Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is an side-scrolling action-adventure game for the Nintendo 3DS. It is a sequel to the 2010 reboot of the Castlevania franchise, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which appeared on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. MercurySteam developed the original Lords of Shadow and this 3DS sequel, as well they will develop the upcoming Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. The Spain-based developer’s prior work includes American McGee presents: Scrapland and Clive Barker’s Jericho. Mirror of Fate continues their track record of long and slightly confusing game names. Konami published the title in America. While Lords of Shadow utilized 3D graphics to have more open levels to explore in a more modern approach, Mirror of Fate returns to the side-scrolling roots of the series and what made the highly regarded GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS Castlevanias hugely popular with critics and fans (often over their home console brethren). Is this more classic Castlevania approach a good way to draw in those who missed Lords of Shadow, but are still love a good side-scrolling Castlevania? Or does this simply serve as a fun side-story for those who enjoyed Lords of Shadow and need something to tide them over until the proper sequel?
Mirror of Fate’s story takes place in three acts following various Belmonts, all of them with a grudge to settle against Dracula. Over the three acts, players will control Simon Belmont, a mysterious figure named Alucard (NILBOG is goblin backwards), and finally Trevor Belmont. The story intersects between the first two acts and the final act elaborates on what happened to Simon’s father, but the reveal happens at the end of act one. So, the final act is almost superfluous except to serve as extra gameplay. On its own independent of the events of Lords of Shadow, the story is serviceable, but trying to fill in all the holes between the two may take the player a little time because the game has no real intention to do so. Part of that makes Mirror of Fate satisfying in its own right without having to play another game. Mirror of Fate tells an alright story of vengeance of various Belmonts who want to hunt down the evil that killed their parent(s). There is not a hugely deep game, but the writing is effective without having twenty minute monologues. However, this is not a vital story to what the console Lords of Shadows seem to be doing, especially after the reveal trailer for Lords of Shadow 2. For those who want to know what Dracula was up to before the next game, then this fills in some details.
Gameplay in Mirror of Fate involves players exploring various areas in Dracula’s Castle. The maps fill in as the player moves through them and certain areas are blocked off until the right equipment is found, thus players will have to backtrack occasionally to find secret items or in order to make progress through the castle. It is the standard for a Metroidvania game (where the Vania part come from). The mechanics mix combat, platforming and light puzzle solving in order to make it to the inevitable battle with Dracula. Mirror of Fate’s protagonists all have their trusty combat crosses to fight off the hordes of demons that Dracula sends to kill them. Combat begins very simple, at first, featuring simple combos of heavy direct and area counter strikes which amounts to mashing X and Y. What helps these simple combos is a fairly smart dodging and blocking system aided by the synchronized block. A synchronized block is a block timed right before impact that opens the enemy up for a powerful counter attack.
Eventually, players will level up opening up more complicated moves and combos that makes combat a bit more varied and enjoyable. The experience system allows gamers to level up by killing enemies, finding secret diaries or solving puzzles. In addition, to the combat cross, each of the protagonists will get two different magics and two different projectiles. These magics are usually key to get past obstacles or solving puzzles. The coolest of the power-ups are in Alucard’s section. The boss battles are fairly tough and it may take a few deaths to get the patterns down, but once learned beating them into submission is easily achievable. The game features a diligent checkpoint system, which means if players die during a boss battle, they will restart at a specific point in the battle. Usually, this is at various health markers of the boss. The gamer will have a portion of life and magic to try and deal with the boss. While this may seem like it would make boss battles too easy, it is necessary given the amount of annoying Quick Time Events there are with bosses. Nothing is more annoying than restarting a battle after failing an unclear QTE.
The puzzles are nothing too tough and mainly just take a couple times tinkering around before solving them. However, for some of the more involved ones, players can get clues at the expense of losing experience after cracking the puzzle. Platforming in Mirror of Fate is not the worst or the best, but serviceable. There are some cooler platforming sections later in the game when the gamer gets more advance gear. The gameplay mechanics are not groundbreaking for a side-scrolling Castlevania title, but that does not make the gameplay any less effective.
Graphics and Sound
The 3DS has produced some good looking games, most of them pushed the limits of the hardware. Mirror of Fate is an ambitious game with its 2.5D graphics, but the result is muddled. The game’s character models are usually rough with Simon Belmont suffering the worst. In one scene when he is facing down a boss, the lighting makes his red hair look like plastic and kind of like a really rough N64 game. It is the emphasis on his fur collar, his bushy red hair and odd beard that makes something about his proportions seem off. While Alucard, Trevor and Dracula all look fine, but something about a full beard and shorter hair does not jibe well with the game. Certain enemy models are done better than others, but none are horribly unsightly. The environments are pretty solid featuring enough differentiation between the three acts to make it seem like each of the protagonists are exploring a separate castle. Often there is huge pixelation with the character models, but this pixelation is most noticeable in the cut scenes. The cut scenes feature a stylized cel-shaded art in a way similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening, but unlike the smooth and fluid cut scenes in that game, here things are jagged and feature rough edges. Another problem with the game’s ambition is to have robust voice acting, but have little to no lip sync during cut scenes. Thus, most of the times dialogue plays without the mouths actually moving. It is a nice idea to have voice acting, even the decent enough voice acting here, but it becomes distracting when the characters’ lips do not move in time with the dialogue. A bright spot with the audio is that the soundtrack is decent enough featuring some good music for exploring a castle. Ultimately, it seems like this game would be better suited to the PlayStation Vita than the 3DS since the second screen is not doing a whole lot and the Vita could provide the power to actualize MercurySteam’s ambitions.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a solid 3DS title. It will not blow anyone way with its graphics, but with a solid story and fun gameplay elements harkening to older Castlevanias, it will fill an action-adventure niche for 3DS owners. For obsessive or diligent gamers, there is a special scene for 100% every section of the game that gives a bit more a fine point to the story. MercurySteam should be commended for aiming high with what it wanted to do with Mirror of Fate, but it falls a bit short. It does not quite seem an essential part of the Lords of Shadow saga, but more of a cool side-story for those invested in the series. Likely this will appeal more to fans of a more traditional Castlevania game and others will wait on the eventually release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.