Platform | Release Date
3DS | March 5, 2013
Developed by MercurySteam
Published by Konami
Initially set 25 years after the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate will reveal the story of Gabriel’s descendants, as they battle their own destiny in each era only to discover their true, shocking fate. Trevor Belmont, a knight of the Brotherhood of Light sets out to avenge the death of his mother, at the hands of his own father, who has now returned from years of exile to take up residence in a mysterious castle. What was once Gabriel Belmont now stands a powerful vampire called Dracula. Dracula has declared war upon the Brotherhood and thus the scene is set for a cataclysmic showdown between Father and Son!
Castlevania games are like pizza. When they’re good, they are really good. Even when they’re not good, they’re still alright. To that end, playing Castlevania:Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is like having to order from Dominos, because the good pizza place near your house had their oven break down. It’s a Castlevania game on paper, but not all it claims to be once you open up the box.
Most Castlevania fans will tell you that the series reached its apex with Symphony of The Night, and has been trying to recreate that magic ever since to varying degrees of success. The Nintendo DS titles Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia were all notable because they basically carbon copied Symphony before putting their own mechanical twists into the tested formula. It’s the same logic that brought us Diet Coke with Lime. This time around we have developer Mercury Steam altering the ingredients of the basic recipe. This is the logic that brought us New Coke.
For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the hell out of Castlevania:Lords of Shadow. It may have dragged on a bit, and constantly aped God of War, but it was a solid game that was a lot of fun and held my interest with liberal use of Patrick Stewart voice overs. Its strength lay in the fact that it unapologetically took Castlevania in a new direction and went the whole distance. Sure, it pissed off a lot of long-time devotees, but secretly fearing change while demanding something new is commonplace in the world of video game fandom. Where Mirror of Fate steers wrong is that it wants to bring that change to the 3DS, but only dips one foot into the pool.
Mirror of Fate plays out like a disjointed prequel of sorts, and seems to exist simply to provide backstory and insight into the new canon that Lords is creating. It focuses on three playable characters: Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont, and Alucard. Each of their stories in castle Dracula are told through a series of animated cutscenes in a style similar to Borderlands. As you travel through the castle in different eras, you’ll fight monsters, unlock specific powers and new moves for each protagonist as they level up and uncover scrolls that fill in minutiae about the story. Combating the creatures of the night is where the God of War mechanics show up. You can block, use combos, and perform violent execution maneuvers to finish off your foes. Unfortunately, the fighting can feel clunky at times, and the damage ratios seem quite strange. You can easily survive a severe beating from a boss, but a couple love taps from standard enemies will kill you where you stand. Once I got the blocking and dodging rhythms down, things became easier, but it was still trial and error and spamming the Y button (heavy attack) at points.
As you progress and continue to earn new powers, the classic “backtracking” mechanic kicks in. Sort of. This is the first major misstep. There are plenty of collectibles and secrets, but they feel tacked on. The game is designed in a semi-linear fashion that makes the castle feel disjointed, with warp zones that let you move conveniently back to mop up previous areas. The game includes a brilliant feature that allows you to place personalized notes on the map using the stylus, then quickly makes it pointless by lighting up question mark icons when you get near any secret on the map. This kills any sense of wonder or exploration. It feels like you’re going through the motions to get every question mark. Many of the secrets are scrolls that provide XP and flavor text, but some are chests that you’ll open to absorb orbs that increase your maximum life and magic. A move you obviously learned from Kratos in a past life.
The exploration mechanic is further hamstrung by the adventure becoming more linear towards the end. Ironically, I felt the “Trevor” portion of the game was by far the strongest, leaning more appropriately towards Castlevania III then Symphony. It was this point where the backtracking and crate-shoving puzzles were minimized that I began to have the most fun and feel like I was playing a classic Castlevania title. Then it abruptly ended. This game has a strange conclusion that just drops the mic and walks off stage. It’s hard to quantify because it’s not unsatisfying in content. It just sort of happens and then the credits roll. I feel like I won’t be surprised if the next major Lords console release picks up right where this game leaves off, giving credence to such a bizarre finale.
Mirror of Fate isn’t all bad though. The graphics and character animations are crisp and the 3D effects in many of the castle zones are quite cool to look at. Plus, there are some interesting takes on classic weapons, like adding physics to Simon’s throwing axe. I also have to give credit to the composer because the game’s musical score is excellent. Its problems seem to stem from not going the whole way with the new ideas it tries to introduce. I feel like the game was designed with the idea that “if you are making Castlevania on a handheld, you must include X”, and this led to a bunch of mechanics being added just to mark off checkboxes. It would have been better if it eschewed these and played completely to its strengths. I envision a focused, linear, action-platformer modelled on Super Castlevania IV or similar entries.
I can’t recommend Castlevania:Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate to die-hard fans. If you’re looking for something akin to the previous DS entries you’re going to be disappointed. However, strictly going as a third party action-platformer on the 3DS, it’s not a bad game. I would say if you’re willing to keep an open mind and looking for something on-the-go, maybe pick it up once the price has dropped a bit.