaded look with mouths that don’t match up perfectly with the words. Due to the game’s narrative structure, the effect may be to highlight some story elements more than others, but it doesn’t really add much to the overall experience besides showcasing emotions on the faces of key characters.
Where the title really shines is in the audio department. Voice acting is some of the best on the 3DS, with every character giving an awesome performance, no matter how small. Effects during combat are also awesome, sounding very similar to the original Lords of Shadow. The score created by Oscar Araujo may steal the show, however, as its mix of ambient noise and beautiful orchestral moments create a perfect dark and tragic tone.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow-Mirror of Fate may not be an amazing 2D Castlevania game, but it achieves everything that the developers had promised. The plot perfectly sets up Lords of Shadow 2, and it leaves the player wanting more. Given that the next game is scheduled for later this year, we won’t have to wait too long.