A faded reflection of its former self.
Review written by
March 6th, 2013
When I first started looking at screens and videos for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate (what a long title) I was a little disappointed to see that Konami had not returned to the classic 2D sprite-based gameplay of the classic Castlevania games. While it is not quite as good or fleshed out as its older incarnations, this entry in the series will help pass the time and hopefully introduce more people to one of my favorite franchises of all time.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was sort of a reboot of the series released on the Xbox 360 and PS3. The entire timeline had started over from the beginning and the gameplay was changed from a 2D Metroid style game where you explore a castle, to a 3D hack and slasher with stylized characters.
Now, Castlevania has found its way back onto handhelds, still retaining the new lore, art style, and to a degree gameplay of the console Lords of Shadow, while reintroducing some of the elements that made people love the series to begin with. However, this new hybrid game unfortunately showcases the worst of both game types rather than the best.
To elaborate, what many people enjoyed about the Lords of Shadow game on consoles was the fluid, fast paced combat that was very similar to something like God of War with its whip-based combat. In Mirror of Fate the characters and environments are 3D models but the gameplay happens in 2D (similar to Street Fighter IV). The problem occurs when you realize they tried to get this fast paced combat to work on a relatively tiny screen in a 2D plane. Your combat abilities are far too limited to please a hack and slash junkie but there is enough variety to form powerful combos and fast movement. Throughout the game you need to be dodging enemy attacks not blocking them and later on some of the enemies give you very little time to react - so by the time you see the attack coming you are locked in to an attack animation and are forced to take it, which, at the higher level of difficulty, is unacceptable. Some people are saying the controls are terrible, but I think that is going a little too far. I suppose it's worth mentioning that I am playing on a 3DS XL which makes gaming with adult hands much easier.
The most popular aspects of the 2D games were the exploration of Dracula's castles, the Metroid style gameplay, and the simple yet very responsive controls. But alas, these are lost as well. This time around Dracula's castle seems dark and uninspired. Before you had a huge variety of locations ranging from caves to nightmare worlds. Now, you still have caverns, libraries, dungeons and other 'spooky' castle-type locations but they feel more like someone is going down a checklist and stringing all these places together. In something like Symphony of the Night you had a very precise map that showed you the shape of the area you were in as well as how it fit in with the rest of the castle. If you got a new ability that allowed you to take a shortcut through a door to another room, you knew exactly where you were going to end up. Now the map is just areas connected together by lines. So instead of being this amazing map that is interconnected and complex you feel like you are just being strung along from required battle to required battle. They try to remedy this in Mirror of Fate by adding chests similar to the ones found in God of War that boost your maximum health and hiding those in areas of the map you can't access until you have the right power. The problem with this is that backtracking is time consuming and annoying and the reward is laughable. It's like the developers thought that people would backtrack for backtracking's sake, not to explore and find new pathways to old and new areas.
The environments and aesthetics of Mirror of Fate leave a lot to be desired. Instead of having a beautiful Eastern European meets Asian art style, we now have characters that wouldn't look out of place in a 1980s hair band. That, plus the cel-shaded art style in the cut-scenes only further the sense that this is a faded reflection of what Castlevania used to be. I will say though, if you do play Mirror of Fate, use headphones because the speakers on the 3DS do not do the music justice. I feel like the overall quality of the game does not warrant its $40 cost, something like $20 would be much more suited.
All of that being said, I didn't absolutely hate the game. I still had fun running through Dracula's castle, hearing that gothic music and slaying monsters with my whip. If anything, I think it's a testament to just how good the Castlevania series is if Mirror of Fate is as enjoyable as it is even with all of its flaws.
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