Change of Pace and Genre
Konami’s refurbished series gets a second instalment with the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate (2013, in HD 2014). While exploring Dracula’s castle, players take on the roles of Gabriel Belmont, Simon Belmont, Alucard, and Trevor Belmont in an intermezzo that connects the events of Lords of Shadow and Lords of Shadow 2 … or so the developers thought. Mercury Steam, this time without Kojima Productions, tries to find a balance between Symphony of the Night fans and the new-found player base. I played this after Lords of Shadow 2 in hopes of learning more about Dracula’s rise to power, or how he assembled his minion army (secretly hoping to learn more about the Gorgons or Carmilla), but ended up slightly disenchanted. I especially liked the first entry to the series and the castle parts in LoS 2, but since this game didn’t focus on these things, I concentrated more on the gameplay in Mirror of Fate rather than the story.
In an attempt to balance things out
Although the reboot was meant to revive the franchise with a new ideas, Konami listened to fan feedback and so Mirror of Fate takes on more of Symphony of the Night’s characteristics: It’s a sidescroller with more emphasis on backtracking. It also adopts three of the most beloved Castlevania protagonists into its canon. After starting the game as Lords of Shadow’s (2010) very own Gabriel Belmont in the tutorial stage, players will explore Dracula’s domain first as Simon Belmont, the hero of the very first Castlevania (1986), then as Alucard from Symphony of the Night (1997), and after that as Trevor Belmont, whose back story has been changed for the sake of this series. It also features references to previous games like the occasional turkey, pixel graphic loading screens, or Medusa heads.
Since this is a Nintendo 3DS port, the three campaigns are moderately short. After players start the game as Gabriel, they’ll immediately have to say goodbye to him, because Simon is the star of the first quest. (Get it? Simon’s Quest? Never mind.) The two Belmonts pretty much teach players about the button layout, items, and different mechanics while gradually increasing the difficulty level. With that said, it isn’t until one gets to play as Alucard in Act II where things start to get interesting. Aside from getting stronger opponents, the second campaign also contains Lords of Shadow styled puzzles. These will be replaced by platforming puzzles and precision platforming in the third story revolving around Trevor. By that time, the enemies also try their A-game when regular monsters are swapped out for large opponents with a lot of health.
The entire game is in 2.5D, which makes for some pretty cool camera angles during fights. To make up for the lower fidelity of the 3DS, the cutscenes went for a more ageless, comic like style through cel shading techniques and show that Mirror of Fate definitely hasn’t lost the humor of its precursor. However, unlike in the last game, this one stays more within the constraints of the Castlevania universe. Even so, there are two minor issues to this: From a gameplay perspective, the sidescrolling and open world backtracking makes it feel very different from the first one. It’s the same universe and combo system, but everything else seems a bit off. It’s apparent that Mirror of Fate is stuck between two very different Castlevania franchises. From a story perspective, the entry did not answer any of the existing questions regarding Dracula, the king of the undead and lord of all monsters. Like, what did he do with his powers up until then? What did he do after? What effects did his period of influence have on both people and monsters? Maybe those could be answered in future LoS games, if Konami wishes to continue the series.
Notwithstanding those two peculiarities, some of the undeniably positive changes this game made to its predecessor should be mentioned: The plot is now told through cutscenes instead of Patrick Stewart’s cliff notes version during loading screens. The puzzles too are now better incorporated into the game and give a feeling of agency. The combo system is easier than with the first Lords of Shadow (which might be because of the Nintendo 3DS), but is still satisfying and definitely manageable for occasional to midcore players. Even complete newcomers to the Hack-n-Slash genre shouldn’t have too many issues completing the game on Normal difficulty. Fans of mild backtracking – like you see it in the Shantae series (2002 ongoing) – will feel right at home here, but those who were expecting a Symphony of the Night like experience will feel a bit let down.
About the port
The quality of the HD release for PC is not too shabby. Like with the precursor, please keep in mind that this game is best played with a gamepad. Despite playing on a toaster, during my playthrough, I was experiencing a pretty good framerate while the game was very responsive to inputs. Of course, due to its portable roots, many regular enemies now telegraph their attacks more prominently than they would have in the previous title. The online leaderboards are definitely a nice touch and the newly added achievements add extra spice to the whole thing. The graphics took a minor hit, but that was too be expected from a handheld port. They still look commendable on 1080p, however.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate has trouble fitting in the shoes of the original and the later title. Though the many nods to long-time Castlevania fans are definitely great, the developers, at times, played it too safe by trying to be agreeable with old and new players. Maybe I had the wrong expectations because I played Lords of Shadow 2 before this, but the story was not as catchy as in the other two titles of the series. I commend Konami and Mercury Steam for listening to their player base, though sadly, the result is not so much for me. It’s a moderately short game where my first play through took a little over 15 hours, which included collecting all items, getting lost, and acquiring the “Beast hunter” achievement (kill 1000 enemies). Unless you really want the complete Lords of Shadow series, it might be better to skip this title and focus on the two big entries of the series.
The game is a 7.5 explorations of Dracula’s castle out of 10
Where to get
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is available at a retailer near you for the Nintendo 3DS with a suggested retail price of $29.99 USD or your local equivalent. The HD version (Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD) is available as digital download on Steam for $14.99 USD or your local equivalent. Additionally, there is a Castlevania Lords of Shadow Collection, available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, which contains the first two titles plus a demo of Lords of Shadow 2. The game can also be bought directly from Konami’s homepage.
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All screenshots taken by me during my playthrough and recorded using the Steam Overlay feature.