I wasn’t exactly sold on the Castlevania reboot with Lords of Shadow. I loved the old games (especially the Metroidvania games like Symphony of the Night and the Game Boy Advance and DS sequels), and starting from scratch with a God of War-like design seemed strange. Incidentally, spoilers for the first Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in two paragraphs. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate for the Nintendo 3DS promised callbacks to the original Castlevania, Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night by bringing Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, and Alucard into the series. Konami tried to shoehorn the entire series into one game, but with Metroidvania-style exploration and leveling. I was willing to give it a try. Well, this $39.99 (list) game doesn’t exactly capture the spirit of old-school Castlevania, but it’s an interesting and unique take on the series.
Not Like Classic Castlevania
Mirror of Fate doesn’t feel like “classic” Castlevania games at all. Depending on your tastes that can be good or bad, but it definitely feels different. It feels more like a God of War game squashed into two dimensions, with platforming action to spice it up. Considering what Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was like, this isn’t surprising.
Mirror of Fate deals with the Belmont clan and Alucard, all of whom are now progeny of Dracula (spoiler: formerly Gabriel Belmont). Trevor, Gabriel’s son taken by the Order of Light before Gabriel became Dracula (because they knew it would happen and seem to have the foresight of the Jedi Order in the prequels), was the main character in the demo, but the game itself started me as Simon, Trevor’s son. This was after a very simple tutorial where I played Gabriel a year before Lords of Shadow to show me how to use the controls. Eventually the game put me in Trevor and Alucard’s shoes, but you spend a good chunk of the start as the oddly Scottish Simon.
On paper, Mirror of Fate should feel just like a Metroidvania game with 3D graphics. It’s a side-scrolling game with platforms, lots of different areas to explore, a leveling system, and inventory. It just looks like Lords of Shadow in that it has more realistic and 3D-modeled graphics than the Metroidvania games. It’s the small things that throw off the Metroidvania feel and make it seem more like a 2D version of Lords of Shadow or God of War, but those small things mean everything.
First, there is no large, main map. Instead, each area has its own map similar to the maps in the Metroidvania games, but they’re connected as dots on a larger map that represents tso no grand zoom-out that gives the full sense of the entire game world. Everything is its own neat little pocket, and while you can shuffle between maps to figure out where you have to go, it’s much less cohesive.
Second, the inventory and leveling systems are much more limited than the RPG-like systems of Symphony of the Night, Circle of the Moon, and Order of Ecclesia. There are neither stats nor equipment that boosts stats Instead, every level gives you another combat skill or combo, and each item you pick up has a very specific purpose in combat or puzzle-solving (which is generally limited to “swimg,” “unlock,” or “get through without dying”). This feels very limiting compared to the various things you could do with Alucard in Symphony of the Night.
Third, the combat is very focused on combos, blocking, and dodging. You have two attacks: a direct attack (horizontal) and an area attack (vertical circle that covers a large area). You also have a block button that lets you directly block attacks or dodge left or right. This might seem natural for anyone who plays third-person action games like God of War or Lords of Shadow, but in a two-dimensional plane the feeling is much different. Few enemies can be killed with just one attack, and even the weakest zombies need a short combo of whip attacks to dispatch. You often get swarmed by weaker enemies and have to use different types of whip attacks to get rid of all of them. While this is a normal convention for 3D games, inside-scrolling games it feels very weird to be surrounded by enemies who only hurt you by actively attacking, and who you have to kill with chained attacks.
None of these factors mean Mirror of Fate is bad at all. It just feels very, very different from the genre of games Konami intended to evoke with its 2D format and characters from classic games. I’ll update this as I play further, but right now you should play the demo, currently available on the 3DS eShop, before you commit to the game. If you’re hoping for a Metroidvania game with amazing new graphics, you might be disappointed and confused. Of course, if you’re hoping for a direct sequel to Lords of Shadow that has the exact same gameplay, you might also be disappointed and confused. This is a mishmash of several old and new gaming elements, and it’s going to take some time to digest before I can say whether this really does compare favorably to any other chapters in the Castlevania series.
A few issues do bog down the game a bit. Without specific save points, the game relies on autosave locations every few rooms, and that makes it far too forgiving. Whenever I died, I appeared in the same room, just a few rooms away, or halfway through the boss battle I was attempting. This complete lack of penalty for dying sucks any sense of challenge away from the game. You can just keep plowing through without fear, even if you’re not very good. This doesn’t mean the game can’t sometimes be unfairly frustrating; there’s fall damage if you fall more than the equivalent of 20 feet, which is simply bizarre in a Castlevania game. If you want to get through a large, cavernous room from the top, you need to find platforms and handholds instead of just dropping down. This can throw off any sense of flow, and seems wrong for the genre.
The cutscenes are also strangely jarring. Some cutscenes are modeled in the in-game engine, but major story cutscenes are rendered with cel-shaded graphics that look completely different from the game. It makes the storytelling seem fragmented and detatched. The game itself looks very good, with atmospheric, creepy visuals and lots of details in every area, so the stylized cutscenes don’t fit.
The game also rips off God of War shamelessly in parts. This was a complaint in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, but a few aspects of this game just seem to lift directly from Kratos’ bizarre adventure. The health, magic, and ammunition upgrades (separate from leveling up) are chests that look identical to the chests Kratos would push open to get orbs, and one boss fight evokes, of all things, the sex minigames of the God of War series, complete with prone women wearing diaphanous non-clothing. Combined with the light and heavy attack buttons and blocking and dodging mechanics, I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing a 2D adaptation of God of War rather than a Castlevania game. Even though it takes place in a big, creepy, anachronistic castle (the game takes place in the 11th century, 100 years before anything was designed to be remotely “gothic”), it feels more like I’m a big angry Spartan fighting harpies than a big angry Scot… who also fights harpies in certain levels.
Mirror of Fate’s biggest sin is that it doesn’t know quite what it wants to be. It has several different components that are individually crafted well, but they never come together into a coherent hole. It tries to be a 2D Metroidvania game and a 3D hack-and-slash, and it ends up a slightly uncomfortable kludge of both of them. It doesn’t commit to a genre, and while it tries valiantly to introduce elements of both, it just doesn’t present a compelling whole.
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|ESRB Rating||M for Mature|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc