Earlier this week, the Nintendo eShop released the Castlevania – Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate demo and I gave it a go. The demo was short but gave me a very clear picture of what I would expect from the first Castlevania game for the 3DS: The mechanics of the full 3D environment Lords of Shadow (on the Xbox 360 and PS3) on a side-scrolling platformer.
Mirror of Fate is the bridge between the first Lords of Shadow and upcoming Lords of Shadow 2 focusing on the “origins” story of several key characters in the Belmont bloodline. The story is a hate or love kind of thing to me as it will shake up what you already know of Castlevania prior to the reboot.
The game is divided into four (4) episodes and characters to play as. However, these characters are technically the same and vary slightly only with their magic skills and secondary weapons. All characters wield a Combat Cross (aka The Whip) and have the same list of moves while their magic skills are mostly utilized as a tool for exploration more than a combat necessity.
You don’t pick up loot, there are no restoratives, there are no variety of weapons, armor, and accessories to find and equip. The only things you search for are power-ups to extend your health bar, magic bar, secondary weapon ammunition, dead soldier scrolls and bestiary scrolls for game completion.
Share new abilities through character lineage – Gamers pass on their characters’ newfound abilities in each era and discover the true destiny of the Belmonts.
– Konami Website
The “ability sharing feature” is quite laughable as the only ability that is truly passed on is “double jump” and the whip skills. Magic skills and secondary weapons are not shared between characters.
Truth be told, I only found myself using a very limited number of abilities through-out the game namely: Double Jump, Rolling, Counter Guard, and pressing the “Y” button 2-4 times or the “X” button 2-4 times for attacking. While there are several whip moves, I never felt the need to learn any of them at all.
All boss fights are fought on a flat surface and the key to winning is learning their limited attack patterns and keeping your distance while your Combat Cross (with insanely long reach) does all the work. It is rare to fight a boss which requires you to do some platforming, as a matter of fact I can just remember one boss fight which involved something other than rolling out of the way or jumping over the enemy.
There are no save points in the game as it utilizes a checkpoint system where the game auto-saves when you reach certain points and even in the middle of boss fights. While this reduces the frustration of dying tremendously, it doesn’t make platforming and boss fights as rewarding as it should be or challenging for that matter.
What I can appreciate about the combat in Mirror of Fate is the fact that even the lowliest monsters will not tolerate a sloppy player. Hit and run is a thing in this game because putting yourself in range of monsters and not caring if you get hit or not is very punishing in this game. You cannot “out rank” monsters in terms of stats because there are none. To me, this is a welcome addition but fans of the Nintendo DS Castlevania games might disagree.
Platforming in this game is quite lenient as it was in the original Lords of Shadow. There are a lot of ledges to hang on and jump from. There will be swinging with the combat cross which is just a simple press of the “R” button when the hook is visible on screen. The moves look really nice but they really are not much of a challenge.
While the level of detail on the characters and environments are arguably one of the best I’ve seen on the 3DS, the game suffers from low frame rates especially when there are several moving elements on screen. While these drops in frame rates do not cause “lag-death” it is very straining on the eyes and tends to make playing for more than 30 minutes uncomfortable.
Cut scenes have full voice acting and are presented in a cell-shaded animation style. They look really good on 3D mode but you will notice their lips aren’t synced with the character lines. As a matter of fact, they hardly move at all! It’s not a big issue but it does take away a certain level of immersion. Also, turning cartoony on the cut scenes just seems wrong to me. I would rather they keep the things consistent.
The music of the game is nice and sublime. It fits the mood of the game but I do miss the memorable and catchy tunes from previous Castlevania games which make you just want to linger on in a certain spot and listen to the music.
Seeing all the technical issues and limitations, we might be seeing this game pushing the 3DS’ hardware to the limit which isn’t exactly a good sign because Castlevania: Mirror of Fate is a very short game. I’ve clocked in over 8 hours of playing time to finish the game on normal mode with 80% of the game explored. The next step is playing the “Hardcore” difficulty setting unlocked after finishing the game once and to get 100% to unlock an extra cut scene and that’s that. I suppose you could push your playing time to about 20 hours maximum with consideration of dying more frequently due to a higher difficulty setting. Twenty hours is not the amount of game time I come to expect from a Castlevania title on the handheld. I am worried that this is as much content as we can expect should there be another Castlevania for a handheld console, the bar should be set higher compared to Mirror of Fate. I hope this is technically possible.
In conclusion, I like the direction Castlevania is going for the handhelds in general but this is still a work in progress as Konami is far from reaching that sweet spot that old and potential new fans of the series will all be able to appreciate. If you’re expecting “Symphony of the Night”, you will be disappointed. But if you’re a fan of the first Lords of Shadow or similar games such as God of War, and you’re in to 2-D platforming, you might consider picking up this game but I wouldn’t go as far as telling you this is a must-have for the 3DS.