In three parts, the twisting saga of the Belmont family sweeps through a derelict castle, inhabited by only the undead or mythical beings. Tradition holds true to the Belmont legacy: A whip solves everything. Mirror of Fate’s entire balance rests on a string of leather or metal chain links, wielded by the best in gaming lore. Yet, it never feels as such.
This lands within the universe established by Lords of Shadow, a genuinely beautiful and uniquely successful polygonal Castlevania. The base of the combat resides there in an open environment, not here within the locked down 2D space. Simon, Trevor, and Alucard send the whip spinning with flash, dissipating necessary motion and crushing timing. In a 360 degree environment, the brash stylings make sense as to keep all comers at bay. Here, a whip swipe into the back or foreground is a loss of drive, clumsily wasting combative resources while waiting for animation cycles to finish. There is no sense of freedom, and sloppy impact washes away any of the snap generated by the Belmont’s hallmark.
Mirror of Fate is also fighting against itself. Part of the game is seeking out the open castle gameplay methodology, wherein the player runs into new locations and snatches up fresh powers. Those games, on the PlayStation, Game Boy Advance and DS, were a constant progression, fluid and often striking pieces of platforming design. That never works here as actual conflict stops the game cold without any in-game restitution. Fights just sort of “are,” existing to slow the player down. Relinquishing the flow crafted by previous games is done almost out of spite to craft something that feels new. This is a half breed of design ideals smashed together without the pieces fitting snug. Home base for Mirror of Fate is split into miniscule, serviceable chunks, not a sprawling and intimidating home of horror.
Obvious polygon’s aside, this is a game meant for a 3D space. It moves like a 3D title, with thick, unsatisfying jumps that feel bulky, not swift. It never feels polished. Drudging up recycled, climbable platforms in nearly every section of this haunted castle wears the pacing thin, already suffering from lack of clear advancement. Gained powers are often wasted on locked or hidden doors. The idea of transforming into a wolf for a boost of power is novel (as Alucard) until one realizes what a blunder his offensive capabilities are. Instead, the gained strength is used to burst open arbitrary doorways, hidden only as a means to create backtracking purpose.
The only reprieve from the monotony of the slog are the boss fights, often interesting with better utilization of the fighting engine. Their movesets are uniquely situated to become varied throughout the brawl, wherein the stock, repetitious demon horde are fitted with two basic assaults. Shame then the highlights are botched by quicktime events, dull button mash fests that may look spectacular, but lose their edge against a more traditional face off.
Mirror of Fate is textured well, brooding nighttime skys and rundown ledges a hallmark. A section of the castle is also a playhouse, a horrifying remnant of what was once a children’s playland. In an art design folly however, cinematics are graced with cel shading that outperforms the standard, dreary style immeasurably. What these scenes may require in unfounded resolution they make up for with striking contrast and something wholly unique, even against competitive efforts with the same art design philosophy. Neither seem to understand the strain of contrasting light and dark on the hardware’s 3D effects, Mirror of Fate massive in its depth, and soul crushing in its creation of cross talk.
This Castlevania only survives on its own franchise prominence, and gothic or not, even that feels brushed aside in attempted make over. The tell tale sign is one of music, sloppily and cheaply composed without any sense of motion. It is meant to be mystical and thematic, which does not work within the strict framework of two dimensions. Instead, the themes drone on against the spirit of exploration, crushing the soul and lacking in driving beats that propelled all other 2D entries in the series.
In a way, the music would always act as a backing, something behind the action to give it sharpness and punch. Here, the spacious orchestration muddies the water, clipped of fidelity and lost in its purpose. Like almost all of the elements in Mirror of Fate, it does not work. Whatever fresh legs were intended for the portable end of the franchise were snapped off at the waist and buried somewhere in the bowels of this castle.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence.