Review by DanteRules

"A great Castlevania game with some nice, new aspects!"

Introduction: Castlevania has come a long way from what it used to be. One of the earliest of series, it still is coming out with good games; both 3D and 2D. Even though it has evolved a lot, all of the defining elements are still there. There are dozens of enemies, unforgettable music, and of course the never-ending struggle between the Belmonts and Dracula. Curse of Darkness (CoD) is the next 3D Castlevania to hit the consoles after Lament of Innocence (LoI) and stars Hector, a former employee of Dracula.

Gameplay (8): Castlevania hit a breakthrough with Symphony of the Night (SotN) in terms of gameplay. Things such as the ability to level up, equipping items, learning new skills, and freely exploring a large castle are all things that were emphasized. This new installment is no exception to those aspects. Like the more previous games, you play through the game like a dungeon crawler by fighting hordes of enemies while getting stronger.

The core of gameplay comes from your normal attacks. You have your normal attack button which can do a variety of attacks by hitting it several times. You also have a finishing attack button that can be done at any point during the combo, and acts as a good way to give high damage or sometimes to knock your opponent away. The block button from LoI is also back. Guarding attacks will prevent you from taken damage and perfect guarding will give you a few hearts as a bonus (and you can sometimes stun the enemy). Except for an unusually slow run speed, all of the basics from LoI are there.

Unlike LoI, but similar to SotN, there are different weapons that Hector can use. There are five categories of weapons, some with sub categories. Swords are your basic weapons and there are a few variations of them, some one-handed and some two-handed. There are also axes in the game, which work similarly to the swords. Spears are longer (and slower) weapons that are great for taking out crowds. Knuckles have a short range and quick attack. There are also special weapons, each of which are unique.

So what's new you ask? First up is the innocent Devil (ID) system. Though many refer to it like Pokemon, it's actually just an upgraded system of the familiars from SotN. These creatures possess different abilities that will help you throughout the game, both in and out of combat. Some of there spells can aid you in battle in either a defensive or offensive matter, while other skills can help you gain access to new areas (there are no subweapons or magic for Hector, just your ID's abilities). To make IDs stronger, you need to fight with them and gain experience. However, to advance their amount of abilities, you need to obtain crystals. These are dropped from enemies and come in five different colors. Depending on which ones you get, your ID will evolve differently. This means a new look and new skills that can't be learned on the other evolution paths. Thankfully, you don't need to worry too much about which path to take. Your IDs will drop devil shards, which can be used to create another devil of the same type. This means that you can get ever possible ID in the game given enough time.

Another relatively new aspect to the series weapon/armor combining. Instead of dropping specific pieces of equipment, enemies will occasionally drop materials. By combining materials (and other weapons or armor), you can create new ones. New weapons can increase the amount of combos that each type of weapon can do, and new armor can provide better defense as well as other stats.

Another big change is the steal ability. Stealing has always been around in RPGs, but is rarely seen in action games because of it needing to be done in real-time. Stealing from enemies is like a minigame in a sense, and every enemy you encounter can have something for you to steal. Stealing is done by locking on to an enemy, waiting for the target to turn purple, and then hitting the finishing move button. Sometimes the target turns purple over time. Sometimes it's after you do a certain attack. Other times it can be something extremely unique. Nonetheless, it is an important aspect that should not be ignored. Many materials can be stolen from enemies, and rare ones can be found on some bosses. Unlike the usual fighting, stealing is strictly strategic and takes time to master.

Story (7): Castlevania has always been about story, but the rarely try to do much with it. In the past, Castlevania games have been plagued by terrible writing and voice acting, as well as a lackluster story. Fortunately, all of those things have been improved.

You play as Hector, a devil forger who used to work for Dracula. He left shortly before Dracula was hunted by Trevor Belmont (this was in Castlevania 3). Three years later, your wife is murdered due to a former devil forger named Isaac spreading rumors of her being a witch. Isaac worked for Dracula along with you, and blames Dracula's defeat on the fact that you left him. With both of you blinded by revenge, you go to track him down. This is only the beginning, however. You soon meet many others that are tracking down Isaac, but for their own hidden reasons.

Voice acting and dialogue are good, give or take a little depending on your person views. The story, while not a lengthy and epic one, is put together well and advances well. The characters are very unique compared to one another and for the most part likable. While none of these things are anything grand like in Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy, the game is put together nicely.

Cutscenes (8): There are a couple scenes in each level that you come across. Some are intros to battles while others are there to advance the story. The cutscenes are never very long and serve more as a break from the action, but they are fun to watch. In the end, however, you will be left wanting more.

Controls (9): The controls are very similar to what was in LoI. You have your two attack buttons, a jump button, and a guard button for the basic combat. The behavior for your IDs and the moves that they know can be selected using the D-pad, and you can tell your ID to do an ability with triangle. Like in most games, R1 is used to guard. R2 is for turning you target on or off. You can also move the camera around with the right analog stick.

All in all, the controls are very comfortable and easy to get used to.

Graphics (7): While the graphics are certainly up to date with every other game at the time, there is nothing that pushes the envelope. The textures for walls are quite impressive throughout the game. The visuals during fights are fine and the cutscenes look good, but don't expect anything close to jaw dropping here. I don't believe that graphics are that important in analyzing a game, but they could have been a little better.

Difficulty (8): The game has a decent difficulty throughout most of the game. Unless you spend close to no time leveling up, there shouldn't be any major problems. The normal enemies only have a few moves, so they are typically easy to exploit. Bosses can sometimes propose a challenge, so be sure to choose the right IDs for the battle.

Overall, the game is a little too easy. However, there is a harder mode called “Crazy” mode, which was seen in LoI. If you say the game was too easy, try this and see if you can still gloat.

Music (10): Castlevania has always been about addicting and catchy music. CoD is no exception. The melodies are absolutely amazing. Everything in the game is packed with a large variety of instruments. Each song fits the mood, depending on what level you are in. Not only is there a wide variety of music, but all of it still has that “Castlevania” style that the previous installments have had.

Michiru Yamane is the composer for the game. She has worked on past Castlevania games such as LoI, SotN, Castlevania Bloodlines, and many of the gameboy Castlevanias. Other popular games she worked on are Rocket Knight Adventures and Contra: Hard Corps. Be sure to check out more of her stuff if you like what you heard in this game.

Pros
- ID system is an excellent addition and very well done.
- A variety of weapons and the ability to make new ones ensure that you will never get bored of the combat.
- Stealing provides a nice break from the action and adds some depth to your strategy against enemies.
- Things like the dialogue and voice acting have been improved.
- Several secrets and different modes will give you plenty to work on.

Cons
- Hector is really slow, which gets annoying over time.
- Things like cutscenes and visuals aren't taken far enough.
- The areas are too flat and basic.

Conclusion (8): Castlevania: Curse of Darkness takes a big step forward into the 3D world, especially when compared to its predecessors. It still has a ways to go until it can join the more popular games of today, though. Regardless, any Castlevania fan shouldn't be disappointed in this game. The game is sure to keep you entertained for quite awhile and it isn't something you would want to miss out on.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/06/06


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