Fans of Konami’s longstanding Castlevania franchise have had a tough pill to swallow since 2010. That was the year that this Japanese franchise was handed off to Europeans, who completely threw out the old canon, completely changed the gameplay, and didn’t even bother to make series antagonist, Dracula part of proceedings, beyond a last-minute epilogue scene that only raised far more questions. Nonetheless, if you were willing to get past all of those questionable decisions, 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow on PS3 and Xbox 360 was still a very solid action game, even if it wasn’t shy about borrowing a hefty chunk of its ideas from competing franchises, Sony’s God of War franchise in particular.
Konami appears to be pleased with the ‘reboot’ contributed by Spanish developer, MercurySteam, since they’ve not only commissioned a proper sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, expected to release on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC sometime this year (a Wii U version was rumoured, but disproven by MercurySteam, claiming staff constraints and lack of resources), but also a consolation interquel for Nintendo gamers denied that Wii U port, meant to bridge the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This interquel is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, representing the biggest mouthful of a title in the series’ long history, and an attempt to marry the rebooted gameplay style with the open-ended adventure game progression that has defined the series since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night pioneered it on the PlayStation in 1997.
On paper, MercurySteam’s aims of good faith towards fans alienated by Lords of Shadow are unquestionable. Mirror of Fate returns the setting solely to Dracula’s Castle, and divides itself into three ‘Acts’, each from the perspective of a longtime fan-favourite character from the classic canon, brought into the rebooted continuity. For the first third of the game, you control original series hero, Simon Belmont, shifting to Dracula’s heroic son, Alucard for the second third, and playing as the other most popular Belmont in the franchise, Trevor Belmont for the final third. Blending these classic elements with the return of the combat system from Lords of Shadow, Mirror of Fate is quite the ambitious Castlevania game on paper!
Unfortunately, it also smacks of being more than a little rushed in the end, which is perhaps unsurprising, considering that the smaller MercurySteam studio developed the game simultaneously with Lords of Shadow 2, no doubt straining their limited manpower against a release deadline. Fans will still find the game a solid adventure worth playing, but when 3DS gamers with a taste for action-adventures have so many better options like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Resident Evil: Revelations and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Mirror of Fate becomes much more difficult to recommend. This is a game designed explicitly for hardcore Castlevania fans who want to set the stage for the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2, and almost no one else.
Regardless of your current character, you’re left to explore the many sections of Dracula’s (enormous) Castle, looking for necessary tools, abilities and whatever else to try and proceed the plot. As you find treasures, defeat bosses and solve some neat puzzles, more areas of the castle will gradually open up to you. If you’ve played any of Nintendo’s Metroid games, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or any of the Castlevania games on the Game Boy Advance and/or DS, then you shouldn’t have much trouble grasping how Mirror of Fate is progressed. Consequently, if you’ve played through Lords of Shadow already, you’ll immediately feel at home with the combat system. Every character wields some variation of the Combat Cross, the chain whip-like weapon from Lords of Shadow, using ‘direct attacks’ with the Y button, ‘indirect attacks’ with the X button, and various magic functions with the Control Pad. The Control Pad being used for magic forces you to move your character with the Circle Pad, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but in a game where you’re always moving on a 2D plane, it can be rather awkward.
The magic abilities are the only things separating the playable characters. Simon uses guardian spirits that can enhance his attacks and defenses. Alucard can shapeshift, with most of his abilities being recognizable from Symphony of the Night. Lastly, Trevor brings back the light/shadow magic system from Lords of Shadow, having players activate magic that either restores a bit of their health with every hit, or deals additional damage respectively. Beyond that, every character shares the exact same exploration capability for the most part. When one character learns to double jump or tear down a wall, you’ll retain that ability when the perspective shifts to a new character. Also shared is your ‘level’, which, frankly, is a bit of an arbitrary throwback to the post-Symphony of the Night games, since you’ll effortlessly reach the level cap of 18 (yes, 18) before you even come to the final battle, especially since Mirror of Fate rarely gives you the option of avoiding combat. Your character level doesn’t really enhance your stats anyway, being more for unlocking new combo options with the Combat Cross, and nothing else.
