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Castlevania: Curse Of Darkness

Platform: Playstation 2

Developer: Konami

Release Date: 11/01/05


Reviewing Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is a very hard task. Games with a long defined pedigree are usually heavily criticized and are under the heavy scrutiny of loyal fans. How much of the gameís value or worth is independent from its past iterations? Can the game just be viewed as a first in the series? What if the game is first or second to its transition to the world of 3D? Is it correct to compare its past 2D iterations to its 3D versions? Unfortunately for this reviewer, these questions are still swimming through his mind unanswered.

This 3D version of Castlevania is set in the era of Castlevania III (NES), just three years after Trevor Belmont defeated Dracula. Hector, the main character, a former devil forgemaster, betrayed Dracula which is implied helped Trevorís victory over the Lord of the Night. Yet, after the victory over Dracula, witch trials spread throughout the land to rid themselves of Dracula loyalists. Hectorís wife was unfortunately judged as a witch and was executed. Hector blames all of this on Isaac, another devil forgemaster who stayed loyal and who manipulated the courts to try Hectorís wife as a witch. Isaac in turn blames Hector for the fall of Dracula, this of course leads to an ďIíll kill youÖno, Iíll kill youĒ debates. To add more despair to an already ruined victory, a curse begins to afflict Europe. I guess Trevor really didnít save the world, who knew?

From the introduction of the story, it can be surmised that it will be a very straightforward revenge story, and it is, for better or for worse. The storyline has never been a major factor for the series, instead, itís always been the gameplay. At first it seems the game might actually shine in this department, since Hector is a former devil forgemaster, that means he lost all his once great power. Itís now the playerís job to regain back that power to defeat Isaac and if Hector really wants to, lift the curse off of Europe.

Both Castlevania 64 and Lament of Innocence introduced a whip wielding protagonist. This led to a lot of disgruntled murmurs over its not so friendly and buggy battle system, it just wasnít the same as playing its 2D counterparts. What led to most of such criticisms is due to its lack of platforming.

The 2D version of Castlevania has always been more of an action-platforming game than a platforming-action game, emphasis on platforming. Some individuals may disagree with this point, yet if that wasnít the case then why would so many fans see the 3D iterations lacking? It is the platform elements that are missing in a franchise based on 2D platforming. Yet, does that make it a bad game? Well, that depends if its action elements makeup for its weak platforming. In the case of the first three games it was not supported by a strong action system. Since Curse of Darkness is the 4th Castlevania game to go polygonal, it would be understandable to see some improvements in how it plays. Would it go more toward platforming, keeping it more into the tradition of Castlevania, or toward action?

The developers decided to follow the action route and ditched the whip. It has now allowed the player to play with many different weapon types similar to Aria of Sorrow, and be able to develop its own weapons as well. By allowing for more diverse weapons, weapon and armor crafting, it creates a much deeper gameplay experience from its past 3D iterations. An added feature to combat is combos, these are weapon-dependent and do not grow in complexity. Some weapons are hybrids of different types, usually each weapon has 3 or 4 combos and thatís it. These combos add little to combat strategy other than whether the situation asks for a (fast) weak weapon, or a powerful heavy (slow) weapon. Itís unfortunate that not much development was done to that portion of combat.

Instead, the focus is placed upon power of a forgemaster. So what are these great powers of a devil forgemaster? Well, it basically allows the user of such powers to imbue life into statues, which are of course resting places for powerful demons. These Innocent Devils are the real meat of the game. These demons follow you, controlled by AI, to help you get around the castle. Their functions vary depending on type. There are fairy types for healing, battle-types, and bird-types for flying, mage-types, and devil types for all around ass kicking, and the comedy relief pumpkin-types the jack of all trades. The game requires the player to find each type to get around the castle, this is similar to how the GBA Castlevania games played. This, of course, was a nice blast of fresh air in a very dry 3D action game.

These devils also evolve like pokemon, if you will. Each devil follows an evolution tree with branching paths; that means the collector in us all will collect multiple devils to get each evolved state. This evolution occurs when you Hector collects the right amount of devil shards. Depending on weapon type, you will get a corresponding devil shard. This allows you to follow a certain evolutionary path. This feature is really the saving grace of this game, yet, even this feature is unable to help with the lackluster gameplay. Even though the IDís help Hector around the castle, situations that ask for their help are limited and very far between. Battle types usually open heavy closed doors, or pound on stakes; this is not what I call great innovation.

These IDís usually end up being brawns for brains bodyguards. The AI for such bodyguards is atrocious and really hurt the game when fighting a boss or higher level demon. Most of the moves done by each ID are not useful in most fights. You usually end up doing only one type of attack over and over. Although I really like the idea of raising devils, its unfortunate to say that even that gets boring quickly and usually you can end up finishing the game just by using the same 3 ID types you get early in the game. If more work was done on this feature, it would have been its saving grace.

The castle of Castlevania has always been an amazing treat to behold. The complexity of the level design has always caught me as a challenge as I played through the past games. Areas that I couldnít jump over, or blast through, or slid through were slowly opened to me as I progressed through the game and gained the oh-so beautiful backdrop and powerfully moving music.

Castlevania is type of franchise that has grown in complexity and in value over the years. Castlevania 3 may look very pedestrian and weak when compared to the new GBA Castlevania iterations, but that is all due to the fundamental growth of the series. Symphony of the Night was the first to bring about the necessary complexity for the modern gamer. Many gamers still have a copy of Symphony of the Night, even though the disk is too scratched up to play on their aging PSOne, or finicky PS2. It brought Castlevania to its next evolutionary step, yet, Curse of Darkness seemed to have taken a backward step.

The level design of the Castlevania is utterly lacking. Extended hallways of nothing to do, drab low-res textures used for the castle walls, nothing that propagates the immense size of the castle. Instead it feels like a mediocre action game all played on one floor. Gone are the huge areas, gone is the jumping from one platform to the next, gone is the great music. Yes, I did write, ďGone is the great music.Ē Castlevania has steadily garnered a huge fanbase for its beautiful music, yet I regret to inform you all that most of the music in Curse of Darkness is uninspiring at best. Of course, there are certain tracks that are worth of my attention, but those are very few, meaning only two. How is this an evolutionary step in the series? I can agree they have improved from Lament of Innocence, but not much is needed to slightly improve a very lackluster game.

In the subject of graphics, there is very few things I can say about the game. As stated before the areas are covered with drab low-res textures. I can concede that Castlevania has always been a dark and drab world, but never was it stated it needed to use low-res textures to accomplish such a style. Just look at Devil May Cry 3, it was dark, drab, and gloomy, but did that stop the game from dripping with style. Playing the game with progressive scan just made the textures stand out even more. Playing it on regular analog video hid some of the vulgarity done by the low resolution textures. This was a total lack down, especially when you compare it to the great art style done on the cover of the game case. I can only lay down my head in shame.

Iíve tried my best not to bring up titles of triple-A action games when writing this review. Yet, it always pops up in my mind. The PS2 Castlevania games have tried too hard or maybe not enough to be like its older much more mature brothers in the action genre. 2005 was a very competitive year for action games, Curse of Darkness is not really a casualty of this; instead itís a victim of its own lack of creativity and quality.

There comes a time for a long running franchise to reinvigorate itself or better yet reinvent itself for its new constituents or loyal fans. Yet many questions are posed to the developers of the franchise over how such actions can take place. How do you keep the loyal fans happy while increasing your fan base/customers? Make too many changes and it will no longer be considered part of the franchise. What do you do to a franchise that has established itself in the 2D realm of gaming, when the rest of the gaming industry is turning its back to 2D and solely focusing on the 3D? Do you follow the market change or go your own way, hoping that fans will stay loyal, and hopefully have decent returns? The developers of Castlevania asked themselves these questions and answered back by saying: ďWhy choose, why not do both?Ē.

Thanks to that way of thinking, gamers have been able to enjoy the 2D world of Castlevania through the Playstation One, Nintendo Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS; and enjoy the 3D world through the N64 and Playstation 2. Although this way of thinking has allowed fans to enjoy both worlds, it is unfortunate to say that Castlevaniaís foray into the 3D, did not do justice for the franchise. It is neither an action game nor a platformer, and it fails miserably at the task of combining them both.


-- Byrc

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Published on: 2005-12-12 (14241 reads)

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