When Castlevania: Lords of Shadow hit PS3 and Xbox 360 back in October 2010, it managed to create two sets of fans for the name ‘Castlevania’. One set, those who were fans of the classic style Castlevania, who didn’t particularly like the fact that the game had been given the Castlevania name, as it didn’t look or feel like anything that had previously had the Castlevania name. The next set of fans, those who weren’t familiar with classic ‘vania, found that this new Castlevania was actually a solid game and really loved the new direction. There is of course a third set who are fans of classic Castlevania but appreciated Lords of Shadow for what it was.
Now, about 2 and a half years later, we have a sequel to Lords of Shadow, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. This game acts as a bridge between the already released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and the announced sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. What’s immediately most interesting is that this game is a 2.5D adventure game. It seems as though Mercury Steam, after alienating many fans after Lords of Shadow, are trying to appeal to both new and old Castlevania fans by going back to the series roots. However, it has borrowed many elements from Lords of Shadow and overall seems to be a game that tries to combine both new and old.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is split into three sections. Play as Simon Belmont, Alucard and Trevor Belmont, all in their own segments of the game. Their story is told only through the game’s incredible looking cut scenes that are quite clean and crisp. The effect produced for the cut scenes resembles that of a comic book. There is a lack of vocal movement in these scenes but there is a bit of voice acting and it’s fairly decent, providing some life to each of the voiced characters. Without revealing too much, the plot is one large tale that has been separated out into three main ‘acts’. Each act gives you control of one of the three characters and feed’s you the plot slowly, but doesn’t interfere with the gameplay. Both gameplay and plot seem to stay well away from each other and never intertwine which, in this case, is a positive aspect and allows you to play the game freely but still receive plot when required.
Talk of the nice looking cut scenes goes hand in hand with the quality of the game’s graphics. This is another one of the strong factors on Mirror of Fate; it is one hell of a lovely looking game. Albeit a 2.5d platforming adventure title, everything from the foreground to the background has been given a lot of detail. Models and textures in all areas of the game are made to look the highest quality on the 3DS screen. Mirror of Fate looks almost as good as its predecessor on the PS3.
The game is set entirely within a castle and you are taken through it with the use of winded and twisted level design. It takes you from high to low, and from left to right, but the issue that it seems to have is one of a standard game cliché. To elaborate, if there is a locked door, you must traverse to another section within the same area to pull a lever in order to unlock the door in order to progress. Sure, this breaks away from linearity and allows for a little exploration, but it’s not really the sort of exploration you’d want to be doing.
Aside from the linear backtracking, the game features areas that will open up to you once you have received certain upgrades. This adds in a little more exploration into the fray and ensures that the game is just about keeping your attention and making you want to go back to find out what was hiding away in those previously inaccessible areas. To further add to the spoils, the game features puzzles, but not a whole heap of them. Two of these puzzles are quite fun and imaginative and Mirror of Fate would have benefitted greatly from having plenty more of this sort of thing in it. Your other sorts of puzzles are the standard ‘find items or switches to activate doors’, that sort of thing, and are just too uninteresting to really stand out.
Something Mirror of Fate does will is educating you on how to effectively use the weapons/ skills you have available to you. Say, you just unlocked a new ability; the gameplay for the next few areas will be catered around using that ability in some way to progress on. This is a great way for you to get to grips with the abilities and secondary weapons that become available to you so you can then go on to use them further on in the game where they will really be required in a test of skill.
To complement the level design, the bottom screen of the 3DS featured the game’s Map. For each part of an area that you visit, it is calculated on the map as a little square. Collectively these squares will form the overall map of that particular area. Since the game is split up into different loading areas, there are individual maps for each loading area so each individual map is an appropriate size. Where this plays in with the unreachable areas previously mentioned is that the map will leave sections unblocked and this tells you that there is an area that can be reached from that point in the map. Not only this, but the second screen also serves as your hub for abilities, items and the menu, the general thing that you would expect by now from a 3DS title.
Let’s have a look at the combat in Mirror of Fate. Each of the three characters all use the whip as their weapon. X is used for regular attacks that are for dealing with single enemies and Y is for a wide attack for a number of enemies. As you progress though the game, you will unlock combos, but more on that later. Unfortunately, all three of the characters have exactly the same combat style, even down to the animations. It would have been nice to see a little bit of variation. The differences for each character come in the form of their abilities and secondary weapons. For example, Simon has throwing axes, whereas Trevor has a boomerang. The combat, for the most part, will consist of you hammering either X or Y with maybe a few dodges or blocks. Speaking of blocking, L and R correspond to Blocking and Dodging. An attack that is blockable will have an on screen prompt that you can then react to with the block button. If done in time it will give you the opportunity to go on the offensive and counter attack. For your larger enemies, these prompts will not only be for blocking, but also dodging or jumping over a charging foe.
There are a number of enemies in the game that you will have to take down. Each of them feels very different and offers a different kind of challenge. They are all unique to one another and, especially the bigger enemies that require different tactics to take down which often changes the pace of the game. The bosses of Mirror of Fate are rather interesting. The fights are great, and provide a real challenge. However, the ending to some of the boss battles are quite lacklustre. On more than one occasion, you’re required to finish the boss with a series of quick-time events. This seems only to add more of a dramatic effect to the game with a flashy animation playing while these QTE’s are performed. Regardless, the bosses are all varied and are a step-up from the regular combat in the game. Don’t be disheartened if you end up dying and have to retry a couple times, difficulty is the name of the game where these bosses are concerned.
On your journey in the castle, you will be able to find collectables along the way. These are scrolls that are left over on the bodies of dead soldiers. These collectables appear on your map with a “?” and are often located out of your regular path, requiring you to do a little exploration to collect all of them. Collecting these scrolls will provide a percentage score for each of the different acts. It is worth collecting these scrolls as they tell their own narrative about the goings on in the game. Some may even offer hints towards situations that will occur soon after. Once all of these have been collected, they will unlock a special secret that you will have to find out for yourselves from playing the game. Along with these, you can also obtain upgrades to your health and magic metres and these are also out of your regular path, as you might expect.
Something Mirror of Fate manages to sustain throughout the game really well is steady progression. The game offers you a variety of combos to use during combat. However, these combos are unlocked after levelling up. One new combo move will be added either every time you level up, or every other time. This is a way of building up the game and progress to make for an exciting finish at the end. It feels nice to have gradually earned all of the combo moves. With no way of buying combo moves, it means you do not get to shape your combat style the way you want, but on its own, this style of progression is a welcomed change.
Mirror of Fate’s music is an area that does both a lot of good, but also quite a bit of bad too. The soundtrack is great and does the game a lot of justice. The issue, however, is that it can’t be heard clearly at all times. During many of the high pitched tones, the audio begins to get scratchy and it really doesn’t sound that nice. It is such a shame because what you can hear from the soundtrack is nice, but it is spoiled by bad audio design. Aside from the scratchy soundtrack, the sound effects are unaffected from this issue and seem to perform their jobs well enough.
For everything good about the game, unfortunately there seems to be a small negative holding it down. The combat, although light and free flowing, can be quite repetitive with only slight variation from character to character. The levels are designed to feel as though the game doesn’t follow a linear pattern, but when you look past everything, it does present itself as one long trail with short branches heading off in different directions to keep your attention. If you are a fan of the Castlevania of old, this may be worth a try for you, but if you enjoyed Lords of Shadow, then you will be right at home with Mirror of Fate. Take from it what you will, it isn’t a completely polished experience, with repetition and some bad design in places, but overall it can be enjoyed despite all of that.