Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD is the weird middle child in the Lords of Shadow experiment in the Castlevania revival. It was originally going to be developed for the Xbox 360, but switched to 3DS early on, only for it to get an HD port on Xbox 360 anyway.
The weird thing is that there are signs of this while playing the game. The graphics have a scaled down look to them; as if they are low poly versions of high detailed models. Seeing them blown back up to HD fidelity gives Mirror of Fate an uncanny visual signature.
The two numbered Lords of Shadow games are 3D action games with their bespoke styles, Mirror of Fate opts for a hybrid middle ground of the combo centric fighting, but with traditional 2D gameplay. This was the game that likely inspired Nintendo to give MercurySteam the greenlight on Metroid Dread and Samus Returns. What did they see in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD?
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 3DS (as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed via backwards compatibility)
Release Date: October 24, 2013 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 / March 5, 2013 for Nintendo 3DS / March 27, 2014 for PC
Price: $14.99 USD
What made Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its sequel distinct from the other 3D iterations was its emphasis on combos and God of War-style finishers. Lament of Innocence did have some Devil May Cry influences, but it never had a long list for the moveset and you never saw Leon Belmont doing QTEs where he sodomized a wolfman with the broad end of a mace.
What makes 2D Castlevania fun wasn’t necessarily combat. Anyone who played any of the “classicvania” or “search and find” style entries would know that most of the challenge came from diabolical platforming and trying to stay alive while making it to the end.
Even during boss battles, the best experiences were focused on pattern recognition and avoiding devastating attacks. Heroes in the past games could only land a couple of hits and then would have to get out of the way. You weren’t doing Roman cancels or doing Street Fighter-style interruptions.
In a 2D action-platformer like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD, having to wail on foes and time parries while moving through a “metroidvania” map halts the flow of the game. The enemies can take a lot of hits to facilitate the combos, which comes at the expense of pacing.
Even on the easiest difficulty, mermen and zombies have inflated HP pools to justify the combat system. It makes the player characters seem less impressive as they do graceful and violent choreography, while their hits lack bite.
Many encounters are necessary to continue since the player will be locked into battle until a specified number of foes are defeated. It is the most blatant form of padding in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD and the combat system ultimately becomes its undoing. The basic single-hit style attack from the older games are more preferable.
The story builds off from the first Lords of Shadow where Gabriel has already left his wife and son, Trevor. While out on the crusade, Trevor becomes a warrior in his own right and sires a son named Simon. A majority of the narrative focuses on three generations of Belmont men and how they find themselves in a twisted battle with evil incarnate.
As most fans are aware, Gabriel becomes Dracula. In the Lords of Shadow continuity, Dracula turns Trevor into Alucard, instead of Alucard being a totally separate character. Simon Belmont’s character is the least changed out of all of the cast in this series and is the only one who still uses an actual whip.
Trevor in Mirror of Fate is like an amalgam of several characters. His design more closely resembles a green variant of Richter’s attire than any of his prior depictions. Most of the time he is more Alucard than Trevor. His deceptive nature is in line with Alucard’s ruses as seen in past games.
Of all the Lords of Shadow games, Mirror of Fate is closest to the classic series in terms of its visual design. The first Lords of Shadow adopted many Tolkien aesthetics and took many artistic cues from fantasy films that were popular at the time.
This was on brand with Castlevania which was always inspired by film media like Hammer Horror and Universal Monster movies, but with an anime twist. Somehow, Lords of Shadow 2 failed to stay consistent and took ideas that were out of place, like Warhammer 40K.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD is very balanced with its art direction. Thanks to the low poly visuals from being originally a 3DS title, the artists put a lot more effort into further stylizing the characters and levels.
There is even a mechanical clock level; full of cogs, gears and flywheels. This kind of fantastical connecting idea was what the two other Lords of Shadow games were missing. The elaborate and intricate gothic architecture and more surreal elements make Mirror of Fate more in line with the original games.
The big and chunky models help give a more exaggerated expression to the world. Character animation is a lot more broad and they have more visually striking poses to help them stand out more. This was probably a result of originally being made for a 77mm screen.
On the 3DS, Mirror of Fate struggled to maintain 30fps. When the time came for Konami to produce the HD edition for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it was assumed that it would get a bump in both framerate and resolution.
Regretfully, the only improvements are the 1080p image quality and the removal of the exhausting QTEs. There is no boost in fluidity; only a stable 30 frames per second. This could have made the combat more enjoyable and also if the developers added a turbo mode to make it feel snappier.
The 30 FPS in Mirror of Fate HD is lazy, but at least the core gameplay is fairly slow paced and atmospheric. Characters move with a weightiness and the background ambiance fits the tone.
Despite the marketing’s claims, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD is not actually a “metroidvania”. Stages are long and linear, and players are able to backtrack, but never because it is necessary.
Gamers who like to explore will only find that the reason to go back and to fully explore a map is to find HP or MP upgrades. It manages to have the focused level design of the linear games, while not suffocating the player with the constant sense of being shunted forward.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD is a very interesting and unique take on the franchise. It makes a lot of sense why Nintendo would look at this and see the potential for MercurySteam to be given a chance at making Metroid games.
Not everything works as intended. MercurySteam would learn from their mistakes in later games and would eventually land a bull’s-eye with Metroid Dread. With Mirror of Fate, gamers can get an idea where the developer was heading and can see the beginnings of where their best ideas were coming from.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy purchased by Nichegamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and playable on Xbox One Xbox Series X|S via backwards compatibility. Non HD version available on Nintendo 3DS.