When Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate released as a 3DS exclusive last year, it was met with a decidedly mediocre reaction. The game sought to open up the linear, action-focused direction of its home console predecessor, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and draw inspiration from exploration-heavy Castlevania titles directed by Koji Igarashi (Symphony of the Night, most famously, but also most of the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS entries.)
Most critics and fans agreed that it was a very limited success in this regard - more open than LoS, but far from the Igarashi standard - and marred by other flaws. In my NZGamer.com review, I gave it 6.5/10, describing it as “good at times, and occasionally on the verge of great, but too many odd design decisions prevent it from ever getting there.” It has an aggregated Metacritic average of 72% and a user average of 7.5/10, with common complaints including the game’s heavy reliance on poorly-implemented Quick Time Events, some hit detection quirks and control oddities, and a poor story made worse by unskippable cutscenes.
In light of this response, Konami’s decision to release an HD remaster of the game for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 might seem odd. But at the same time, it gave developer Mercury Steam a second chance to get the game right. Of course, there are bigger issues that couldn’t be fixed without recreating the game in its entirety, but it’s good to see that the team paid heed to feedback and made improvements where they could, as opposed to just slapping on an HD filter and sending it out the door.
The first thing you’ll notice when you fire up the game is that cutscenes are now skippable. This is obviously a nice touch if you played the original and are coming back for more, but even if you’re brand new to the game, it’s good to have the option. The cutscenes themselves were one of the standard features of the 3DS game, combining a beautiful, gothic art direction and cel-shaded graphics to great effect, but they haven’t made the transition to the “big” screen nearly as well.
It’s a big jump from a 400x240 resolution to 1080p, and the game’s models are fairly low-quality, given the power of the 3DS hardware compared to 360 and PS3. No amount of HD texturing can make up for that - Mirror of Fate HD looks about as a good as a 3DS HD remaster can look without remodelling the entire game, but frankly, it still doesn’t look great. This is true not just of the cutscenes, of course, but it’s in those that this is most noticeable.
The other big changes are gameplay related, with the removal of almost all of the pointless, tedious QTEs perhaps the most welcome one. Where Mirror of Fate had you inputting arbitrary button sequences to do everything from finishing off a boss fight to opening a treasure chest, Mirror of Fate HD only throws them at you when they serve some sort of actual purpose, like mashing X to break out of an enemy’s grab, which does varying damage depending on how quickly you can escape.
There are a few odd side-effects: post-boss fight cutscenes having weird slow motion bits left over where the QTE inputs had been removed from, and a couple boss fights that are comprised entirely of QTEs are still there, as removing said QTEs would have involved redesigning the fights completely or totally ditching them. Still, these are a small price to pay for what is, at least in my opinion, the single biggest improvement in Mirror of Fate HD.
The update also fixed some hit detection issues that were present on the 3DS and allows the option of using either the d-pad or analog stick for movement, both of which make exploration and combat a lot more fluid and rewarding.
This isn’t to say that the new release is just prettied-up textures and quality of life improvements, though; you’ll also have some new toys to play with not present in the original game. Boss Rush mode, a mainstay of Igarashi’s Castlevania games which lets you fight all the game’s bosses back to back, makes a return here, and you’ll also have access to leaderboards and an exclusive demo for Lords of Shadow 2.
While these are all nice, in theory, they aren’t really enough of an addition to justify repurchasing the game if you’ve already got the original. Boss Rush is fun enough, but suffers from lengthy load times between fights and the fact that this game’s bosses just aren’t as interesting as those of other Castlevania titles, while the leaderboards are really only going to appeal to people interested in speed runs.
The LoS2 demo would be a nice touch, only being able to download and install seems to be a rare privilege; myself and a great many others, judging from a quick search for solutions, have had no such luck. Konami appears to be aware of the issues, but as of writing, they haven’t been resolved.
So should you buy the game? Mirror of Fate HD is definitely the best version of Mercury Steam’s Lords of Shadow spin-off - if you haven’t played the game but want to, owning a 3DS but no 360 or PS3 is about the only reason I can think of to get the original over the remaster. If you already played the game on 3DS, there’s really not much reason to pick it up again, unless you planning on playing through again anyway and want a less tedious experience of it.
If you’re on the fence, you may want to give the demo a try first - this is the best version of the game, without a doubt, but it’s the best version of a game that is still, at it’s core, good without ever crossing the threshold into great.