Review by Allyourbase

"A solid, yet disappointing followup"

"Lament of Innocence" the first 3D Castlevania since "Legacy of Darkness" provided a peek into the future of the series as far as 3D gaming goes. While far from perfect, it was nonetheless a solid game marred by bland level design, minor deviations from the elements that made the Castlevania series so popular and minor gameplay flaws.

"Curse of Darkness" is Konami's second go at 3D gaming for the Playstation 2. Konami has expanded on some of the things that made LoI work, fixed some of the nitpicks that plagued the previous game, but forgot to tackle that game's main Achilles heel -- blah levels. The result is another decent gaming experience that could have been a lot better, but unfortunately, were not.

CoD takes place after "Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse" (yes, the NES game) and puts you in the boots of Hector, a type of conjurer called a Devil Forger. Hector once fought for Dracula, but renounced his ways after Trevor Belmont defeated Dracula. He now returns to the castle to seek vengeance for those who killed his beloved, Rosaly, who was burned at the stake as a witch.

Standing in his way is his ex-fellow Devil Forger, Isaac (one of the creepiest Castlevania villains I've seen). Isaac has his own designs for Hector that will be revealed as the story progresses.

CoD improves upon the RPG-lite elements introduced in LoI. It actually is an RPG in some aspects. Slaying Dracula's minions gives experience points necessary to level up, which actually gives players an incentive to hack and slash. In LoI, there was no leveling system and thus no real need to kill enemies other than to advance to the next room or so. Enemies will also drop items, the importance of which will be explained in a bit.

Hector is a capable warrior in his own right, but he can also draw assistance from Innocent Devils, or summoned helpers, along the way. Innocent Devils vary in type and each serves a particular purpose. Battle-types can fight alongside Hector, while fairy-types provide support through healing magic. Managing these helpers is a big part of the game to say the least, as each Devil is better suited for certain tasks than others.

Hector's powers also allow him to craft items from the items dropped by enemies. With the right ingredients he can create an array of armors, helms, swords, punching knuckles, spears, etc. Figuring out what makes what is a challenge in itself. No all weapons are created equal, however -- axes and spears deal craploads of damage, but are slow while knuckles are the exact opposite. Finding the best weapon for a given situation is also another important element.

The game handles like a dream and watching Hector pull off flashy combos against the creatures of the night never feels old. The only real grip is the (very short) loading screens between some rooms. Still, the game manages to move along at a fairly brisk pace. The real-time menu system in LoI is gone, for better or worse. Personally, I found that system to be somewhat cumbersome and the traditional menu system feature in CoD seems more practical.

The game also has a new lock-on feature. Hitting R2 allows Hector to lock-on to the nearest enemy, while L2 allows hime to cycle through all the available targets. The idea is nice, but it can be disorienting at times, to the point where you might wind up walking in the wrong direction after the battle has died down.

Composer Michiru Yamane once again delivers another stellar aural experience. The tracks are more guitar-driven this time around, but still manage to capture the mood of the game. There's not doubt players will find a favorite track to jam to. Playing CoD on a super pimped out system is highly recommended.

Unfortunately, CoD still suffers from the same problem LoI did -- craptacular level designs. It's not as bad, since the game actually incorporates some of the exploration elements that made "Symphony of the Night" and other titles so popular. Some parts of the castle are previously inaccessible, but once Hector acquires the right skills and/or equipment he can venture into those areas and find more goodies.

That's nice and all, but it doesn't help that most of the rooms look very similar. LoI had the same problem with blah-looking rooms stuck with identical hallways. The repetition made a lot of gamers have to keep checking their maps to make sure they weren't running around in circles. Also, CoD features a lot less of the platforming elements that have been the cornerstone of the Castlevania series. CoD has a lot of the same problems as LoI (and maybe even more) and it's a shame Konami didn't take time to address that problem.

Regardless of that one real gripe, CoD provides a solid experience that no hardcore Castlevania fan should pass up. Konami continues to chip away at providing a strong 3D outing and judging from LoI and this new game, it looks like they've still got a little bit more to go. As far as this game goes in the pantheon of Castlevania series, it's not "Castlevania 64" (thankfully), but it fails to sell itself as an improvement on the deficiencies of LoI.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/04/05, Updated 11/17/08

Game Release: Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (US, 11/01/05)

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