We are massive Castlevania fans at Retro101 so any release of a new game is treated with the excitement you would normally associate with some kind of red carpet premier. That said, we have been looking for something new in the franchise of late. We knew Mercury Steam’s take would be a little different but it was with hesitation that we ventured forth into Dracula’s castle once more.
Let’s get this out of the way from the off. This is not a Metroidvania style Castlevania game. You do explore a castle but it’s in a much more linear fashion than the previous games on the DS and GBA. If you want that style of Castlevania there are currently seven games you can choose from to scratch that itch and looking back, if we’re honest about it, few of them are as perfect as Symphony of the Night.
Instead, Mirror of Fate takes us back to the style of the original games and is much closer to something like Dracula X or Super Castlevania IV. This is a bold move, but from our point of view we are delighted someone has taken a chance and tried to mix things up a bit. Bouncing around rooms is all well and good but sometimes you want to smack something in the face and swing around a bit, and this is something that Mirror of Fate offers up in abundance.
The first thing that hits you about the game is how astoundingly incredible it looks. This has to be the best looking game on the 3DS to date. The 3D effect simply blew us away. If there was any doubt about the difference the 3D component of the console could make then this is the game to show it off. The layers of depth and character it adds is simple unbelievable. When used in conjunction with the gothic comic style during the cut scenes it brings the world to life in a way never seen before.
The visuals are boosted by some stunning use of music and sound. Almost all the cut scenes are voice acted and the gruth Scottish accents mix with the forbidding visuals to create an imposingly bleak fairy tale. The grandeur and impact of the music is also of the highest standard. We never believed sound like this could come out of the 3DS. They are much more dramatic orchestral scores than found in classic Castelvania games and add a more serious and dramatic tone to the world. The only slight issues we found with the sound is that you need to make sure your 3DS is turned up as sometimes the softer tones can completely disappear.
The graphics and sound create a much more serious and hard edged tone – much like Castlevania: Lord of Shadow. This game looks and sounds brutal and every second of it feels like an epic and bleak life or death struggle. This is something we really like as it adds gravity and an almost Dark Souls like edge to the atmosphere.
Of course all the window dressing in the world can’t make up for a bad game. Mirror of Fate is much more combat orientated than other games in the series and the developers have taken care to instigate a robust and flexible system to fight off Dracula’s hordes. The developers said they were looking to take influence from Street Fighter for their system and it shows. There are numerous combos, dodges, blocks and launchers which can be unlocked as you progress. This allows players some flexibility in how they fight. Admittedly limited, special powers and sub weapons are also on hand to help you through.
Once you get to grips with the system you’ll soon be despatching monsters with relative ease, and the system is more fluid than seen in previous Castelvania games that follow the hack and slash route. Combat is the emphasis of the game and you will often find yourself locked into arenas or needing to kill monster to progress around the castle. Players used to being able to duck and dodge their way through the metroidvania style games may well get a rude awakening here.
Boss fights are one aspect that lets the game down a little. They simply feel somewhat less inspired than before and often begin to become repetitive. They can also be fairly merciless which is offset by the fact the game saves what seems like every two minutes. Indeed, the game even saves at checkpoints within boss fights - which may seem stupid until you actually come up against one of the tougher ones. At that point you’ll be glad of them as it stops players hitting bricks walls in their progression. Also, using quick time events really isn’t a good idea.
During your adventure you will play as three different characters but aside from small changes (such as Alucard being able to breath under water without a timer), there is little to distinguish them. In one way this is good as it means any unlocked moves remain throughout, but it would have been nice to see some variation in combat techniques and a more varied way of tackling the castle. Collectibles are also fairly standard with scrolls that expand on the games lore and chests which raise magic and health just about all you are going to find.
Negatives aside this is a bold and risky direction to take the franchise in and in the most part it’s successful. Ok, so the castle isn’t really there to be explored and there isn’t much point in searching out every last corner, but the more combat heavy approach is implemented well and the graphics and sound are incredible. It’s easy to forget that Dawn of Sorrow was merely solid and Order of Ecclesia took half the game to come to life. The Castlevania franchise needed to be shaken up and we are more than happy with the direction.
Overall, this is a game that will likely divide Castlevania fans. Taken on its own merit we can only recommend this to 3DS owners. It’s a dark and forbidding fairy tale told with skill and it conjures an atmospheric adventure which leads into the darker, more brutal side of the Castlevania universe.