In a generation filled with franchise reboots, none is as polarizing as Konami’s decision to reboot the Castlevania franchise. Primarily existing as a series of portable titles on Nintendo platforms prior to the reboot in 2010, the series never met any significant success on bigger consoles. With Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, the fan base was split in two: Some appreciated the centuries old storyline depicting the rivalry between the Belmont clan and Dracula, while others appreciated the direction Castlevania: Lords of Shadow took with the series. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate intends to expand upon the idea of the latter, promising some really interesting surprises and references for fans of the former. The result is something in the middle, succeeding in infusing some added nostalgia and minor story advancement to the franchise reboot, but unfortunately fumbling where it needs to succeed the most.
Talking about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate‘s story is tricky, being that it’s a direct sequel to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on current consoles. The game officially takes place many years after the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow where you begin your journey through Dracula’s castle as Simon Belmont. Bearing witness to his parents’ death at the hands of Dracula’s forces when he was young, the 36 year old descendant of the Belmont clan seeks to avenge his family by returning to his homeland and defeating Dracula once and for all.
If this sounds like the beginning of the original Castlevania, that’s because it is… except for a few story beats that remind you that this is anything but the original. The game has a total of three Acts, with each Act having a different main character. A prologue, where you play as Gabriel Belmont just before the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, serves as a tutorial to the game ensuring you’re familiar with how to use your whip.
Talking any further about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate‘s storyline leads straight into spoiler city. What I can tell you, however, is that the story is told through different viewpoints. What ties all the characters together is a mysterious creature with a cracked mask, whose visage is found in both the logo and on the bottom of the screen while cutscenes play. The prevailing mood of the story is such that everyone’s fate is not their own with each person having a part to play, painting Dracula as not just the mere one dimensional villain of the previous timeline in the series, but one whose hand was forced and someone who has unwittingly set in motion many of the events that have unfolded in the current timeline.
And, sadly, as much as I’ve avoided discussing the overall story of the game, there isn’t much else to write home about… other than that the game exists merely to bridge the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Many of the game’s secrets can easily be deciphered by long-time series fans like myself, save for the existence of the aforementioned mysterious creature. And the fact that the developers weren’t being too coy about the inclusion of Trevor Belmont and Alucard didn’t help mask the mystery they were trying to build up to. This is unfortunate, given that the game is clearly a product with some of the highest production values to be seen in a 3DS title and an epic storyline would have rounded out the whole package.
As briefly mentioned earlier, all the characters in the game utilize the whip. Because of the game’s 2D nature, the functionality of the whip is modified from its 3D counterpart. Pressing the Y button will make your character swing his whip towards his opponent, while pressing the X button will make your character swing his whip overhead, hitting flying opponents as well as hitting opponents on the ground. The overhead whip attack does not immediately attack enemies in front of your character, allowing them to get out of a block stun state and retaliate with an attack.
Unblockable attacks can be jumped over or dodge rolled to be avoided and are usually accompanied by an obvious glow coming from your enemies. Regular attacks can either be blocked by holding down the the L button or can be parried by carefully timing your L button press upon impact. Because of the frame rate, which I will discuss further later, enemy attacks take a little bit of time to execute, ensuring that you have enough time to see and react to your opponents’ moves. Dodge rolls can be executed by pressing Left or Right on the Circle Pad while holding down the L button and you’re able to do this in the air as well. As if going down a list of things needed to add, the developers felt that they needed to include quick time events in certain parts of the game. While visually interesting, these sequences really add little to the game and to the overall gameplay.
There’s also a very basic leveling system that increases the amount of damage you inflict and are able to take that doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. Your character can procure items that will permanently increase your health or your magic, which mitigate the growing pains you’ll have with enemies. The size of your health bar, in addition to your magic bar and levels gained, carries over to the next protagonist in the following Acts and becomes available to all playable characters. Using the game’s Chapter Select, you are able to replay all of these Acts if you wish to get 100% completion on each. Reaching 100% in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate unlocks a very short video at the end of the game that might as well be watched on YouTube if you’re not a completionist. Not being a completionist myself, I managed to get through 75% of the game without even trying by randomly taking side paths that eventually led me to secret items that increased the completion percentage.
