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REVIEW: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate is a Nintendo 3DS spinoff game based in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow universe. Mirror Fate serves as an interquel falling between the original Lords of Shadow and the upcoming Lords of Shadow 2, which will release later this year on PlayStation3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Mirror of Fate sets the stage for Lords of Shadow 2 by explaining how the Belmont bloodline continues and how Alucard came to be.

To give context to the gameplay, it helps to understand where the story begins in Mirror of Fate. For those that havenít played the first game, I highly suggest you skip the rest of this paragraph. *SPOILERS* While attempting to rid the world of evil, Gabriel Belmont is corrupted and becomes the dreaded Dracula. The Brotherhood of Light foresees Gabrielís transformation so Marie (Gabrielís wife) delivers Gabrielís child in secret, without his knowledge. The brotherhood takes the child, Trevor Belmont, as a baby and raises him as an elite vampire hunter in hopes of someday having him defeat Dracula. Trevor does not learn that Dracula is his father until he is an adult and has a family of his own. Ashamed of his origins, Trevor sets out to Draculaís castle to avenge his family name, leaving a fragment of a mirror to his son Simon. Trevor does not return from Draculaís castle and the following day Simon escapes into the woods as his mother is murdered by Draculaís monsters. Simon spends the rest of his childhood growing up in the woods, living with barbarians. When Simon becomes an adult, he sets out to Draculaís castle to avenge his motherís death and find out what become of his father. *SPOILERS*

Mirror of Fate is divided into a prologue and three chapters. In the prologue, players get to briefly play as Gabriel Belmont on a mission hunting a demon. In the following three chapters, players take on the role of Simon Belmont, Alucard, and Trevor Belmont respectively.

All three characters share the same experience, level progression, and combat moves, however, they all play wildly different due to their individual power-ups and sub-items: Simon is a sluggish barbarian that focuses on absorbing damage rather than avoiding it and his power-ups (which can be turned off and on with the D-Pad) enhance this sensation. Early on, as an example, he unlocks a spirit which can absorb damage for him by draining his magic. Simon also obtains an axe sub-items that work exactly like axes in older Castlevania titles. Alucard on the other hand focuses more on sleight of hand evasion, using his mist form and other vampiric power-up. While Trevor uses light magic to restore his health and shadow magic to do more damage. Gameplay wise, Trevor comes across as the ultimate vampire hunter, with his chapter focusing more on player skill and timing than the use of items and power-ups.

While the idea of playing in the same castle as three different characters might sound boring, itís not. Each heroís power-ups lend themselves to unique terrain and obstacle traversal. Additionally, even though all three characters explore Draculaís castle itís never really the same castle. True to the series lore, the castle is physically different for each character. Thereís a grand sense of dťjŗ vu while wandering through the castle, ďDidnít Simon pass through this hallway and none of this was here?Ē Castlevania lore talks about Draculaís castle being alive, and this is very much the case in Mirror of Fate.

Much like its direct predecessor, Mirror of Fate does not play like the typical Metroidvania style Castlevania games that many people are used to. Yes, you are free to explore Draculaís castle. Yes, you obtain power-ups and level-up. But largely, Mirror of Fate is a linear game like older entries in the series. Your goal is to make it to Draculaís throne room and Simon, Alucard, and Trevor all attempt to take the quickest possible path there. Along the way there are setbacks that see them plunging deeper into Draculaís labyrinthine castle. The heroes all get stronger and gain new skills as they push deeper into the castle, but there is a sense of commitment to pushing forward rather than a driveexplore the castleís mysteries. This is further compounded by the use of teleportation devices that appear before each chapterís encounters with Dracula. The teleportation devices allow you to quickly return to previous parts of the castle and grab goodies that you couldnít unlock until this point in the game. This means that exploration is essentially pointless until you come across the final power-ups that allow you to pass each blocked path.

