Review by HighOnPhazon

"Castlevania. You can't go wrong with that."

Castlevania is without a doubt one of the most recognized series on home game consoles. Dating all the way back into the early NES days, the series has come a long way with tons of titles stretching from the NES, to the Gameboy, the Super Nintendo and beyond to the next-gen consoles and handhelds. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, released on the original Playstation, is highly regarded as the best in the series and since then, subsequent titles in the series have followed a somewhat similar formula in its core gameplay. However, none have truly matched the greatness and subtle beauty of its atmosphere, excellent soundtrack or awesome environments.

The newest Castlevania title, Curse of Darkness, a follow up to the somewhat lackluster Lament of Innocence, yet again tries to capture the magic of Symphony of the Night, and does a pretty good job, at least more so than the last PS2 release strived for. In this outing, you will take the control of Hector, a Devil Forge master out for vengeance. This hero, who seems to resemble Symphony of the Nights lead, Alucard, is a pretty solid character even though he seems somewhat out of place in the whole Castlevania mythos. As you take Hector on his lengthy quest throughout the evil infested countryside, you will fight hundreds of monsters, collect different weapons, gain experience and grow powerful as you make your way to the final showdown with his nemesis, Isaac. Curse of Darkness succeeds with its new game play mechanics, and its shortcomings are swiftly overshadowed. Those who are in limbo in whether or not to play Curse of Darkness should not fear; it is a solid game that holds true to what Symphony of the Night set in stone years ago, yet has enough new things to keep it fresh and more exciting than the last Ps2 itineration.

-Gameplay-

What sets Curse of Darkness from the other games are its Innocent Devil (I.D) and Weapon combination systems. Innocent Devils take the place of the standard Castlevania sub- weapons. In old games of the past, you collected hearts from candles and fallen enemies to power your sub-weapons such as the Knife, Axe and Holy Water. In Curse of Darkness, Hector creates demon minions from stone and puts them under his power. Being a Devil Forge master under the vigilance of Dracula himself in years past, Hector has recalled his dark power in order to strengthen himself for his vengeful quest. As you play, you will gain a host of different I.D's to command. They range from fairy types that can heal your wounds or cure status effects, to battle types such as undead warriors and golems, to magical beings that cast devastating spells that can crush your foes.

ID's, depending on the type, can be set to three different modes. Auto, Command and Guard. Auto will have your ID's using their special skills at their leisure, Command will have them use their skill of your choosing mapped to the triangle button, and Guard will come in handy in certain situations. Your ID will stand in a powerful aura and protect it and you from certain damage for a brief period of time.

As you use your ID's, they gain power, much like Hector does. The more enemies you kill, the more experience you earn, thus increasing your level, stats, hp and attack damage. ID's also gain levels, and will increase their hearts (which acts as their life and their energy for spells) and some will boost your stats as you have them equipped. The neat thing about this whole system is that there are multiple forms of each ID that you can create, and creating them is simple enough as not to be a large set back game play wise. In order to have your ID evolve into a new form, and gain new powers, all you need is to use a certain weapon category, such as Axes, spears or swords, and gain crystals which the game dubs, Evo crystals. Gaining a requisite number of these crystals will evolve your ID into a new form. It sounds somewhat complicated at first but it's actually quite easy.

Using weapons to evolve your innocent devils is the most important aspect, and the Weapon combination system goes hand in hand with your evolution and attacking needs. Instead of buying or finding new weapons throughout the environment, Hector finds materials such as bronze, copper and iron from fallen foes. Using these tools, he can create new forms of weapons, and then combine different weapon types into a new tool. Hector even has the ability to steal rare materials from foes, but the timing and requirements for each enemy differ, and provide a fun challenge to create some of the more powerful weapons. There are tons of different things to make ranging from one handed swords, great swords, axes and even helmets and armor. Each different weapon type has different attack speeds and combos. One handed swords will have a medium speed and somewhat decent combo moves. Axes, much slower, however much more powerful, will have limited combo options available. As you play and create more powerful versions of each category, they will have more combo moves. The one drawback to the whole weapon and combo system is that a lot of the weapons share the same attack animations and combos, and it doesn't help that the combos themselves are somewhat limited in function.

Attacking in this game is as simple as hitting square. It's really not that deep, and I wish it would have been a little more robust. Square, your main attack button, can be linked to circle, a finisher button for combos, to do different attacks. For instance, Square, Square, Circle will be a two hit move, followed by you throwing your sword into an enemy or group of enemies with a twirling attack, which is quite potent. However, combos remain to be just as simple as this. The more complex combos will just be more square button presses added with circle to complete the combo. There really isn't any different sequence you need to press, and you can get by with just using simple combos as long as your weapon is powerful enough. Higher difficulties, this will play a different role, but on the normal setting you don't need much in the way of variety. One thing to note is that slower weapons on faster enemies is somewhat of a problem, and using shorter combos will probably be a better idea. Overall the attacking system in this game is somewhat too simple, but it's adequate for most of the game.

