Release Date: Fall 2005
If nothing else, Castlevania: Curse of Darkness answers one question I’ve had for a while about the Castlevania series. Simply put, it’s this: when you leave and come back into a room in a Castlevania game, where does the fresh wave of monsters come from? Is there a hidden wing of Dracula’s castle that’s entirely dedicated to the care, feeding, construction, and breeding of new monsters to replace the ones you’ve been hacking to bits?
Apparently, there is, and it’s staffed by people like Hector. As a Devil Forgemaster, Hector has the ability to create and command monsters, such as attack birds, spirits, and rock golems. He also has a conscience, which is why he left Dracula’s service in 1476.
Because of that, Trevor Belmont managed to defeat Dracula, as seen in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. With Dracula “dead,” at least for the time being, a curse was placed on the nation of Vallachia, plunging it into an unnatural darkness.
Three years later, the entire continent of Europe is covered by that darkness, and a malaise has begun to infect the people. Hector has been trying to live an ordinary life, but that gets thrown out the window when his old friend Isaac, another Devil Forgemaster, comes to visit. Blaming Hector for Dracula’s destruction, Isaac engineers Hector’s beloved’s death at the hands of witch hunters, then flees back to Vallachia. Hector and his innocent devils give chase.
To the casual observer, Curse of Darkness doesn’t have a lot going for it. Koji Igarashi hasn’t been having any luck with 3D; Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was distinctly underwhelming, and Nanobreaker wasn’t fun at all.
After having played Curse of Darkness on the E3 showfloor, however, I think Igarashi might’ve gotten things right this time. The action in Curse works a lot like it did in Lament, with Hector wielding swords, axes, and hammers against a variety of monsters. The real difference, however, is that he brought backup, in the form of his innocent devils.
The innocent devils work a lot like the familiars did in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, except better. You can set your current devil to defend itself or go on the attack, and as it gains experience from the enemies you defeat, it’ll learn more potent moves. You can even exploit the devils’ attacks to chain together really painful-looking combos; for example, if Hector knocks an enemy into the air, you can sic his bird on the airborne monster for a long juggle combo, which will also give Hector time to recover.
The devils can also be used to help circumvent obstacles. Your bird will carry Hector across long chasms, and your rock golem can lift gates Hector can’t touch. In the E3 demo, you could also summon a pixie that could heal Hector on demand.
Each devil has a set number of hit points, which are also reduced if the devil uses certain powers. I didn’t see any item or ability in the game that’d heal them, but if the devil levels up, it’s restored to full health.
Aside from the devils’ involvement, Curse of Darkness plays a lot like Nanobreaker did, although it doesn’t share that title’s numerous frustrations. You can thrash the life out of a variety of monsters, like skeletons, minotaurs, and a truly enormous ogre wielding giant stone pillars.
Curse of Darkness also features an original score from Michiru Yamane, the composer that provided the soundtrack for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and an unspecified number of unlockable features. At Konami’s pre-E3 press conference, Igarashi also unveiled a brief movie of a man fighting with a whip. Trevor Belmont is apparently in Curse somewhere, either as part of the plot or as a bonus character, and he’s been given the patented Ayami Kojima makeover. Suffice it to say that he’s now the prettiest vampire hunter ever.
I’ll admit to being a little wary of Castlevania: Curse of Darkness. Two years ago, I came back from E3 raving about Lament of Innocence, and we all know how that turned out. If Igarashi and the rest of his team have finally managed to make a decent 3D Castlevania, I’ll be first in line on launch day, but I’m waiting to get my hands on a longer demo before I make up my mind. For now, I had fun with the game at E3, but we’ll see how this turns out.
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