Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate | Review
You would be hard-pressed to find a game more inoffensive than Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate.
It’s rare that I get a review game that falls squarely in the middle of our ten-point scale. A game that is right in the middle of the road, as if the developers had used a level and measuring tape. Laborious to outright hate, equally difficult to love. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is one of those games.
Mirror of Fate’s plot occasionally threatens to be interesting. The otherwise tepid dialogue is delivered pretty well, and the game does mess with the established Castlevania lore in a mildly interesting way – as you might expect, since this yarn takes place in the rebooted Lords of Shadow universe. Yes, the Belmont family tree has been messed with a little. Trevor is now the direct descendant of Gabriel, and Simon is Trevor’s son. Also, Dracula and his progeny are significant characters, because Alucard was in the best Castlevania game. If none of that means anything to you, then maybe the attempts at pathos won’t really hit their mark. The game seems to assume you already care about these people and their plight. I had a passing knowledge of the existing mythos, so I did kind of appreciate the new twist on Alucard’s character and what it meant for the Belmonts. To be honest, I might have preferred actual emotional investment to mere appreciation, but the reality of Mirror of Fate isn’t too disappointing.
It’s a nice looking game, in all fairness. About half of the cutscenes are rendered in a gorgeous cel-shaded style that really should be seen with the 3D slider cranked as high as your eyes will allow. The framerate is a bit dicey at times, but the environments are well crafted, and each part of Dracula’s castle feels new enough, preventing confusion when it comes time to explore or backtrack. Everything is well designed, especially the various monsters you will probably just start bypassing after a while.
Yes, after about 5 or so hours in, I started trying to skip the combat whenever possible. Mirror of Fate is a fairly simple brawler. You have two basic attacks; a straightforward slash and 180 degree whip. If you feel like mixing it up, sometimes you can throw a projectile. Killing monsters unlock combos, but said combos usually just consist of pressing the same button more than once. Dodging/blocking is mapped to the left shoulder button, which is a delight if you’re playing on a regular-sized 3DS unit with the hands you would find on a slightly large 18 year old guy. Not only is the combat incredibly shallow, but using combos screws you over every so often. I kept unintentionally triggering an upward spin attack that usually resulted in my character taking an attack from an enemy waiting directly below. Apparently, if you jump right after pressing the ‘Y’ button, you’re stuck in that animation. I had to repeat many a boss fight because of that combo. To be fair, blowing through standard encounters has a satisfying weight to it, but when things get too complicated, it was just smarter to avoid fighting.
Some of the boss fights do try and escape the tedium of the vanilla encounters, though. Although most of them rely on pattern memorization, there are various quick time event sequences that have a decidedly epic sense of scale, despite being on the 3DS. Yes, I will defend QTEs, especially when they’re as well designed as these. Instead of buttons popping up on various areas of the screen, the button you need to press appears relative to its physical location. When you need to press the ‘A’ button, it appears on the right. You don’t need to know exactly which button it is, only that you should press the one on the right side. After playing a certain action game with off-screen prompts, this feels like a Godsend.
The game’s three playable characters each get access to magic powers that do switch up the encounters a tad, but I ever only bothered with Simon’s auto-block fairy. Certain spells occasionally play an important part in various boss fights, but I have a feeling you won’t even remember the other powers exist until you’re forced to use them at extremely specific times. Need to get through a gate? Use Alucard’s mist ability. Is there…some kind of acid rain thing made out of souls (???) blocking your path? Trigger Simon’s defense power and just walk slowly through it. Much like health, your magic can be regained at regeneration statues. Unlike health, killing enemies sometimes fills a bit of your magic meter. Running out of magic was never an issue. When I did, it was just easier to wail on the hordes with my combat cross.
In between fighting, there are puzzles and platforming sections to deal with. The puzzles are kind of clever, but if you’re playing a Castlevania game to break up your Calculus homework like I did, you probably don’t feel like using your brain any more than you just did. Each large-scale puzzle has a dead soldier nearby with a hint system you can take advantage of. Stuck? You can activate a hint, but it will lower the amount of XP you earn from completing the puzzle. Activate every hint, though, and you can just click a button to solve the puzzle. I’ve never seen this in a game before. The option to just skip a difficult section is brilliant, and I wish every game had this. It would have come in handy when it was time for platforming. Sadly, the characters are too floaty and their jumps too imprecise. Frequent deaths – be they a result of hazards or misjudged leaps – are but a certainty.
And if you want to explore Dracula’s castle in an attempt to convince yourself that Mirror of Fate is a real Castlevania game, you’ll have to deal with all the issues mentioned above. You’ll run across some well-hidden collectibles that do a decent job of world building or permanently boost your health/magic, and there are just enough points you can’t access without certain abilities to entice backtracking. But once you get the idea, there’s not really much incentive to comb the hallways of Castlevania. Eventually I got kind of sick of the dead soldier journals. Yes, I get it. He’s warning me about monsters or traps ahead. There are only so many ways you can say that.
Even after everything I’ve said, I still find it necessary to emphasize there was something about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate that kept me playing…up to a point. I wasn’t going to beat my head against a certain Trevor Belmont section with mine carts and fire, but if the game had just one more significant issue, I would’ve stopped far earlier. And vice versa. Improve on a single design aspect and my hour count would’ve been slightly longer. Mirror of Fate is a game right on the cusp: a perfectly serviceable entertainment. If you expected more than just a passable 2D action platformer, I’m sorry to disappoint.