Review - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate

Review – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

3DStination.com reviews Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, the first Nintendo 3DS installment of Konami’s classic franchise: 
“[Mirror of Fate is] a solid action/adventure game that does a fine job of continuing the legacy that started with Lords of Shadow and will be seen again soon in Lords of Shadow 2.”

Review – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – MIrror of Fate

Game Details ~

Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: MercurySteam
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Price: $39.99 (MSRP, via Nintendo eShop), $34.99 (Pre-Owned @ GameStop.com)

Review Details ~

Time Played: 11 hours, 44 minutes (via Activity Log)
Difficulty Played: Normal
Percentage Complete:
87% (3/3 Acts complete)

Summary ~

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate - 9In 2010, Konami decided to take its long-running Castlevania franchise in a new direction with the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 title Lords of Shadow; the reboot of the series was heavily centered around its stylish, cinematic action scenes, its Uncharted-like platforming sequences, and its epic showdowns against boss characters that were generally too large to fit on the screen. The scale of the adventure was grand, and the fast-paced combat was satisfying: for all intents and purposes, it seemed Konami had finally done something right with Castlevania on consoles, and the idea of Lords of Shadow 2 was totally welcomed.

This new direction for Castlevania seemed to bode well enough with fans of the series until the moment Konami and MercurySteam unveiled the first 3DS Castlevania - Mirror of Fate, a direct sequel to Lords of Shadow. At first glance, everything seemed perfect: a side-scrolling Castlevania with 3D models and environments? Before Konami had shown much of the game, the stylish, action-focused game design already appeared to overshadow the old-fashioned platforming and exploration-based style that defined the Castlevania games on the Game Boy Advance and the original DS. This didn’t sit so well with fans, naturally. Both Konami and MercurySteam insisted before launch that Mirror of Fate would be the portable Castlevania that fans were looking for. Delay upon delay made all the promises seem more doubtful, as the game missed its original launch window in 2012, pushed back to 2013, and finally shipped this March.

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All things considered, I’m disappointed to admit that Mirror of Fate wanders far from the tricks and treats that I personally held so dear in games like Dawn of Sorrow, Aria of Sorrow, Circle of the Moon, and Portrait of Ruin - but by no means is it a bad game. For what it’s worth, it’s a solid action/adventure game that does a fine job of continuing the legacy that started with Lords of Shadow and will be seen again soon in Lords of Shadow 2. 

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me discuss in greater detail some of the things I liked and didn’t particularly like so much about Mirror of Fate:

YAY: The presentation, from the art direction to the cinematics, the soundtrack to the voice acting, is damned impressive.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate - 7With its “2.5D” side-scrolling perspective, Mirror of Fate takes advantage of beautifully-rendered, highly-detailed character models and equally-detailed environments. Combined with the trademark art direction of the Castlevania series, it’s often stunning to look at – especially with the 3D effects enabled. Most of the story scenes in the game are presented through fully-voiced cinematics that use a nifty cel-shaded filter; there is plenty of impressive real-time action that really takes advantage of the stereoscopic effects, such as a scene where an armored knight hurls a goblin toward the screen. Mirror of Fate absolutely loves moments like these, throwing them at you frequently – and with the 3D slider turned up, you will more than likely be impressed.

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Though it isn’t detailed to quite the same degree as Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate does a solid job of conveying the feeling of its story, and though I felt like it was ultimately predictable, the plot captured my interest with its cast. As a reboot of the franchise, Lords of Shadow threw the timeline and canon out the door, so we see appearances from Gabriel Belmont (now assuming the role of Dracula, after the events of the first Lords of Shadow), Simon Belmont, Alucard, and Trevor Belmont – Gabriel’s son. Again, I wouldn’t consider the narrative to be award-winning, but I enjoyed Lords of Shadow enough to take an interest in the events of this game, and found its set-up to the sequel to be captivating enough.

YAY: The stylish combat seen in Lords of Shadow returns without anything lost in translation.

If there is one thing Lords of Shadow did very well, it was the third-person hack-and-slash combat, seemingly ripped from games like God of War and Devil May Cry. The action in Mirror of Fate really doesn’t lose any of its momentum despite being ported not just from console to handheld, but also translated from 3D to 2D. Simon, Trevor and Alucard are all easy enough to control, and their combo attacks handle much like they did for Gabriel in Lords of Shadow. There are direct and area strikes, in addition to Light and Dark Magic attacks for each protagonist. The Light/Dark attacks are somewhat simplified (Light attacks heal you at the cost of MP, Dark attacks are much stronger at the cost of MP), but work well to enhance the other basic moves. Each of the three characters also carries a unique secondary item, such as the boomerang and flasks of liquid that slows the time around your foes.

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What impressed me the most about the combat in Mirror of Fate were the instances when the camera would pan out, moving from a side-scrolling perspective to almost full 3D. The action gets exciting in these moments, and go a long way to show off the nicely-designed visual effects and combat animations. I would have liked to see more of this while exploring less combat-focused areas of the game, but it was nonetheless a treat to see when it did occur.

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the wonderful presentation of the game, the basics of combat, and the intuitiveness of the controls, there were some areas of criticism that were pervasive throughout my experience with Mirror of Fate:

NAY: The sense of reward found by exploring and finding hidden areas is almost entirely absent from Mirror of Fate.

One of the most challenging parts of handheld Castlevania games has always been chasing 100% map completion, a feat achieved by finding all of the hidden areas within Dracula’s labyrinth. This usually involved striking walls or other off-looking objects until you’d break through, much like classic Metroid games (that’s where the “Metroidvania” thing came from after all). As mundane and frustrating as it sounds, it was actually part of what made the best handheld Castlevania games so rewarding. Mirror of Fate does dangle a few carrots in front of you along the way, but for the most part, this one’s all about the action.

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This is perhaps the point of no return for die-hard Castlevania fans; I’m being totally honest when I say that Mirror of Fate very rarely gives you an incentive to stray from the linear path of progression, even when solving puzzles or navigating a brand-new location. It’s like the Final Fantasy XIII of Castlevania games; so linear that it would almost take more effort to get lost somewhere. This is truly disappointing; not a game-breaker for me, but it definitely makes Mirror of Fate feel more like a tribute to Lords of Shadow than anything. As a slightly related comment, the game lets you mark points of interest on the touch screen mini-map – even allowing you to leave yourself detailed notes – but the point of these memos seems to come into question when you’re so rarely venturing off the main path.

NAY: The differences between Simon, Alucard and Trevor are negligible – and the RPG-lite mechanics from past handheld Castlevanias are nowhere to be found.

Though the game is split into three separate Acts, each with a different playable character (Simon, Alucard and Trevor), the differences between the protagonists are almost negligible to the point of being invisible. In fact, even their movement is almost the same – though it definitely seemed like Simon was quicker on his feet, while Alucard was more manageable in the air.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate - 13The lack of exploration is likely the biggest disappointment for most Castlevania fans, but to a certain degree, I really miss the RPG-lite aspects of the previous handheld games in the series. For example, I spent hours going back through the same areas in Circle of the Moon just to grind experience points from the same respawning foes until I had leveled up and increased my stats to a point that might help me defeat the next boss. In fact, the whole XP-grinding process was just as vital to getting through the GBA/NDS installments as any JRPG. You could also find and equip new weapons, armor, accessories, and use consumable items, storing a hefty inventory of goodies as you trekked through the castle. This is not the case in Mirror of Fate; each character comes with a default weapon, and with the exception of obtaining Light and Dark Magic, there is nothing else to find to customize your character. Again, I really enjoyed equipping different kinds of weapons, and switching between them – like pulling out smaller, quicker blades to cut through a horde of zombies before unsheathing a massive broadsword to finish off an armored knight beyond them.

NAY: Frequent checkpoints and auto-saves erase any sense of challenge – particularly in the middle of boss fights.

Without any reason to grind XP, search for equipment, or go spelunking for hidden areas, Mirror of Fate is very straightforward. Making it even more of a breeze for Castlevania vets is its checkpoint/auto-save system, which both eliminates the need for the classic save rooms, and squanders away any sense of challenge that was left in the game. I normally wouldn’t complain about generous checkpoints – we all know how much of a pain in the ass it is when the opposite situation becomes a problem – but Mirror of Fate crosses the line.

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For example, there were several instances throughout the game where I would be going about my platforming business, and lo and behold – I’d miss a jump, and plummet into the abyss. In the GBA/NDS Castlevania games, this would mean re-loading the last save, surrendering any random loot you had obtained up to that point, and the need to fight your way back to the same point. In Mirror of Fate, the checkpoints and auto-saves are so generous that I’d usually end up on the platform I just fell from – even worse, a few times I ended up at the spot that I was trying (but failed) to reach on my own.

Perhaps the most offensive instance of checkpoint abuse occurs during boss fights – that’s right, “fights” being plural. In any of the multi-staged boss fights (of which there are a few, though Mirror of Fate isn’t quite as epic with its major confrontations as Lords of Shadow), if you happen to die after causing enough damage to initiate the next “stage”, you’ll be re-spawned at that point in the fight. In other words, no need to backtrack from the save point, no need to conserve the health you’ve got before the fight – you’re just placed right back in the action, with a full health bar and no consequence.

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To a certain extent, the checkpoint issue combined with the linearity of the game made me feel like Mirror of Fate just wanted me to get through it and get it over with. There was nothing to be side-tracked by, and no need to side-quest. There were foes between point A and point B, I killed them, and found both satisfaction and disappointment in the process. Of course, the game is much more exciting than I’m making it out to be, but the fact that it seems to push you through its already tunnel-visioned path of progression is just very unfortunate.

Conclusion/Recommendation ~ Try It/Play It.

Although anyone who read the last few paragraphs of this review might not have much to consider in terms of purchasing or playing Mirror of Fate, don’t be completely turned away: the potential of this one and what it could have been are what make it more of a bummer for dedicated Castlevania fans. Anyone else looking for a solid action/adventure game should actually find plenty to enjoy here – the quest is more than ten hours long, the presentation is brilliant, and the stylish combat system from Lords of Shadow (which was quite good, for the record) is ported to the 3DS very well. It doesn’t give you a lot of incentive to come back after finishing it, but if you check out the demo version of the game on the Nintendo eShop and end up enjoying it, I’d recommend giving the full game a shot.

Scores ~

Design/Concept: 7/10
Presentation: 9.5/10
Functionality: 5.5/10
Replay Value: 5.5/10

Final Score: 7/10

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