Beyond all this, you’re basically spending most of the game running around, flipping levers, and hacking up monsters, occasionally stumbling on a vital cutscene or item of interest that opens up more of the castle. To be fair, the combat system can be pretty enjoyable when it’s not just repeating the same enemies constantly. The detail with which the combat from Lords of Shadow has been replicated in a 3DS game is undeniably impressive too! The boss battles are also pretty solid, albeit a bit on the easy side, since the game throws frequent checkpoints not just between areas, but also in the middle of a boss battle, virtually completely eliminating players’ fear of death. The frequent use of quick-time events only makes these battles even more brainless, and while they’re certainly not bad, they feel like a step down from the more impressive boss encounters throughout Lords of Shadow.
Mirror of Fate can often suffer from a feeling of being too sparse and too slowly-paced. Everything, even the enemy encounters, feels very arbitrary and scripted, surprisingly lacking the more consistent gameplay flow in the Castlevania games on Game Boy Advance and DS. Dracula’s Castle feels disappointingly empty in Mirror of Fate, only occasionally keeping you on your toes with interesting obstacles and enemy encounters. Again, it feels like more was planned, but MercurySteam didn’t really have time to better populate the environments. You’re just moving from scripted point to scripted point, following the red arrows on the Touch Screen’s map, without much incentive to explore, unless you’re striving for 100% completion by finding all of the collectibles and upgrades. You unlock an additional epilogue cutscene for beating the game with 100% completion, but it’s not a very long scene, and it feels underwhelming, which will be disappointing to fans who are rabidly anticipating Lords of Shadow 2.
To be fair though, not every element of Mirror of Fate feels poorly-realized. As in Lords of Shadow, the game’s environments are absolutely gorgeous, especially for 3DS standards! They’re packed with atmospheric detail, and they do a solid job of making up for how empty some of their contents can be, simply because it all looks so breathtaking! The character and monster models are slightly less impressive, but still solid. The animated cutscenes that occasionally play also look very cool, even if it can be distracting to see the characters’ lips barely move during the spoken dialogue. All of this is made all the better when you crank up the 3D effect too, which makes the environments appear to stretch far into the distance, increasing the immersion considerably! Some of the 3D feels intentionally cheeky, such as how the body parts of zombies and skeletons appear to fly out of the 3D Screen when they’re destroyed, and there’s even a few in-game cutscenes that throw things at the player’s face, as if to be funny. The 3D doesn’t directly benefit gameplay, and you could just as easily play in 2D and not lose very much. Still, it’s a good 3D presentation that fans of playing in 3D will want to take advantage of, especially since it’s easy to see that MercurySteam clearly had fun messing with the 3DS’s 3D capabilities!
Sadly, if you were hoping for the enjoyable extras that often accompanied the Game Boy Advance and DS games, you’re out of luck here. You do unlock an extra tough difficulty for beating the game, and that bonus scene for 100% completion, but beyond that, there’s nothing else to do with Mirror of Fate once it’s completed. One playthrough of the game will probably last around eight to ten hours, depending on your difficulty level and how thorough you are with collectibles, which isn’t awful for an action-adventure game on 3DS, but it’s not great either. There’s no DLC component, no StreetPass functionality, no SpotPass functionality, nor any other in-game extra, like a boss rush or sound test. You do get a bestiary and some unlockable art, but that’s not terribly exciting, especially since the bestiary won’t be filled out unless you collect Bestiary Cards throughout the castle as each character.
Mirror of Fate has just enough high points for avid Castlevania fans to enjoy, but if they’re picky with their cash, they may want to wait for a price drop, since the disappointing lack of content in the game struggles to justify a $40 price tag. The package is much thinner compared to the surprisingly packed and lengthy Lords of Shadow, and there aren’t any real extras to speak of once you’ve completed the main story either. As mentioned, the 3DS has plenty of better options for those just seeking a good action-adventure game as well, with more no doubt on the way soon. If Castlevania is your particular cup of tea, then by all means, enjoy Mirror of Fate if you need to scratch that itch while you keep up the long wait for Lords of Shadow 2. Considering that this same month also saw the release of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for 3DS owners however, we would be much more inclined to recommend either of those over Mirror of Fate, should you be ambivalent towards the Castlevania brand.
Mirror of Fate may be a functional game, but it does feel like a rough draft for a much more impressive masterpiece. Hopefully, should MercurySteam try their hand at another Castlevania game for 3DS, it will be that masterpiece that recaptures the classic appeal of the series’ Symphony of the Night-inspired lineup. For now though, we’re merely left to hope that the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2 leaves much more of an impression.