Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate
Developer: Mercury Steam
Release Date: 03/05/2013
Well, the Castlevania reboot initiated with Lords of Shadow back in 2010 appears to be a universal one. Aside from the original game and its DLC, and the planned console sequel coming later this year, Mercury Steam has also brought us a 3DS title more in line with the original games in the series. Dubbed Mirror of Fate, the game has more in common with the older franchise titles than its console counterparts, featuring an experience that’s based more in side-scrolling and platforming than in the God of War inspired gameplay of the console versions. In theory, this can only help the game; while the response toward the reboot was generally all over the place, with both Alex and myself finding it to be… less than optimal, shall we say. By bringing the series back to its roots as a side-scroller, this could be a good effort toward trying to make a game that the purist fans can enjoy. In practice, however, Mirror of Fate is an odd amalgam of elements from the different styles of Castlevania games that comes together in a way that, simply put, makes it into an experience that’s generally harder than it should be to enjoy.
The plot of the game starts off with a brief prologue featuring Gabriel Belmont, protagonist of Lords of Shadow, before moving onto the meat of the plot, featuring three protagonists: Trevor Belmont, son of Gabriel, Simon Belmont, son of Trevor, and Alucard, son of Dracula. Each character receives a fairly lengthy portion of the game to themselves, addressing their existence in the wheel of fate and how their lives are intertwined, and within the confines of the Lords of Shadow reboot universe, the plot makes logical sense all in all. Granted, the plot is fairly cliché in most respects, and the events that come up will not be anything remotely resembling a surprise to anyone who pays attention, but what’s here is fine enough to carry the game along if evaluated in a vacuum. If you weren’t a fan of how Lords of Shadow handled the events leading to the birth of Dracula, however, you’ll find the plot here to be incredibly frustrating, as it further goes out of its way to completely re-write the history of the franchise, and diehard Castlevania fans will most like find the plot anger-inducing. The events of the story aside, the game also makes odd changes, such as making Simon Scottish for no obvious reason, or introducing Schneider (protagonist of Castlevania 64) as a spirit helper instead of as an actual Belmont, continuing the Mad Libs trend of its predecessor. Taken on its own merits, the plot is passable and internally consistent, but it has no respect for where it came from, basically, so it’s not likely to please people universally.
Visually, Mirror of Fate is technically solid on the 3DS, featuring some solid 3D imagery and animation. The character and enemy models are generally rendered well and look technically solid, and the game is definitely one of the more powerful games available on the console. Artistically, the game is no great shakes, however, as the castle itself is honestly fairly boring more often than not, and the majority of the environments are dark in a â€œpoorly litâ€ fashion more than an â€œimposing and grimâ€ one. The 3D effects in the game are also generally fine enough in action, though they become distracting during the Active Time Events at times. Aurally, the in-game music is fairly generic orchestral score that repeats itself more than a few times, and some of the scores use high pitch notes that sound tinny coming out of the 3DS, which is annoying when it happens. The voice work is generally fine overall, and all of the different performances that pop up are fairly well done and interesting. The sound effects, between monster noises and combat effects, are also perfectly fine and appropriate for the material, and sell the experience adequately, though there’s nothing exceptional on display here so to say.
The gameplay for Mirror of Fate can essentially be summed up as a cross between classic Castlevania play and the more modern â€œCastleroidâ€ style, with a bit of God of War thrown in. All of your characters play basically identically, with only their special abilities tweaked, so swapping from one to the next is simple enough. The analog stick moves you around, X and Y allow you to use direct and area attacks with your whip or Combat Cross, B allows you to jump as needed, and A uses your special weapons. The Left Trigger allows you to block and roll to dodge with a direction press, while the Right Trigger initiates finishing moves on stunned enemies and grabs environmental objects for you to swing on when applicable. The D-Pad is mapped to your special abilities, allowing you to hot-swap between them as needed, with the up and down directions swapping between your special weapons, while left and right swap between magical abilities you might have. The prologue chapter with Gabriel explains much of the basics, while the game explains new mechanics and items as they come up, so you’ll find that the game is generally fairly easy to play all in all.
The game gives each character two magical abilities and two special weapons they can work with, once found, to give them an advantage against enemies and solve puzzles. Magical abilities generally do both things, so Simon might find Sypha Belnades (as opposed to Trevor but just go with it), who can protect him from damage, or Alucard might change into mist form to pass through barriers or drain life from enemies, for example. These drain from a magic meter that can be refilled by slaying enemies or from fountains around the game world. Special weapons are more about damage dealing, such as Trevor’s boomerang or Simon’s axes, and these have a limited stock amount that can be refilled by finding hearts from broken objects and dead enemies. You can expand your health, magic and special weapon reserves by finding treasure chests in the environment in hidden areas to beef up your arsenal a bit. The characters also earn experience points from combat and from finding notes in the game world, though this doesn’t improve their stats any, but instead unlocks new combat skills for them to use as the game moves on. As such, there’s theoretically motivation to both engage in combat and search everywhere to improve your abilities, as levels and reserves transfer from one character to the next.
