Having played the Castlevania games in their many incarnations, I expect great things out of every entry in this amazing franchise. I gave Super Castlevania IV an exaggerated 11/10 score last year, but I think deep inside I actually meant it. I was equally surprised and amazed at the direction Symphony of the Night took the franchise in, and I likewise played the Nintendo GBA and Nintendo DS games, over and over again. I even loved Castlevania 64 and Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, as they shone brilliantly despite their flaws and lack of polish when compared to the 2D entries.
I almost loved Lords of Shadow, but found too many flaws in it, and overall found it to be too unexceptional for it to be worthy of the \”Castlevania\” name. Still, I saw a glimmer of hope in how its design improved massively in the last chapters of the game, all the way from the level design, the platforming becoming challenging, and the combat becoming truly engaging with the \”polarity\” mechanic in the last boss fight. I interpreted the last chapter of Lords of Shadow as MercurySteam maturing as game designers, and imagined this would show in the following games – especially so once they announced the game for the 3DS would be in 2D. Action Platformers in 2D require a great deal of polish and very tightly intertwined mechanics coming together for a seamless experience.
After playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, however, I\’m greatly worried for Lords of Shadow 2, and the Castlevania franchise in general.
Less like gothic horror and more like a muted dark fantasy, Mirror of Fate continues the art direction of Lords of Shadow. Though the two QTE bosses are particularly well designed, every other enemy in the game looks rather generic. The music shines in certain portions, namely those where the player is allowed to explore and climb uninterrupted, and the ambient music plays out at length. On the other hand, the ambient music is constantly getting interrupted by the tedious, unimpressive battle themes – the fact that the combat lasts so long only helps to aggravate the situation.
There is a good deal of impressive architecture, and I believe this is MercurySteam’s strongest point. Outside of the architecture, however, not much stands out in Mirror of Fate; the character and monster designs are average in the context of this past generation, and the combination of soothing music with the pretty architecture is found too seldom to consider it a selling point of the game.
Though I expected to see the story of Lords of Shadow developed more, it is in fact sizably attenuated in Mirror of Fate. No longer do we have the larger mythos of the Lords of Shadow and the looming presence of the devil and Death in the game, but rather the plot is a simple rewriting of the oldest castlevania lore: Simon and Trevor Belmont want to destroy Dracula. There is, however, a neat little surprise (though it is certainly made too easy to guess) with the character of Alucard, which does add a nice touch to the lore of the series, and I\’d like to see where it leads to, in the future.
In the larger picture, however, I imagine the story of Mirror of Fate is not going to play a big role in the larger lore of Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2.
Mirror of Fate has the player taking the role of 3 main characters, one at a time, each for a successive chapter in the game. They are endowed with different abilities that change the gameplay very slightly – Alucard’s mist form, for example, allows him to dash in the air a little farther than the other characters, opening an ultimately underdeveloped chance for more complex platforming.
In a platform full of interesting platforming games like Cave Story and VVVVVV, Mirror of Fate’s own platforming doesn\’t help it in any way to stand out. The \”jumping\” mostly becomes \”climbing\”, and little skill is ever required to make the necessary leaps. Using the whip to climb is equally automated, requiring only a button press for the player to latch onto a wall and simply hold up or down to climb. Gone are the days of requiring timing and skill of the player.
The combat consists of using direct and area attacks to wear down groups of enemies, as well as the occasional secondary weapon to speed up the fights a little bit. In practice, it is far too slow and lengthy to allow for a sustained pacing. Instead, the player is expected to spend a lot of time wearing down the enemy until a killing grab is performed, or until the enemy’s extensive health points are drained. Even as the player progresses, the combat becomes lengthier, instead of shorter. The boss fights are equally tepid, requiring only patience and not much skill to complete. This is especially true because of a checkpoint system that allows the player to remove the bosses’s health by a fourth or a third at a time, continuing from that last checkpoint should the player die, instead of being forced to fight the boss from the beginning.
In regards to exploration, Mirror of Fate is equally average. While a good portion of the castle opens up for all 3 characters to explore at leisure before each character’s last battle, the only incentive for exploration comes in the form of health, magic, or side-weapon ammo expansions. These are not necessary at all since the combat is so lacking in challenge, but the worst part is that finding these secret expansions is not rewarding in any way; they are typically found in a lock-and-key fashion throughout the castle, and often require the player to backtrack through painfully slow climbing to get to them. Personally, I quickly chose to ignore these expansions when they required me to go out of my way and yet required virtually no thought to figure out how to get to them.
I had great expectations of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. It not only came after Lords of Shadow, a game with great potential that hinted at future games being much better than itself, but it is also the next 2D Castlevania we get since the amazing Order of Ecclesia. Most importantly, it is a Castlevania game – it is expected to be a milestone for its generation, and a shining example of game design amidst other mediocre attempts. Even as a game meant to be part of a franchise reboot, it is expected to excel indubitably in the new forms the game takes, so that it stands justified in pulling away from the franchise’s traditional design.
Instead, Mirror of Fate is a thoroughly average game, its few promising aspects getting stamped out by the boring, lengthy combat and the complete lack of challenge in platforming, as well as the inexistent sense of discovery associated with the exploration. It is an average game that has no reason or right to bear the name of Castlevania. I still hold out hope for Lords of Shadow 2 to be the game that fulfills the franchise’s potential, but after playing Mirror of Fate I am much more dubious of MercurySteam’s ability to make the game that makes them worthy of the Castlevania franchise.
Praise and Criticism
+ Great architecture and a solid 3D effect.
+ Establishes an interesting relationship between the Belmont clan and Alucard.
– Combat system drags out for too long.
– Secrets amount to life and magic extensions, making the exploration unrewarding.
– Platforming is simplistic and mostly automated. It lacks the challenge and inventiveness of both the linear and \”metroidvania\” Castlevanias of yore.
– There is no single exceptional aspect to this game.
The two QTE boss fights. I know that is hard to believe, but it certainly speaks volumes about the game’s combat — that the best fights in the game are the ones you play the least.
If you liked these other games, this game is for you.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Though Mirror of Fate is a slightly more average and much less technically proficient game than Lords of Shadow, it is similar in the way its gameplay improves toward the end of the game, though this time around the improvement is nowhere near as dramatic as in Lords of Shadow’s last chapter. In addition, while it tells a much less ambitious and impactful story, Mirror of Fate still manages to tie in some important characters into the new narrative, namely those of Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, and Alucard. Those that were interested in the narrative created in Lords of Shadow may find it worth following the tales of the characters in Mirror of Fate – though Gabriel Belmont’s character is practically left untouched.
Ultimately, there is little to this game that is particularly good, let alone exceptional as we\’ve come to expect of the Castlevania franchise, to give it any sort of praise. Mirror of Fate is a thoroughly average, by-the-numbers game with nothing new to offer, and lacking the polish and tight gameplay of previous 2D Castlevania games.