Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review #393: Castlevania - Curse of Darkness

 White haired pretty boys, whips and leather... it's Castlevania alright.
 Konami was it again with Curse of Darkness, trying to prove that they could successfully bring Castlevania into the third dimension. If you ask me, Lament of Innocence got it just right, but if you go by reception alone, Curse of Darkness was the better received of the two... for whatever reason.

 You play as Hector, one of Dracula's two Devil Forgemasters, a being that can bring demon constructs into life and control them at will. Hector had previously betrayed Dracula and cause his downfall at the hands Trevor Belmont, but the other Forgemaster, Isaac, holds a grudge against him. Dracula also left a parting gift, his curse, causing chaos and strife amongst townspeople. Hector now ventures forth, seeking to beat Isaac to a pulp and unknowingly come face to face with Dracula's curse. It's not the most intriguing of tales, but I felt enamored by Hector, his plight and his dialogue. Characters speak in a faux Ye Olde English with hints of Shakeaspeare, which sounds all kinds of badass. The supporting cast is interesting enough, both in looks and personalities, and Trevor Belmont had never looked this badass before.
 For all intents and purposes, Curse of Darkness is yet another Metroidvania game: Games in which as you explore along a huge interconnected maze of sorts, you'll be faced with obstacles that can only be surpassed with the right power up or skill that you earn later throughout the adventure. However, fans of the genre might be surprised to hear that this game is rather linear, not once will you have to choose between two or more routes, and the backtracking is minimal, there're very few hurdles laying inside each area, and they only house power ups, and sometimes even less, items, instead of routes... although you'll be finding the occassional bridge between areas every now and then.

 The exploration aspect also leaves something to be desired, while exploration is encouraged in the form of diverse rewards of varying degrees of worth, the world of Curse of Darkness is rather... boring. The game quickly falls into a rut of 'Walk through the hallway killing everything in your way to enter the circled/squared arena-type room, kill everything there and enter the next enemy-ridden hallway. Rinse and repeat'. It can get pretty repetitive, and the different areas are not all that different from one another, so there's not a whole lot of visual variety to keep things looking fresh, eventually every hallway will start feeling like every other hallway you've already been through,
 They did improve upon Lament of Innocence in some ways, however, like adding a leveling up system, which makes combat feel more meaningful since you are always striving towards something. Combat's a very simple affair, you've got a weak attack and a strong attack that can be used to finish your weak-attack combos with flair. Hector, being a Devil Forgemaste, can also summon a single Innocent Devil, a familiar of sorts, to aid him in battle, with different spells to support Hector or damage the enemies. Hector can also dodge around and even parry enemy attacks, which feels oh so satisfying to pull off. By the way, making the 'open door' button and the 'strong attack' button the same button was a terrible idea, so avoid fighting near doors.

 Another improvement upon Lament of Innocence is the huge variety of weapons types that Hectore can acquire. There're swords, axes, spears, knuckles and 'special' varieties, each with their own combos. Not only that, even among types there're sub-types, like one handed or two handed swords and then rapier type blades that behave entirely different from each other. Not only that, some special weapons have a few unique strong attacks, and some have unique effects, like slashing kanji out of thin air, and sometimes, even longer weak attack strings. There're a ton of weapons, and they each reflect on the character model.
 Weapons and armor are not made in this game, but rather crafted. The crafting system is pretty easy to use, just gather the correct items, press start, choose combine, pick what you want to craft and wallah! Some material can only be gathered as enemy drops, and some material can only be found by stealing it from an enemy. Stealing can be simple or challenging depending on the enemy, for you see, each enemy has a different window of opportunity for you to steal from them. You must be locking onto the enemy that you want to steal from and then wait for them to enter the right state: Some enemies need to be doing their special attacks, some enemies only expose themselves AFTER a certain attack and some must be popped up into the air. As previously stated, some enemies will give you more or less trouble than others. Honestly, the drop-rate is generous enough, but if you truly want to keep your equipment updated, you will need to incur in stealing occasionally.

 Then we have the Innocent Devils, the monsters you can summon to aid you in battle. They're smart enough to be left to their own devices, but you can switch to a more manual mode in which they'll only use basic attacks unless you tell them to use a specific special attack. Keep in mind that Inoccent Devils run on hearts, which double as both their HP and currency for their special attacks. Running out of hearts, which can be replenished by gathering them from enemy drops, will temporarily leave the Innocent Devil unusable until you gather a certain amount. You can have about 7-8 of them with you at a time, but can only summon 1.
 Your Innocent Devils(ID) can evolve into different forms, each with their own look and special skills, depending on which weapons you use, which is a fantastic idea that promotes trying out different weapons. What's not so cool is that there're about six obstacles in the game that require specific abilities from specific evolutions or evolution paths, with not a single hint as to you needing them. How should you have known that there's an evolution path for the bird-type ID that leans an enhanced glide ability? How should you have known that you need a very specific battle-type ID to get through a single obstacle? It's a bit cheap, and it's a bit of an insult to the player and his time, because raising devils is not as easy or fast as crafting weapons, so experimenting with ID branches is not all that fun.

 In what is a Metroidvania staple, finishing the game lets you play as a bonus character, Trevor Belmont in this case. As is to be expected, Trevor gets no story, no cut-scenes and loses the ability to use items or level up. Trevor, however, is more of a glass cannon, while you can find items that will raise his stats, Trevor's base stats are already rather high, so he will make short work of enemies... as long as he doesn't get hit, since he'll never be able to take as much damage as Hector, and even if he could, he can't recover lost health by using items. Not only that, Trevor has his own unique way of playing, Hector can't replicate his whip-based style, and since Trevor can't use IDs... he gets Castlevania's traditional sub-weapon ensemble: The knives, the axes, the holy water, the cross and the stop-watch, alongside each respective 'Weapon Crash' for massive damage.
 Is Curse of Darkness better than Lament of Innocence? I don't think so, not at all. Does it improve upon it? In some ways, yes. It doesn't feel as Casltevania-ish, but it can stand on its own two feet. There's a lot going for it, even if I don't think they got every aspect right, there's quite a bit of fun to be had with it, from the interesting and alluring cast of characters, to the diverse weaponry waiting to be tried out.
 7.0 out of 10

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