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Castlevania: Curse of Darkness

Platform(s): PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Konami

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PS2 Review - 'Castlevania: Curse of Darkness'

by Agustin on Nov. 14, 2005 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

Curse of Darkness introduces players to an entirely new storyline and main character – Hector, one of two Devil Forgemasters, who had once refined his skills under Dracula. Told in true Castlevania style, this action-packed tale of betrayal and revenge takes players on a journey through an expansive world filled with formidable foes and beautifully rendered environments to the ruins of Dracula’s castle.

Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: November 1, 2005

Buy 'CASTLEVANIA: Curse of Darkness': Xbox | PlayStation 2

IGA (moniker of the current overseer of the Castlevania series) has been directing Castlevania games since about halfway through the production of the PlayStation classic, Symphony of the Night. That game is widely regarded as the best game in the series; debatable as that is, the sheer number of gamers who feel that way about SotN, along with the four portable "Metroid-vania" games that followed it, is a testament to the fact that IGA probably is the right man to have in charge of the series.

A few weeks ago, the release of Dawn of Sorrow seemed to confirm this. Although it brought very little to the established SotN formula, DoS is one of the best DS releases yet, along with being the best portable "Metroid-vania" yet; that crown was originally held by Aria of Sorrow, an inexplicably hard-to-find IGA classic. Five games into this nu-Castlevania formula IGA has yet to let us down.

But note, if you would, the word I snuck into the last sentence of the first paragraph: "probably." It is true that IGA is responsible for a quintet of rock-solid 2D Castlevanias. He has yet to let us down with a 2D release, barring the tinny soundtrack of the otherwise superb Harmony of Dissonance.

Conversely, his 3D productions have been negligible at best. Or, to put it unequivocally: The man cannot make a proper 3D game.

Lament of Innocence, IGA's first 3D attempt (to my knowledge IGA had little to do with the two Nintendo 64 games), was met with a disquieting string of reviews. Under any other name, the game would have been as forgettable - perhaps more forgettable - than the likes of Chaos Legion, Samurai Western, or any one of those pointless, dated-on-release games that nobody touched two weeks after their release. LoI was the very antithesis of SotN. The latter game was a testament to the continuing relevance of 2D gameplay despite the advent of polygonal 3D; the former was an anachronism upon release, a third-rate Shinobi or (especially) Devil May Cry.

IGA himself recognized the mishap that LoI was, even admitting his folly in interviews. He used the words "stepping stone" to describe LoI's standing in the Castlevania lineage. Curse of Darkness is IGA's second attempt at a 3D Castlevania. It is his third attempt at a 3D game, taking Nanobreaker into account. If LoI was a stepping stone, CoD is ...

... another stepping stone.

As the protagonist Hector regains his devil-forging powers and summons creatures to protect him; as he gains his first few level-ups; as he collects the first of many pieces of armor and weapons, players might find themselves thinking that there are enough improvements here to justify the status of CoD as the 3D Castlevania we have been waiting for. At first - especially mulling over the additions in writing, as I am now - this may seem to be true. But fluff is fluff is fluff. Yes, IGA threw in some of the features from his other, lauded releases, along with a few original ideas. But that doesn't mean that we can gloss over the basic flaws that have gone untouched since LoI.

For those who have not experienced LoI, it was a simple Devil May Cry clone wth stunted controls, average to below-average visuals, and extremely repetitive environments, with a fairly good, if standard, storyline to tie it all together. CoD retains all of these flaws, albeit with slightly improved visuals and the intriguing promise of a storyline taking place after the fan-favorite NES release, Castlevania III (which, incidentally, is IGA's favorite, too). Instead of repairing the troubles with the game, the course of the sequel seems to be adding in features that either muddle up the gameplay or add some small value in order to help cover up one of the larger blemishes. CoD is a better game for these additions, but it is still a mediocre experience. Despite its newness, it is still not the game it should be, given the pedigree of the series.

The biggest change is the addition of SotN's lightly developed experience/level-up system. The harder the enemy, the more experience Hector gains, until eventually leveling up, which boosts his health and the amount of damage he can deal. Very simple, but this bit of Maybelline helps cover up the massive, bubbling pimple that is the battle engine carried over from LoI. Many of the enemies in that game were simply too easy to dispatch with a few mindless button presses; CoD brings the same problem to the table, but hey, at least we're beefing up Hector in the process!

The demon-forging/summoning system serves the same purpose as leveling-up. A healthy number of beasts can be forged by Hector by stumbling across rooms with special items ripe for binding a demon to. The demons serve different, focused purposes, such as casting status-effecting spells and, of course, beating the snot out of zombies and the like alongside Hector. My personal reaction to this system was somewhat mixed; while I was thankful for the assistance, I found managing the demons to be distracting, and the A.I. movement patterns for the fighters were questionable. But feeding them gems to evolve and giving them ample battle time to level up was interesting, although had little effect on my experience outside of extending the length of time I spent with the game.

Less of a distraction is the item-forging system. Dead enemies periodically drop raw materials held in their proverbial back-pockets, which can be collected and applied to current weapons to make better ones. There are many different weapon-types, most falling into the basic categories of sword, axe, and knuckle add-on. While the combo system in the game is a weak shadow of Devil May Cry, the different weapons do have a tangible effect on it, which adds a small amount of depth to the otherwise daft combat system. Which, I might add, would have been much better if it did away with trying to work like DMC and followed a completely different, more Castlevania-like path.

As previously alluded to, CoD is not exactly a looker. The graphics are blocky, and, worst of all, repetitive, which affects both the player's sensibilities and the gameplay aversely. The art-style seems as though it was supposed to be extremely stylish and interesting, on paper, but the artists under IGA did such poor work that the game simply looks cheap, a throwback to the former half of the PlayStation 2 generation.

The game does run at or close to 60 frames per second, thankfully, with little slowdown to be found. If there were any present, it would have been inexcusable given the graphical "prowess" of this title, but thankfully, the final product has little trouble in this regard.

The one feature that is completely impressive is, as usual with Castlevania, the music. Each tune is unabashedly MIDI, and thank god for it, because it sounds exactly like Castlevania should. The compositions are exciting and doomy, simply perfect for the atmosphere of this game. The voice acting is passable, although Hector especially is portrayed as being almost too dramatic. Of course, the melodramatic musical compositions follow Hector's delivery accurately, so his strange, overblown personality seems almost appropriate.

Curse of Darkness is the best 3D Castlevania around. It is better than the Nintendo 64 games, along with its predecessor, Lament of Innocence. But that, if you didn't gather already, isn't saying a whole lot. IGA has a lot to prove with Castlevania, and it is hard not to put this game under a microscope because of it. But truly, this slightly-above mediocre release is not what Castlevania should be. The action needs to be tougher, tighter, less "me too" where Devil May Cry is concerned.

The most telling fact is this: while Dawn of Sorrow reaps mounds of praise, garnering numbers of awards already, Curse of Darkness has received very little support from the media. Castlevania is still alive and kicking, still one of the best video game series around, but that has almost nothing to do with Curse of Darkness. There is fun to be had here, but $50 would be much better spent towards a DS and a copy of IGA's latest on that platform.

Score: 7.2/10


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