Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate Review
Developer: Mercury Steam
- M (ESRB)
- 16+ (PEGI)
- MA (OFLC)
- D (CERO)
- March 5, 2013 (US)
- March 7, 2013 (Europe)
- March 9, 2013 (Australia)
- March 20, 2013 (Japan)
Genre: 2D action/platformer
Everyone’s had a good laugh at the title of this game. One game having two subtitles is silly, after all. However, the amount of expectations for this game can be equally absurd.
On one hand, it’s unfair to build expectations for Mirror of Fate based on previous Castlevania games. It’s its own game, and we all might be happier if we could just let it be. On the other hand, the promotional material for it certainly emphasized elements that Castlevania fans held dear. Worse yet, the game itself wants to have it all; it’s got the subweapons of old school ‘Vanias, the upgrades of the Symphony of the Night titles, and the two-button whip dichotomy of Lords of Shadow.
Finding a place for Mirror of Fate is trickier than navigating the corridors of Dracula’s home. Let’s just take a deep breath and start from scratch.
Mirror of Fate opened with demon hunter Gabriel Belmont and Maria engaging in, um, marital bliss. On that night, their son was conceived. From there, Mirror of Fate followed the Belmont lineage and those nearby. In fact, the name Mirror of Fate refers to mirrored fates within the Belmont clan; the sins of fathers are visited upon their sons.
Important cutscenes have a nifty art style that matches cel shading with washed-out colors.
The story was simple, with few characters and not many plot points to go around. There were plenty of tiny scenes here and there, though, either providing a laugh or preparing me for a throwdown. In one scene, a gaggle of humorously creepy (or creepily humorous) fleamen was about to cook the unconscious Simon Belmont alive, armor and all. Next, Simon came to and kicked one aside casually. I was then immediately thrown into combat, taking control of Simon and facing his would-be cooks.
Fleamen prepare a cauldron for some Belmont stew.
The combat itself centered around using a whip. While there were a number of different moves to explore, almost every one of them left a good half-screen length between my character and any given enemy.
This is where I’d try to describe some skirmish I had with an enemy, but I can’t recall much of what the baddies did in Mirror of Fate—I was standing halfway across the screen from them, so I never spent much time thinking about what they were up to. Instead, I stood in place and mashed one of the whip buttons. If an enemy’s attack could even reach me, like the lobbed molotov cocktails of the fleamen, I was able to see it long in advance and dodge roll out of the way.
Whips are long. Enemies in this game struggle with that.
In fact, that highlights one of the strengths of Mirror of Fate’s combat. The focus here is squarely on flow and accessibility, unfortunately at the cost of depth and danger.
I should note that although there are multiple playable characters in this game, they all share movesets. When act II began and I took control of Alucard, he knew all of the whip moves I had unlocked as Simon Belmont. It may be a convenient way of keeping gameplay consistent, but it’s also a way to build on the game’s theme of mirrors, since each protagonist’s combat is a mirror of the others’.
Not that Mirror of Fate didn’t try to provide incentives for taking risks; parrying, for instance, opened up more combat options. However, I could never get it to work reliably. Maybe it was the tiny 3DS screen versus Mirror of Fate’s dense graphics and fluid animations, or maybe the timing was too precise for me to get. Whatever the reason, I kept my distance and whipped away from halfway across the room, and battles were quick and painless.
Granted, it was that distance from danger that led me to appreciate Mirror of Fate’s graphics. Dracula’s castle featured huge rooms, and I’ll admit I got a kick out of turning up the 3DS’ 3D slider. Walls stood far in the background: musty, ill-kept structures towering over the rest of the scenery. In the middle ground were various elements to flavor each room. For instance, the kitchen featured animal carcases hanging from the ceiling and barrels in storage, while the whole room was lit an eerie red by oil lamps. Despite the fact that gameplay only took place in two dimensions, room aesthetics paid close attention to the 3D spaces they created.
Mirror of Fate has plenty of mundane yet well-detailed areas with just the right touch of creepiness. Here, an otherwise normal room for storing food shows off some scary lighting.
Unfortunately, this backfired from time to time. With the stereoscopic 3D off, I occasionally had a hard time platforming if a room’s visuals were particularly busy. Luckily, the platforming was simple, and even if I fell into a bottomless pit, I’d often spawn within a few steps of where I fell.
That said, there weren’t many unique or striking setpieces in Mirror of Fate. Rather, its strength was in providing a believable gothic environment with only a hint of that demony Dracula touch.
So, in the end, it was Mirror of Fate’s presentation that stuck with me, story most of all. In the past, Castlevania stories had been muddled by heaps of uninteresting dialogue. Although Mirror of Fate’s plot followed tragic stereotypes to a tee, the brevity of cutscenes and the small selection of characters drew me in.
The heart of the game’s tragedy lies in a plot twist. If you know anything about Castlevania III’s story, you’ll see it coming from a mile away; indeed, you might not consider it a plot twist. If you don’t know anything about Castlevania III, the plot twist is only hinted by one or two obtuse bits of dialogue. Good luck ungluing Mirror of Fate from its heritage.
- Simple but effective story
- Detailed graphics
- Easy-to-grasp combat
- Well-produced soundtrack
- Castlevania hasn’t lost its goofy sense of humor
- Easy-to-cheese combat
- Soundtrack has a generic fantasy movie vibe to it—nice orchestra, but no memorable melodies
Mirror of Fate is certainly playable, but I’m having a hard time seeing it as anything other than a mindless button masher. At best, the combat here has depth with no way to approach it; I couldn’t find anything to deter me from reducing combat to pressing one button repeatedly, and I never saw any way to advance beyond that. Given that combat is 90% of the gameplay here, it’s hard to recommend this title.
Value Verdict:Purchased new in 2013 for $39.99.
With four difficulty modes (one unlockable) and upgrades hidden in nooks and crannies all about the castle, there’s a good amount of content here. It’s not like the game wore out its welcome, either; I enjoyed its pacing, and my normal mode playthrough clocked in at a pleasant eight hours. It’s just hard to recommend given the quality of that content.