Released in 2010, MercurySteam’s Lords of Shadow adapted the combo-based combat and epic set-pieces of modern action-adventures like God of War. The portable adventures of the Belmont clan has stayed true to the exploration-heavy, action RPGs like Symphony of the Night, but Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate attempts to fuse the new style of Lords of Shadow with the classic RPG and 2D gameplay. It nearly succeeds – but in trying to appeal to both fan bases, it comes off an uncouth hybrid.
That’s not to say that this re-conceptualize version should be avoided. Picking up 25 years after Lords of Shadow, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate fills in the gaps between the original 3D adventure and its upcoming sequel. Spanning generations, you play as three different characters – Simon Belmont, Alucard, and Trevor Belmont – as you fight your way through legions of monstrosities in search of Dracula. The redesigned characters and story provide an interesting twist to the lore of the Belmont clan, despite its predictability. The story is complimented by an assortment of eye pleasing, yet apathetic cel-shaded cutscenes that invoke a Gothic cartoon vibe.
Though the main story puts you in control of three characters, you won’t be freely switching between them at will, as the game is divided into three interlocking, yet incoherent chapters. Each character possesses their own cluster of skills and secondary items, but they all wield a variation of a whip. Secondary items and magic are somewhat underrated, and you’re only forced to use them rarely. Your whip is often the most effective tool for combat, and determining the right set of moves for a particular enemy-type is challenging, but visually awarding once mastered. While the combos are flashy and rewarding to pull off, Mirror of Fate puts too much emphasis on the fussy dodging mechanic and merciless reaction time for blocking.
Throughout the course of each chapter, you’ll spend a decent amount of time developing your character’s skill set by collecting balls of light that increase your experience bar. Learning new attacks and developing your grasp of combat mechanics is a fulfilling journey, but the abundance amount of quick-time events repeatedly deflates the value of this progress. This becomes prevalent during boss fights, which follow a set pattern and end with an elaborate finishing move. There is no penalty to failing to execute your finishing move as Mirror of Fate provides a gratuitous and forgiving checkpoint system. However, these battles include some brutal difficulty spikes that are borderline unfair, and at times nearly impossible to avoid certain attacks.
Outside of combat, your whip will be used to explore Dracula’s castle. Those expecting to explore the castle like previous iterations may be disappointed by the linear progression. The time you have in each area with a character is fairly limited, leaving very little to explore beyond the immediate path to objectives. Backtracking with new abilities will uncover the aforementioned collectibles, and treasure chests, but it’s very rare that you will venture off the main track. Most hidden passages are easy to locate, and the handy map-notation tool makes returning to explore locations a mostly simple affair. Along the way you’ll grapple across chasms, rappel down walls or jump over gaps which need precise timing to keep your footing or else you’ll face repetitive cheap deaths.
When you aren’t confronted with hordes of enemies or tricky platforming sections, you might struggle with some of the environmental puzzles scattered throughout the castle. The few puzzles are generally well designed, but they breakdown to essentially the same process of locating a series of objects and arranging them properly. 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, you can get clues at the expense of losing experience after solving the puzzle.
The entire game takes place on a 2D plane, with highly detailed 3D background environments. The capabilities of the 3DS enhance the environments and it’s surprising how much variety and detail was put into every dungeon, castle room and outside area. Standard enemies, bosses and the main protagonists are delightfully animated and are nicely designed. The game does suffer from occasional slowdown when there’s a lot of action on the screen, but it doesn’t happen enough to mar the experience. Where Mirror of Fate really shines is in the audio department. The voice acting is some of the best on the 3DS, with actors delivering some rather clichéd dialogue at times. The score created by Oscar Araujo had a lot to live up too, but its mix of ambient noise and beautiful orchestral moments create a perfect dark and tragic tone. This is definitely a title worth playing with headphones on to appreciate the atmospherics.
At the end of the day, Mirror of Fate is an entertaining and seldom challenging action game that stumbles because of some poor design choices. In an attempt to appease fans of the action focused Lords of Shadow and the traditional “Metroidvania” style, Mirror of Fate suffers from an identity crisis.