Castlevania Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is the latest in Konami’s presumed trilogy of the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow franchise. More importantly, it’s the first Castlevania game we’ve had on a Nintendo handheld in nearly five years! After a long wait, should this journey through Dracula’s castle been uncovered after all, or should it have slumbered in darkness forever?
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (that’s a mouthful) continues the tale from 2010’s Lords of Shadow on Xbox 360/PS3, making it a sequel to prequel – that’s in itself a reboot – of the entire Castlevania saga. If it sounds confusing, it can be: the Castlevania series spans a twenty-plus year history and variety of characters. Mirror of Fate tells three separate acts of three individuals (Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, and Alucard) who have been intertwined in Dracula’s macabre life.
Over all three acts, you’ll explore Dracula’s castle at different periods of time, sometimes while another character’s act is taking place, sometimes having a direct effect on their story. In your 10-15 hour time with Mirror of Fate, you’ll explore a variety of areas pre- and post character involvement, all the while learning more of Gabriel Belmont’s descendants and building the Castlevania lineage more and more. Unfortunately, it looks as though more focus was on the story and Castlevania history than the gameplay the series is known for. This is more God of War than ever before, and it’s several steps back from what we’ve come to expect from the series on a handheld.
Mirror of Fate’s development was a bit tumultuous, even being delayed due to developer MercurySteam “not being pleased with certain elements of it.” (although it looks like it was a smart move to do so if you’ve read our Castlevania – Mirror of Fate preview). It was sluggish, ugly, and underwhelming; it was not what we’ve come to expect from a portable Castlevania game. Luckily, the frame rate and look of the game have been treated with that extra development time, but the soul of the series seems to have been sucked out.
At its core, Mirror of Fate is a side-scrolling platformer like its older brethren, but if the characters didn’t have the surname “Belmont,” this would be just another Metroid-vania clone. Don’t misconstrue that: it does that style of gameplay well, but not to the level the series is known for. It’s more quick-time events and button-mashing for combat, than stylus input or unique ideas. The only time you’re interacting with the bottom screen is when you want to place a reminder on the map. Everything else is tied to the D-pad, leaving the second screen practically useless as far as interactivity goes.
Though the combat’s not up to snuff compared to past games in the series, it’s still competent. You gain experience battling a (tiny) list of monsters, and learn newer, more powerful moves that will assist you. Despite all this, you never seem as though you’ve gained power. Going back to older areas to treasure hunt meant making mincemeat out of baddies that you once struggled with, showing off your new power(s) and feeling like a true vampire killer. Speaking of treasure hunting, don’t expect too much replay value here; it’s a “one-and-done” affair. Most treasures can be found with little retracing of steps, and there are no multiple endings to be found – another staple of the series left out. With an antiquated gameplay style, Mirror of Fate looks to not reignite the series with any new ideas for future handheld games, but it’s presentation can make a return, save for a few portions.
In-game, it’s ditched the sprite work for a more cel-shaded look, but with a filter that looks a lot more muddy and jaggy than it should. I’ve always been a big supporter of cel-shaded graphics, but whatever MercurySteam tried to do here will not set itself apart nor stay memorable years down the line. Not all is bad in the presentation camp though. The cinematics, what with their hand-drawn manga-inspired style, really fit the series well, and don’t detract at all in the looks. I wish the entire game shared the style; it could have been a new staple for the series (though sprites are always my preferred Castlevania art style). As for music and ambiance, the series takes another risk that’s not for the better. Going for orchestral/choral tracks rather than chip tunes, Mirror of Fate follows Lords of Shadow‘s lead and tries more haunting vocals that do set the mood, but once again fail to impress. Of course, being a 3DS game, some sort of 3D element had to be featured, and it’s as forgettable as the 3D is in general. Adding nothing but minor depth here and there, and throwing things at the screen as to be expected, the 3D is as useless as it is in the theater. You’ll more than likely turn it off after 10 minutes and feel better about doing so.
It really feels as though MercurySteam was having an identity disorder during development, trying to put too many other games into a genre this series practically perfected 15 years ago, and somehow failing at that. It’s got a working game design, a nice story to tell, and characters pivotal to the franchise, but nothing more: nothing to stand out, nothing to urge players to come back to the world, just a bare-bones shell of a game in a franchise that once reminded us how fun hunting Dracula once was. Castlevania‘s big return to the small, portable screen is a huge misstep for the series, and quite frankly, the development reigns should return to Konami and Koji Igarashi’s team as soon as possible. Were this any other Metroid-vania game, it would be more passable, but having the Castlevania name attached means it’s to be held to a higher standard. This is a competent title, but certainly not a competent Castlevania game.