You can plow through the game in around seven to ten hours, depending on how much time you spend exploring, as the game, though linear, allows for some exploration and backtracking, and offers the â€œyou can’t accomplish this until you find the right weaponâ€ puzzles you’d expect from Castleroid games as well. Each chapter is filled with notes, bestiary entries, hidden goodies and such to find, so you’ll have plenty of reason to explore if you wish. There are also multiple difficulty levels to plow through that impact the combat challenge (though not the puzzles) and beating the game once unlocks Hardcore for those craving a challenge. Additionally, finding everything hidden in the game and beating it unlocks a final cutscene, â€œSeparate Waysâ€, for the completionist, giving you reason to find and see everything to see how the scene plays out. For those who appreciate what Mirror of Fate does, there’s added content to keep you busy for at least one full playthrough, if not more, and you can revisit the bestiary and cutscenes after the fact if you wish as well.
Having said that, while Mirror of Souls has a good idea in trying to merge the styles of both styles of Castlevania with its own mechanics, it doesn’t pull this off terribly well. Now, the thing is, Konami went from the traditional style of Castlevania games to the Castleroid style because it became apparent that the basic gameplay of Castlevania would get incredibly boring after ten hours straight, which is something Mirror of Fate proves fairly admirably. While your characters learn some minor new tricks from act to act, the reality is, the game is basically the same thing for ten hours straight, and it gets old fairly quickly. The magic abilities are largely mediocre, and each character has a â€œhealingâ€ and a â€œadded damageâ€ spell to use, and the special weapons also fall into â€œsingle targetâ€ and â€œmild areaâ€ categories, adding to the repetition. While your characters learn new combos and attacks, they’re often only of mild use at best, so leveling up never really feels important or needed as well, and since every character basically attacks in the exact same fashion, combat becomes a chore. Further, battle itself simply isn’t fun. Fighting regular enemies is all over the place and the same enemy can be easy or very hard based on any number of random elements. Boss fights are all pattern based, but allow you to continue from the last cinematic you see, so they’re more frustrating than challenging since you can try ad infinitum, using cheap tactics and annoying patterns to provide a challenge over anything else. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget, the game is absolutely silly with Active Time Events, and honestly, if you’re the sort of person who wanted to see ATE’s in a platformer, you’re a horrible person because this is the worst thing a developer could do and Mercury Steam should literally be ashamed for thinking it was a good idea. ATE’s in general are a mechanic that rarely shows anything good coming from them; sticking them into a platformer is abhorrent, and if anything shows that the Castlevania reboot was a bad idea, this is it.
So, this, then, is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate: a platformer that attempts to merge the God of War inspired gameplay of the console games into a platformer that merges classic and modern Castlevania elements, but mangles this by emphasizing the wrong elements and tacking on ATE’s to the final result. Judging the game in a vacuum, the plot is acceptable if clichéd, the visuals are technically sound if artistically uninspired, the audio is acceptable if bland and occasionally tinny on the 3DS speakers, and the gameplay is generally serviceable and workable for the player. Judging the game as a Castlevania title, however, the plot basically serves as a point of rage for anyone who likes the original games, the gameplay is repetitive and lacks both the exceptional level design of the classics or the variety of the modern games, the boss battles are frustrating rather than challenging, and the game feels like a slog. The game repeats the same themes, mechanics, and combat across its around ten hour length, leaving the experience feeling tiresome by the end, and the incorporation of ATE’s into a platformer is an abomination of desolation against platformers and the franchise in general. In short: if you’re not a fan of Castlevania and really wish someone would make a side-scrolling God of War, Mirror of Fate might scratch your itch; otherwise, this game is a rental at best, a recommendation to avoid at worst.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate is a game with a long subtitle, a few good ideas that are handled poorly, a few bad ideas that are handled abysmally, and a sensibility about it that will appeal to God of War fans while alienating anyone who enjoyed the original Castlevania games in the first place. Viewed solely on its own merits, Mirror of Fate is largely acceptable; the plot, while obvious, is adequate, the visuals, while artistically unexciting, are technically sound, and the audio, while largely unmemorable and occasionally beyond what the 3DS can handle, is generally capable of carrying the experience. Mechanically, the game makes a fine enough effort to try and cross-breed Castlevania, both classic and modern, with God of War, and the controls generally feel acceptable and responsive enough to get by. As a Castlevania game, however, the plot is frustrating due to how little value it has for what came before, the gameplay is repetitive due to not retaining the best elements of what came before, the boss battles exchange tense challenges for frustrating grinds, and the game just becomes rote and repetitive by the end. The experience is generally tiresome, and is made more so by the addition of ATE’s to a platformer, which is basically just a bad idea in every possible way on top of everything else. If you’re the sort of person who didn’t care about the prior games and is a big fan of God of War inspired play, Mirror of Fate might work okay for you, but fans of the originals will find this to be a mess in a lot of respects, making it hard to recommend, amusingly enough, to the fans of the franchise.