Later in the game, you obtain different items that you can utilize using the heart currency carried over from the previous Castlevania timeline. The game doesn’t attempt to rationalize why the heroes need hearts to use the items, which is fine. Skillful use of these obtained items is key to making enemy encounters a ton easier. For instance, Simon Belmont receives what is pretty much the equivalent of the Holy Water relic from the previous portable Castlevanias, which has a profound affect on enemies that linger in one location for too long. Along the same lines, each character also receives a couple of magic spells that not only help with combating enemies, but sometimes provides ways for the character to traverse the different parts of the castle.
The castle in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is similar to other portable Castlevania titles in that you need specific types of items to go through certain areas of the game. The castle isn’t exactly the same in all Acts. Some of the levels have very interesting and ornate designs and challenges. One particular scenario forced me to race down a very narrow passageway, running away from an object that would kill me in an instant. As with previous portable Castlevanias, all iterations of Dracula’s castle have teleporters that help you get from one area of the castle to the other. While useful, I didn’t find the need to use it all the time as some sections of the castle are small and condense. One of the Acts, however, has an oddly increased emphasis on puzzle solving which, while it was a pleasant surprise, seemed to slow the pace of the action that the series is known for.
The absence of many of the traditional Castlevania
The look and overall aesthetic feel of the game is definitely something that I applaud the developers for. The game’s environments are some of the most detailed 3D environments on the 3DS, and all the visuals are accompanied by a terrific score by current series composer Oscar Araujo. While you probably won’t hear some classic Castlevania tunes, the compositions evoke the mood of the current timeline and parallel the story’s beats.
In an ironic twist, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow‘s legacy of having sub-par frame rate performance is carried over to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. This is probably the biggest problem of the whole title, as it has a slight effect on the timing of your attacks, parries, and blocks. As with some 3DS games, putting the system on the non-3D mode helps the system render the frame rate better but, in general, the frame rate on the actual game is much better than the demo they released. Either way, the frame rate performance of the game is a pity, given that the 3D effects in this game are probably some of the best on the 3DS.
Another point of contention is the abundance of checkpoints throughout the game. It felt like every other platform in the game, save for a few areas towards the end of the final Act, had some sort of checkpoint trigger that caused the game to save your progress. Previous portable Castlevania titles had save rooms that allowed the player to save their progress provided they make it to said rooms. Because of this constant checkpoint triggering, I found myself clumsily dropping to my doom, rushing hap-hazardly through traps, and wailing away blindly at my opponents without ever having a worry of doing some excessive backtracking… and yes, that’s actually a bad thing. This is an example of excessive checkpoint triggering making a game incredibly easy.
Maybe this design decision was necessitated because the level design didn’t take into good account the falling damage that’s been introduced in this game. While the game is pretty free form and allows you to explore much of the castle to your heart’s content, later sections of the game have you traversing down into areas that have more crucial platforming elements. While you can hold down on the Circle Pad to look down below you, often times it’s not really entirely clear if there’s a platform underneath you or not. Also, there are a few sections of the game where it’s not too clear if something can cause you damage. These small things add up and break the flow of the gameplay, making you all too wary of how you advance through some of the areas.
Despite these problems, however, I still found much to enjoy with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. While the limitation of being on a 2D plane meant that the combat mechanics would be simplified, the team at MercurySteam did a good job of replicating the feel of the combat of its big budget predecessor. It’s just unfortunate that all this game offers in terms of advancing the Lords of Shadow storyline is the one revelation that many people potentially already know about. At the full price, along with its short length and all of its issues, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is tough to recommend to anyone but hardcore fans of the series… if you enjoy the Lords of Shadow storyline, that is.
Alex finished Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on Normal at 8:40 with 75% completion at level 16. He is a long time fan of the series since the 8-bit era, having played every single Castlevania related title released by Konami (including Kid Dracula and Wai Wai World) and likes both Castlevania timelines equally. He also admits listening to brentalfloss’ Castlevania II With Lyrics (Bloody Tears Theme) while writing part of this review. Konami did not provide a copy for review.