Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD – PS3 (PSN)
Platform: PS3 (PSN)
Release Date (NA): October 29th, 2013
Nerd Rating: 7 out of 10
After the mind-blowing experience that was the first Lords of Shadow, I was pretty eager to move on to Mirror of Fate. For the record, I had initially planned to play this second installment as originally intended – on the 3DS – but the allure of the free Mirror of Fate download that came with my Lords of Shadow Collection on the PlayStation 3 was too great. I actually began the game on my 3DS, but quickly found myself wondering why I had resorted to this method in my own home. Of course the PSN download doesn’t support 3D, though it is presented in full HD. The original Lords of Shadow was only 720p, and I rarely use the 3D feature on Nintendo’s handheld anyway, so it all works out.
So how do you top the masterpiece that kicked off this alternate-continuity Castlevania trilogy? Well, you don’t. Mirror of Fate doesn’t even fully attempt to replicate the style of gameplay in Lords of Shadow, which I suppose is preferable to making a watered down version of its predecessor. Instead, it’s a whole new game. As far as the gameplay goes, it reminds me of something between Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night. It maintains the semi-linearity of Rondo of Blood with crisscrossing paths between different stages, yet also uses Symphony of the Night’s concept of gaining new powers and revisiting old areas to gain access to all new items and rooms. Oh yeah, and it’s 2D as well.
Yes yes, I hear the groans already. I admittedly had a hard time getting into Mirror of Fate at first because I was too fixated on what I loved about Lords of Shadow. If you go into this second installment expecting a continuation of the first, you will be very, very disappointed. Mirror of Fate may not contain the same level of exploration, and its complexity may be dampened (arguably because of the 2D approach more than anything), but once you’re in deep enough to appreciate it on its own merits, it’s clear that Mirror of Fate will go down as a solid offering.
The storyline was one of many strong points in the first game, and if you plan on getting into the second, it’s best to have a general idea of what’s going on. Is it still too early to spoil the ending of the first? Maybe, but I make no promises by the time I get to Lords of Shadow 2. Mirror of Fate is divided into 3 acts and a prologue, each exploring the perspective of a different character and 3 of them taking place across different points in history. The prologue follows Gabriel (for an almost negligible amount of time; it mostly serves to introduce the player to the game’s mechanics) about a year prior to his exploits from Lords of Shadow. In Act I, we take control of Simon Belmont, Gabriel’s grandson, 57 years after the events of the previous game. Act II runs concurrently with Simon’s quest (see what I did there?) and follows Alucard, Dracula’s son, on a mission not dissimilar to Simon’s: kill Dracula! (There’s our good ol’ Castlevania premise back!) Finally, via an interesting but nonetheless predictable plot twist (especially predictable if you’re knowledgeable about past and present Castlevania lore), we move back in time 30 years to play as Trevor Belmont, both Gabriel’s son and Simon’s father, who has set off to….kill Dracula!
The story here doesn’t quite possess the narrative depth of its fore barer, but it manages to stay fairly interesting. If I had one complaint, it would be that everything unfolds rather predictably. Regardless, it does establish the Belmont name and sets up an interesting family dynamic between the characters. The nods to previous Castlevania games aren’t as numerous here, but we do have some small references for the attentive player. Trevor was introduced to us (originally) in Dracula’s Curse, and along the way could find three allies to aid him: Alucard, Sypha, and Grant Danasty. Alucard is actually in the game, Sypha is Trevor’s wife, and Danasty gets a mention in a well-hidden scroll. Additionally, during Simon’s run, he can access the help of two spirits for help, one being “Belnades,” the family line of Sypha in the traditional timeline, and the other known as “Schneider,” the surname of Reinhardt from Castlevania 64.
Most of the elements and general gameplay mechanics will be familiar to those coming fresh off of Lords of Shadow, albeit adjusted for a 2D world. Mirror of Fate feels a little more cramped due to the 2D nature, but there’s still plenty of room for exploration. Backtracking is required and encouraged to an extent, however, you won’t find yourself tireless scouring previous levels. It helps that although each character’s upgrades carry over to the next character in the next act, each character can only access “their version” of a level, meaning there aren’t areas in the first level that can only be accessed after gaining an ability in the penultimate level. Quick time elements still play a healthy role, especially in boss battles, and a few puzzles are included despite the lack of numerous, overt puzzles outside of regular gameplay. Some will likely deride the degree of simplicity, but I rather enjoy Mirror of Fate not becoming a tedious chore near the end in the name of completion. Hell, I hit 92% completion on my first playthrough, and I wasn’t trying excessively hard to go back and cover every base.
