Review by Falion
"Uninspired, but still worth your time"
When Konami announced "Castlevania: Curse of Darkness" earlier this year, I was ecstatic. While I enjoyed the previous 3D game in the series, "Lament of Innocence" more than most gamers, I still felt that it was a heavily flawed game. If only the game had a decent "SotN-esque" experience system and vastly improved level design, it might be something truly memorable. After playing the first hour or so of CoD, I was happy to find out that Konami had thrown in some coveted RPG elements such as experience levels, but saddened that they had completely neglected the level design yet again.
CoD features the same ridiculously boring endless hallways and bland, empty rooms that were so heavily criticized in LoI a couple years ago. "IGA" (the Castlevania series' head honcho developer) always sounds dedicated to making a truly great 3D entry in the series, but so far he has dropped the ball twice in a row in an area that doesn't seem like it'd be all that hard to fix. Find a way to implement some interesting platforming elements and give the hallways/rooms some diversity, and it will make the game infinitely more enjoyable. Three strikes and you're out, IGA - improve this area in the next 3D CV title, or hand the mantle over to someone more dedicated to a great 3D experience.
Now that I got the one insanely glaring negative point out of the way, I'll move onto a much more positive part of the game - the "Combine" system. With the main character Hector being a "Devil Forgemaster," he has the ability to combine materials dropped by enemies to create new weapons and armor. This feature alone makes the entire game very fun to play, if only to find the newest "Special" weapon (this category includes spiked shields, nailed bats, bombs, and even a bad-ass electric guitar!) to terrorize helpless skeletons with. This feature even adds a fair amount of replay value, since some materials are only found once or twice, but can be crafted into at least 4 different items. If you're as obsessive as I am, you'll find yourself saving after finding a rare metal so that you can try out every possible combination before permanently losing the material.
You can create swords, spears, axes, knuckles, helmets, armor, and "special" items, and each weapon handles in a very different way, each with its own set of special attacks. Some are visually impressive (plunge a rapier into the ground to thrust a dozen spikes into any nearby enemies), while others are simply used to knock an enemy flat on its back. While the Berserk-inspired gigantic "Dragonslayer" sword might seem like the best option, you may find yourself best suited to the more elegant rapier-style sword, which is my personal favorite. The game's combat system will keep you consistently entertained enough that it can distract you from the horridly bland level design for most of the game.
Another fleshed out part of the game is the addition of "Innocent Devils," which act much like the familiars in SotN. Innocent Devils, or IDs, are monsters that will fight and gain experience alongside you. Depending on which weapon you are using, enemies will drop different weapon crystals, which are used to "evolve" your ID into a new form. Although time-consuming, it's fun to try different "branches" of evolution for a particular ID, if only to see how it will change physically. At a certain point, your ID will lay an egg, which can be used to hatch a new ID of the same type. This way, you can potentially raise every type of variation for each ID. Some IDs focus on healing Hector while others are purely physical, pummeling foes alongside him. Leveling up IDs will also raise Hector's statistics. For example, a physical golem-type ID will raise Hector's strength, while a healing pixie will raise his luck. Like the "Combine" system, the addition of IDs easily add several more hours of gameplay to what otherwise would be a tedious adventure.
CoD's soundtrack is much like the game itself - solid, but uninspired. You'll find yourself yearning for some remixes of older, more memorable CV tunes, but it's still not bad at all by any means. The English voice acting is a very mixed bag. Hector's voice is perfect for the role, while Julia's (Hector's "romantic" interest) is far too monotone and bland, and Isaac (the antagonist) and Trevor (Belmont!) sound too over-the-top. And would it have been too hard to sync the dialogue with the subtitles? I realize this game was released in the US before being released in Japan, but did anyone really not notice the subtitle of "Belmondo" every time the name "Belmont" is referenced? The typos aren't very flattering, either...
Overall, CoD is a fun, yet unfortunately uninspired Castlevania title. If you can get past the pathetic level design, you'll have a blast with the deep combat and customizable weapons and armor. While a slight improvement upon "Lament of Innocence," CoD still fails to carry the amazing quality of the 2D Castlevania titles into the third dimension. If you only play one Castlevania title this year, make sure it's the excellent "Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow" for the Nintendo DS, but if you find yourself craving more gothic action, you won't be all that disappointed with Curse of Darkness. Forgive its glaring flaws and have fun ripping apart zombies in a thousand different ways.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/14/05
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