One of the main things that might upset Metroidvania fans is the fact that characters' unlockables are limited to increasing maximum health, maximum magic, and maximum sub-items. Players wonít be finding awesome new weapons or some crazy secret no one knew about. To its credit though, Mirror of Fate does have a considerable amount of lore to be unlocked via scrolls found on dead knights and bestiary cards hidden throughout levels. Scrolls give an interesting look into the Lord of Shadows lore, as do the bestiary entries which unlock 3D models of creatures and brief entries about their history.

One of the strongest features of the game is its awesome boss fights. The battles themselves are very unique and interesting, and the bosses are equally well designed. Sometimes a cheap death can occur, but thankfully Mirror of Fate has a great checkpoint system that actually saves progress mid-fight without making things overly easy.

Another strong feature, at least for Castlevania fans, is the huge assortment of nods to older entries in the series. From the return of certain sub-items such as the axe and stopwatch to new takes on classic monsters such as mermen, flea men, and zombies; I always found myself looking to spot an adaptation. Old locations like the clock tower also return, with new enjoyable twists.

The graphics in Mirror of Fate are pretty terrific for the most part. Playing with the 3D on is particularly incredible as ghosts and other creatures sometimes wander around in the background. The only real drawback to this is that sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate the foreground and background unless you are playing with the 3D mode on.

Sounds wise, Mirror of Fate is probably one of the more subdued Castlevania entries. The music is more classical and not as noticeable as other entries like Symphony of the Night. The subdued music allows for some truly great sound and moodiness, however. You can often hear enemies shambling, rattling, or flying around before you even see them. That aspect of the sound was quite enjoyable and different.

On the negative side, the excellent fast paced combat of Mirror of Fate does have its draw backs, namely unblockable attacks and a lack of a way to avoid them at times. Quick time events are also present, but are not terribly difficult or annoying. The biggest drawback, however, is that there is no true ďmaster mapĒ for the castle, allowing the player to see how each level connects on the pause screen. This can be confusing and frustrating when trying to obtain an item that require traveling from one level into another, as level connections are often more so implied than truly visible. Additionally, load screens between levels and between deaths can sometimes be quite long. Not terribly so, but enough to mess up some of the gameís momentum at times. It also worth noting that the regular ending for Mirror of Fate is somewhat abrupt and unsatisfying. The secret ending obtained on 100% completion is is quite good though and gives an idea as to where Lords of Shadow 2 will begin.

For players that are willing to play a non-Metroidvania style Castlevania game Mirror of Fate is one of the better Castlevania games that has been released in a long time. The Lords of Shadow series does a faithful job of adapting existing Castlevania lore and attempting to tie it into a simpler, more easily understood plot. Mirror of Fate is an excellent entry in the series, so itís a shame then that this title will likely go overlooked by some self-proclaimed series purists.

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About GRiVENone of us since 1:09 AM on 03.12.2010

About me:
I'm in my mid-twenties. Which I say, because I don't particularly feel like having to update my age every birthday.

About video games:
I grew up loving video games. I've been playing games since Windows 3.1 and NES. I used to have a love for all gaming systems and all video game companies. I now find myself frequently annoyed with modern publisher policies.

I would describe myself as a PC gamer. Even though there was probably close to a ten year gap where I didn't play games on my PC. I think that anybody that had to use DOS for gaming, has a different kind of appreciation for video games than other gamers might have.

Some of my favorite games include: Earthworm Jim, The Longest Journey, Shenmue, Divinity 2, Beyond Good & Evil, MGS 3, Majora's Mask, Metroid Fusion, Rogue Galaxy, Jet Force Gemini, and 999.

About the bio:
I always feel like an exhausted cosmonaut trying to write an essay proving he wasn't replaced by a space-alien-vampire-clone whenever I write my own bio. It never comes out quite right... But then I remember that I am a space-alien-vampire-clone, and the stiffness of my writing does not trouble me as much.

Anyway, I hope you don't find me too obnoxious, but then I'm getting a little bit too old to give a shit anymore.


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