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Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate for 3DS

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castlevania: lords of shadow - mirror of fate box

Title: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate
Price: $39.99
System(s): 3DS
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Konami (MercurySteam)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes and Violence

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate didn’t wow me at E3 2012. The demo was very structured and limited, it was fairly difficult and it didn’t remind me of the Game Boy Advance and DS Castlevania games I had loved. I was ambivalent, because it wasn’t what I wanted or expected. Yet now, I find myself conflicted. After playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate for over seven hours, I have actually enjoyed most of the experience. Nothing has changed, aside from the difficulty, yet somehow it has become more palatable.

castlevania: lords of shadow - mirror of fate

Those Belmonts never catch a break.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate follows multiple Belmonts, proving to everyone that the life of a slayer of evil sucks. The prologue begins with Gabriel Belmont. He’s seen saying goodbye to his wife, then he goes with some knights to a blighted area to slay monsters. During a fight with a huge beast, he’s stabbed, but nevertheless he defeats the monster and seals it away.

The game then shifts to his wife’s home. Three men visit her and say her newborn son is the one who could stop Dracula, and that he must be taken and raised in secret. She weeps and Trevor Belmont, Gabriel’s son is spirited away.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate then passes over Trevor and moves onto his son, Simon Belmont. Simon dreams of the night his village was attacked and his mother killed, then wakes to visit the cursed village, presumably his hometown, on his way to Dracula’s castle.

All three of these segments take place within a 10 minute period, and most have no voice over or text accompanying them. It’s a jarring way to begin a game. However, the story segments in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate are effective and well animated, so I’m willing to give them a pass. Each vignette effectively sets the scene and advances the story. After all, it’s not like there’s too much depth to an adventure where the point is to go through a castle and beat down Dracula.

castlevania: lords of shadow - mirror of fate

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

I was pleased to discover Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate retains a nod to classic exploration elements as I helped Simon begin his journey. Unfortunately, it’s more the illusion of exploration. There is a map and there are some inaccessible areas that are only passable with certain equipment or abilities, but there is only one right path through each area and few secrets. As such, it’s more similar to the classic NES entries in terms of style. Fortunately, there is a notation system for the treasures that are out of reach. I’d drop one of the 50 markers, make a brief note saying why I’d need to return, and then continue on my way. Sometimes I’d go back, sometimes I wouldn’t.

Even a handful of RPG elements still exist. They aren’t overwhelming or prominent enough to make me consider Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate an action RPG, but characters do earn experience after defeating an enemy or discovering a bit of lore. This unlocks new skills for characters to use in fights. Health and hit points are acquired from treasure chests, while new equipment or magic spells come about during events scenes. I’d have liked to have seen the leveling have more of an impact on a characters abilities, as they feel like a token. However, the lack of these elements is again a nod to the older installments, so some people may appreciate the fact that they could probably defeat the game without using these extra skills or improving characters’ health and magic and challenge themselves to see if it is possible.

People also shouldn’t be worried about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate taking too many cues from fighting games or beat’em ups. While there is plenty of button mashing to ensure opponents go down, there are also enemies, particularly bosses, that require a bit of finesse to defeat. Blocking and dodging are needed at times, especially on higher difficulties, to ensure Simon, Trevor or Alucard’s survival. Also reassuring is the fact that not all enemies look alike. There is quite a bit of diversity and all opponents aren’t just generic minions.

There are some boss fight issues in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, sadly. As someone who has loved the classic installments with fearsome foes that occasionally inspire rage-quitting, it left me despondent. Each boss’ attack pattern is easy to identify. I found I could sometimes even forgo strategy and still win, so long as I kept up a strong offensive. In the event I was bested, the game just reloaded from the save point. I’d rejoin the battle, facing a boss that retained the damage I had dealt on the previous attempt. Even more disappointing is the inclusion of Quick Time Events. I felt a distinct lack of finesse in these battles, which should have been epic. I had little problem with any of them on the Normal difficulty level, and was tempted to swap to Hard at some times.

Which brings up the QTEs in general. They didn’t need to be in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. I shouldn’t have to tap a series of buttons just to open a treasure chest or defeat a boss. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t add any excitement or enjoyment to the experience. The only positive is that QTE failure doesn’t impact whatever action Simon, Trevor or Alucard were trying to accomplish. It just meant something else happened before what I wanted to happen.

As for design, I’d say it’s visuals are hit or miss. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate looks good, but it also looks generic. Apart from Simon, Trevor, Alucard and the boss designs, it could be any medieval adventure game. There’s none of the style and detail I remember from the intricate older installments. I found adjusting the brightness helped reveal some extra details, but it never matches the gothic beauty of prior Castlevania games.

castlevania: lords of shadow - mirror of fate

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is an interesting experiment

I wanted a traditional Castlevania romp on the 3DS. When it was first announced, I hoped Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate would be it. It isn’t, but that isn’t so bad. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate contains a “lite” version of series staples, like exploration and leveling elements, while also offering a more frantic battle experience. I’d say it is a game that requires an open mind and is a worthwhile experience, provided that players are willing to adjust their expectations. However, those craving that classic Castlevania charm and experience should dig up a copy of Order of Ecclesia or Dawn of Sorrow instead.

Site [Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate]

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