Those looking for more of an exploration title will be somewhat disappointed with Curse of Darkness. This game, as it stands is truly a hack and slash dungeon crawler with more emphasis on fighting and gaining power than advancing to new and exciting areas. There are few places that are hidden from view, and while there are some secrets to find strewn about; they are few and far between. There is a lack of platform jumping, puzzles and traps in this game, and that is quite a blow. However, the action is pretty top notch.

Since there are some pretty neat ID's to create and evolve to reach 100% of the map in all areas, the game play stands solid, and there are some high level weapons to forge as well, making some true time investment needed.

-Gameplay Score: 8-

-Graphics & Sound-

What I thought of the Graphics of Curse of Darkness was a mixed bag. Overall, I thought the graphics were pretty good. Some reviews that are floating around the net and in major publications blasted this game for having seriously repetitive environments and bland textures. I can agree with them to a point, but it's not nearly as bad as they make it out to sound. Hector animates fairly well when he is attacking using different weapons and jumping around the battlefield. Your Innocent devils all look unique and sharp, and enemies themselves, including bosses are great looking and menacing. No complaint with the character and creature designs here. What I did not like was the serious lack of personality in environments. There are only a few places I can think of that seem to stand out overall. There are a lot of similar looking areas, hallways and rooms that are devoid of anything but battles, and this can get somewhat frustrating for people that are looking for more of an “adventure” than a hack and slash. The graphics aren't bad; they just aren't as good as they could have been. Nothing pops out and says “wow” to you when you are trekking through these levels.

The sound however, is very very well done. The music in this game stands as probably one of the best soundtracks in the entire series. From the first area you are treated to an awesome score. There are a few areas where the music falls flat, but overall there are a lot of really good tracks in this game, and fans of Symphony of the Night will especially dig this music, especially boss fights. Non music wise, the creatures, from your ID's to enemies, bosses and even Hector himself are pretty good. In battle the swing of your sword, the explosion of your Mages fireball are all distinctive, I enjoyed them. What struck me the most was how well done the voice acting was during cutscenes. Voice acting in video games can either be stellar or absolutely horrid, with few games falling in between. I find this game is slightly above average, with a few bits of dialogue that makes it far superior to most other action/adventure games on the PS2. It's certainly a step up from Lament of Innocence, but not quite as good as the Legacy of Kain series. There is only one character in the whole game whose voice was not up to par, but it was forgivable, and honestly didn't detract much from the mood.

While the Graphics are good, the environments are what make the game seem somewhat less thrilling than it should. Still, the sound, music and voice acting bring up this score a bit. In all honesty, once you start playing this game, especially if you are a fan of Castlevania, you will not notice too much of the surroundings unless you are out to nitpick. You will get immersed in the game so much that a lot of it won't matter, and they defiantly don't bring the game down enough to make it unplayable.

-Graphics and Sound Score: 8-

-Story-

The story is somewhat simplistic, but none of the Castlevania games have had a sweeping epic tale. Even so, Curse of Darkenss may well have one of the most entertaining in the series if not just because of the voice acting. Standard Castlevania cliches abound, the main role of Hector to me seems out of place in the series. Being the first Devil Forge master to come from the line of games, he seems a little bit too powerful to just appear for this game and after it's all over, he is so minor to the series. I hope that in the future Hector will be fleshed out more, and his power be fully realized. As you play this game you will feel like you are somewhat more powerful than any other Castlevania hero, especially when you watch the final cutscene, yet when it's all over, Hector just seems mundane at the same time. I'm somewhat pleased that the game took a departure from the typical Belmont lead to a new one, but Hector seems too much like Alucard, yet in the game he seems just too overpowered to be such a small role in the series. Here's to making another game with Hector, but I won't keep my hopes up.

-Story score: 7-

-Difficulty and Replayability-

When it all boils down to it, Curse of Darkness isn't the most difficult action game, but it has its moments. Any competent gamer that has been weaned on Ps2 action titles such as Devil May Cry or God of War will find this game lacking in challenge. Castlevania fans, however, will be right at home. None of the games since the older titles have been much of a struggle, but that didn't bother me. I had fun with Curse of Darkness, and it has its fair share of available challenge with Crazy Mode and boss rush mode. Those looking for replay, will be excited to know that there is an unlockable character to play with, the aforementioned crazy mode and creating all the weapons, armor and ID's in the game will take time and probably a couple playthroughs.

-Difficulty and Replay score: 8-

What it boils down to is this: If you are itching for a new game to get, and are a fan of Castlevania, Curse of Darkness will fit your bill. It will keep you entertained for 10+ hours (took me 20) and there is plenty to do. The ID forging and weapon creating alone make this game fun to play. The soundtrack is excellent, and I would be hard pressed to find a better one in another action game currently. Buy or rent? It depends on you. I hope that what you have read here will influence your decision, but don't pass judgment on the game until you try it for yourself. Curse of Darkness is Castlevania, and that was all I needed to hear.

-Overall: 8-


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/16/05


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