Pocket Power: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate

Handheld gaming is more than a compromise of power and portability. Whether it’s the ability to play anywhere, multitask or hold an entire console in your hands, it’s a special experience consoles have never replicated. In a world where high resolutions and teraflops reign supreme, we take a look at a portable relic every month and reflect on what makes it memorable. Be warned, spoilers may occasionally populate these articles.

Castlevania has gone through numerous incarnations since its 1986 debut. The series experimented with both linear and open world styles of play along with dabbling in both 2D and 3D approaches. With a few exceptions, the majority of these games were all connected to the same folklore and built upon each other until the timeline got so convoluted they just decided to reboot the franchise in 2010 with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Lords of Shadow was well received by both fans and critics, so much that it spawned two sequels, neither of which came close to receiving the same warm reception. One of the sequels was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, which continued the tradition of 21st century 2D Castlevanias beginning their life as a Nintendo handheld exclusive.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate follows the events of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Gabriel Belmont was introduced in the handheld game’s predecessor, but Mirror of Fate’s story focuses on more familiar names to Castlevania fans: Simon Belmont, Trevor Belmont and Alucard. It’s difficult to discuss how these characters play into the story without spoilers for both games, so it’s best to skip the rest of this paragraph is this is of concern. In a rather weird twist at the end of Lords of Shadow, the climactic battle is not against Dracula, but Satan, and it’s revealed that Gabriel Belmont is in fact Dracula. So if this didn’t muddy the Castlevania lore waters enough, Gabriel is also the father of Trevor Belmont. Which brings us to Trevor, who seeks vengeance on Dracula for the death of his mother. This attempt at vengeance fails as Trevor perishes in his confrontation with Dracula. Dracula’s paternal instinct kicks in and he attempts to “save” Trevor by turning him into a vampire, but alas Trevor is already dead. To protect his identity, Dracula buries Trevor in a grave labeled Alucard. So there are familiar Castlevania characters, but the reboot has taken some liberties with them.

The game begins with a flashback sequence where Gabriel gives his wife Marie a proper farewell before departing on a mission to slay a lycan. During Gabriel’s absence Marie gives birth to a boy named Trevor in the presence of Pan and members of the Order. They take Trevor away out of fear from a prophecy, which is probably wouldn’t have happened had Marie had a more traditional birthing party of a midwife and nurses. Gabriel is never told that he has a son. Fast forward some years later when Trevor’s son Simon has reached adulthood. This seems like another liberty taken in Mirror Fate. Trevor was always an ancestor of Simon’s, but given that Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse takes place a century before Castlevania, it’s unlikely they were originally written as father and son. Also in Castlevania III Trevor and Alucard fought side by side, but I digress. Back to the plot at hand, Simon was trained as a warrior in the mountains after witnessing the death of his mother. Having sworn vengeance against Dracula for his mother’s death, the time has come for him to venture to Castlevania.

Mirror of Fate is divided into three different acts, each one having the player control a specific character. The first act is Simon’s quest, the second belongs to Alucard and the third act predates the first two as players are now controlling Trevor. It’s an unusual approach to progressing through a Castlevania game, but given how much variety there is among the franchise, it isn’t too surprising. Each character plays a little differently from each other. Simon has use of traditional Castlevania subweapons such as an axe and can summon the spirit of his mother Sypha Belnades for protection. Alucard has powerful shapeshifting abilties due to being a vampire. Trevor has the useful feature of double jumping, which is always a fun power to have.

Whenever major creative liberties are taken with familiar characters, there are usually mixed feelings, and that’s definitely true with this title. Like many games of the era, the emphasis on lore and story details was much more barebones in the original Castlevania games compared to the more modern games. Nevertheless the changes to the Belmont family tree are drastic enough to enrage my inner child to the point of screaming about this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. After telling him to shut up and take a timeout in the corner, viewing the Lords of Shadow timeline of Castlevania as an alternate version, it’s an interesting take on the Belmont clan and their relation to Dracula. It may not seem like the proper way of things, but it does add interesting layers to the Belmont vs. Dracula narrative, and having the different perspective on the story play out between the different acts is one of the aspects that makes this game appealing.

Castlevania has dabbled in many different styles and gameplay, from linear to more open Igavania/Metroidvania. It’s had mixed results going into the third dimension, but there are some good 3D Castlevania games including Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Most (not all) fans would probably argue Castlevania is at its best as a 2D open world game like Symphony of the Night along with all the Gameboy Advance and DS games that followed its style. Without Iga’s involvement, though, even though Mirror of Fate is 2D, it’s much more linear than the aforementioned games. It has some open world exploration and branching paths, but calling it a metroidvania is a stretch. It’s more like the original 2D Castlevania games, but that’s not inherently a bad thing since many of those were considered top tier for their era. Unfortunately few would call Mirror of Fate a top tier Castlevania game.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate isn’t a bad game or even the worst Castlevania game, but heaping glowing praise on it would be charitable. Overall it’s mediocre; it’s a decent time but would be somewhere in the bottom half of personal Castlevania ranking and the worst Castlevania released on a Nintendo handheld in the 21st century. Dividing the story between three main characters and three acts was an interesting approach and seeing a return to classic 2D Castlevania was an appealing design choice, but it just failed to excel in any area. There are interesting areas and boss fights, but nothing extraordinary. It’s a good game in its own right, but doesn’t reach the high bar set by some of the other titles in the franchise.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate is a decent 2D Castlevania, but isn’t a must-play installment. The new direction the franchise took with Casltevania: Lords of Shadow had potential for a good reboot, but neither of the two follow ups lived up to it. The biggest hope that came with this game is that Konami would continue to develop new Castlevania games, both in 2D and 3D, but sadly only one new Castlevania games followed this release, not counting retro compilations. For those interested in playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow — Mirror of Fate, it’s available on Nintendo 3DS along with HD ports to PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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Screenshots taken from HD PC version

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