The 2D approach accentuates an interesting trade-off. Hack-and-slash style gameplay doesn’t quite have the same appeal in 2D, simply because the number of angles to dodge and attack are reduced drastically. When caught between 2 enemies, there’s not much to do to except dodge one, hit the other, repeat, whereas in 3D the player can focus on a particular enemy and sustain much less damage overall. Needless to say, becoming proficient with the “block” button helps out a lot. The up-side to 2D is that more substantial platforming elements can be worked in and still remain do-able. Ample plaforming is interwoven with combat, and negotiating treacherous jumps, precision landing, and bouncing around ledges and grappling points are all less prone to accidental changes in direction and issues with depth in the environment (common problems with 3D platforming). Similarly, camera angles are never, ever a problem!
Due to the various platforming challenges and the difficulties inherent to several divergent routes (which are substantial at times), Mirror of Fate isn’t nearly as brainless as “2D hack and slash” might imply. From Act II and beyond, most of the enemies are tough and require more than just a couple of hits before moving along. Level design is quite clever and it takes a keen eye to successfully navigate certain portions of the game. On more than one occasion I had to dig around for an answer when I believed myself to be stuck. For the most part, Mirror of Fate moves at a reasonable pace without too much frustration and provides enough exploration to keep it interesting.
However, the second installment in the Lords of Shadow trilogy is not without its shortcomings. For starters, there’s been a serious dip in creativity when it comes to monsters. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Castlevania game, but it’s true. Besides a few staples like werewolves and zombies, many of the creatures seem to be lacking any real folkloric or mythological counterparts. Most enemies are random and unmemorable. Even most of the bosses (with the exceptions of the Daemon Lord and the weird insect thing) and Dracula himself are rather uninspired. They don’t look bad, but they don’t have that typical Castlevania panache; they aren’t particularly impressive, grotesque, or recognizable.
Along these same lines, the castle is lacking imagination as well. With all three acts taking place in and around the castle, it would’ve been nice to give us some very distinct areas. Most of the castle is rather mundane with typical castle environments on display. A room with tables, a room with stairs, some underground caves, an underground tunnel…there’s not much to keep the setting original and engaging through 3 visits. Some visual variety other than bricks, stones, and wood could’ve gone a long way.
This shouldn’t be taken to mean that the graphics are bad though, because they aren’t at all. There’s a ton of detail as usual, and although it doesn’t quite look as “real” as a 3D environment might, its still exceptionally well done. Water and fire are major standouts and have amazing quality to them. I’m not the biggest fan of the characters’ animation style, and though I wish they looked and were proportioned more like real humans, it could be a lot worse. My single qualm is that Mirror of Fate has a little too much inherent darkness, and at times this can get in the way of navigation. Seeing a ledge (or even a gap in the walkway) can at times be difficult. Some sort of brightness calibration upon start up would fix this right away.
I realize that I’ve spent most of this time comparing Mirror of Fate to its predecessor, but the juxtaposition seems only natural given its place in the series. On the other hand, if you’ve been made aware of this release as a 3DS title without any prior Lord of Shadow experience, you can expect a quality 2D, “Metroidvania” style game with a mostly beautiful veneer. I do plan to complete the original 3DS version and review it as well, in order to account for the 3D itself, changes in control, and other unavoidable differences stemming from handheld versus console ports.
Mirror of Fate may not be the sequel that most folks were waiting for, but it shouldn’t be completely discounted (or discounted at all, really). Just look at it this way: it takes us back to a simpler time of Castlevania topped with more modern gaming comforts. Although I may have a few reservations about the game’s presentation, it’s impossible to ignore the technical skill behind the game. With precision controls, well-designed mechanics, and thoroughly engaging level design, anyone who gives Mirror of Fate a chance should be pleasantly surprised.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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